"It goes back to well over ten years ago." Lani said, holding a mug of tea. "Ilchymis and myself both attended the Upper City University in Valua. I was one of the few people from Yafutoma who attended there, and made few friends because of my appearance and accent. Ilchymis was somebody who could see right through things like apperances, and saw people for who they were instead. He and I became good friends. He studied medicine and engineering, while I studied archeology and mythology. We did wind up taking a few classes together, however...and began to have our little debates on how things were, or how things should be done." She smiled. "I miss that sometimes. Anyway, we both reached our final year, and as part of a project were researching ancient legends.
"It was an innocent enough project, I suppose....but not when it comes to me and Ilchymis. I suppose there's a bit of childhood wonder in both of us, and we both take certain legends to heart. This was no different. We found a very old manuscript on file at the library that had come from the ancient city of Oasis. Oasis was under the Red Moon during the Old World, but it was a major port and obtained information from all over the world. In this manuscript, which was more of a shipping record than anything, we saw a listing of items coming to and from Oasis. One of the items was Black moonstones." She paused to take a sip of her tea.
"We saw Black moonstones ourselves...in the Dark Rift." Fina offered.
"I've seen those too, which is why I seriously believed that there's a Black moon." Lani continued. "The properties of Black moonstones are a bit vague, however. I think they deal with the Dark Rift in some way. They must have power over air pressure, or gravity...or even over time and space themselves. The air pressure in the Dark Rift shifts constantly, which is why the massive storm is maintained there. I don't think that it's caused by the scant few Black moonstones in the center of the rift, however. I think it's caused by a seventh moon. Sadly, nobody has sighted this moon, and nobody has any record of it being seen in the past.
"Moons don't vanish without a trace, however. I think if the Black moon was destroyed, it would have completely altered the world of Arcadia. If it deals with gravity, then the continents would be effected and either sink below the clouds like Soltis or rise up into the upper atmosphere. If it deals with time or space, then there's no telling what would have happened. No, I think that moon is still out there, but it's hidden from our sight." She sighed. "I've gained more information on it, but it's not with me. I left it all at my house in Yafutoma."
"Then how would you like to come with us, Lani?" Vyse glanced at his friends, who all seemed to share his sentiments, and then back at the scientist. "We're determined to get to the bottom of this, and see why the weather of the world is changing. We can take you to your home in Yafutoma, you can get your notes, and get any scientific credit to whatever we find."
"Are you sure I wouldn't be a burden?"
"Of course not, we'd be happy to have you aboard." He extended a hand.
Lani took his hand and shook it. "Well then, it'll be a pleasure working with you Vyse." She sighed and looked at the piles of books on her desk. "I was having trouble translating Glacian anyway."
* * *
Ice clung to the Belleza's rigging and sails as they cruised at a low altitude through the skies of the Purple moon, the eerie lavander glow their only source of light for navigation. It had taken just as long getting back to their ship as it had taken for them to walk to the ancient library. Vyse had glanced around the massive building one last time and sighed regretfully before they exited, somewhat moping about leaving such a wealth of knowledge behind. They had taken a few of Lani's books, notes and other belongings with her, however; the researcher was very insistant upon that.
Once again, they went through the thickened rift to the north of the Lands of Ice, although this time taking a more westerly course towards the area near the Dark Rift. Almost as soon as they cleared the rift, they were hit by a strong wind current from the southeast. The medium-sized ship rocked occasionally as it hit turbulance from the various gusts and pockets of air, and it caused them to slow down a bit in order to prevent the already shortened sails from being ripped. Aika also went up on deck as lookout, to try to pick out the differences in cloud cover above Lower Sky that indicated low or high pressure, and thus strong or weak winds.
"Maybe we should stop in Esparanza until this blows over," Fina said worridly about mid-afternoon. She stood next to Gilder at her post as engineer, while Lani had gone below decks. At first it seemed strange that Fina wanted to handle the technical aspects of the Belleza, but she had spent time learning from Hans and had proved to be an efficient worker; she was very good with her hands, and she could figure out what needed to be done in a matter of seconds. "at least, that's what I think. I don't want to drain all our power by flying straight into the winds....I'd rather not waste fuel."
"We'll be fine, Fina." Vyse replied assuringly while he gripped the wheel. "See that chain of islands there? They lead straight to the Dark Rift, although in a slightly zig-zag pattern."
"How can something straight zig-zag?" Gilder asked in an amused tone.
Vyse ignored him. "If we sail along the north side of those islands, they'll block some of the wind for us, and we can cruise along a bit easier without sucking down moonstones like water."
"All right, I'll trust your judgement on this one." But her expression was still a bit worryful.
"Vyse?" Aika's voice came from the talk-tube next to the wheel.
"See something?" He replied, speaking loudly into the tube.
"It's...strange. I don't know what it is." Her voice was somewhat tinny-sounding coming through the metal tube.
"It's a dark...thing. I think maybe another rift has moved or something...come up and see for yourself."
The scarred pirate turned to Gilder. "Take the wheel for a minute, I'm going to head up and investigate. She's probably seeing things again."
Gilder took over Vyse's post with a nod. "Yeah, and knowing Aika, she'll probably have an entire back-story thought up by the time you get there."
It was fairly breezy when Vyse came up onto the deck, although it wasn't overpowering. In fact, the wind had slackened quite a bit since Aika had began navigating them through the various air currents.
"There you are," she called down to him. "maybe you can give some input. It's to starboard."
He glanced over to the right, and could clearly see a dark smudge on the horizon. "That's definately odd. Have any guesses to what it might be?" He had to raise his voice over the wind, since she was up in the crow's nest.
"The Dark Rift, maybe?"
He shook his head. "It can't be that, the Dark Rift is to the east, not to the south."
"Things moved around when Soltis rose up....some things moved back to where they were but some didn't....maybe the Dark Rift is one of them." She squinted at the darkness. "Is it just me or does it seem bigger now?"
Fina wandered up onto the deck, glancing around. "Is what bigger? Did you two figure out what it is?" She brushed away a lock of hair that blew into her face from the strong wind.
"The black thing there." Aika pointed at the growing, swirling darkness. "I think it might be the Dark Rift."
"The Dark Rift isn't to the south, Aika." Vyse said loudly over the wind. "While some things moved around during the Soltis incident the Dark Rift definately did not move." He squinted, adjusting his skyseerpatch. "Let me zoom in, maybe I can see if it's a new rift that's formed."
Fina stared at the dark smudge. "It seems to be getting awfully big....we're not sailing towards it though....are we?"
The captain muttered a startled oath. "It's not a rift...it moves like a rift, but rifts generally don't float at Upper Sky level, do they?"
Aika's eyes widened, and she turned to look at the darkness, which was coming up fast, bringing a cold wind with it. "It's a storm??"
He adjusted his eyepatch back for normal viewing. "A big one too....I won't even suggest taking down the sails, we won't have time. It's moving towards us really quickly." He turned to Fina. "Get below and tell Gilder and Lani to brace for the storm, Gilder probably knows the procedure. I'll come in as soon as Aika gets down from her post." Even though he was right next to her, he could barely be heard over the howling wind.
The Silvite nodded, and dashed into the deckhouse to warn Gilder of the upcoming danger. Aika, meanwhile stood stupidly staring at the swirling front of black clouds closing in on them, still in the crow's nest. Vyse kicked at the mast to get her attention.
"Aika, this is no time to stop and stare! Get down from there immediately!" He was somewhat afraid that she couldn't hear him, his voice carried away by the wind, but she began carefully decending the rigging near the mast, braids whipping around her face. The whole ship gave a lurch as a massive air current from the storm hit it straight from starboard. Vyse nearly lost his balance, bracing himself by splaying his feet apart. Aika clung to the rigging, now partway down, although the ropes to which she held onto swayed dangerously in the storm. Another gust began snapping lines and tearing the sails while the two pirates clung to anything in order to prevent from being knocked over or blown away.
"Aika!" Vyse shouted over the wind, making his way over to the rigging she was inching down while a fierce, nearly-horizontal rain began stinging his face. "Aika, you'll have to try to jump off of there before we're both blown away!"
"I'll get blown away if I try to jump!" She yelled, her eyes a bit wild. Thunder boomed overhead, although it could of been the sound of the ripped canvas sails being thrown against the mast....it was hard to tell because of reduced visibility from the rain.
"Aika, you have to do it!" He managed to get next to the rigging she was on, clinging to the rail in order to prevent from being blown away. "Give me your hand, I'll catch you on the way down!" He held out his arm to her.
She looked at him dubiously, then reached out to him. At that moment the wind became too much for the rigging and the young woman desperately clinging to it, and with a horrible tearing sound the rigging snapped from above and very nearly from below. Aika continued to hold onto the ropes even though they now hung off over the side of the rail, shaking wildly in the wind. She looked up at him, fear in her eyes as she extended her hand towards him. "Vyse! Help me out here!"
He strained, leaning over the rail and trying to reach her without being blown away himself. He could just barely brush her fingertips with his own. "No good! Climb up a bit!"
She vaugely nodded, and began inching her way up the straggled ropes, trying to reach him with her left hand. Then the ship gave a massive lurch as another massive gust of wind and squall of rain hit it. The bit of rope that Aika clung to shook wildly to and fro in the wind while the female pirate tried to scramble up it to safety.
Vyse would always remember that particular moment for the rest of his life. For years to come he would wake up in a cold sweat, mouth dry with fear, remnants of his dream from the memory swimming in his mind, of the look on Aika's face. Aika's feet were free of the netting of the ropes, her arms furiously trying to cling to the rigging while climbing up. When the ship shied violently to one side, the pirate on the rope began to wave in the fierce wind like a child's kite. Pure fear in her face, Aika looked up at Vyse and reached a hand out towards him, shouting something that was carried away by the wind even though they were a few feet apart. He leaned over the rail, just managing to touch her hand but not able to grab ahold of her. Then with a distinct snapping sound, the rope became free, and Aika was blown away from his reach and down towards the certain death of Deep Sky, her wail barely heard over the wind. Their eyes met, and then he could scarecly make out her features through the rain.
"NO!" was the only thing Vyse could say as he let go of the rail, reaching both hands out towards her in desperation, almost as if he could reach her even though she was already out of his view, his vision clouded by the rain in his face...or perhaps tears. The act of letting go of the rail was not only a futile one but a foolish one as well. Almost immediately he was blown away from the rail as the heart of the storm hit the Belleza, very nearly tearing the mast from the deck. Vyse tried to regain his footing, to reach out, to grab onto anything that prevented him from being tossed around in the storm like a rag doll, but he could do nothing but flail wildly as the force of the wind slammed him into the solid oak deckhouse. The air whooshed out of his lungs and he felt a sharp stinging pain as the impact forced his head to whip back sharply into the wood.
Vyse tried to fight the wooziness that washed over him, but his vision already began turning white at the edges, the pain at the back of his skull seeming to leech all the energy out of him. Not able to fight it any more, the captain of the Belleza slumped forward onto the deck as darkness overtook him.
* * *
The first thought that hit Vyse was that he was thirsty. That basic instinct at first quelled the human sense of confusion and wondering, but then after a second the dull pain at the back of his head made him forget that he was thirsty. He instead racked his brain in a sluggish manner, trying to remember where he was or what had just happened.
When he slowly opened his eyes, he saw a brown blur above him, the edges of his vision still touched by darkness. After a few moments his eyes slid into focus, and upon glancing around he realized that he was in his bed, in the his cabin on the Belleza. A strange multicolor halo seemed to surround the few lanterns that had been lit, and everything seemed to have a hazy cast to it. Glancing to his left, he saw somebody sitting in a chair, calmly reading a book. It was a woman with somewhat golden colored skin and raven-black hair, tied back into a ponytail, wearing Valuan garb. At first the woman seemed unfamiliar to him, but after a moment he could remember who she was, and what she was doing on the Belleza.
"...Lani?" His own voice sounded low, drugged, not his own.
The scientist raised her eyes to look at him and smiled. "Captain Vyse....you're awake." She set aside her book. "I was afraid you might of damaged your brain too much, and you might not wake up."
"I'm pretty hard-headed." He sat up, ignoring the unsettling sensation that began in his stomach and crept up his esophagus. The room seemed to spin slightly. He vaugely remembered being flung into something hard...which explained why he ached all over. Still, he couldn't remember all the details. "What happened? How did I wind up down here?" He looked down at himself, noting that he only wore his trousers and black sleeveless mock-turtleneck. "And where are my clothes?"
"You don't remember at all?" She seemed a bit concerned.
"Not really...I remember flying through the air though."
She smiled and patted his hand assuredly. "It will all come back to you soon. I'll go get Fina, she'll be pleased that you're awake, and she saw what happened." The Yafutoman scientist rose and left the room quietly, leaving Vyse alone to his thoughts.
As he sat there and waited, he tried to jog his memory, trying to remember what exactly happened. He knew somewhat that something signifigant happened; something dreadful, but he couldn't remember what it was. Perhaps it was the fact that he half-killed himself while outside, having flown through the air and into something flat and solid. Vyse put a hand to the back of his head, wincing slightly, and then noticed that he had a bandage wrapped around his head. The hair near the bandage felt a bit odd, a bit tacky if not crusty...and after running his hand through it and glancing at his fingers he noted a bit of dried blood had come off. Glancing at his pillow, he saw a faint rust-colored stain there. Well, at least he didn't die.
Fina then burst into the room and practically tackled him, muttering something excitedly. She threw her arms around him. "You woke up! Finally you woke up, I was really worried...I cast all sorts of green magic spells on you, I was hoping they would help." She gave a weak laugh, resting her cheek against his shoulder. "But you're all right now, and that's what counts."
He chuckled. "Hey, I don't go down easy. Now stop being so damn affectionate, you're embarassing both of us." His face took on a more serious expression. "Fina, Lani says that you saw what happened. Can you refresh my memory?"
The Silvite pulled away from him. "You don't remember?" Her eyes seemed a bit red, as if she was crying recently. When he shook his head, she sighed. "All right. Aika spotted this black thing on the horizon...we thought it was a rift, but it turned out to be a storm. While the two of you were trying to get off the deck..." She gave a quavering sigh. "A big gust of wind came....I saw you, Vyse; you were holding onto the rail, but you let go. Then the wind picked you up like you were nothing, and threw you into the side of the deckhouse. I ran out with Gilder and brought you inside."
Slowly, the memory of what happened surfaced in Vyse's mind. He knew why he had let go of the rail. "Where....where's Aika?" he asked weakly, hoping that his memory was incorrect.
Fina glanced away, not able to look at him in the face. "...she...fell. She was holding onto some rope and it snapped." Her voice broke, she put a hand to her face to hide her tears. "She was thrown over the side..." She trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.
All the color drained from his face as the truth of it hit him. Numbly, he rose, ignoring the wave of nausea and dizziness that washed over him, and stumbled out of his cabin into the hall. Gilder stood there, trying to block his path, but Vyse pushed him aside and continued to make his way up onto the deck.
"Woah, Vyse...come back! Hey! You shouldn't be walking!" Gilder went after him, with Fina not far behind. The tall pirate turned to Fina. "You told him?"
The Silvite nodded numbly, not able to really say anything.
The scarred blue rogue totteringly walked up onto the deck, and squinted in the bright sunshine. The rigging and the sails were all torn, and a few boards had been pulled up by the force of the storm. Only one bit of rigging caught his eye, and he made his way over to starboard. He gingerly reached out to touch the tattered bit of rope that was left, remembering the sound it made as it snapped, remembering the look of fear in Aika's eyes before she slipped out of his view and into the rain. "Gone..." he said hoarsely. "She really is gone, I saw her. I tried to reach her...but I couldn't. I could just barely touch her hand and then she was gone..." He bowed his head, gritting his teeth.
Fina walked up to him, put a hand comfortingly on his back. "...you tried, Vyse...I saw you. It's not your fault."
He slammed his fist down on the rail vehemently. "It is my fault!" he said through clenched teeth. "The one person I said I'd never let down, the one person I promised I would always help, be there for....gone. All gone because I couldn't do anything. I shouldn't have..." he stopped, unable to talk, his body convulsing with sobs he was trying unsuccessfully to supress.
"Vyse..." Fina began, but then she felt Gilder's hand on her shoulder. She turned to glance at the tall blue rogue, who shook his head. He calmly led her away back to the deckhouse.
"There's nothing you can do right now, Fina. Just leave him alone for the time being, he needs some time to accept this. He'll need some time before we can talk to him about anything again. If anybody, you know what it's like to lose your best friend."
The Silvite nodded numbly, remembering Ramirez. She sighed, glancing at Vyse's trembling form for a minute, and then went into the bridge with Gilder.
* * *
The stars were shining brightly in the sky, the southwestern horizon glowing a faint purple from the purple moon just out of view. It was a stunning sight, but Fina wasn't concerned with the beauty of the sky, nor was the person she went up on deck looking for. The only thing on the Silvite's mind was the welfare of her friend.
Vyse hadn't moved much since that afternoon. He still stood in only his mock-turtleneck and leggings, even though it was somewhat chilly. He shuffled his bare feet when he heard her approach, but didn't tear his gaze away from the horizon.
"Vyse?" She came to stand behind him.
He didn't even glance at her.
"We're all worried about you..."
"Don't worry about me, Fina, just leave me alone. I need more time." He continued to stare morosely at the whispy clouds racing past.
Fina was suddenly reminded of several months ago, after she herself found out that her own best friend was worse than dead. She had found out that Ramirez was a lost cause, that he would listen to nobody but Galcian, not even her. His actions had spoken loudly for him, and she knew that she had lost him. The pain of having to admit she'd lost him was an acute one, and she had seperated herself from the others. And yet, when she was cooped up inside the meeting room on Crescent Isle, only one person refused to aknowledge her request to be left alone...and that was Vyse.
But now, it was the other way around...he had lost the one person he knew better than anybody else, his best friend. And now here he wanted to be left to suffer, just like Fina wanted to be left alone to suffer. The Silvite knew that was the wrong thing to do.
"You've had enough time, Vyse. I hate to sound harsh but sitting up here crying about it won't solve anything."
He turned to her, eyes dangerous. "Me? Cry about it? Fina, of anybody you cry the most. I have been through heaven, hell, into space, below the clouds....seen things no man has ever seen, done things nobody could ever face....and you tell me I can't take one moment alone to permit myself to be human?" He sneered. "I've become an idol? A living legend? I'm not a man anymore, just something that people put on a pedastool to adore, or in your case to coddle."
Her green eyes hardened. She wanted to be reasonable with him, but he was making it difficult. "That's not true...and the reason that you've gotten through all those situations is because you're a headstrong individual."
Vyse snarled, gripping the rail. "I'm human, Fina. All that headstrong individual garbage is just that: garbage. I've always gotten through situations because Aika was already there. Do you have any idea how this hurts? How it makes me feel?" He stared out at the stars glumly. "She's always been there, supporting me. We were always together...even when we were seperated that brief while after the Little Jack was shot down by the armada, I knew she was all right. But now it's different, I saw her fall with my own eyes...I've seen men fall into the sky, Fina. Nobody comes back."
The Silvite was suddenly angry. "You are so horribly selfish, Vyse. You should hear yourself."
He whirled around suddenly to face her, amber eyes flashing with anger and pain. "Selfish? I have lost the one thing that kept me going through it all! And now she's gone, and for once I don't know what to do. My life is turned upside down and you call me "selfish"?" He snarled. "You're so damn cold."
"Cold?" Her voice rose an octive. "Cold?!" Fina thrust her face into his. "You have no idea how this makes ME feel Vyse. Perhaps in your bouts of pouting you forgot that I lost my own best friend?" She jabbed a finger into his chest. "How do you think I felt when I lost Ramirez? How I felt like I had lost the whole world? And yet I moved on, not able to replace him but able to remember him...and to find hope and love in my other friends, in people like you." Her eyes were like cold, hard emeralds. "I had faith in you, and now all you do is sit here feeling sorry for yourself. I'm not going to let you do that, Vyse. I'll keep up hope, I'll keep up faith and I will NOT allow you to destroy yourself."
He kept his eyes locked with hers, and then his stubborn resolve seemed to crumble, his shoulders slumping forward. "I'm sorry, Fina. I...I guess I was being pigheaded...I had almost forgotten about how much Ramirez meant to you."
Fina wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his neck. "Please don't make me yell at you like that again, Vyse..." she said in a broken voice. "I really don't want to get angry like that, especially at you."
The blue rogue sighed, not used to these outright displays of affection from Fina. While Fina was always a touchy-feely person, she didn't exactly invade other people's space by hugging them. It wasn't as if he particularily minded though. "No, I needed somebody to make me wake up. I think this bandage is constricting my brain or something." He paused, and then sighed again. "Don't cry, Fina. I really don't like it when people cry."
"Turnabout is fair play." she sniffed. Then she paused for a minute. "Vyse?"
"Do you want to know what I think?"
"Yeah, I always do."
"I think we should look for Aika. She's just as hard-headed as you, and there are so many small islands around this area. She might have landed on one of them." She raised her face to look at him. "At least, I hope she did..."
Vyse nodded. "No, you're right: we shouldn't just give up hope." He glanced around the deck. "I think that we should head for Esparanza....we really need to make repairs on the Belleza after that storm. But we can still swing around this chain of islands on our way there." He grinned down at her, albiet a bit sadly. "As much as I enjoy being a teddy bear for you, Fina, I really think you should tell Gilder what's up. I think I'll stay up here for a few more minutes and then go to get some shoes on. I think I'm going to be up here scanning the islands all night."
Fina smiled and kissed his cheek, which caused him to raise an eyebrow. "All right, Vyse. I'll talk to you later." She turned and walked into the deckhouse. He looked after her, shook his head, and then turned to stare out at the horizon once more.
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