They sat in the dining hall of the Belleza, if it could be called a "hall". It wasn't massive like the dining hall on the Delphinus; it was more of a "dining room" than anything else. It was a comfortable room, with the table, shelves and benches bolted down to prevent them from sliding around during voyages. Yellow moonstone-powered lights hung above the long table, although they were partially covered with colored glass lampshades to give a pleasing look that couldn't be accomplished by bare lightbulbs.
Aern sat on one side of the table, drinking a warm cup of tea that Fina had made for him. The Shwartzian was now dressed in his standard blue, black and gray clothing, although his hair was still damp from the snow. He had the purple-black tresses tied back into a ponytail, except for those few annoying pieces of hair that wouldn't stay back and always seemed to fall in or near his face.
"You make a fine cup of tea, Fina." he said politely. It seemed that everything he did was polite.
"Well I had to do something for you." the Silvite responded. She was seated on one side of Aika, and Vyse on the other. Lani and Gilder sat across the table from them with Aern. "You seemed so cold outside that as soon as I came in, I knew that you needed something hot to drink." She blushed. "Standing naked in the snow can't be horribly fun."
He smiled. "Not fun, yet necessary. I had to get Aika back to you, as well I had to come and speak to you, Fina. Although I am sure that Vyse will want to hear this as well."
"I sure do." the scarred blue rogue said. "Aika tried explaining, but it didn't make a whole lot of sense. I want the story, Aern...all of it. The Black Moon, who you are, where you come from, why you turn into a gargoyle thing, and why you need to find Fina."
The scarlet-eyed young man set down his mug of tea and sighed. "Yes, but where can I begin?" He frowned, appearing to think for a moment, and then looked at the three young pirates across the table. "First of all, I must say that I speak on behalf of my people. Think of this almost as a diplomatic situation, if you will. Shwartzia wishes to be part of the world again, or so I believe.
"Well past ten thousand years ago, past twenty thousand years ago, past what your historians keep on record, two races lived on the planet Arcadia: the Silvites, and the Shwartzians. Each had the magical ability to shapeshift in order to fly through the skies between the continents and countless islands. There apparently was a time when the clouds of Deep Sky were not as thick, and we lived upon the surface of our planet...but as our world changed, we changed as well. We mainly lived beneath the Silver and the Black moons, at opposite sides of the planet. The Silver moon was and still is over where Soltis once was. The Black moon was over where the Dark Rift stands today.
"Eventually the Silvites evolved, learning how to sail the skies and no longer needing to shapeshift in order to travel. We, however, continued living in simple ways and thus continued using our shapeshifting abilities. Then one day, nearly twenty thousand years ago, the visitors came.
"They came on great ships, made of strange metal we had never seen before. These ships were sleek, large and appeared to be able to travel through outer space itself at great speeds. Their technology seemed extremely advanced, obviously. Many were confused by these newcomers, but many others welcomed them regardless of their strange appearance and odd language.
"These were the first humans to visit Arcadia." He looked at Fina. "No, we aren't exactly human, you and I. Not like Vyse, Aika, Lani...not like the descendants of those who came in those ships that day."
"But we look the same..." Fina retorted. "There have even been stories of Silvites intermarrying and having children with races that lived beneath different moons."
"That is true...we are very similar in many ways...biologically similar, yes. Magically similar, no. Humans don't have the innate ability to use magic, at least not anymore. I am sure Aika could cast a pre-memorized spell, but humans didn't invent those spells: Silvites and Shwartzians did. Humans had the ability to naturally cast magic at one time, but they don't anymore...not without using a spell that they didn't create themselves."
He sighed, sipped his tea and shook his head. "But that doesn't matter. The point is, when humans came here, they were fascinated by our magic. Likewise, we were fascinated by their technology. Over the next few thousands of years, we helped each other. They showed us their technology and helped us build great cities, fast ships and other scientific advancements. We showed them our magic and helped them settle beneath the remaining five moons.
"The people beneath the Yellow, claiming they had come from "Yurope", became the first to be advanced. They were excellent craftsmen as well as mechanics, and soon had harnessed the power of yellow moonstones. For this we were glad, because it provided us a means of acquiring electrical power without burning things such as coal.
"Those who settled under the Green moon were next, they claiming that they came from South..." he frowned, trying to remember. "I'm sorry, it's just been so long since I learned this history lesson. I'm not a scholar or anything. I believe it was something like "South Emereca". Anyway, they still remembered their old world, and how their ancestors were driven from it by some event in their solar system. They turned their eyes to the heavens to watch and study the stars, in hopes to make sure the same thing would not happen to their new home of Arcadia."
He paused to look at them all. "Are you with me so far?"
"Right up with you." Vyse said. "So you say they came from different worlds? Huh, so my great-great-great grandfather came from another planet..."
"Yes." said Aern. "But only one planet, not multiple ones. "Yurope", "South Emereca" and others like "Aysa", "North Emereca" and "Afreca" were all countries on another world. People from "Aysa" settled beneath the Blue moon, but decided to live like we Shwartzians do and tied their lives in with nature. They were great poets, musicians and artists. That stands true for Yafutomans today.
"The Red lands were settled by people from "Afreca", although their numbers were smaller than the other groups. I think that many people from that country must of perished before they could flee the planet. Still, the population has obviously grown, and now Nasr is the economic giant of the world, just as it was back then.
"Lastly, people from "North Emereca" settled beneath the cold Purple moon. They didn't mind it, though; when they had initially settled, the Purple moon was farther south, directly over the south pole and not as close to Glacia as it is today. Its orbit was farther away from the planet as well. They devoted their time to knowledge and magic, working together with the Silvites to integrate learning and magic into everyday life."
He paused to sip his tea. Then he continued.
"Centuries passed. Centuries turned to millennia. The various races of Arcadia became further and further advanced, as well as more egotistical. Soon it wasn't enough to better themselves, as the Silvites and the Shwartzians did. They had to start "cold wars", wars that weren't fought with battles and ships, but rather with knowledge and technological advances. Both my people and the Silvites saw this, and became worried. While the Silvites decided to dispatch ships to monitor the progress of each civilization, the Shwartzians had ideas of their own.
"It was out of fear, out of want of protection...not out of malice or wanting to crush other civilizations. My ancestors never wanted to do anything but protect our home from the other countries, in case they grew too zealous. This is why we created a great being, in the image of ourselves, with the power of a thousand black moonstones; only a black moon crystal could control it. We had created Mortian, the first Gigas."
Vyse interrupted. "So wait a minute, you mean to tell me that those stupid wars started because your people created the first Gigas?"
"Yes and no." Aern sighed. "Once Mortian was created, my people did in fact show him to the Silvites to ensure them that if they needed our help, we would use Mortian to defend their continent of Soltis as well. After that, we put Mortian to rest below our lands, and vowed not to use him unless absolutely necessary."
Aern folded his hands on the table in front of them, and looked at them thoughtfully, bowing his head a bit. "But no grand idea can stay good nor innocent for long. Soon the other civilizations had found out what we had done, and they each created their own Gigas. After that, they started great terrible wars with them. I'm sure you all know that history lesson."
"We know something about it." Aika said dryly. "Go on, Aern."
"Afraid of the wars, my people utilized their powers of gravity and caused Shwartzia to sink down, nearly to Deep Sky, and then formed a great storm over it. None could pass through the storm to reach us, even as none can get through the Dark Rift in order to get to us today...not without a Shwartzian to guide them, anyway. The Shwartzian people were upset by this...hiding in the dark, away from the sun. I myself remember that I missed seeing the sky, and the rain. I was seven at the time."
"Woah, hold up." Vyse interjected again. "Just how old are you?"
"Physically, I'd say I'm about twenty. But realistically, because of some circumstances, I'm well over ten thousand years old."
They all started at him in awe. "Even the Silvite elders, who had lived over a thousand years, were old and frail at the end of their life span." Fina said. "Why is it you're not?"
"I'll get to that in a moment, since it's part of my story." He looked at his empty mug. "May I have more tea?"
Aika wordlessly stood up, took the teapot from the stove and poured him another cup. Then she sat down and looked across the table at him anxiously, obviously wanting him to get on with his story.
"I'm sorry, it's just that so much talking makes me thirsty." Aern took a gulp of tea, which wasn't quite as hot anymore. "That's better. As I was saying, we Shwartzians hid ourselves beneath a great storm. This is the only reason we were not harmed by what would come in the next few months. The Silvites saw the wars and were outright disgusted by them. They created their own Gigas, Zelos, and by utilizing the powers of this monster they caused moonstones to hail down upon the surface of the planet. The Silvites then fled to a haven they created high above Arcadia, the Great Silver Shrine. That left us with the tattered remains of the five other civilizations to worry about.
"You see, since a magical barrier was over a section of Soltis where the Silvites were gathered, they weren't harmed by the Rains. The same stands true for Shwartzia: the Dark Rift protected us from the Rains, since the winds of our storm were so strong nothing could penetrate them. Naturally, the other civilizations were chagrined. Not so much the people beneath the Green and Blue, but more the Yellow and the Purple. For a while, the Yellow people tried to get to our continent through our storm, but to no avail. The Purple decided to try an indirect manner, although no one was prepared for it.
"Many of the civilizations still possessed the ships their ancestors had arrived to Arcadia in. The Glacians were no exception, and they decided to use one of their aircrafts against us. Instead of aiming it at the Dark Rift, they sent a suicide crew with it and flew it straight at our moon, in hopes of destroying it. The Black moon wasn't entirely destroyed, but instead knocked out of orbit. Because of its strange gravitational powers, it immediately adjusted somehow, and used the Purple moon as a counterweight of sorts. The Purple moon was driven northwards and directly over Glacia. The Black moon slid behind the larger Purple moon, and was lost from our sight forever.
"This devastated my people. They had always relied on the power of the Black moon to protect them, even though they now had the Dark Rift above them. This is why not long after our moon's displacement, the Council declared that all citizens of Shwartzia would put themselves into a deep sleep. Black moon crystals not only have power over gravity, but over time. We used this to literally seal ourselves in time. This is why I'm over ten thousand years old; I was one of the people that did this, although I was only ten at the time.
"There was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, however; our scientists estimated that every eight hundred years or so the Black moon would slide out from behind the Purple and pass over the land of Shwartzia, if briefly. We didn't estimate how long we would sleep, but we knew that eventually some of us would wake up. Although for many, waking up means death." He turned to look at Fina with his crimson-colored eyes. "This is why I need a Silvite. I awoke some ten years ago, along with a few others, and found the painful truth of the matter: without the powers of a Silver moon crystal, most of my people will not wake up. We only seem to awaken when the Black moon begins its movement to the northeast, and then those who wake up are children. For some reason, when adults awaken, they age rapidly within days and then pass away...as if the time they spent in hibernation catches up to them. We have yet to have somebody awaken over the age of thirteen that lives."
"That's horrible..." Aika said. "But do those kids at least grow up?"
"Of course." Aern replied. "They grow normally, as if they weren't frozen in time. Sadly, though, as a side effect all Shwartzian women are barren. This brings a terrible realization to light..." He turned to look at Fina again. "...if we do not get a Silvite to heal them, then we will die out."
He reached across the table to take her hand in his. "Please, Fina....I implore you: help me. Help my people. I'm afraid that if you do not help, then nothing can save my people. This is the last pass of the Black moon before the last of the children awaken. After that, our hope is gone, and none will live after awakening. Please, help us."
Fina held one hand to her chest, tears glistening in her eyes. She had no idea that this was why Aern was following her around for....who knows how long. "I will help you, Aern." she said finally. "I can't let an entire race die out. If I am the last Silvite, and the last one who has the power to restore your people, then I will do anything I can to help."
Aern's cool exterior seemed to shatter, and he started to tremble. "Thank you, you have no idea what this means to me." he said in a broken voice. "I was afraid that I would fail, that there was no hope for my family, my friends...my people. But you said that you would help, and that brightens my spirits so much."
"Hey, Fina's not the only other person who wants to help." Aika said. "You helped me so naturally I want to help you out. You seem like a good person, Aern, and I'm sure that none of us really want to let you down."
Vyse nodded in agreement. "That's about the size of it. True blue rogues never turn away a person in need, especially somebody with a problem as big as yours. We'll help you no matter what, Aern....and I think we all would of helped even if you didn't rescue Aika. You have my word that we'll do everything we can to help."
The Shwartzian seemed almost in shock. "Your good intentions and willingness to help a total stranger completely surprises me. I didn't know that people could be so kind....from what I've seen so far, the humans in the modern world are selfish and sometimes cruel."
"A few bad apples can spoil a whole bushel." Gilder put in. "You probably only saw the jerks of the world and not the nice guys. Trust me, there's some decent folk around. Hell, you're sitting with five of them right now."
"I can see that now." Aern said with a warm smile, glancing around at them. "If I can find any way to repay you..."
Vyse held up a hand. "Don't bother. Things like goodwill aren't something you exchange or trade off. You do things for people because you want to, not out of obligation. At least that's the way we look at it." His companions nodded in agreement. "Okay, now that it's settled...where do we start? You know more than any of us do, Aern."
"Yes, tell us please." Fina said. "If I'm to help you, I need to know exactly what you need."
"Well..." Aern frowned, drumming his long fingers on the tabletop. "I should tell you about the two I was traveling with. No, about my society a bit and then about my two friends..." He looked up at them. "In Shwartzia, there are different castes. There are farmers, hunters, scholars....classes you have beneath your moons as well. We have classes that are places of honor, almost....more like small groups of knights that have been around since the cold wars began thousands of years ago. These groups are called "Protectorates". Protectorates generally consist of three people: Warriors, Sages and Clerics. The three have different abilities that counter-balance each other, yet unite the group through their unique talents and cooperation.
"A Warrior's job is fairly obvious: they are the fighter for the group, even if they aren't the physically strongest. A Warrior's body is in top condition, and they can use it as a weapon. Warriors always fight unarmed, and yet are more powerful than men with swords or other such weapons. A Warrior can be male or female, and through years of rigorous training of mind and body, they attune themselves to properly fight: to fight, but not through maliciousness; to defend, but not to maim; to aid the others in the Protectorate and yet not hinder them.
"Sages are even more complex than Warriors, since they are the brains of a Protectorate. Sages are not only highly intelligent, but are well-versed in the arts, history, sociology, linguistics and science. Sages generally have photographic memories, and can recall things they have seen or heard of many years after experiencing them. It's the Sage's job to guide the Protectorate, to decide what their actions will be for the most part, even if he or she isn't the designated leader. Sages are held in high regard in Shwartzia, and many eventually move on to be Senators in the Council that governs our society.
"Clerics are the last, although not the least. What a Cleric does is more than just heal wounds or study medicine: Clerics study the physiology of both the body and mind. A Cleric can not only heal physical wounds, but they can even cure damage done to a body's soul to some degree...or at least they're supposed to."
"What do you mean, "supposed to"?" Aika asked.
Aern looked at her, and then looked at his hands folded on the table. "I'm the Cleric of my Protectorate....but I have yet to exactly figure out how to heal a soul. I do know how to soothe people emotionally and mentally....yet still I'm not absolutely sure how to cure somebody from madness, or how to help somebody who's in magical shock. Magical shock is what happens when somebody uses too much natural magic, and literally drains their soul of its energy." He sighed. "I'm only versed in medicine, psychology, herbology and magical healing."
"Yeah, but those are still great things to know. Seriously, no wonder I'm in great shape." Aika grinned. "I had this great healer helping me out and I never knew it."
The Shwartzian nodded. "Yes, I admit that if I wasn't taking care of you, you'd probably still be in shock and partially unconscious. You were in quite a state when I picked you up." He sighed, and shook his head. "But that's all water under the bridge, now. What I need to do is find the other two members of my Protectorate: Gaed our Sage, and Eleah our Warrior. Our Protectorate is close, but for more than one reason: Gaed is my best friend, and Eleah is my sister." He smiled. "Although I admit they'll be a bit annoyed with me when they realize I found a Silvite before they managed to do so."
Fina smiled as well. "Where are they now?"
"As for my sister, I don't know. She comes and she goes as she pleases...she's always been sort of flighty. The last time I saw Gaed, it was months ago....when Soltis had risen up into the sky. He said he wanted to look through the ruins of Soltis and see if any Silvites put themselves into a sleep the same way we did. He had some sort of theory on that, but I don't exactly remember what. Once the Great Silver Shrine crashed into the barrier guarding Soltis, Gaed flew in through the main tower in hopes of finding any Silvites. That's the last I saw of him, and we all know where Soltis is now."
"Back down in Deep Sky..." Vyse muttered. "Great."
"I know, it sounds like Gaed is lost forever...but I would know if he was dead. There's sort of a spiritual connection between the members of a Protectorate, and when one dies, the other two feel it almost physically. He's still alive, I know it."
"Well then our objective should be to head into Deep Sky and to Soltis...which means we need the Delphinus." Vyse glanced up at the clock on the wall. "It's already midafternoon, so if we start moving now we can make it around Cape Victory and into Nasr airspace before we need to stop for the night." He made a rueful face. "We'll have to go through a few rifts again, since we can't go through any reefs. It'll take several days of zigzagging to get back to Crescent Isle. I kinda wish we could fly above the clouds with the Belleza."
"We could, probably." Fina said. "Hans and myself did modify the engine to give it a more Yafutoman design....but I already know what you're thinking: it's too rough and windy in the higher altitudes, right?"
"Right. I just had our rigging and masts repaired, I'd rather not have to do that again."
"I'll take care of the winds." Aern said calmly.
The scarred blue-rogue glanced at him with a quizzical frown. "Excuse me?"
"I said, I'll take care of the winds. I already told you that Shwartzians have control over the weather to some degree, so I can make the area around us calm enough to sail above the Upper Sky cloud fringe. Your ship will be safe."
"That'd be great, Aern. We'll save a lot of time that way, and be able to search for your friend a lot sooner." Vyse turned to Lani. "Sorry if we're putting off your trip to Yafutoma right now...we could always drop you off at Esparanza and give you money for passage on another ship if you want."
"Are you kidding me? You couldn't pull me off this ship for all the world. I'll make new notes, even better notes now that I have a citizen of the Black moon right here." She smiled. "That is, if Aern doesn't mind."
"Not at all. I'm glad that some are taking an interest in the civilization that was forgotten." He stood. "I'll be up on deck. I do suggest heading a bit north before we rise above the clouds, though. I can adjust the winds slightly, but snow clouds are heavy, and trying to move them around would seriously tire me out. Besides, seriously altering the weather can have dire consequences."
"That makes sense." Vyse stood and leaned forward on the table, glancing around at them. "All right, everybody to their stations. We're leaving ASAP...destination, Crescent Isle."
* * *
The snow was falling thickly as Aika made her way out onto deck. She had spent the past hour or so at her post on the bridge, but there was little need for her to function as navigator when they weren't dodging islands or trying to exactly figure out where they were. She instead was carrying a mug of tea out to Aern, at Lani's prompting. Aika was fairly pleased with not only the reunion of her and her friends, but at their reactions to Aern. All of them seemed to be taking to the Shwartzian well, as she knew they would.
Then again, it seemed impossible not to like the tall, pale man with odd red eyes, just as it seemed impossible not to like a certain scarred blue rogue captain. There was a certain charisma there that made either of them extremely likable. Perhaps it had something to do with both of them being gentlemen, and both were fairly polite to others, even people they didn't know.
The redhead mused about this as she walked over the snow-slickened wood of the deck and over to the tall figure standing at the bow. The snow was clinging to the ropes of the rigging as well to Aern's purple-black hair and dark cloak, but despite the fact that he was accumulating snow as much as the railing was, he didn't seem to mind. Even before she could say anything, he glanced over at her, already knowing she was there.
"Hey, Aern. How are you doing?" She stood at the rail next to him, not to far from where she had been flung from the Belleza three days prior.
"I'm cold." he said bluntly. "Yet, I don't exactly mind." His red eyes flickered up to the softly falling white flakes that drifted down from the sky, his face taking on an expression of almost childlike wonder. "Do you know how long it's been since I've seen snow?"
"Probably not for a long time, judging by your story. Tea? Lani thought you should have some." She offered him the mug.
"Thank you." He took it gratefully, wrapping his hands around it to keep them warm. "We used to get snow over Shwartzia when I was a child....plenty of is as well. But after the Dark Rift was formed, we had no precipitation....only fog."
"Where I come from, we don't get snow that often. Pirate Isle isn't too far south of the equator, so we only would get snow in the very middle of winter. And now that I'm living at Crescent Isle, I don't see any." She sighed. "I guess I miss it too, even if it is cold." Then she smiled, holding out a hand to catch snowflakes. "I used to come up with all sorts of funny reasons why snow fell...fairies sprinkled it down from their houses in the clouds, or Mur touched rainclouds and with her power made them snowclouds."
"The goddess of ice." Aika replied. "She lives on the Purple moon in a castle made of ice, and she has huge gardens of flowers made of ice crystals growing all over her lands." She laughed. "I know...it's just mythology, but I was a kid...and kids are more apt to believe in those things."
"It never hurts to have faith in something, whether it's gods or fairies or dragons. I always thought that thunderstorms were caused by two big dragons fighting in the clouds." He laughed his pleasant-sounding laugh. "Well....at least I thought so when I was six."
Aika sighed, and brushed the snow off the rail to lean her arms on it. "And then you grow up and find the real reasons behind things...and then they're not as fun anymore."
"I wouldn't say that. I'm over ten thousand years old, and here I am...smiling like an idiot because it's snowing on me. I know the scientific reason behind snow, but that doesn't stop me from liking it." He sipped his tea. "I've realized that if you don't enjoy small things, then you don't enjoy anything."
"I wish Vyse thought that way." the redhead grunted. "He's always looking at big things...but never the small. Fina and myself have been trying for the past year to get him to stop and look at the little things in our lives that make us happy."
"I'm sure he knows...he is a captain of a ship, after all." He brushed snow from his hair and eyelashes with a laugh. "I'm turning into a sno-cone here. You had best go below, Aika...it's very cold."
"Nah, I'm fine. Besides, I like to talk. It's nice having somebody new to talk to...er, if you don't mind."
He smiled. "Not at all. I like having company...after all, I've been alone since Gaed, Eleah and myself parted a few months ago."
"Being alone sucks....but hey, you don't have to worry about that. I think that even after you find your Protectorate, we'll still hang out with you. Nothing wrong with having friends, right?"
Aern smirked at her, and then glanced up at the falling snow. "No. Nothing wrong with it at all."
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