The Dream had skirted the waters of the Heigan Sea for more than two days, waves tossing and churning just below the hull. Mazkus had spent most of his time on the deck, trying to avoid their troublesome passengers and keep his head clear. Fox especially bothered him. She was rude, demanding, and critical, but she also had an alluring look and scent. It drove him crazy. He took his meals on deck, usually with Rei, who was worried about him. He slept on deck, with the stars and sun as his blanket and his arms as his pillow. His eyes were weary from it, as was his back, but he didn’t want to face the inside of his ship when she was there. Because of his new home on the exterior deck, Mazkus was the first to spot Serrala on the horizon. It smelled like victory and freedom.
He stumbled onto the bridge of the ship to find Mikail conversing with Matthias Ran, Fox’s bodyguard. The older man turned to greet him.
“Good morning, Captain Stream. I trust you slept well on the deck?” Matthias was kindly, Mazkus could tell, but also a battle-hardened man who had likely seen a good bit of military service.
“I did, thanks. As you’ve likely guessed, we’re almost to Serrala and our association is almost at its end. Are you and Lady Fox prepared to disembark? We should be docking within the hour, and I would like to get my payment and be out of port as quickly as possible.”
“I’m more than ready to be rid of you brigands,” Matthias replied, “but Lady Fox is quite enamored with you. She wishes to continue employing you and your crew as we continue our travels. Helmsman Mikail and I were just discussing it. I assure you that the pay will be quite adequate.” Matthias did not seem the type to argue with. If anything, he was the teeth to any threat made by Lady Fox, and if she wanted to keep riding the Dream, it was Matthias that would broker the deal. Mazkus was certain that the sheathed blade on the older man’s belt was going to be a big part of the negotiations.
“I’m not interested. I would prefer to have you two off my ship, and I’m sure you’d prefer that Lady Fox be kept far away from me. Why not just find a new ship in Serrala?”
“Milady insists on the Infinite Dream. On you. I may not agree with her, but you know by now how strong-willed the girl is.” Matthias smiled then, and Mazkus couldn’t help but smile back.
“That she is. Mikail?” Mazkus turned to his best friend, silently asking whether he thought it was a good idea or not.
“I don’t think it would hurt to have a steady job as a transport, Mazkus. The pay they’re prepared to offer will keep us fed and the Dream in good repair for at least a cycle. I know Lady Fox throws you off, but we need this. Arden and Rei are both alright with it, too.”
That was pretty much the end of the argument there. Mazkus couldn’t deny that they needed the work, and Mikail wasn’t going to steer him wrong.
Serrala was a busy port city, much like Aionia. It was the largest city on the entire Agart Continent, population-wise, and was a world-renowned market. The harsh desert dwellers of Kalia sold their treasures here, Ra’Zaani merchants brought fresh food and other products from the Zanad Mainland, and furniture and sundries from Demor were commonplace too. It was a treasure trove of a city, and Mazkus had spent more than a year there with Mikail and Arden when they’d been young.
Mazkus landed the Dream in an airship dock known as Ragg’s, a safe place for those who didn’t wish to be found by prying eyes. He was striding down the loading ramp, Lady Fox and Matthias in tow, when Ragg approached from the dock’s workshop. Ragg was an aging man now, but he was hardy and lively. His thin gray hair and long white beard bestowed him a look to match his personality: a kindly old man who stunk of oil and metal and loved ships more than people. A wrench was in his bony hands as he paced right up to Mazkus. He pointed the wrench at the other two coming down the ramp.
“She pregnant boy?” Ragg asked, his tone sounding more like a grandfather than a mechanic. Behind Mazkus, Matthias almost choked and Fox started giggling.
“No, Ragg, she’s a passenger. Why do you always assume that every woman I bring here is pregnant?”
“Because one of these days I’ll be right.” Ragg answered, all smiles. He was missing a tooth on the left side of his jaw. Mazkus wrapped the old man in a hug.
“Ragg, this is Matthias Ran and Lady Fox. We picked them up in Aionia.”
“A pleasure, ma’am and sir.” Ragg gave them a sweeping bow before turning his gaze back to Mazkus. “Where’s little Miss Rei? It’s been so long since you’ve been here, she must be a full grown woman by now. And my other boys, where are they? Too grown up to come see old Ragg now?”
“Mikail’s locking down the systems on the bridge, Arden’s running some diagnostics on the stardrive. Rei should be down any second. You can give the Dream a once-over if you want. I know you love her.”
Rei Scant appeared at the top of the ramp then, and ran down to wrap her arms around Ragg, nearly choking him to death. The old man laughed and talked to her for a little while. Mazkus led Matthias and Fox to the street entrance of Ragg’s.
“I’m not sure exactly what you plan to do here,” he told them, “but remember that this is Imperial territory. You let it slip that you’re VanLib and there’s going to be a whole lot of trouble. I’d prefer it if you were back before dark, but you’re both adults, so I can’t really impose a curfew. If you need me, I’ll be around the market. Ragg knows my usual spots.”
“You seem to know him pretty well, Captain.” Fox said.
“Ragg’s been something of a grandfather to all of us. He took us in when we had nowhere to go, helped us get our ship running. He even did the paintjob for us. If you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask him.”
With that, he took his leave of the old soldier and the beautiful girl, and headed down the road toward the market. There were good times to be had.
The days were growing ever more wearisome. North felt more than useless there in the little house, wasting his time writing in his journal while his friends learned how to battle the threat facing them all. But he was alive. That, at least, was great. Azrael was beginning to become more personable, too; the angel was learning to smile and make more human facial expressions. North regretted being cold towards him, all told. He was a being of an entirely different order of existence, who had spent his whole long life ferrying the souls of the dead to their final resting place; he was obviously going to be a rather grim creature. Azrael had accepted his apology graciously, and given him that awkward smile that was becoming his trademark.
North was still the main source of food in the group, as he was the only one free to wander around town while the others were in a strict training regimen. After they’d found Maya, he’d had to change up the menu a little; she didn’t intend to live on potato chips and beef jerky from the gas stations. He was digging through things at the local grocery store when she snuck up on him.
“What’re you doing?” she asked him playfully. He was squatting on the floor of an aisle, looking through the items on the bottom shelf.
“Looking for something you might want to eat.” North admitted.
Maya giggled and crouched beside him, looking through some of the items herself. She grabbed up a jar of mild salsa and stood to find some tortilla chips to go with it.
“You know,” she said, “we really shouldn’t be so awkward around each other, North. We might be some of the last humans alive, and even if everything hadn’t just crumbled into nothing with that earthquake…”
“I know, I know. It’s not really a big deal right now though, is it Maya? We need to get through everything alive and well and find out about our families, don’t we?”
“It doesn’t matter now? We need each other. And… well, Azrael says you’re probably going to die because you don’t have a manaburn. I can’t let that happen, so…”
“It’s ok, Maya. I know what Azrael thinks and I’m going to prove him wrong. You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be fine.” He stood up then, and moved to another aisle. Maya followed right behind him.
“I mean I’m going to protect you. I can fight, North.” Maya picked up a shopping cart with her mind and pushed it down the next aisle. “See?”
North watched the cart roll and sighed. He was glad she didn’t have any hard feelings towards him about his distant attitude, but he didn’t want her to go out of her way to keep him safe. He was doing just fine on his own.
“Shouldn’t you be off training said powers with Azrael?” he asked.
“I was, but he’s working with Duke right now, so I thought I’d come help you pick out things for dinner.” She grabbed his arm and held it as they walked through the store. When their arms started getting full, he picked a shopping cart and let her push it around with her telekinesis. They found a decent amount of good food, though there was nothing fresh left. North silently wished they had a Scion who could control fire so they could get a decent meal now and then.
They returned to the little house a little bit before sunset, and ate with their friends. Azrael set off once more for his duties, and sleep came to North easily for once. Everything was going better than expected.
Scion of Blades
“Again.” Samael demanded, stepping back from his student. “We drill again and again until you actually beat me.” They’d been dancing across rooftops and along alleyways for hours already, moonlight gleaming off their swords. The Scion’s movements had improved vastly since they’d first started, and the Demon of Death was getting closer and closer to mock defeat with every passing night. They went one more round, splashing through a creekbed, launching themselves up its steep banks and swashbuckling through an abandoned apartment complex with an algae-ridden green pool. Their swords sang a song of power and determination, man and demon, man and monster. Samael ended it with a gust of air from his huge, black, leathery wings that sent his pupil straight to the ground. He placed the tip of his black sword at the young man’s throat.
“It’s over.” He said.
“Look again, Samael.” Samael did, and found five swords floating in the air behind him, aimed at his back, and a new blade extending straight out of the Scion’s neck running parallel to his own sword. The new blade reached up and nicked the demon’s arm. Samael began to chuckle heartily.
“Well met, Blood of Arthur. I’m beginning to think you’re toying with this old demon.”
“You’ve taught me everything from the very beginning, Sam. I don’t think I could toy with you if I tried.” The young man stayed on the ground then, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. He could hear the world breathing and moving beneath him, he could feel its soul bubbling in the chasm cutting through the city, bubbling and boiling and shining in the moonlight. It was beautiful. Samael took a seat beside him, crossing his legs and moving into a meditative position. The demon sighed.
“Long have I watched the world of man, long have I ferried the souls of the dead and damned to their rest. I’ve guarded your family for centuries, but you’re one of the few members of your species I’ve ever counted a friend.” Samael said. From the look on his face, he meant every word. They chuckled awhile before parting ways.