The Sakamota Journals: Sera and the Dragon

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A Capital Ship

Three ships were at the dock: the Meridian Child, the Arcadia, and the Dorgenark. The Arcadia was by far the largest, so it was no surprise to me that it was our destination. The pirates swarmed around me, slowly shoving my up the gangplank and onto the deck, where even more animatronic pirates waited.

While the shoran tribes bore animal-like characteristics, these animatronics were far closer to the animal side of the spectrum, if a bit cartoony in appearance. They barked, cawed, and hooted along with the laughing pirates as I was pushed across the deck. Dee was ripped from my hands and a particularly large and hairy pirate swiftly tied my hands together behind the ballast. I struggled against it, but whatever the creature was supposed to be just laughed and ruffled my hair.

Unable to get free, I could only watch as the pirates tossed Dee around in a spirited game of catch. Occasionally, I could hear her angry mutterings through the thick rope that bound her jaw. How this stopped her from talking when lack of throat, lungs, larynx, and lips didn't seem to hinder her in the slightest was a mystery to me, but the sudden appearance of Arc on deck drove it from my mind. Bound and gagged, Arc was carried to the ballast by the same giant hairy pirate-creature that tied up my own hands. It dropped Arc beside me and tousled his hair as well before joining the game of catch the skull.

“You okay, Arc?” I asked.

His eyes widened at the sound of my voice. After flipping himself around to face me with some difficulty, he tried to speak through his gag to no avail. He didn't seem to be hurt, at least, though there was no sign of his Kindred blade.

“I came here to rescue you.” I told him, my tone apologetic.

Arc rolled his eyes and mumbled something else.

“I know, I know.” Sighing, I tried to work my way free. I knew the massive hands of the animatronic couldn't have tied too good of a knot. Sure enough, with a little work on my part, the rope binding my hands grow slightly more slack. Before I could get too excited about my progress, a loud roar made me look up in surprise.

“THAT'S ENOUGH!” Thundered a massive bear animatronic. No, not a massive bear of an animatronic; it was clearly supposed to be a bear. From his dress, captain's hat, and the mechanical parrot perched on his shoulder, I could tell he was the leader of the merry band of mechanical pirates.

He stomped across the bridge, the other pirates quickly moving from his path. Coming to a halt right in front of me, he said, “Now what have we here? Another stowaway looking for a free ride and pocketful of doubloons?”

The bearded pirate gave the captain a salute, the inert One doll still tied up and dangling from a short length of rope in his other hand. “Intruders and spies, cap'n! He cavorts with the specters of the Shadowlands!”

The captain caught Dee in mid-air and stared her in her flaming eyes. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I couldn't help but think there was a look of recognition in the robot bear's surprisingly expressive face.

He approached me slowly, skull in hand and met my gaze. “Are they recruiting you, sonny Jim? Are those bags of bones and rotten air looking to expand their forces? What did they offer ya, eh?”

“No sir-”

“That's captain, to you.” The bear-pirate said. “Captain Graggle leader of the finest band of scallywags under the twin suns.”

“ I said. “I'm a member of the Royal Guard, here on a quest to rescue Princess Sera.”

Everyone fell silent. Just as I started to worry that they were working with the kidnapper, the bear let out a loud laugh. The rest of the pirates joined in a moment later, the sounds of laughter and metal limbs clanging filling the air with an almost deafening roar.

“Hear that, lads?” said Captain Graggle, slapping me hard on the shoulder. “We've got a regular hero here!”

“I'm not a hero!” I snapped, an old anger flaring up in my chest.

The crowd fell silent again. Even the captain looked taken aback by the force with which I'd spoke. My cheeks red, I said, “I guard a bridge in the middle of nowhere, that's all. If it weren't for the Princess being kidnapped, I'd still be there now. Please, I'm not looking for a fight, I just want to rescue the Princess and go back home.”

“HA! A likely story, friend of the dead! First Mate Floyd!”

The pirate with the large beard saluted. “Aye, Captain Graggle?”

“I think our friend needs to take a little walk. Prepare the plank!”

The pirates roared their approval as a plank was laid over the side of the ship. A sinister-looking pirate fox approached me, a cooking knife in the grasp of the hand that wasn't a hook. Before he could reach me, however, a shrill voice shouted, “Belay that order!”

The crew stared at the speaker, a rat no taller than my calves yet still dressed as a pirate. He hurried to the captain with something shiny in his hands.

“Why would ye belay me order, Rizzo?” Captain Graggle asked, taking a knee to better speak with the tiny crewman.

The following conversation was nothing more than whispers to me. When it was done, however, captain's eyes widened. He took the shiny object from his rat crewman and slowly approached me.

“This be yours?” The bear captain said, holding the object out to me. It was a shard, one of the ones I'd left for the burger I'd eaten.

“Yes.” I said, blushing a little. “I got a burger from one of the stands.”

The captain spun the shard in his hands for a few moments before clamping his jaws on the shard and trying to bend it to no effect.

“By the stars.” He said, looking back at me. “It's real!”

“Yes.” I said, uncertain as to why he'd think otherwise.

Captain Graggle raised the shard in the air for all to see and bellowed, “He be no spy! He be a customer!”

A gasp of surprise ran through the crowd. Instantly, the ship was a flurry of movement. Pirates scurried about as the bear captain and his bearded first mate urged them onward, occasionally shooting nervous glances at us. I felt my hands come free and turned to see the little rat pirate cutting Arc's bonds as well. We were quickly pushed into two chairs the pirates had seemingly pulled from nowhere.

“Uh, thank you.” I said to one of the three cat-pirates that pushed me into the chair. “Could I have my sword back?”

“Normally weapons aren't allowed in the park.” The first cat said.

The next cat continued, “But since your weapon is old and blunt,”

“We can classify it as an antique.” The final cat said, handing me Glint and Plush One.

Rubbing his wrists, Arc said, “What about me? My blade's a Kindred Artifact!”

“Kindred artifacts are considered yellow-level threats.” The third cat said. “While you have a permit for it, you cannot carry it throughout the park without administrator approval.”

“Yeah, what he said.” The second cat said.

The first cat finished, “You can pick it up at the main gate office as you are leaving the park.”

The cat handed him a small paper slip, presumably a receipt. He glared at the cat and said, “Gee, thanks.”

“Hurry up!” I heard Captain Graggle say as the cats scurried away. “Everyone in their places! We've rehearsed this for years, so if something goes wrong, so help me, I'll keelhaul the lot of ya.”

“Rehearsed?” Arc said, eyes widening. “Oh no. Don't tell me they're gonna-”

A jaunty tune started, a mix of calliope music with light accompaniment that was toe-tappingly catchy. As Arc feared and I'd guessed, the pirates danced as they sang:

A capital ship is quite a trip to see in this age and day

Floaters in the sky or a simmersill ride is how most make their way

But an engine's wail can't beat a sail on a ship with a merry cre-e-ew

So we'll leave this bay once the anchor's weighed and sail on the briny blue

So, blow you winds, high-ho! A rovin' we will go.

We'll stay no more on Rimstak's shore, so let the music pla-a-ay.

We're off on the morning train, across the raging main:

I'm off to my love with a boxing glove, ten thousand miles away.

Our captain's a bear and has a mean stare he gives when he's in a mood

But he's smiles all day as we work and play, so you shouldn't think him rude

The first mate's beard is really weird, and it used to reach his knee-e-es

Till we caught him asleep. With a razor's sweep, his face from his hair we freed

So, blow you winds, high-ho! A rovin' we will go.

We'll stay no more on Rimstak's shore, so let the music pla-a-ay.

We're off on the morning train, across the raging main:

I'm off to my love with a boxing glove, ten thousand miles away.

So we welcome you, come and join our crew, and we'll sail to the setting sun

We'll see foreign lands, land on distant sands, and find treasure by the ton

If you say no, you'll deal us a blow, but we won't force you to sta-a-ay,

Just give us a grin and a wave of yer fin as we sail on our ship away!

So, blow you winds, high-ho! A rovin' we will go.

We'll stay no more on Rimstak's shore, so let the music pla-a-ay.

We're off on the morning train, across the raging main:

I'm off to my love with a boxing glove, ten thousand miles away.

Overall, I have to say it was rather well done; the dancing animatronics were quite entertaining, and acted amazingly life-like. After the final lyric was sung, I stood up and clapped, Arc joining me a moment later.

“Thank ye, thank ye.” Captain Graggle said. “We've been wanting to do that for ages. Tell me, there be more customers coming, aye?”

I exchanged an uncomfortable look with Arc. Fortunately, we were saved from having to say anything by the mainsail timely bursting into flame. Several skulls burst from the flames, their toothy jaws open in screams that made the sound of nails on a chalkboard feel like a fond childhood memory.

Captain Graggle held Dee up by the same rope that was binding her jaw shut. “This is your doing, isn't it? Tryin' to steal our customer!”

The fire in Dee's eyes flared, the rope straining as she undoubtedly tried to speak.

A group of skeletal horse-riders on flaming spectral steeds were running across the docks; the fire of the horses didn't seem to spread, but it was an impressive sight nonetheless. The screaming skulls circled the ship in a swirl of colored flames, though they didn't set any fires either; if anything, they seemed to enjoy flying around and screaming. Dark shadows stretched over the weathered boards, their shapes only vaguely human.

“Back to the Shadowlands with you all! You'll not be having him!” The Captain spun about and shouted, “Weigh anchor! Trim the sails!”

His crew didn't move. They were literally shaking, their metal appendages making quite a bit of racket in the process.

Rolling his eyes, Captain Graggle said, “Come on, you rusty heaps! The spooks won't dare cross the water! Now get movin' before I get me cat'o'nine tails!”

It didn't get everyone moving, but a sizeable portion of the crew snapped out of their fear and started attending to their duties. In a matter of moments, the ship was actually moving. It wasn't enough, however; the dark shapes flitting along the seaside boardwalk were soon slinking over the ship's hull. Skeletons caught the ropes of the ship's rigging and slowly pulled themselves toward the deck.

Arc sidled closer to me. “Should we run?” He said, his voice a whisper.

“Where would we run to?” I whispered back. “The pirates are on the ship, the spooks are at the dock; are we gonna swim to the outer wall and hope we can make it to-” I checked my map. “The Jungle Ruins?”

Most of the horse-riders stopped at the end of the dock, but several leapt onto the deck; one clearly missing its skull.

As the screaming skulls and the other skeletal riders chased the animatronic pirates around the ship, Dee's body rode with singular purpose to the helm, where Captain Graggle stood. Graggle held his ground, Dee's skull still firmly in hand.

“You want this?” He said, holding up the skull.

The headless skeleton drew a sword and pointed the business end at the bear-pirate.

“You think I'm frightened?” Captain Graggle said, letting out a loud laugh as he pulled a metal-reinforced club from his belt. “Of a bunch of enchanted bones? Now get off that horse and face me like a man.”

The ropes binding Dee's jaw snapped, leaving her hanging from the single remaining robe. “I'm a woman, you dolt! A woman! You want me off my horse, then throw me to my body!”

“And lose my new trophy? Ha! I've got plans for you.” Captain Graggle said, “Perhaps once I find a way to keep you permanently quiet, I'll use you as a coffee cup.”

“Whoa!” I said, holding up a hand. “There's no reason-”

My words were cut off as Dee's body lunged forward, sword flashing through the air. Captain Graggle was ready, however; with the club in one hand and Dee's skull in the other, he deflected blow after blow while taking the occasional shot himself. He wasn't as fast as the skeleton, but the force of his attacks was enough to drive Dee's body back.

Unfortunately for Graggle, Dee was trouble in more way than one. While he fought Dee's body, Dee the Skull was snapping at Graggle anytime she swung into biting range. Her teeth couldn't pierce the metal skin of the animatronic's exoskeleton of course, but it seemed to annoy him enough that his attention was divided.

As all this was going on, Arc and I were still in our chairs. I was engulfed in a sense of surreality that left me more bemused than anything.

I glanced at my fellow hero and said, “You ever wonder if all the strange things we keep seeing are altering our perception of normality?”

“Strange things?” Arc asked, sounding just as dazed as I felt. “It's just a bunch of animatronic pirates fighting actual ghosts and skeletons in the middle of a video game theme park inhabited by a painter who kidnapped Princess Sera and built a giant dragon-mech. What's so strange about that?”

I chuckled at that, but the chuckle soon died in my throat as I spotted something unpleasant on the horizon.

“Say, Arc,” I said, pointing at something that lay straight ahead of us. “What is that?”

Arc squinted at the object. “Just looks like a rock to me. A really big rock.”

“Okay, but we're heading right for it.”

Slight lines of worry appeared on Arc's face. Still, he laughed and said, “I'm sure whoever's at helm will steer clear any second now.”

Slowly, we both turned and stared at the helm, completely bereft of spook or pirate. After looking at each other for a few seconds, we both scrambled out of our seats and hurried to climb the railing. It wasn't easy, but certainly easier than fighting through the throng on the stairs leading up to the upper deck.

“Okay.” Arc said, grabbing the wheel. “Just turn it, right?”

He tried to turn the wheel, but it didn't budge so much as an inch.

“Uh, problem.” He said, still tugging at the handles.

I moved beside him and gave it a try myself to no avail. The wheel felt as though it were locked into place.

“There must be some kind of catch.” I said, looking around for controls. Unfortunately, there just weren't any; it was just the wheel.

I grabbed the handles again; almost immediately, a rather plain voice said, “We're sorry, but only authorized personnel are permitted to operate park equipment.”

“Override!” I said, panic rising as the rock grew larger in our view. “By the authority of the Royal Guard!”

“We're sorry. Only authorized personnel are permitted to operate park equipment. In case of emergency, please speak with park personnel.”

“Ugh!” Rolling my eyes, I leapt over the railing and hurried across the deck to where Dee and Captain Graggle were still fighting.

“Ahh, Jimmy!” Dee's skull said. “You're just in time to watch me make mincemeat out of this wretch.”

“We're heading for a giant rock!” I said, “We need to turn the ship, but the wheel won't respond to us.”

Captain Graggle let out a booming laugh. “That's 'cause you ain't a pirate!”

“We are going to crash!” I said. “Do you hear me?”“

“Yeah, I hear you.” Captain Graggle said. “I'll get us to safety just as soon as I put this skeleton into her place!”

“Ha! I don't need to be here to finish you off. Jimmy, catch!” Dee said, her body throwing her head at Arc and me. Arc shrieked and ducked behind me; fortunately, I caught the skull before it hit the deck.

“Can you operate the helm?” I asked her.

“Yeah, but not without hands, and I doubt Graggle will cooperate. You sure this thing's really a threat?”

I turned her to face the oncoming rock. She was silent a moment; the rock was very close now. Even if the helm was accessible, I doubted we'd be able to turn in time.

“Right.” Dee said, “Okay, that's a problem. Graggle! Body! Knock it off!”

Graggle didn't even bat an eye at Dee's shout. Dee's body paid similarly little attention.

“Traitor!” Dee sighed and said, “Fine. Don't worry, Jimmy, I've got another way off the ship. Your friend won't like it, though.”

“He'll live.” I said. “What about the Graggle and his pirates?”

“They want to be pirates, let 'em go down with the ship. You want to stay with them?”

“No thank you.”

“Then let's get out of here.” Dee let out a shrill whistle. One of the spectral horses sent an animatronic spinning with a well-placed kick before cantering over to us.

“W-what?” Arc said, his eyes wide with terror. “Oh, no; I'm not riding that thing!”

“Hey!” Dee said, “There's nothing wrong with my Poppie. If you don't like her, you can just stay here! Jimmy?”

I didn't need to be told twice. Climbing on to the spectral horse's back was a lot like mounting a spinner that had a mind of its own; still, I managed to situate myself onto the saddle.

“Whoa there!” I said as the horse shifted slightly in response to my weight. I patted her shoulder place in what I hoped was a soothing way. “Easy, Poppie, nothing to worry about. Arc?”

“Mad kings, Robot pirates and ghost horses.” I heard him mutter as he reluctantly climbed behind me.

“All right, you two.” Dee said, “Hold on tight. Poppie! Git!”

Poppie reared back, her hooves pawing the air for a moment before she ran toward the starboard railing at a full gallop. With a graceful leap, she soared over the railing.

“AAAAAGH!”

I winced as Arc continued screaming in my ear, despite the moment of panic I too felt as our mount plummeted over the side of the ship.

Our worry was needless; she landed with an almost unnatural ease, her hooves brushing the tops of the waves as though it were a grassy meadow. A gentle rain began to fall as Poppie carried us over the waves, eventually bringing us back to the beach.

“So where to?” Dee asked. “The Ancient Ruins? The Aetherial Plane? The Miner's Refuge?”

“No more beating around the bush. We're heading for the castle.” I said. “It's probably a trap, but it's the best lead I've got at the moment.”

“You got it, boss. C'mon, Poppie!”

Poppie let out a snort as she continued galloping forward. We were soon clear of the beach and the boardwalk, and were fast approaching a wide drawbridge that led over the moat and through the massive fortified stone wall around the castle.

“Sure you don't want to check the other areas?” Arc asked. “Galactic Central sounds kinda cool.”

“Bah.” Dee said. “You don't wanna go there; the Grays are snooty bastards. Won't even acknowledge the Spooks.”

“Grays.” I said, wondering what they looked like. “Who all lives in the park, animatronic or otherwise?”

“Well, you've got the Spooks and the Pirates; we're always fighting a bit, but it's just in good fun. Then you've got the golems in the Ancient Ruins; they're friendly, but will talk your ear off if you give 'em the chance. Then you've got the Grays at Galactic Central, a bunch of robots pretending to be different robots. Weird, huh? Then there's the Boglins in the Shroom Woods, the Dugger Clan of Miner's Refuge, and the Ascended in the Aetherial plane. Oh, and the Clowns of the Bizarre Baazar.”

“I remember the clowns.” I said, a small shudder running through me at the memory.

“They're not that bad.” Dee said evenly. “They're just unfinished. Cid was still working on them before he just sealed himself in the castle. Speaking of which, you might want to hold on.”

I'd barely tightened my grip on the reins when Poppie came to a halt just short of a massive drawbridge over a surprisingly deep chasm. Despite Dee's urging, Poppie refused to go any closer to the castle.

“Sorry, Jimmy.” Dee said, “She's always been a little funny about heights.”

“Fair enough.” I said, sliding off the spectral horse. Handing Dee to Arc, I gave Poppie a pat on the side. “Thank you for carrying us this far, friend.”

Poppie bobbed her head at us, but remained standing at the foot of the drawbridge.

“See?” Dee said as we walked across the drawbridge. “Poppie's a sweetie.”

“She is.” I agreed. “Are you sure you want to come with us? There's no telling what the kidnapper's set up for us.”

“All the more reason to take me with you.” Dee said. “I'm friends with a few of the bucket-heads who patrol the palace.”

“Bucket heads?” Arc asked, glancing down at the skull in his hands.

“Robot knights. A few of them have mounts; we all get together to go riding sometimes. I should be able to talk to any that give us trouble. Besides, I want a word with Cid.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Yeah. The only reason we're here is because the king's forgotten about us; I mean, there's a ton of resources here, yeah? If Cid's your man, and he brings attention to us, this whole place will probably be torn to pieces and carted all over the country. The animatronics will be dismantled, all the attractions will be scrapped … I'll probably get roped into a desk job. Ugh … talk about horror.”

“They can't scrap the animatronics, not if they're aware.” Arc said. “Glen versus Kaal; the moment an artificial being gains sapience, Vintan law requires they be treated as citizens. Even King Iniagus isn't insane enough to go against a Council ruling.”

“You say that.” Dee said, “But I'd rather not put it to the test. Besides, it won't stop him from evicting the lot of us from government property for compliance in her kidnapping.”

Arc stopped dead in his tracks. “Aw, crap.” He said, “My sword! I completely forgot about it!”

“Calm down, flesh-bag.” Dee said, “It'll be at the Main Gate Office, perfectly safe and sound.”

“Well, I gotta go get it!” Arc turned and immediately started walking back the way we had come.

“Arc!” I said, moving to follow him.

“It's okay.” Arc said, glancing back at me. “Someone should probably fill Terry and Meryli in on everything anyway.”

I sighed and nodded. “Fair enough. I'd appreciate Dee's company in case of trouble, however.”

“Yeah.” Dee said as Arc looked down at her. “Besides, I'd rather not run into the clowns like this; I'll either end up slathered in makeup, or in the air next to a juggling pin.”

“Right.” Arc said, “Sorry.”

He had only taken a single step in my direction when a shudder ran through the bridge. The question of what was causing the shaking was on my lips when the plank in the center of the bridge abruptly fell free of its moorings and splashed into the moat below a few seconds later.

“Uh …” Arc took a step away from the gap as the planks on either side began to shake as well.

Realizing what was about to happen, I said, “Run!”

Planks shook under my feet as I ran toward the castle. As I neared the edge, I could've sworn I felt a few of the planks drop just as I pull my foot away. With a final leap, I cleared the bridge and landed on the cobblestones beyond. I turned back in time to see Arc reach the other side of the bridge, Dee still safely in his hands.

“Thank the Creator.” I breathed. Cupping my hands to my mouth, I called out, “Are you both okay?”

“Yeah.” Arc called back. “What now?”

I glanced around the courtyard; I could see other drawbridges in the distance, no doubt leading into the other areas of the park. Unfortunately, they were all closed.

Sighing, I said, “Get your sword, fill in Terry and Meryli, and try to contact Mick and Casey.”

“What about you?”

“I'll be fine.” I said, hoping it was true. “I'll try and find a way to get the bridges down.”

Arc nodded. As he started to move away, however, Dee called out, “Hang on, kid; Jimmy? Can you hear me?”

“Yes!” I called back. “What is it?”

“If Cid turns out to be your kidnapper, go easy on him, okay?”

“I may not have a choice.” I said. “The Princess's safety-”

“I know, I know. Still, I'd hate to see him come to harm after all he's done for the park. He's a good kid, just … a little lonely, that's all.”

I closed my eyes, Terra's face appearing in my mind's eye. “I won't hurt him, not unless he give me no other choice.”

“Thank you, Jimmy.” Dee paused for a long moment before adding, “And if you don't make it ...”

“Yes?” I asked.

Dee cackled. “We're always recruiting for the Spook Squad.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “I'll keep it in mind.”


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