Though Anisa and Gibson aren't to be found, presumably off on their errand to retrieve the book as Tinsnip related, time spent around Snowshoe's has warmed the rabbits up to Kin and Lilac some, earning them smiles and a courteous 'how do' when they meet, as well as being asked if they're comfortable. They don't seem inclined to hide family life in the cramped place with so many living under that one roof, so they're privy to each gesture, argument, triumph, spat, joke, and chore. Lilac's tunes have had patron and Snowshoe alike pause to tap a toe for a while, and once the children got over their initial trepidation, Kin has been peppered with questions. ("Is Jadai far away? Do they only wear zolk there? Are your scales really made of gold?")
As usual, Xander "Hotfoot" Lightfoot comes around to check on "his girls" and grab something to eat, since he has no clue how to shop for groceries and is afraid Spring Meadow will beat him if he eats anything out of the garden.
Perhaps surprising to others, and certainly surprising to herself, Kin has taken to the children and has been spending a lot of time with them. Sometimes she's telling them stories and legends from her homeland, others she's recruited as the 'evil dragon' in epic dragon hunting adventures, to even others where she's the 'faithful' steed. All in all, it's very undignified and yet the Kiriga loves it. Currently she's sitting near the fireplace and keeping an eye on Coal while her father is busy helping around the tavern. Today she has also been glancing towards the front door each time it opens; it has been a week now and still no word from Master Longtooth. When Xander comes in, she waves to him.
Xander pauses at the bar to put in a lunch order with Tyson, then comes over to the fireplace area to chat with Kin. "So, any sign of Master Old Guy yet?" he asks.
Lilac has spent her time doing what she loves best: being a bard. Since her stay, she's learned a number of new tunes including a few from Naga, a number of local tunes, and a smattering from across the globe. And, while she's been friendly with the children, she's avoided spending too much time around them. Mostly, she keeps to her music, as well as swapping stories with adults who happen to cross her path.
"Nothing yet. I am beginning to get worried," Kin tells Xander as she scoots over a bit so he can sit down next to her. Nearby, she's keeping Coal occupied by using her tail as a makeshift toy; she keeps flipping and moving it around the young Lapi who in turn keeps trying to grab it. She learned pretty quickly to not let him actually catch it for long, though … those teeth can hurt. "And what is this I have heard mentioned around the tavern that you have been calling Lilac and I 'your girls'?" she asks him.
"Umm, because I care about you both?" Xander offers, and reaches over to give Lilac her customary scratch-behind-the-ears before sitting down.
The tavern isn't experiencing a meal rush, but the rabbits are all quite busy, and Ranit seems grateful for the help. The bunnies seem to be on fairly good behavior in Kin's presence, something that the matron Snowshoe says, "is worth food and board just by itself." One of the Snowshoes says, "Hi, Xander!" on his way past, so fast it isn't clear which one it was.
Lilac leans in to the scratch, then blinks in that puzzled way she does every time she gives in to the scratch. She mumbles something about damning her ears, then returns to playing.
One of these days, I will work up the nerve to try the leg-shaking scratch, Xander thinks to himself. "What do you think the hold up could be? Trouble at home, or could he be… you know… forgetful?" he asks Kin.
"He may have gotten drunk, or gotten in to a fight with a lamp post," Lilac remarks between notes.
When Coal grabs her tail again, she reaches over and picks the small Lapi up. After setting him in her lap, she proceeds to lightly claw-comb his ears since it seems to get them to sit still a bit for the most part. "That is acceptable. I do not mind being 'your girl', if that is the reason," she notes to Xander. "Master Longtooth? It could be many things; he might even be dead again. That happens from time to time. I am hoping it has just been an issue with arranging transport."
"Dead… again?" Xander asks, a bit nervously. "Just what sort of fighting Master is he?"
The door knocker clatters, and one of the Snowshoe boys turns to say, "Welcome to Snowshoe's," but oddly there isn't much to be seen in the doorway, some of the tables and chairs block the view below waist level or so. No, wait… there is something. A shock of white hair seems to waddle past the tables.
A strong scent of mothballs rolls in, and the door shuts.
"His school is the Arthritic Paw of Severe Drubbing," Kin answers. "Legends say he cannot truly die until he defeats his ancient nemesis, the Sable Paw. Others believe he's just too stubborn to die. Personally, I think it is a combination of the latter and being quite pickled." And at the scent of mothballs, she adds, "And he smells much like that."
Lilac's nose twitches, then she simply states, "He's here," to Kin.
Sure enough rounding the tables comes a stooped and dingy-orange reptile. Benjamin moves to politely help the old Kiriga along, and gets fussily shooed away for his trouble. The old master simply keeps creaking along, pausing midway in the inn to squint around from beneath his bushy eyebrows.
Very slowly, Xander turns to look over the back of the couch. "Oh… my… He looks like a deformed hand bag with legs… err… I mean, what an obvious aura of wisdom he exudes."
Kin lifts up Coal and starts to offer him to Xander, then actually stops. Instead, she just gets up and keeps holding the coney as she bows to the Kiriga. "It is an honor to see you, Master Longtooth. I hope that you are well and bring good news?" she calls out. To Xander … well, she does a short and sharp kick to the side of his butt.
The human woman lowers her flute so she can smile at the old master. "Hi, Master Tooth! I hope you're not still upset about the gourd." She blows a few notes, a bit of a wind instrument rim shot. "We were a bit worried about you."
"Ow!" the Lapi yelps, and rubs the spot that was kicked. Feeling Kin is too dangerous at the moment, he shifts a few feet further along the couch. "Is he hard of hearing or anything?" he asks.
If Tooth heard, he makes no indication, simply turning in place to peer about. He does a full 360, and begins to start a 720 until Kin arrives, at which point he turns to face her and crane his head up looking into Coal's face. He starts to reply in Imperial, but on hearing Lilac's voice he speaks his broken Standard. "Ah! I am glad to haf found jou all. I-ah sorry foh delay. Whattah day is it?"
Kin isn't about to let Xander escape. So, she tries to block his scooting away with her tail.
"You are a day later than we expected you. It is Reckoning 18," Kin tells the absolutely older than dirt Kiriga. "What has been going in in Jadai since my departure?"
"How many days did it take him just to hobble here from the docks?" the tail-trapped Lapi wonders in a whisper.
Lilac reaches over and bonks Xander with her flute, before she returns to playing. The woman grins widely.
Long Tooth grimaces. "Mm. Ittah was not easy to make excuse get away. Many day jou father looking foh jou. Hikaru sendah his guards out too, most go to Nagai to search capital. I thinkah jou father may know jou left… he knows swords gone. But everyone say kidnap, Tsurugi save some face, foh now."
"It is much as I expected, then," Kin says with a short bob of her head. "We have learned the Artist's allies have long fingers and quite reaching plans. They may be responsible for issues in Viper's Hold and seeking something in Sylvania. We are going to both soon and knowing that the Artists guards may be active in mainland Nagai is good information. And oh, I have allowed my manners to slip." She pokes Xander with her tail to try and get the Lapi to stand. "This is Mage Xander Lightfoot; he is helping us and has been quite kind to me."
"Eeep!" Xander squeaks as he hops to his feet. He finally bows to the ancient Kiriga, and whispers out of the side of his mouth to Kin, "He's not flammable is he?"
"It depends on how much he has been drinking," Kin whispers back.
The bardess opens her mouth, then pauses. She tilts her head in consideration. Master Tooth might be flammable, she considers. Shrugging, she hops down and kneels to inspect her bags. According to her, she hasn't had traveling bags since she left home.
Xander offers his hand to the Master, and decides not to put a Warmth cantrip on it after all, just to be safe.
The old man regards Xander through his bagged eyes, and takes the hand. His grip tightens steadily. "Good. Umeko-chan family blood is pure. You treat her good, nevermindah me. Iah old, but not so dried up yet. Or deaf."
"If you excuse me for a moment, I should return Master Coal to Master Renit," Kin says in a way of excusing herself. The young dragon then slips off and carries the coney into the back room.
"Ah-heh, of course sir," Xander says, hoping the man will let go of his hand soon. Just please, don't make me share a bunk with him on the trip, he silently prays.
"Oh, don't break him, Master Tooth. We still need him," Lilac tells the old master as she glances over her shoulder.
Relenting with a nod and a grunt, the old Kiriga lets Xander have his somewhat numb paw back. "So, whattah news happen heah?"
The brown Lapi rubs the circulation back into his paw, and wonders at all the talk of bloodlines and umekochans. Maybe Umekochan is Imperial for 'I'm a vampire'.
"We encountered some of the hired warriors of the Cervani Vandringar when we arrived here. The same ones I defeated back in Jadai," Kin answers as she returns. "And once again they were defeated. But, we have learned that Vandringar, and perhaps the Artist himself, is seeking a way to reshape the entire world. Part of it must revolve around what the Artist is trying to do; and that may be linked to the unrest in Viper's Hold. We have obtained vouchers for airship passage to the region. We were merely waiting for you to arrive."
As an aside whisper to Xander, she says, "My real name is Umeko … but you must not ever use it. Too many are looking for Umeko. She must remain in the shadows for now."
"Oh, right," Xander says, nodding rapidly enough to cause his ears to flap.
Having nothing important to say, Lilac completes her bag check and returns to sitting. She flicks her tail in to her lap, fussing with her tail bow until the looks are the same size again.
The old master's long eyebrows rise at this news. "Hm! I didah not know dis fighting in Vipah's Hold was part. The Emperor watches withah interest." He strokes his scraggly whiskers, looking dour.
"Do you remember the items we borrowed from the Artist? The scroll case?" Kin says, "One of the maps inside was of the Viper's Hold and the Beast Lands. That area was specifically marked. They want something there. We must beat them to it."
Tooth nods curtly. "It issah time to go, den. Whattah jou wish me to do?"
"You may come with us if you wish. Do you have any contacts or favors owed in Viper's Hold that may be of use to us?" Kin asks the ancient reptile. "Or do either of you object to him coming?" she asks Lilac and Xander.
"Are you kidding?" Lilac replies, sounding genuinely surprised. "He's as fun as he is old! I'm just waiting to see him fight, I'm sure I could make a song or a story out of that." Satisfied with her tail bow, Lilac stands again and reaches to adjust her collar. "I'm ready to go when you are."
Xander almost asks what to do if the reptile drops dead on them, but ends up just shaking his head. "No… no objections."
Pak! The whatevergenerian claps his broad, boney hands together. "Good! We go." He brings his humped nose up a bit to sniff, then nudges toward the bar. "Aftah we gettah one foh road."
"Then it is decided. You will come with us. I have what I will need already packed. So it is simply a matter of going to the docks," Kin says. Turning to Xander, she says, "I do believe he likes you. Now, are you going to arrange the cabins and bedding? And if I can ever repay you for all your assistance, do please tell me what I can do."
"How many should I try to get, two or four?" the Lapi asks.
"For myself and Lilac, and then one for you and Master Longtooth?" Kin asks. "Or were you wishing one for your girls and yourself and one for Master Longtooth?" For the briefest moment, the Kiriga actually smirks. "It would be advisable to get four so that we may all have privacy if we need it."
"Oh, yikes, don't let him chose the rooms," Lilac warns. "Besides, I need to, um … lock my door at night, right Kinny?"
"I'll… I'll see what's available then!" Xander says, and heads quickly for the door… then doubles back and asks Tyson to have his lunch wrapped to go. Then he heads out.
As it turns out, on news of the two women moving on, Bea has lunch prepared for all three, or at lunch prepared for Xander and some special ordered from one of the higher quality butchers for the ladies. It's Royce, in his customary coveralls, who she sends on to deliver it, the food kept warm in some inexpensive crockery. "I hear Anisa and Gib are to catch up with you two. If they give me any time to study the book, I'll send along any news we have."
"I hope we will see all of you again soon. I will miss the tavern," Kin says to Royce and even smiles at him. She's finally learned to keep her lips over her teeth when she does that. "Thank you for assisting us."
"Hey, sorry we were hard on you last time we met. We've met someone else who had a similar experience to yours, and he's in much worse shape. You're a real solider," the bardess tells Royce. "If we find anything that can ease your mind, we'll be sure to tell you."
Xander runs ahead to the Guild travel office, which manages to find four berths available on an airship that is actually going to Viper's Hold! It does mean taking a Gallisian passenger liner instead of a potentially faster cargo ship or blockade runner, but then again he's not paying for the fares and doesn't want to risk being paralyzed by the fear of listening to an old man's snores turn into a death rattle in the bunk next to him, even if it does mean sleeping alone.
Porters soon arrive to move the baggage aboard, and passengers are herded to the gangplanks. The Gallesian ship Melan Collie is quite large, a classically designed airship, and people on the docks and the decks alike wave their goodbyes to each other amid the crush of people that Kin and Lilac remember arriving in.
The trip is relatively uneventful, and quite comfortable. Long Tooth spends most of his time in his berth, coming out only to eat, drink, or nag Kin to practice her forms in the open area of the dance room. When people pass his door, it confirms Xander's suspicion… he snores pretty steadily, when he's not making choking noises. Life around the ship is fairly open, and crewmen and captain are quite approachable. They seem to become more tense as Nagai comes into range, and Xander's sharp ears can catch murmurs of some discontent with the situation in Imperial skies lately. It seems that with the heavy damage the war caused the Imperial armada, escorts aren't available nearly as often, and patrols are much thinner. No pirates or others have dared to attack military vessels, but more private ships than before have been claimed.
Xander reports the crew's anxiety to Kin and Lilac, noting, "The Beast Lands are known for having pirate bases."
Lilac bits her lip then asks Xander, "But, isn't the Beast Lands a dangerous place that … um, mutates people, with airship sized monsters in a harsh, unforgiving land?"
"Well, yes… but maybe the pirates know how to avoid the dangers," Xander supposes.
Kin did indeed practice her forms during the trip as well as practice getting defeated as Tooth was able to take her down time and time again during the practice. But the Kiriga was not embarrassed about this; she even invited Xander to watch the practice. On the evening before their arrival, Kin even asks Xander to go dancing with her. It went fairly well once agreement on who would lead was reached and Kin got used to the size of Lapi feet. She only stepped on his a few times.
And now that arrival seems imminent and discussion of what is ahead occurs, the Kiriga turns more businesslike. To Xander, she nods, saying, "And that is where we must head. I hope you are not too afraid?"
"Magic is a bit unpredictable in Forbidden Zones, but that just means I shouldn't have any trouble frying things," Xander says.
Lilac spent most of her time as she had back on Rephidim: playing for audiences with the hope of making some money. With the passengers being relatively well-to-do, she was largely successful in her attempts. She's look pleased with herself for most of the trip, although she secures her door and warns against anyone entering as she 'needs her beauty sleep.' Kin knows she fears the beast within her, and isn't willing to let herself wander while asleep.
The young Kiriga nods to Xander. "Just please do not burn myself or Lilac. That would not be pleasant. I promise I will also defend you as best I am able," she tells the Lapi.
"I doubt we'll run into anything scarier than Master Tooth," the Fire Mage mutters.
The sprawl of Nagai's ziggurats can eventually be seen under the clouds, stone separated by multicolored streams marking busy streets, and other landmarks stretching up as if to greet the vessel. Banners with the Golden Serpent decorate the Imperial Airfield, the Melan Collie docking to one of the towers and many of the passengers disembarking. "Passengers continuing on to Viper's Hold, please do not be gone long," calls out the Captain. "We will be moving on in several hours!"
"Is there anything we need to do in the city?" Xander asks.
"Master Longtooth is not scary," Kin insists. To the group as a whole, she asks, "Does anyone wish to get off here? I am not sure it is safe for me to disembark. My … 'future husband' may still have his guards here" The Kiriga goes to a rail to look out over the city, face contorted in disgust.
Lilac pulls out some parchment, hurrying over to the side of the ship. Pulling out some chalk moments later, she begins jotting down notes and rough sketches of the city. "I never did get to see Nagai, when I was on my way to Jadai. At least, not from the air. I don't think … " She scratches at an ear, shrugs, and returns to taking notes.
The city below and in the distance gives up a number of Imperial passengers to offset the majority that make this their final stop; these are mostly Naga and jinga. The porters hoof up and down the stairs to the cargo hold as baggage is distributed and loaded.
"Do you wish to see a part of it before we move on, then, Lilac?" Kin asks the human.
"I can see most of it from here," Lilac answers. "Besides, I've gotten lost in enough cities. I can't afford to get lost today."
The Lapi does not look keen to enter the bustling metropolis himself.
Eventually, everything is accounted for. The crewmen look a bit relieved too, as some exchange words with Nagai dock workers. The Captain's boatswain asides, "We're in luck, sir. An imperial warship preceded us by several hours. It's not exactly an escort, but it makes me feel better." The gallee captain seems to agree, wagging his tail a bit. "Good to hear it. Alright everyone, loose the moorings! Hatches closed, cast off!"
Time passes much as it did before…
"Afloat upon the languid air did we soar into a destiny unknown. The fate of the world may depend on our descisions, our actions; a world without thanks or care. And yet, we go because honor will allow no other choice," Kin says in a gentle and soft tone. Unusual, but perhaps the Kiriga does not believe anyone is within hearing range where she stands upon the bow of the ship, looking off into the darkening skies. "And my heart flies free, for I am being true to myself. Come what may; I await the challenge."
"Wow, that was… very nice," Xander says, complimenting Kin's poem. He has what appears to be a tiny glowing serpent twined about the forefinger of his right hand, a bit like a spiraling ring.
Cloak flapping in the wind, Lilac leans over the railing to peer at the darkening land below. "I'm running out of world," she decides, in an amused voice to herself. "I never thought I'd travel this far." And I even did it aware this time. Life has felt so much more stable for Lilac, ever since she decided to stay with Kin.
Kin jerks upright at the comment behind her. She turns to face the Lapi. "Oh, I did not know you were listening," she says as she … can't quite bring herself to look Xander in the eyes. So, she looks at the serpent of fire instead. "What is that?" she asks.
Lilac's ears lay back, and she suddenly frowns. Slowly, she rotates around to look at the sky and the deck, scanning the horizon until she has her back against the rail. "That's … weird," she whispers. Her right hand reaches to rub at her neck, and she sniffs the air curiously.
"Oh, this is just a little held spell, in case of an emergency," the Lapi replies. "It will let me launch a bolt of fire at something."
"It is beautiful," Kin tells the Lapi. "Does it ever amaze you, Master Lightfoot, to be able to hold the powers of creation in the palm of your hand? A primal force, the power of fire. It signifies both a beginning and an end. For in fire does weapons forge anew and in the land wash away the decay of old."
Xander blinks. "Well, sometimes… but we're discouraged from really thinking about it that way, lest it go to our heads."
Taking a few steps towards the center of the deck, Lilac continues to sniff. She rotates again, frowning all the more, then pauses. "Is something burning?" she asks no one in particular. "I swear I smell something. It's giving me the heebies jeebies."
"But if you lose the wonder of what you hold, how can you continue on? The wonder is what feeds the soul and drives the walk of the path," the Kiriga says. She reaches out to hold her hand under the Lapi's, watching the light glint off her palm.
"Well… being paid is good too," Xander says, somewhat lamely in the face of Kin's deep thoughts.
Kin's hand closes lightly around the Lapi's. "Money is but a fleeting object; a distraction from … " she starts to say. Her webbed ears then flick and she looks over the Lapi's shoulder. "Did you say something, Lilac?" she calls out.
"What?" answers Lilac, distractedly. "Oh." She sniffs the air again, then shakes her head. "I think I … smell something. It's like burning only … not. Sooty. But, I can't tell which direction it's coming from, and it's very faint. All this wind really makes it hard to track." She continues to sniff, making her dog-like features all that much more pronounced.
"Can you hear anything unusual?" Kin asks Xander as she too starts looking around. Her hand drops away from his.
Xander tries listening for for the sound of something burning, but out in the open the wind interferes. "Let's try below decks," he suggests.
"Agreed. I wish to get my weapons while we are below as well," Kin says as she walks towards the entrance to the lower decks.
"No," Lilac says, holding her hand out. "It's not from the ship. It's … it's definitely something, but it's not from the ship. Whatever it is, it's on the wind and I'm sure I smell something now."
The Lapi checks the wind direction, and looks out towards where it seems to be coming from.
Kin pauses and looks to Lilac, then Xander, then in the direction he looks.
There's a lot of cross-currents here, making it confusing to tell. For Lilac, the smell becomes stronger, biting.
One sniff, and Lilac's head jerks to the side. Two sniffs more and she fully turns to point towards the bow. "There! It's coming from right ahead of us," she exclaims, ears perked.
For a while, there doesn't seem to be anything in the distance… the dimming light of the fading sun makes it difficult. Eventually, however, there do seem to be some blobby shapes out there, silhouettes on the dusk sky.
Kin leaves the bow and darts past the Lilac and Xander. She's heading towards the ship cockpit to warn the captain.
"What is it? Is it pirates?" Lilac races to the bow, too. "You better warn someone," she yells back towards Kin as she races off without a word. "I'll, um, keep an eye on them!"
"They could be engine driven airships," Xander concedes, and tries to move to a better observation spot.
The Melan Collie begins to pass through a cloud bank, obscuring the shapes on the horizon. It's several frustrating minutes where nothing can really be seen clearly, but that acrid smell continues to fill Lilac's nose, though Xander can't pick up much of anything. The boatswain is on the bridge when Kin approaches. "Evenin', ma'am," he says.
"There is something ahead; my friend can smell smoke on the wind," Kin says after she bows politely to the man. "Two objects can be seen floating on the horizon. They are dark." To the point, she is.
"Ugh, it's really strong. Are the ships on fire?" Lilac lays her ears back at the thought, scooting closer to Xander. "I didn't smell anything like this on Rephidim's docks."
The boatswain, a mutt-looking fellow, perks his ears up. "Eh? Lookout's not said anything… let's see… " He clomps around Kin to head toward the fore, taking a spyglass from one of the charting tables with him.
"Two ships… one could be under attack and burning, yes," Xander suggests.
"Isn't that bad?" Lilac asks, pointing out the obvious out of an equal amount of nervousness.
"She is certain, the smell of something burning," Kin says. She follows the boatswain to the fore and peers over his shoulder, trying to see.
"Okay, I just heard an explosion!" Xander says, still squinting into the sun to see if one of the blobs starts dropping or not.
The boatswain makes his way up the fore and into the bow, grunting at the cloud cover and expanding the spyglass. He begins sweeping the horizon with it. The Melan Collie begins to emerge from the clouds, and the blobs are closer now, a bit more distinct. The seem to have some cloud cover of their own…
"KIN!" Lilac exclaims as she hurries over to the reptile. "Xander heard explosions. I think there's a battle up ahead! Should I take notes? I should take notes!" She fumbles at her case, trying to get out her note taking equipment.
"Explosions. A battle," Kin murmurs. Her scaled brow furrows. "Can you see anything?" she asks the man. "We need to prepare for a battle. They may come after us next."
"Maybe the Nagai warship encountered pirates," Lilac tells Kin in excited, if nervous, tones. She finally gets her notes out, and quickly begins jotting down what's happening in shorthand.
The Gallah's sweep stops on a point, and he frowns. "I… Dagh, it's hard to make out from here, but you're right. You're right." He cups a hand to his muzzle and calls over his shoulder, "Ship ahoy!" The call is carried back from crewman to crewman, and the boatswain continues to watch as the crew becomes more alert. The shapes sharpen… distinctly two airships now… no, three! One larger than the rest… from its side, flashes of light erupt, soon to be obscured by white smoke. Seconds later, the report, a series of dull thuds echoing.
Heading over next to the boatswain, Xander asks, "Are there any fliers aboard? Vartans?"
Kin frowns further. "I must prepare," she tells the boatswain. Again, the Kiriga darts off, this time below decks. Her goal, to get her weapons, put on a simpler kimono, and awaken her teacher, Master Longtooth.
"Gunpowder!" Lilac smacks her forehead, causing chalk to smudge there. "Of course! I've heard of gunpowder! So that's what it smells like. And, those must be cannons!" She jots down something else, writing quickly.
The Gallah nods, still peering through the scope, his expression becoming even grimmer. "Aye, sir. Crew has three Vartan, six eeee, and a couple Korv. Rest of the hands are gallees."
Racing down the stairs, Kin finds most of the passengers have gone to bed, there's nobody to get in her way as she hurries to her room. The old Kiriga's is right next to it.
"Can you see any markings on the warship yet?" Xander asks nervously. "Should we be changing course now?"
The first thing Kin does his hit the door of Longtooth's bedroom. "Master, a battle is ahead!" she cals out to him. Without waiting for him to awaken, she then darts into her quarters and begins quickly changing clothes. Off goes the fine robes and on goes the more common cloth ones appropriate for battle.
"Aye, sir. Captain's probably seen it by now, and is moving us off to port, the fight's at about two o'clock." The Gallah peers for a few seconds longer, then lowers the spyglass. "We been cutting across a headwind, though, it's costing us speed." He turns to the mage, and collapses the scope. "No markin's on the smaller cutters. The big'un's flyin' Imperial colors, she's a frigate."
The Autumn Harvest awaits Kin, the paired blades sitting on their stand. When the young Kiriga emerges, the older one is peering blearily out of his door, his robe hanging off one shoulder. "Muh?"
"The smaller ones must be pirates then," Xander reasons. Then, with a nervous laugh, says, "Unless pirates took over an Imperial frigate, eh?"
The swords once again reside in the obi of their mistress. She draws in a breath, nods, and exits her room. "There is an airship battle ahead," she tells Longtooth, "I am preparing for what may come. Please, come to the deck." And with that, the young dragon heads back to the deck and makes a straight path towards Xander and the boatswain.
"We don't have cannons, do we," Lilac suddenly says, her enthusiasm deflating somewhat. "Wouldn't you know it, we'd come all this way to get stopped by pirates!"
On the way up, Kin passes considerably more activity. Crewmen are running to and fro on deck, some of them carrying stacks of arbalest bolts. A couple Vartan clop past, talking to each other in serious, scratchy tones, and their belts are fitted with curved chitin blades. The Melan Collie's turn seems painfully slow, but as more flashes of light appear from the fray, the ships on the horizon gradually creep t the three o'clock position, then four o'clock. It seems the timely warning has prevented the passenger ship from crossing into range of the battle… but not, it seems, from some dark specks that begin to grow toward the gallisian ship.
"I think we're about to become a hostage-filled lifeboat for pirates," Xander moans.
"Never. I will protect this ship and you," Kin tells the Lapi as she draws close, "How many spells can you hold? Or perhaps one good shot from you may discourage them."
"Yikes," is all Lilac has to say to that. She hunkers down, so just the top of her head can be seen above the railing. She continues to watch, her notes forgotten in her hands.
Crewmen with crossbows line up along the sides of the ship, and the captain can finally be seen, his own cutlass strapped on, calling out orders. "Load up, take aim, prepare to repel boarders. Fire when you've got a clear… eh?" He stops, looking aghast. "They're… Dagh take them, they're not boarding! They're climbing for the envelope!"
"Err, just one," Xander admits. "But I can still work another while one is held… did he just say they were headed for the envelope?"
Indeed, the closing figures beat their wings harder, climbing in altitude.
Lilac reaches over and tugs on Xander's leg. "What's bad about the envelope," she inquires quickly. "What?!"
"Yes," Kin kisses, "We must stop them. Is there access to the envelope? I will go up and deal with them."
"Do a spectacular show of magic, Xander. Slow them down and buy me time," Kin tells the Lapi. Without waiting for a reply, the Kiriga darts to the ropes going up to the envelope and starts climbing. "Come!" she yells towards the Vartans and others.
"It's flammable," Xander says. "They can hold us hostage up there without ever having to fight us." He eyes the rigging that leads up over the envelope. "I think… I think I should go up there too. Time to live up to my nickname."
The Lapi heads for the net-rigging, and starts to climb up. He's careful not to look DOWN while doing so.
The winged members of the crew glance uncertainly at their captain, who growls, "Follow her!" Swiftly, their wings blow dust from the deck as they lift away.
"Wait, Kin, Xander they've got torches! I can smell them!" Lilac warns. She glances at the railing, then at her running friends, and then she's off after them. "Wait for me!"
Once atop the envelope, Xander crawls to the middle and hooks his feet into the netting, before sitting down and starting a minor spell…
After following everyone else up on top of the envelope, Lilac hunches down to grip the netting. She suddenly wonders why she's up here. I can't fight, I don't do magic, I can't music them away, she tells herself. Then it hits her: she just didn't want to be alone, to leave her friends alone in danger if she could help it. Her cloak whips in the breeze, making her look quite dramatic even if she doesn't feel dramatic.
The cloak flips up a bit in the wind, and one of the Vartans flying upward stops, clinging to the netting near Lilac, doing a double-take at her. He thrusts a small crossbow at her, and skrawks, "You have wings! You take! Shoot!"
Kin makes her way up and heads towards Xander and Lilac carefully. "Xander, we will occupy them. I am counting on you to deal with their fire," she tells him, and in a kind voice, adds, "I have faith in you. I trust you." To Lilac, she says, "Be mindful of your feelings. You may … shift. We must protect Xander at all costs. If he falls, we all die."
The Fire Mage is pretty oblivious as he concentrates on his spell… although he does wish he had his Resist Elements going to keep out the wind chill.
Lilac glances under her cloak, then gapes. She does have wings! Why do I always forget that at the worst times? She hasn't long to think about her forgetfulness when the crossbow is thrust in her hand. "Um, thanks?" She turns the bow over in her hands as she tries to figure it out. When Kin addresses her, she looks up and nods. "I'll try," she promises, standing up and spreading her wings for balance, turning the crossbow out towards the enemy.
The crossbow is, thankfully, already cocked. The Vartan who passed it over joins the rest at the top of the envelope as the raiders draw near, close enough to make them out. Most are reptilian, but there are a few warm-blooded types mixed in. None look pleased to see they're being greeted above, but they fold back their wings to begin stooping in.
Kin tries to get as far forward on the envelope as she can safely manage. After anchoring her feet, she draws out her katana, readying herself through several deep breaths. When the invaders dive in, she draws her sword back, ready to slash at any that may come near.
The biggest Vartan shrieks, "FIRE!" and the winged crewmen loose their volley. In the dusk, it's nearly impossible to see the bolts hurtle out, but several of the approaching attackers tumble from the heavens, one bouncing off the envelope and falling out of sight. The crewmen struggle to reload as the approaching formation scatters and weaves to become harder targets. The fastest among them pull out ahead, and two land, a winged Rokuga biped, and another biped, but this one shiga… The first steps forward, brandishing a cutlass while his partner drops the flings away a satchel he was using to shelter a torch, the end coated in crackling pitch.
Their fellows aren't far behind, and like them, they wear straps and buckles for weapons and little else, except for the few warm-blooded attackers.
Lilac, too, fires. The forward recoil seems to surprise her, and she almost drops the bow after the bolt is loosed. "Ugh," she breathes, swaying in the wind. It takes her a few flaps to steady herself, then she whispers, "How do I reload this?" to a nearby allied Vartan.
Kin makes her way towards those who landed. Growling softly, she draws her shorter sword as well. She intends to keep herself between them and Xander.
Spronk! Fliss! The crossbow gives a violent jerk in Lilac's hands as it ejects the bolt, sending it flying off nowhere in particular. The nearby Vartan who fired his own shot doesn't seem to notice, and when Lilac speaks to him, he skrawks, "Take bolt from under stock, put bolt in groove, put foot in stirrup, pull string back till it cock!"
Lilac blinks at the Vartan, then she's peering under her crossbow and freeing a bolt. She assumes that the thing that's missing now was the bolt, and slides the bolt in to the groove. "I knew I shouldn't have avoided militia training. Oh no, I'll never fight," she murmurs to herself as she struggles to reload the bow. When she's at the point of putting it to her foot, she suddenly releases a hand and clutches her head.
Shaking it off, Lilac returns her hand to the crossbow and puts her foot to the holder. She strains against the taughtness of the string. "Hrrrrgh! Stupid … bow!"
The other crewmen have reloaded, and their bolts whistle into the sky. Several more of the attacks plummet into the dark below, and the rest fall open the envelope and meet the crew in hand to hand, their battle cries mixing with those of the Collie's men into a confusing cacophony. The armless shiga's torch splatters against the canvas, motes of pitch sticking and the flames flickering but not consuming the envelope's resistant skin… yet. More of the enemy withdraw their torches as two of the armed boarders charge toward Kin, brandishing belaying pins.
Xander eyes the two reptiles that have landed. He keeps building his spell, and points his right forefinger at the trailing pirate, pausing his spell for a moment to launch his held flame-bolt at the Shiga to try and even the odds for Kin.
"So much for discussion," Kin mutters to herself. So, the Kiriga moves forward in intercept the pair, trying to keep both of them in front of her, she does not want to have one on each side. When she's close enough, she's going to attack without mercy.
By the time Lilac has cocked her crossbow, the melee has already started. She stands there, holding the bow, uncertain what to do or who to shoot at. And if that wasn't enough, her face is contorted in a wince, as if she were struck with a sudden migraine.
The bolt of flame darts out into the darkness, causing a surprised shiga to dodge, but leaving him otherwise unharmed. The flash gets a lot of attention however, and it delays one raider's approach.
The mage doesn't pause to curse the miss, but redoubles his focus on completing the Halt spell before the fire can burn through the canopy.
Lilac removes a hand from the bow to rub at her head, wondering if she's been hit already. Then, suddenly, her ears perk and her eyes widen. "Oh no," she breathes, "It, it must be … be happening!" The realization sends a shiver down her spine, causing her to drop her bow and stare at her hands as she tries to see if anything is happening to them.
It starts with shaking. Lilac's hands begin to vibrate, be it out of nervousness or something more. Her widening eyes strain as far as they'll go, and for the moment she forgets she's in the middle of a battle. Her breathing intensifies, and then something … snaps. She convulses, staggering, and before her eyes her hands begin to darken and change. She lets out a startled cry, her legs beginning to shift from under her. Another cry escapes her, but is cut short as her throat shifts, resulting in an ominous and throaty growl.
The shiga ahead of his partner meets Kin tentatively, as if he doesn't quite to know what to make of her. Some feints are exchanged, until he's forced to hold off a skilled swing.
The raider facing Kin is getting more than he bargained for, having to knock aside another swipe that would have cut him deeply otherwise, until another of the flying reptiles reaches his side, this one Naga-like, but with wings. More land near the first torch bearer, adding their spats of pitch to the blaze, which flares.
Xander holds out his left hand, which has an odd negative flame in it, and then gets to his feet and runs toward the burning patch of canopy.
Lilac stumbles back and forth, increasingly unable to stand straight as her whole body contorts and changes before her very eyes. Seconds in to the awkward scenes, Lilac blinks rapidly, and then her eyes change. The first few blinks reveal nothing, then steadily the entirety the whites begin to fade, followed by her purple irises, and then there is … nothing. Inky blackness lurks in her eye sockets, silhouetted by a purple haze of light. her clothes are a wreck by the time she lands on all fours, and only her cloak, tied about her neck, and her tail bow, remain among her garmets. With a haunting howl, the beast races forward to intercept the pirate delayed by Xander's blast.
The one that was headed for Kin reacts with surprise at the sight of the dark beast, and he recoils backward with a hiss, the snakelike being lashing out at her with his cutlass and beating his wings.
The beast Lilac has become races forward with increasing speed, until she leaps with such speed as to become a blur! The seems to impact him, but it continues through the air seemingly unhindered. Landing on the envelope with a thump of paws, the effect's of the beast's charge become apparent: in her mouth is the lizard's sword arm, while her talons are bloodied from the leap she took off his chest during the bite.
The reptile's already unconscious from the shock. His snaky body flops onto the envelope, sliding down the gentle slope and painting a streak of red as he goes, until he silently tumbles out of view off the side.
Xander reaches the edge of the burning patch, and falls to his knees. Uttering a single word, he tosses the ball of 'unburning unflame' into the conflagration snuffing it out completely.
The beast races to follow the corpse, until it slides off the airship and plummets in to the darkness below. For a moment, Lilac the beast whines, as if upset about losing her prey, then it rounds on the battle and begins circling the combatants her grisly trophy still clutched in her mouth.
Fwuff! The light goes out immediately, leaving nothing but some black goo and a few scorch marks. Some of the reptiles that haven't yet engaged the crew whirl around, and one shouts something in Imperial. "S'ethis, mek gosve isst magi!"
Everything snaps into sharp focus as time seems to hold still for Kin. She launches into a flurried dance of her two swords. The blades arc gracefully as they cut through the air like an artist's brush stroke. Even with the flesh that they encounter, they do not slow down. Scales, muscles, tendons, and bone all separate as the warrior dances her art, the art of death. Her work is complete before the Rokuga can even collapse to the surface of the envelope, his entrails spilling out and the blood draining into a pool around his corpse. Time resumes for the Kiriga and she calls out, "Xander!" Refusing to fail in her promise, she darts after him, intent on protecting the Lapi.
The beast's circling makes it difficult to spot as its outline blends with the backdrop of the darkening sky. It sniffs, catching wind of something, even as it watches the battle looking for … something.
"What?" Xander says, turning towards Kin, and then looking up at the sky to see if any more raiders are approaching.
"You are their next target!" Kin calls to him. "Get down!"
The rest of the crew isn't faring as well. An Eeee lies on his side, gasping as he clutches a wound in his side, his assailant stepping over him to move toward the blob of pitch now cooling on the envelope. Another Eeee lies nearby, motionless, a third as well, though he at least has a grip on a dagger buried in the chest of a scaly raider. One of the Vartans is nowhere to be seen, another fights two of the raiders, while the last tries to stem blood flow from a gash in his sword arm. Two of the raiders still carry torches, and fight their way through one crewman to make their way toward the pitch… and Xander. "Magi! Kesst gosve!" Whatever that was, it doesn't seem friendly, and neither do the daggers they cock over their shoulders to hurl.
The Lapi scrambles across the netting at the warning, and heading for the edge of the envelope so he can climb back down to the deck. As fast as he might be on the ground, climbing along ropes is not something he does very swiftly.
The warning comes soon enough to make the rabbit's descent a timely one, one dagger glancing off the envelope, the other flying overboard.
Lilac's head jerks, and she's off towards the torch bearers. With their back to her, and their eyes occupied with their task, the only thing that really marks them out from the others is their distraction. Once again, the beast-Lilac picks up speed, letting the arm fall from its jaws as it races forward …
"Vess kegevsst!" Kin hisses towards those that just tried to attack Xander. Her arms pull in as she slinks low, determined to strike.
As he climbs, Xander begins chanting another spell: Fireworks. It builds slowly, of course, since he has to concentrate on not falling or getting tangled in ropes as well.
The pitter-patter of paws on the envelope alerts one of the torch bearers, who turns in time to meet the beastly Lilac with wide eyes. Her attack is blunted at first, but he gets his grip, holding her off with the crackling flames. Kin crosses swords with one of the others, who grunts but holds his ground. The one with the torch glowers down at Xander, and takes a knife out of his mouth to speak. "Des a kisp, magi," he hisses, and his knife crosses one of the ropes of the netting. The taut fibers spring away from the sharp edge, part of the netting folding and dropping the Lapi several feet."
Xander squeaks as the rigging slides, causing him to lose his place in the spell. Seeing the torch bearer, he gets another idea though…
Something about the fire seems to enrage the beast. In its empty eyes, the flame does not reflect, but there is a heat there oh yes. The beast's muzzle breaks in to a blade-mawed snarl! With a horrible, blood curdling howl, it leaps at its attacked in a flurry of blade-like talon slash. Several swings are parried off the man's blade, resulting in a deep clung noise not unlike blades striking each other. The man has time for few counter attacks in the flurry, all going wild. When the fury of sound dies down, the beast's claws are bloody, and the man bleeds profusely from a number of slices across his front.
Focusing on the torch bearer with the knife, Xander begins a hurried 'Shape Fire' cantrip aimed at making the torch flame reach for the raider's own eyes.
A figure crests the far side of the envelope, heaving his way up the ropes, then standing. White hair and blue robe flap in the roaring wind.
Kin is a golden flurry of blades. Back she forces her opponent, her eyes narrow and focused. Somehow they are repelled as she forces her opponent backwards to the very edge of the envelope. When it appears that against all odds he had deflected the Autumn Harvest, the smaller sword, the Floating Blossom, slips through and rends a wound on her opponent.
Not seeming to recognize the muttering, the unhurt torch bearer finishes cutting another rope, leaving Xander dangling from the last piece of rigging, which he begins vigorously sawing at…
"Uuhk!" wheezes Kin's assailant, blood streaking his side and glinting in the dim orange light. He teeters on the edge of the envelope, his wings beating to keep him upright. Likewise, Lilac's foe holds a hand over ugly wounds on his chest, trying his best to ward her away with the flames.
Just another few seconds, Xander thinks, as he keeps up the cantrip and hooks his feet through the netting.
After the brief pause, Lilac and her prey have at each other again. This time, the man manages more a much more respectable counter-attack, forcing the beast to parry wildly and causing trivial burns on its cloak and fur. But, it is to no avail. The beast returns the attacks with greater force, red lines appearing all over the man until, finally, he can stand no more.
The torch bearer bears no more, and as he succumbs to his wounds, he slumps face down onto the envelope, and his torch rolls off the side, leaving small streaks of burning tar down the envelope's skin before tumbling into the darkness.
Kin's opponent is truly at the end of his path. Both in life and on the envelope. The Kiriga is almost unnaturally fast as her blades sing through the air. The Floating Blossom is deflected away, but Falling leaf finds its mark; his neck. There is a sickening sound as his head is separated from his shoulders and goes bouncing across the envelope. The body collapses into a heap, then slides off into oblivion. Satisfied, Kin turns and her eyes frantically search for Xander.
The beast steps towards its fallen foe and sniffs. For a moment, it simply seems to inspect him … until it leans forward and closes its jaws around his neck. A gruesome crunch follows, and then Lilac darts off in to the fray!
The fire magic takes hold, and a tongue of flame shoots from the torch to the rope-cutters face to lightly scorch his eyes. Xander weaves his arms and legs into the loose netting, just in case the raider finishes sawing through at the last moment.
"Hssss!" The backlash stings the lizard's eyes, and he drops his torch, practically flinging it away while his other hand clutches his face. The rope, half cut, creaks dangerously with Xander's weight, and the weight of the rest of the rigging, fibers still peeling away.
Seeing the flare up Kin heads right for that one. Her wakazashi is sheathed and she switches to two hands on Falling Leaf. She fully intends to kill that one as well.
"I can try to climb ten feet before the rope snaps," Xander mutters to himself, "or hang on tight and hope I don't get swung off when it lets go. Where's a Vartan when I need one?" He keeps working his limbs into the netting, deciding his best bet will be to ride out the fall. And also hoping there's enough length so that he doesn't end up whacking himself against the hull of the airship…
Looking up at his tormentor, Xander can see a flash of gold behind the dingy green reptile. A blink is forced when a long, barbed chitin blade suddenly protrudes from his throat, driven with the force of two hands, spatters a few droplets of blood on the Lapi's face.
The chitin blade is jerked free, then snapped sideways to spray the blood from it. Kin then sheaths her sword and drops down. She grips the ropes on the top with her clawed hand, using her claws to anchor in it firmly. Her other hand foes to grab onto the partially cut side close to Xander and she pulls trying to counter some of his weight. "Up," she hisses at him in a strained tone, "But please be quick."
The beastly Lilac arrives in time to see a bony orange fist crash across the face of a winged serpent, the jaw jutting at an awkward angle before the snake flops over like a sack of potatoes. Her lunge is met by a startled bipedal raider who looks like his hands are more than full."
Xander looks up, and then quickly tries to untangle himself and climb upward towards Kin.
With a lot of scrambling, the Lapi manages to grab hold of Kin's wrist just as the weakened rope tears away, dropping the rigging from under him.
A swirl of ropes peels away from the side of the Collie's envelope, whipping and thrashing as they fall and rattle against the hull below.
And that gets a loud grunt from Kin as Xander's weight transfers to her arm. And something Xander notices, the normally cool hand of Kin is warm. In fact it's very warm. If he wasn't looking at her scaled visage it would almost feel like he's being held up by a human. Growling, she strains and tries to pull him the rest of the way up.
Lilac races to meet the attackers engaging the white haired figure, catching one in a pincer. She and her prey exchange blows, sword deflecting off talons too sharp and strong to be natural. Only when the man thrusts does he falter, his blade stabbing the roof of the envelope as the beast puts a paw upon it and lunges to tear a chunk out of his side!
Xander pushes against the curve of the envelope with his feet as soon as he gets the leverage, taking some of the weight off of Kin.
Kin is thankful once Xander gets purchase on the rigging on the top of the envelope. She takes several deep breaths as he adjusts, then helps haul him the rest of the way up as the Lapi climbs. "I don't know whether to be mad at you or kiss you," she mutters to him.
"You can do both you know, I don't mind," Xander gasps out, then looks around to see if any more raiders are coming at them.
"Aahgk!" The swordsman Lilac bit kicks away jerkily, fingers over a seeping gouge. Instinctively, he skips backward a few paces, half jumping and half stumbling off the edge of the envelope. His wings spread to catch his fall as he disappears from view, but some of the remaining Eeee dart after him, leaving little question as to whether the lizard will make it to the ground safely. Long Tooth's remaining opponent doubles over as he catches a fist to the belly, and a windmill kick sends him to the crisscross of ropes unconscious. A quick glance around the top of the ship is enough to see that the surviving raiders are flapping away raggedly, pursued by the crewmen that can still fly.
Since the Lapi asked for it, Kin reaches over and grabs a hold of the neck of his robe. She pulls him forward and, in fact, kisses him … on the lips, even. It's very short-lived, though and she lets him go. "I'll get mad later," she promises, then turns her attention back to the top of the envelope.
With her opponent fallen, and the rest fleeing, the beast is left staring at Tooth. Bloodied, but unhurt, the beast stares at the old master without wag or growl. It's eerie glowing eyes outline it against the setting sky.
The old man holds an open hand out toward Lilac, and his drawn back fist clenches, already squinty eyes narrowing. "Prepeah to die, monstah."
"Master Longtooth, no!" Kin calls out to him. "That is Lilac!"
With that comment, Lilac's muzzle breaks in to a snarl. Its stance change, legs spread, tail high. Kin knows that stance, the creature uses it to fight …
"I'd better survive this now, to see what she does when she's mad," Xander mutters and looks around, just in time to see the raiders fleeing… and grateful for the dimming light so that he doesn't see the full extent of the carnage atop the envelope.
"Eh? Behind de monstah?" The wrinkly Kiriga skips forward with a howl! "Out of de way!"
The beast hops out of Tooth's way, giving a snap of its jaws as he races past. For a moment, it snarls after him … Then, it's ears go askew, and it suddenly slinks off to go find the arm it dropped earlier.
Kin scrambles to her feet and runs after Lilac. "Lilac, stop, please. You know us. It's Umeko. It's Master Longtooth," she pleads.
Reaching the other side of the black beast, he peers around, still not seeing Lilac. "Wh-… I confuse."
Lilac lopes over to the abandoned arm, leaning down to pick it up in its jaws when Kin calls out to her. The beast pauses, ears rotating towards the sound of Kin's voice. It looks back for a long moment, then finishes gathering the arm before standing again.
"It is over," Kin tells the beast when she gets close. The Kiriga drops to her knees before Lilac. "Calm yourself. Breathe deeply and let go. Release the primal feelings in your heart. Come back to us," she says gently as she extends her arms towards her.
The old man stands nearby, looking perplexed, but doesn't say anything, simply rocking on his heels with his knees bent in case the violet-eyed creature should lunge.
Xander has to squint, but has trouble making out Lilac's shape. "Why is she hunched like that? Did she get hurt?" he calls out.
The beast watches Kin approach without any signs of aggression, seemingly more concerned with the arm it's now gnawing on. When Kin gets close, it looks up at her with those empty glowing eyes. Suddenly, its tail wags a little, and it steps forward to drop the arm in front of the Jadaian.
The dismembered arm doesn't even garner a shudder from the reptile. "Come back to us," she tells her again, golden eyes trying to look deeply into Lilac's empty ones. "Come back to your friends."
Lilac sits on her haunches, now, head tilting at the Kiriga's words. Its perked ears show it must be listening, a fact confirmed by the beast slowly closing its eyes. Despite the blood, the beast-form Lilac looks almost serene in the fading light, like a statue covered in ebony. The familiar signs of the transformation begin to appear and, in moments, the familiar human form of Lilac sits on her haunches in front of Kin. The woman's body slowly tilts, as if about to fall.
Kin rolls forward on her knees and reaches out quickly, wrapping her arms around Lilac, steadying her. "It's over," she says into the human's ear, over and over again. "Let the warmth of sleep cleanse you."
Long Tooth leans toward Xander, his gravelly voice low. "Ah… what happen?"
The Lapi launches an Illuminate cantrip so he can see what's going on better. "I don't know… but it looks like Lilac… lost her clothes?" he says.
"Mmm," Lilac murmurs, leaning against Kin's arms. The tenseness in the human's arms slowly drains away, and she falls limp against the Jadaian. By her soft breathing, Lilac seems to be have returned to sleep.
"I will explain later," Kin says quietly back to the other two. "If you can, please go fetch her some clothing from her room. I will stay up here with her until she can be safely taken back down."
Xander starts up a warmth cantrip next, hurrying over to apply it to Lilac before the winds suck away her body heat. "Can you go get the clothes?" he asks Tooth quickly, before resuming the spell.
The old master looks puzzled, but shrugs his way out of his robe, leaving him in a pair of baggy pants. "Crew come up soon," he grunts, and sure enough, crewmen are hoisting themselves up the ropes, calling out what damage they can see and rushing to the aid of their fallen fellows. In the distance, toward the stern of the Melan Collie, two vessels can be seen descending toward Sinai in flames. The lowest of them is one of the smaller ships and falling fast, tumbling end over end as envelope moorings snap away. The other is the Imperial frigate, lurching to fire a last defiant salvo as it too falls groundward. The last craft remains afloat, but doesn't look in any position to offer pursuit, the fires on its decks seeming to twinkle as distant figures run back and forth in front of them.