Balance

Do or do not, maybe we can try...

12th of Coldeven 6pm 382 ONT, lost at sea.

The ship was too small for there to be much in the way of privacy and when one is leaning over the side ‘feeding the fish’ with the little she’d eaten since boarding the Champion’s Boot she’d overheard almost all of what was going down with the Don-Ton warships and the state of their food supplies. None of it was good news and Rikka was feeling more than a little useless since coming aboard beyond being another mouth for them to feed.

Not even Alyss would see her yet, still grieving over her lost love and probably angry that Rikka had taken all of her pointy object away. She was a Honalian though and magic dropped from their very essence so if she’d really wanted to end things there was not much Rikka could’ve done. No, Rikka wanted to comfort her and give the woman an ear willing to listen and hear the story of their lives together and their love. Someone who could remind Alyss of the good they’d had and that giving up would be an insult to the sacrifice he’d made for her. Well that and apologize again for not getting back in time. She’d been cautious fearing to be caught again and thrown in another suit. It meant the knight had died.

‘It won’t help. Apologizing to her I mean. She needs time to come around on her own and you made the choice that had the best chance of getting you and the knight out of there in one piece. No one else stayed to help him.’ Rikka could only nod glumly as her sword intruded in on her brooding thoughts. It was comforting in its own way. ‘The fact that you dwell on it so much shows how much you cared but it won’t change what has been. Show them you are not just baggage they’ve been saddled with. Show them what only you can do and come up with.’

Ok, it was mildly inspirational and enough for Rikka to pull her thoughts back to the matter at hand. They were being blockaded in the ice by the Dontonians and running out of supplies to the point where they might not all make it even if they managed to get past the blockade. “I need a drink!” Rikka exclaimed and went back below deck to do exactly that. She’d had some of her best, and worst, plans while drinking and the mess with a splash of whiskey in hand was as close to a tavern as she was going to get for a while. It was also warmer and cozy with the lantern light making the shadows dance around her.

She began by making a mental list of all their assets both materiel and otherwise in her head and trying to fit the pieces together in a way that would form the key to unlock the puzzle and lead them to an escape where they didn’t all die. It wasn’t until Robinson’s large frame blocked the lantern light that she finally had her epiphany. “Hey big guy, you busy for the next little bit? I’m in need of your brain to help me solve something.” He looked tired but nodded and Rikka smiled, “Great! Here, have this.” She slid her drink ration over to the half-ogre sad to see it go but knowing it was sacrificed for the greater good. She’d mourn its passing in the proper way when they reached port safely by drowning her sorrows at its loss by consuming an entire bottle herself.

“I’ve become very interested in boats since I came on board this one,” “Ships,” he interrupted and Rikka waved it off in her excitement to explain herself. “So yeah ships like this one and the ones the Don Ton navy use. They’re very different in appearance and layout but I was wondering how different. And you have been on both. So I was hoping you could tell me about how they set up the inside of their ships like where do they eat, sleep, store their food and other goods that aren’t gunpowder and the like. I’ve got a plan and if it works we won’t have to fight them at all and they will go home on their own.” A dangerous plan but it was the one that offered the greatest reward for a calculated amount of risk.

It took a little while to get what she needed from Robinson but then it was off to find their resident flyer, one Miriel by name and strix by birth. There wasn’t many places one could hide with wings like hers though when Rikka found Miriel she was staring at the tattoo on her stomach as if something on it would move if she looked away or blinked. It was a well done and intricate tattoo to be sure but Rikka didn’t really think it was more than that. She’d seen the eidolon summoned and the spell to greatly enhance the Strix’s ability to carry used and once her patience had worn down enough to clear her throat and ask Miriel more about what kinds of magic and spells she could use suddenly Paprikka’s plan got that much closer to being a workable thing. One last look over the manifest of magical gear she’d made and Rikka was ready to bring it to the First Mate’s attention. The dwarf was going to be a challenge given the way he stormed about the deck like ‘Chīsana amagumo’ her sword suggested and she nodded. But the worst he could really say is no and they would be right where they are now.

So off she went to find him and find she did in the same dour modd she’d yet to see leave his features. In fact if she had to say he only had three expressions; annoyed, mad and really angry. So far he was only at annoyed. “Mister Ironbraid sir,” Rikka finished climbing up to the bridge and hesitated as his expression darkened towards anger.

“You’ve got ten seconds to get off me bridge before I throw you off the ship.”

“But you rarely come down and I need to speak to you.”

“Six seconds left. Port or starboard?” The dwarf cracked his knuckles and stepped towards her.

“Even if it meant losing out on a way to not only resupply but send the Dontonian ship running for home without firing a single shot?” Rikka stood her ground but the words of a spell were going to be the next on her lips if he continued any closer. But her words caught him curious enough to listen and he stopped.

“You’ve got my attention until something comes up. Then I toss you off my bridge if I don’t like what you’re saying.”

“Right, well here it goes.” Rikka took a deep breath and launched into her plan. “So I had Robinson go over the internal layout of the Dontonian ships as to where they keep their foodstuffs and the easiest ways inside. With the frist light of the morning, when the sun is low on the horizon have Ser Thalion and Elthoron harass the ship from the sun side. This’ll make it difficult for them to hit and they are both well versed on dodging from what I saw fleeing the castle. While they have the attention of the Dontonian ship, Miriel and I will slip on board invisibly and flying. We’ll head down below and right to where the food is kept. One ant haul spell, some large netting and her ability to portal away later and she has all their food and winging back to the Champion’s boot. I get out with what I can carry and we solve our food problem. They can’t keep up the blockade without food and turn back to resupply and seeing as how the other two ships just left they won’t be thinking of sending any other ones out here for a few days and we escape in that window of time.”

“Now, things could go badly too and that is why we’d have Mr Flitt and his shark below the surface to intercept us or any food we might toss over if needed. I’d use the rod of the Aboleith to help swim away if that was the only way and the brilliant helm for the interesting powers it has if we had to fight our way out. Miriel would blast out their ship from within using that ring if she needs to and I also have my euphoric cloud spell to fill the hull with a hallucinogenic to keep them confused. If they have a war wizard we hit them with the force bead and trap them inside while we escape. Miriel and the food would be the priority and I would cover their escape. Ser Thalion could signal the Champion’s boot to bring some firepower into the mix if things are really and truly desperate and with Miss Aurelia at the cannon it would not take long for them to decide a retreat was in order. And once away with the food they cannot follow us in here and can no longer wait for us to come out.” Rikka paused for a moment going back over things in her head wanting to not miss anything and added, “In the end, with Miriel’s ability to port away you are only truly risking me and that loss would mean more food for the others. Not that I want to be caught or die or plan on it but I believe the risk to your crew to be minimal and the possible reward to be more than worth it. it also keeps your passengers safe.”

“Also the wizard Ser Thalion and I met with back in Don Ton said he would be popping in for a visit to read something if we made it out of the harbor so there is still the chance that he will and can be convinced to send us some food or something. Though I thought he was lazy and too well off to be all that reliable.”

She watched close for a reaction from Thitmed and was ready to jump back off the bridge rather than be thrown to the waves. The water was cold enough she felt she’d probably only a have a few minutes at best before she froze to death. “So, what do you think?” She knew it was a lot to take in and she was not a known entity to this group so their trust in her would be low. But Rikka was a doer and this was something she could do.

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A Girl and her Blade

10th of Coldeven 3:45pm 382 ONT, Below Deck on the Champion’s Boot

Paprikka sat on a smaller crate in the hold with the array of items she’d collected from Don Ton on their way back from the consulate spread out in front of her. The mundane items, minus an apple core she’d tossed earlier sat neatly sorted to one side. A small chest held the coin and gems on the other side. In front of her was the majority of the magical items and she made small notes on each in a ledger she’d found hanging on a nail. Save for the judge’s armour now covered with an extra blue cloak as it made her shudder to look at, she was just about done identifying it all.

The priestess, Kaho Homura, sat nearby saying little and staring hard at Rikka. Beyond describing the properties of the items she held the priestess had said not a word to her. It made Rikka nervous like that dream where you show up somewhere and then realize too late you’re naked and everyone is staring. Only Kaho wasn’t laughing and Paprikka was certain she was wearing clothes, right? A glance down confirmed it and she sighed setting down the ledger. This was going to be a long trip to who knew where and longer if the priestess was going to do this the entire way.

“Kempai, is there… is there something I can do for you?”, she offered. It was also unclear to Rikka whether or not she was still under contract with the priestess as she’d held off the guards as Kaho ran.

Kaho blinked seemingly coming back to herself and shook her head, “No, not at this time. I am only tired. Thank Ymeri you are safe.” Thitmed was shouting and calling for the officers and Kaho almost looked relieved. She stood brushing dust off of her clothes as she did. “I must see what Master Ironbraid requires.”

“Oh, ok.” Rikka bounced to her feet and then awkwardly bowed to the priestess as she’d been taught while not falling over from the unstable roll of the ship. Kaho did not seem to notice as she vanished through the opening back towards the mess and left Rikka staring at the place she’d sat.

‘Well that was certainly interesting.’ Rikka glanced towards her blade and stuck out her tongue. “For you maybe. I’m the one who got stared at the entire time.” ‘I’m sure it was only the shock of seeing someone she thought was dead and gone alive in front of her again. It will pass.’ She sighed and sat back down. Rikka was not feeling as confident about that statement. Close to useless on the ship she’d only get in their way unless battle came upon them or they needed someone to cheer them up with some dancing and music but she’d need to find someone who could play an instrument then.

‘When will you introduce me to the others?’ her blade pushed new thoughts into her mind. “Umm, how about never?” It was weird feeling an inanimate object stare at you but somehow the link they shared made it feel that way regardless. “What? Just because you can speak and see and hear doesn’t make you a person. You’re not even as useful as the Giant Eagle on deck.” More staring and mental pressure. “You realize they might just toss me off the ship as a crazy person right? Hey everyone, I’m Paprikka Anake but you can call me the Great and Powerful Rikka! Oh and this is my partner and never ending annoyance Baka Black Blade.” ‘Really? Baka? If you are going to insult me at least be original about it.’

“You don’t get to choose your own name. I’m the Magus and that makes me like your guardian or bearer or whatever so I get to choose. And the name you decided on is way too long. Ashita No Yukusoku No Ken does not come close to rolling off the tongue easily. Baka does.” More staring and silence. “Keep it up and I’m sure you can spend time in the weapons locker while I take this perfectly good sword here out for a spin.” ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ Rikka smiled tripumphantly, “Try me.” ‘Fine, I won’t say a word unless you ask me to.’ If a sword could grumble Baka did and Rikka knew he’d be a bit more of a pain to talk to for a while. But he’d be her pain and not scare the bejeebus out of anyone else.

“What about Ashi-san? It could be a better nickname.” ‘Why can’t you take anything seriously?We are pact-bound together and our path is one and the same.’ “I do, I can’t help but be serious when people are trying to kill me. But being serious all the time puts lines and wrinkles on your face and you might miss out on the simple and beautiful things in the world while worrying your life away. And it is not like you are really all that open with where our path is destined to go.”_ ‘And for someone who gets distracted looking for double rainbows, is it that much of a concern?’_ Rikka glared at the black blade beside her. “Hey! That was the guards not me. And so what if I like shiny things? Is that a crime?” ‘It should be.’

Annoyed, Rikka didn’t respond and instead went about cleaning up the items so that they would be easy to go through but secure in the hold. Once that was done she checked to ensure no one was nearby and stripped out of the clothing Ser Thalion had given her. It was very pretty but a little too tight in the chest and worth more than Rikka could afford. She quickly changed back into her drab and functional clothes. A few cleaning cantrips later and both her outfit and Ser Thalion’s were spotless. She folded the red fabric and laid it beside the magical items. Glancing towards the door once more Rikka wondered if she would be needed at all or if she should stay out of sight below.

“I’m sure they’ll come find me if I’m needed to clean something or if I’m in the way. How about we give you a good cleaning and polish then Ashi-san?” And so she sat back down cross legged on the floor and began to clean her blade hoping that these strange people who’d saved her life were out of danger and good to keep her on board. After the incident with the rowers she wasn’t so sure how secure her place was.

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Im Sailing Away Pt 4

10th of Coldeven 6:18pm 382 ONT, the Ice Flows of the Northern Sea

BOOM

BOOM

BOOM

“Easy that, good lads, I think that’d be the last of ‘em then” Thitmed called down through the pipes to the Bosun. As they made one final turn around a larger iceberg giving them protection from the large Navy Ships. The last hour or so had been very tight with Aurellia trading shots with their forward facing cannons; and once they had entered the Ice Flow things had become a little more sticky. The lanes clear enough to for the ship to pass snaked left and right, and where the Navy Ships had been unwilling to enter the Ice Flow themselves they had been more than willing to fire their cannons at the Champions Boot while it tried to navigate. They had taken some damage, but had made enough distance now that they were beyond real threat of the cannons. Thitmed navigated the ship a little deeper into a wider opening and then dropped anchor, it was too dangerous to move the ship without the entire crew on the ready, and they had just had the longest day of their lives, some rest and repairs were certainly in order.

12th of Coldeven 5:14pm 382 ONT, the Ice Flows of the Northern Sea

Eltheron landed lightly on the deck allowing Thalion to spring from his back gracefully. The Mate of the Champions Boot double timed it up to the bridge where Aurellia, Thitmed and Flitt stood huddled together… it was cold here, damn cold.

“That is another ship it just relieved our original captors… they are going to guard that exit until we starve or come fight them” Thalion said with a note of disappointment

“Blast! BLAST!” Thitmed slammed his fist down on the railing “There sitting pretty and resupplied and were left to fondle Annamachara… BLAST!” Flitt looked nervously at Aurellia, unsure of the wisdom of using the Ice Goddesses name in vein while trapped in the ice flows, the Master Gunner gave him a slight headshake warning him from correcting the agitated First Mate. “Fine… they want it to be hard, I can do hard… I LIKE hard. I am Clan Durin…we know a thing or two about it being hard… let me tell you…. HA…” concerned looks passed among the three officers as their First Mate appeared to be cracking, but no one spoke “Alright, so we got three weeks’ worth of food, if we find us some fish and the Kempia can keep magicing the gruel we can stretch for another week or two. We got a sick Captain and a slightly crippled ship… fine… FINE! That can be dealt with…. We can try and run through the ice to see if it will let us out further east… but that ship will see us if we try to cross back into the Taelms… so we can run the Ice even further east and try crossing in the open sea…. Or… push north towards the mouth of the Raitilien River, and sail into Caliber and clear lake” the dwarf stopped, no one was sure if he was actually talking to them

“Won’t the Raitilien be frozen if it’s further north?” Flitt asked somewhat skeptical

“Ye’d think that wouldn’t ya…” Thitmed said with a little fire coming back into his voice… but that’s no ordinary river… it’s that Raitilien!” the three stared at the dwarf uncomprehendingly

“AH by Selwyns Perky Tits, read a gods be damned book! The Raitilien was the river blessed by the Necromite, the river always flows fast and cold so that all in the north would have some protection from the dead who walk… if it be flowing, it can’t be frozen now can it.” He looked at them all, but no one was willing to argue. “Fine then… if we get lucky maybe we can find the mouth of the river within two or three weeks, then off to Caliber, and from there just a few weeks into Chistles Point”

“Sir? How far is Cailiber from the mouth of the River?” Thalion asked, picking up on a vital math issue

“Ah… I’d have to check me charts, but I am supposing at least two, maybe three weeks depending on the current and how well we do heading up river”

“and we have only four weeks of food at best right now? If we are lucky with rationing?”

“Aye, Thalion, I see where yer gettin’. It’s gonna get tight, very very tight, but I don’t see another option, so talk with Belinda and Hatrutt about rationing as far as we can… Bosun I want a guard on the kitchen any time it’s closed from now on, and I will be severe with theft. Any tricks you or yer mounts have to help with the food would go a long way… I am open to them… but aside from that I hope you all ate well, as we won’t again until Caliber.”

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I'm Sailing Away Pt 3

10th of Coldeven 3:52pm 381ONT, Great Bay of Taelm, just outside of Don-Ton

Please Listen While Reading

Thitmed nodded at Aurellia and looked around the table to see if any other officers had anything to say

“It will be at least two days before we can row on the starboard side Mister Ironbraid, and that’s if I get a fair amount of help, maybe a week if I’m fixing it myself” Mandy offered trying to sound as confident as the Master Gunner was when she spoke

“Our Ration supply is already tight Thit, and we have two extra bellies on board to fill, I don’ know how long we can afford to be navigating the ice flows, that isn’t well known as fishing grounds and if gaps close behind us sometimes it can take weeks or even a month to get back out… it is a dangerous gamble” Belinda stated looking over the ration listings

“I like the idea of the Ice Flows best…” Thalion offered” though both Eltheron and I are pretty injured, without a fair amount of magical healing we would be at risk of being unable to fly after a single hit… that being said, we are willing to descend upon them and cause mayhem if that’s what we need to do to protect our ship, or the Backward Thrust” Thitmed stroked his black bristly beard as he considered all that was told

ice.jpg

“Aurellia, how long to disassemble the bombard and rig it on the bridge so it can fire behind us while we flee” he asked. The Master Gunner did some quick mental calculations

“If you give me Robinson and Prancer for the project I could get a stable set up in just over an hour”

“Kempia, How much healing magic can we reasonably depend on today?”

“The great goddess Ymeri prefers not to quantify her love as it may come in many forms. But my prepared spells are nearly exhausted, I have perhaps two spells of healing left, that I would prefer to save for emergency” The Kempia said with a voice so soft everyone needed to strain to hear her words. The dwarf ran his hand through his greasy hair while he took it all in.

“OK Lads and Lasses, Here we go. Aurellia, take Prancer and Robinson and get that Bombard mounted on the bridge where it can fire behind us as we flee. Thalion, brief Miriel on the plan should either ship get to close to us or the Backward Thrust and have her be ready. Then load the boy and Buck onto yer eagle and take them to the Thrust. They don’t have a cook so that will be Bucks new job, and they don’t have a cabin boy, so the lad can travel with them till the next port or further as he sees fit. That should stretch our stores from dower back down to grim. Mandy go collect every man we can spare to help you on those oars decks, I need at least two oars on Starboard before we hit the ice, I can’t sail in there and without oars we’ll be done for. Belinda take Flitt and break out the ice gear, the poles and the axes and picks, I want them on deck and ready for our approach. Make ready folks, were bound for the ice.”

The assembled officers had their tasks, with a demurred chorus of Aye Sir they stood and went about their tasks, getting ready for the ice or the battle, whichever would be upon them first.

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I'm Sailing Away Part 2

10th of Coldeven 3:45pm 381ONT, Great Bay of Taelm, just outside of Don-Ton.

Aurellia felt the fury and the fear rise inside her, then mix into a steely resolve.

“I say we head for the ice flows, and make them regret their life choices long before we ever get there.”

Thitmed saw the look in the gunslinger’s eye and was unsure if he wanted to hear the rest, “How do you suggest we do tha?”

With a smile Aurellia answered, “By being clever and cunning, of course. We head toward the ice flows and wait for their Wizards to get tired and ride their blankets home. Once the ships have been good and abandoned by the wizards, Elderon and Thalion drink the invisibility potions, Miriel casts invisibility on herself, then puts on that bone ring and takes it for a test drive. They have more guns, but we have range and brains on them. Miriel will fly for the lead ship, Elderon, and Thalion will fly for the ship in the rear. Miriel can land on the deck of their ship and detonate the ring, then fly away. I’ll leave it to her to decide if she’s feeling lucky and wants to take it below deck before she detonates. Thalion and Elderon fly for the second ship and set the tops of their sails ablaze with the tinder twigs, I’ll even volunteer my rum ration for the next week as fuel. Then fly back to the ship. If nothing else, it should cause some confusion and buy us time and distance while they sort themselves out. Our new bombard can shoot far, and I’ve been itching for some target practice since we strapped her on to the deck. I’ll fire on them a few times and by then they should find themselves wondering how worth it this whole navy career really has been. I doubt they’ll continue to pursue us and from there we can take the course that your most comfortable with.”

The room was quiet for a moment while the officers thought it over.

To be continued?

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I'm SailingAway Pt 1

10th of Coldeven 3:45pm 381ONT, Great Bay of Taelm, just outside of Don-Ton.

Thitmed looked behind him and nodded as he saw Leslie had finally got his sails trimmed and was making good speed in the wake of the Boot. He also noted his Bosun, Mate and extra person who would need to be fed, were heading back over to his ship. Belinda had the telescope out and was searching further back. He left her to the task gauging the wind and deciding his course, he didn’t have the confidence that the Captain held for this ship in the open sea, and was feeling that hugging the shore for as much as possible was probably a better idea. He looked down at the deck ahead of him. The lines were tight and the deck was clear, they stood ready to leap into action at his request. Aurellia had her weapon loaded and was now loading muskets whilst Robinson kept an eye on the main sail in case he should suddenly decide to turn… good man. He was about to call the all clear to the crew when he heard Belinda speak up behind him

“Thit… yer going to want to see this” she said, the note of worry evident in her voice. He roped of the tiller and walked over to the stern gate where she stood with her scope outstretched. The First Mate took the scope and searched the sea line, then the sky. His shoulders slumped and he let out a long low whistle. Two Don-Tonian navy ships, and three flying war wizards all in hot pursuit. He checked his sails and the wind and then spent a long minute gauging the ships he let out a long sign… they would not catch them for a few hours, but they would eventually catch them. He was less concerned about the wizards, Thitmed would have to turn out of the wind and face them in order for them to catch up, those carpets did not offer speed as much as unflagging distance. If he show no signs of fight the wizards would likely turn back within half an hour. Those navy ships however… each with at least six guns, and a crew that tripled his, there was no way he could take them both, and they would shred the Backward Thrust who was in no shape for a fight. The giant eagle landed on the bow deck, and the rest of the crew joined him he let out a roar.

“Bosun to the Bridge, Officers and Cabin Boy to the mess! The rest of you on Deck, weapons ready.” He waited patiently as Flitt hopped up on the bridge “Take the tiller lad, hold this course, I want to know right away if the Thrust or either of those two ships following change course”

“Aye Aye Sir” Flitt said taking the tiller. Thitmed took Belinda and headed down to the mess.

“Cabin Boy… I need tha charts from me cabin for Taelm, NOULA, and Ice Fronts” he said as he collected a tea from Hatrutt and sat at the table with Belinda, Thalion, Aurellia, Mandy and the mysterious priestess. He hadn’t considered Mandy when he had called for the officers, but he supposed she was the Master Carpenter and acknowledged she had rights to be here.

“Ummmm…. Where is your cabin sir? And what are charts?” the little Halfling boy said. Thitmed felt his face turning red.

“You know I can just run and show him real quick” Mandy said hurriedly standing up and dragging Paolo out of the First Mate’s sight as quickly as she could.

“Thalion, make sure the Bosun understands that one of his priorities will be training the cabin boy”

“Aye Sir” Thalion said, sensing that this was not the time to be glib. Finally Mandy and Paolo returned with the charts. Mandy took her seat at the table with her tea, she looked over to see Paolo about to sit while reaching for a crumpet, she caught his eye and furiously shook her head warning him back, he seemed to get the message and moved to stand in the corner, noticing the move Thitmed turned to him

“Head up to the bridge boy… act as a runner if the Bosun needs anything”

“Yes Sir…” Paolo said but paused for a moment “… and the bridge is….” Seeing the rage appear on the dwarves face was enough for the Halfling boy to back out of the room “you know, I think I can manage”

“It is his first day Thit…” Belinda reminded him

“I hate new Cabin Boys” the dwarf grumbled as he unrolled the charts “So… here’s our troubles. Thar be two Don-Ton navy ships chasing us, and those ships will overtake us in a little over two hours, a guess maybe an hour and a half if we hold beside the Backward Thrust. I got no doubt in my mind that we will be sunk if we turn and try to fight them, even with tha shark and eagle, they out man us three to one each. So what can we do…. Here be my line of thinking.

Option 1: Head down leave our friends of the Backward Thrust to themselves and travel along the coast, if the thrust holds slows them enough in four hours we can hit the Islo Island Chain, and try and hide among the islands and the shallows, at least we could make their guns less useful there. I would say that we stay and hold, but even with a good head start the Thrust cannot make those islands in time.

Option Two: we turn hard east and go straight out to see, the wind won’t be with us, so we’d be slower, but it won’t be with them as well, it would turn to a rowing competition, we tell the Backward Thrust to keep with the good wind and head for the Islands while we head out into the coming storm, hopefully the follow us, and we get lucky in the storm and they don’t

Option Three: We cut East and North and aim for a the ice flows, they are just breaking up this time of year and are very dangerous waters to sail through, if we can make the ice flows before the Navy Ships Catch us I am sure they will turn back.

I am open to suggestions, what do you think?”

To be continued?

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In one Fleeting Moment

A little music to accompany the piece

The bow sang and the arrows flew true severing the lines that held Flitt captive. Around them the street was a warren of death traps and the brewery the largest of them all. Faith had led him back here. Faith that Kaho’s vision from Ymeri was real and this was where he needed to be. The first time he’d come was chasing after the thought of an old friend and love in danger. Both times turned out to be traps and now he was caught. The bolts in his shoulders hampered his movements and he twisted to take a bead on the two lines to free himself.

Out of the corner of his eye Flitt did not move to escape but remained fighting at his side in a desperate attempt to buy Hiro time. But Flitt did not see the man who stepped from the doorway, the one who’d almost killed them in the tavern and taken Prancer’s arm and Ungle’s life; Deniro. And then Flitt was down and bleeding out. Hiro swore and dragged Flitt further away from the assassin fumbling for his last healing potion as he did so. It was enough but barely as the grippli’s eyes flicked open. Between one moment and the next, before Hiro could even think about tossing the diminutive frog towards his friends, Thalion replaced him in Hiro’s arms. He shook his head at the shift and staggered under the unforeseen burden of keeping them both from falling over before Thalion gained his feet and Hiro was free to act once more. It always seemed that if Flitt or Aurellia were in danger Thalion was there, shield in hand to save them. It was a noble sacrifice to stand in harm’s way for others and he had done it time and again unflinching. Hiro could do not but respect the courage it represented.

But now was not the time for reminiscing over such things and he turned his attention back to the battle. Miriel circled overhead and those who stood in her way or dared raise a hand against the mighty Stryx were felled low. Oh to be able to fly from this. Webbing magicked around them and Hiro twisted to keep his arms free sacrificing his freedom for another chance to let fly his arrows. He sighted in on Deniro, the man behind this night’s attack and the one on whom it all hinged. The world narrowed to a single point and the arrow lanced out at the assassin with deadly precision. Only to be batted away in annoyance by the man. Hiro felt his courage waver in that moment. All his training, all of his experience and there were still people like Deniro that he could not touch. The world was a cruel place indeed.

And then he saw it, the white hot ball that filled the night sky with the brilliance of the sun in miniature. It arced down at them and even the assassin scrambled back from its path. But not Hiro. He’d like to say that it was faith and courage that held him there facing his death but it was the magicked webbing and cabling that forced his feet to remain still. The world around Hiro came into excruciating sharp focus and yet he saw none of it fixated on the fireball as he was.

I left to become strong. To find those willing to fight and lead them back to the Fire Nation. Years of travel and all I see are my mistakes like footprints on the beach waiting to be swallowed by the tide once more. The people I helped, those I saved could not help me in return and in time will forget I was ever there. I wanted to inspire others to fight but I could not do that by running away. My death in Azulon would have meant something. My death here means only coin to some and an end for others.

Kaho sent me here, she must’ve seen this in the flames. Seen my death. What purpose does this serve? What purpose did I serve? How does this aid our cause? And yet… I still believe. I believe in the path Ymeri set before me and what I meant to do. But Yukiko was right. I should have found a better way. A way to inspire our people to fight and stop the evil that crept into our nation poisoning us all with its greed and want of power. I’m an idiot and a fool. I ignored the woman I loved for a chance to strike at those who wronged me and saved by my goddess I let her go again to wander the world alone.

I failed to heed her words. I failed to see the truth. I failed to save my people. I fear not the truth of the flame… No, I fear I have done nothing that will last. Will anyone remember?

Thoughts of his friends echoed through the final moment of his life. Hatrutt’s inspiring cooking, Prancer’s never ending words of a father’s wisdom, Thitmed’s protective griping, Ungle’s boasting, Leslie’s eggs, Flitt’s ability to adapt and aid his friend, Miriel’s proud nature tempered by her love for Prancer, Thalion’s courage and generous spirit, Aurellia’s quiet struggles and Mandy’s innocent trust that he could do no wrong. He should’ve done more for them, been more for them.

Yukiko… I’m sorry.

And between one moment and the next none of it mattered any more.

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This is Forever Part 2

3rd of Coldeven 380 ONT on Board the Better Days on the Lower Promethean River

“How long is this going to take?”

“Give them time, this is a big decision.”

“Well excuse me if I don’t want to spend hours waiting around while they bang.”

“Whynny, that’s enough! Don’t sully this, it’s a big day in their lives, no matter what she decides, and– “ the Captain was interrupted as a flushed Serenity burst above deck.

“She said yes!!!”

The crew let out a collective cheer and ran forward to congratulate their master gunner.

Please listen while reading

Below deck, Aurellia was opening the parcel that Serenity had given her.

“I hope you like it. If you don’t you can wear anything you want, I just want you to feel special. Take your time, and I’ll be waiting for you on the bridge.”

She folded back the paper to reveal the softest elven silk. Pulling it out she found it was a white flowing dress with the finest silver embroidery. She changed out of her tattered work clothes, and was surprised to find that although the dress was sleeveless and made of the lightest, softest fabric, she felt warm as soon as it touched her skin. The parcel also held a pair of white cloth slippers and two small silver combs that looked like butterflies adorned with tiny blue jewels. Aurellia did her best to tame her hair with the combs, and stepped into the slippers.

Taking a deep breath, she left the mess hall and glided up to the deck of the ship. The slippers made her feel as though she were walking on clouds. If Serenity had wanted to make her feel special, she had definitely succeeded. As she stepped out into the sun, she saw that the whole crew was lined up along the sides of the ship leading to the bridge. Everyone smiled when they saw her, and Eldon began talking to anyone who would listen about how ‘stupendous’ she looked. She felt a wave of self-consciousness threaten to overtake her, but managed to keep walking.

The Captain met her once again at the top of the stairs and offered her his arm. She slipped her arm through his and he walked her to the ship’s bow where they found Serenity waiting with a beaming smile. “Don’t worry,” he whispered to her as they walked, “I’ve done this before, you’ll be okay.” Aurellia was relieved to see that it was only the three of them on the bridge, she felt more confident without everyone’s eyes on her.

Aurellia took Serenity’s hands in hers, and Serenity touched her forehead to Aurelia’s and whispered, “You are so gorgeous. I love you so much and I promise that I will always take care of you.” Aurellia smiled, “I promise to always be here for you. You are the most amazing person I have ever known, and you make me happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”

After a few moments the Captain cleared his throat, “Well now, lovely as you ladies are, I can’t stand around in this outfit all day, I’m not as fit as I once was.
So, without further ado, it is my deep honour as the Captain of the Better Days to perform this ceremony and to join you two lovers in a bond that cannot be broken in this life or the next. This is a sacred bond, and no one should enter into it with any doubt in their heart. Are you both sure that this is what you want?”

Aurellia and Serenity nodded in unison.

“Alright then, Serenity Fair, do you promise to love, honour, and cherish Aurellia – whether in her lightest moments or darkest days – for as long as you both shall live?”

“Forever, I do.”

“Then please hold out your right hand, palm up.”

“And Aurellia Ouelette, do you promise to love, honour, and cherish Serenity – whether in her lightest moments or darkest days – for as long as you both shall live?”

“Forever, I do.”

“Then please place your left hand, palm down, atop Serenity’s.”

The Captain began wrapping their hands with cord. “This cord represents the promises you have made on this day.” He began trying 3 knots from their fingertips to their wrists, “The knots represent the strength of the bond your love has formed – a bond that no one but the very Gods themselves may break.” He rested his right hand on top of the cord and looked at them both. “While the knots will be loosened and the cord removed, the promises and the bond you have created on this day will remain, and the responsibility to protect them will lie with each of you for all your days. It is my absolute pleasure to pronounce the two of you married. You may kiss your wife.”

Aurellia folded herself against Serenity and kissed her sweetly, and then Serenity kissed Aurellia’s temple and whispered in her ear, “Welcome home,” as she wrapped her free arm around her tightly.

The feast that night was decadent, Serenity had spared no expense, and everyone ate and drank their fill. Whynny drank a little more than her fill and found herself singing a duet with Eldon that she proclaimed to be the wedding gift she had been “waiting so long” to give them. Through it all, Serenity remained by Aurellia’s side, the knots untested, and Aurellia found herself in a dream world. She had never felt so wanted in all her life, but more than that, she felt she belonged here. With these people, on this ship, she had found the home she had been searching for since her mother left.

That summer Aurellia was promoted to an able bodied sailor, and worked hard to learn the ins and outs of her trade. She practiced her shooting, taking some direction from Serenity in long distance accuracy. She even began to feel a small friendship grow with Whynny, now that she was no longer at the bottom of the totem pole. And at the end of each day she and Serenity would sit on the crossbeam of the high mast and watch the sun set before retiring to their room. That summer was definitely the best one of her life, for a while everything seemed perfect.

And then that summer ended.

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This is Forever Part 1

3rd of Coldeven 380 ONT on Board the Better Days on the Lower Promethean River

Aurellia worked to scrape the last few barnacles off of the starboard side of the ship. It was hard, tedious work and was taking up most of her days lately. Her arms were sore, and sweat covered her flushed face. She pulled her shirt away from her drenched chest and used the wind to cool herself slightly. Though there was a slight chill to the air, this was the warmest Coldeven of her life, and she was happy to be here, on the water with the wind in her hair.

Finally, she scraped the last barnacle free. She heaved a sigh of relief as she untied the third rope from around the seat, wrapped it around her wrist, and began to pull herself and her wooden seat up the side of the ship. It had been 4 months since she joined the crew, and she had been put through the wringer. It seemed that she was given every job that anyone on the crew might not want to do, and since everyone out-ranked her, she had no choice but to do as she was told. Serenity assured her as they lay together in the dark at night that most of them liked her well enough, but they had all served their time as cabin boys, and they took the rite of passage to become a crew member seriously.

It had been hard for her at first to acclimate to the general sense of humour aboard the Better Days, Serenity had acted as a discrete translator, offering a wink or a slight nod of encouragement when she noticed Aurellia looking uncertain. After a while she began to understand most of her crewmates fairly well, but the ship’s bosun remained a mystery to her. Bosun Whynny was hard on Aurellia, often forcing her to be the last hand working on deck long after the others had retired for the night, and no matter how hard she worked, nothing ever seemed good enough for the bosun.

Aurellia had finished scraping the ship’s hull a full 4 days ahead of schedule (after packing her meals and eating on the side of the ship each day while she worked – a little plan she and Serenity had hatched to get her ahead of schedule and finally into Whynny’s good books) and she felt certain that Whynny would have to be impressed this time. She reached the ship’s railing and pulled herself over in one fluid motion. Her body moved gracefully with the ship as though this were all one well rehearsed dance. She tucked the wooden seat away and turned quickly, nearly walking straight into Bosun Whynny. In the moment before she realized who was in front on her, Aurellia’s hand flashed instinctively to the dagger on her belt.

“Getting scrappier every day, Lia.”

Aurellia forced herself not to react to the nickname she had told Whynny she didn’t like, the first couple of times she’d protested she had found herself cleaning out the ship’s privy and she wasn’t keen to relive that experience any time soon.

“Planning to knock off early today, are we?” there was something odd in the Bosun’s voice, a slight anxiousness that Aurellia had never heard before, it set the Cabin Boy on edge and though her hand relaxed, it remained on her hip, within easy reach of the dagger.

“No Bosun, I was just coming to tell you that I’ve finished scraping the hull and ask if you would like me to start on something else.”

“You can’t be done already, it’s only been a week,” her voice seemed forced and rehearsed, and it made all of the hairs stand up on the back of Aurellia’s neck.

“I’ve been working hard Bosun, I can assure you there isn’t a barnacle left above the waterline.”

An exaggerated look of disbelief played briefly on Whynny’s face, then she seemed to switch gears completely, “Well, I’ll check it out for myself tomorrow, right now I’ve got a job for you on the bridge. Grab your coat and follow me.”

Puzzled and guarded, Aurellia rolled her pant legs down and pulled on her coat, fastening the buttons at the chest as she followed.
Whynny almost ran up the stairs and disappeared onto the bridge. Following cautiously, Aurellia kept her left hand on the dagger’s hilt. She had never seen the Bosun behave this way, and she smelled a trap.

As she climbed the stairs she found the Captain waiting for her at the top, wearing a dress uniform she would not have previously believed he owned. The Captain was clean shaven for the first time since she’d met him, and his eyes were playing at a grin that was otherwise hidden on his face.

“Why Miss Ouellette, would you take a walk with me?” though his voice seemed calm and serious, the mirth had not left his piercing blue eyes. He held out his elbow to her the way she had once seen nobles hold out their elbows for lady’s as they disembarked flagships in Rehume’s port.

This did nothing to calm her nerves, but she stepped forward and took the captain’s elbow uncertainly. She scanned the deck of the bridge and saw that Whynny was nowhere to be found. “I’m sorry captain, but Bosun Whynny said she had a job she needed me for, did you happen to see which way she went?”

“Don’t worry so much about the Bosun, I outrank her, you know,” he winked and started leading her back down the stairs.

“Pardon me Captain, but is something wrong?”

“Not unless you’ve done something I don’t know about.” He stopped and searched her eyes. “Is there anything I should know?”

Aurellia felt trapped in uncertainty. Was this all part of some elaborate prank? Or was something wrong?

“No Captain, not that I know of.”

Her stomach felt twisted in knots as they began to walk again, the Captain leading her below deck. She could not help but notice that despite it being early afternoon, there were no other crew members to be seen.

“You know, when Serenity asked me to take you on as crew she seemed pretty certain about you. I definitely had my doubts. That girl has always had a keen sense, but she can also be hot-headed and impulsive, and I was pretty sure that living in close quarters for a trip down the Promethean would be enough to remind her that freedom and independence are valuable commodities to her – even more valuable than having her nethers twixed on the regular.”

He stopped outside the door of the mess, and rested his hands on Aurellia’s shoulders. “I’m a pretty clever man you know, my first impressions are often spot on. Before you go in there I want you to know that you’ve proven yourself to be a valuable member of my crew, and that regardless of what happens, I want you here. You’ve earned a bunk of your own, if you should need it.”

Aurellia’s head was spinning – what was happening here? Was Serenity going to leave her? Was she going to ask her to leave the ship? She had been a little distant lately, but Aurellia had just assumed that like her, Serenity had been exhausted by her duties. Or was it something worse?

She looked at the Captain with a superficial smile pulled a little too tightly across her clear apprehension, “Thank you for saying so Sir. But if I’ve done something wrong, or if Serenity is upset with me about something – please tell me. I’ve only tried to do my best, for her and for you. I am truly grateful to be aboard this ship.”

The Captain smiled and winked as he opened the doors to the mess, stepping to the side and gesturing for her to go ahead.

Aurellia’s breath caught in her chest as she took in the scene before her. The mess had been transformed from a modest dining hall into something she expected could be found aboard a state ship. The two worn and pock-marked wooden tables that ran along the sides of the small room had been covered by crisp white linens, Each table held a vase at it’s center filled with white roses and lilies, accented by purple lilacs. The flowers were framed on either side by silver candlesticks holding long white tapered candles. The portholes were covered by thin white fabric, cutting the sun’s rays down to a dull glow.

The intoxicating scent of the flowers in the air and the quality of the light overloaded Aurellia’s senses, making Serenity standing at the end of a trail of flower petals, the last thing she noticed. She felt the apprehension drain from her as she returned Serenity’s genuine smile. Her love was wearing a white fitted coat with silver embroidery and silver buttons over clean white pants, her beautiful blue hair pulled back from her face and fastened at her temples with small silver combs. Serenity was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.

“…wha-how…..…where did you get all of this?”

Serenity held her hands out to Aurellia as the Captain quietly closed the door behind her. Aurellia walked slowly along the flower petals, trailing her right fingertips along one of the tablecloths.

“I have friends in most of the ports, it just so happens that one of them owed me a favour.”

“This is a big favour.”

“Just wait.”

“What is it all for?” Aurellia asked as she reached the end of the trail.

Serenity placed her hand on the small of Aurellia’s back and pulled her in close, “It’s all for you,” she kissed her deeply, running her free hand through Aurellia’s dusty rose hair, and letting it come to rest on the nape of her neck. Aurellia reached to undo the buttons of Serenity’s coat and Serenity broke the kiss, “Wait,” she whispered breathlessly.

The burning need that Aurellia had come to associate with the smell of Serenity’s skin, and the touch of her hands, coiled restlessly within her. “What are we waiting for?”

Serenity looked into Aurellia’s eyes and met her urgency with tenderness, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to find you,” she stroked Aurellia’s cheek with her thumb, “Everything feels right when you’re with me, and I want that feeling to last forever.” Serenity pulled a small, elegantly carved wooden box out of the breast pocket of her jacket and took a deep breath. “I want to make you my wife. I want to promise to spend every day doing whatever I can to share that feeling with you.” She opened the box to reveal a thin silver band with a moonstone in the center. “Will you be mine? Because I want to be yours – I have never wanted anything so badly in my life.”

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Overstayed Welcome

9th of Coldeven 381 ONT, 6:02am, Embassy of Pelagius, 5th Spoke 2nd Circuit, Don-Ton

THUMP THUMP THUMP

Sir Horace yawned and recollected the series of events that had led his life to the point where an Honalian Knight was answering the embassy door an hour before dawn. He waved his hand over the door, magically allowing him to see who stood on the other side and was disheartened. Two Black Guard a Don-Tonian noble and several other guardsmen literally darkened his doorstep. The young knight assured his trusty sword, the Oaken Oath, was loose in its scabbard at his belt before he opened the door.

The noble was human, with a long beak of a nose and shrewd beady little eyes, he had a well-manicured goatee to match his dark hair, and wore an emblazoned breast plate with the Don-Ton Law Guild insignia engraved into

“Good Day Sir” the noble began with a nasally voice “I am Baron Arthgull, representing the High Lords Business this day, to whom do I address?” Horace took stock of the situation, eight guardsmen in addition to the two Black Guard. He waved his hand behind the door, keeping it out of the view of the Baron and his men, this would alert the three members of the Honalian Honor Guard that resided within the embassy and allow them to start putting on armor. Whilst he did this he cleared his voice and spoke

“I am Sir Horace Altman, the Oakleaf Knight of Pelagius and personal protector of the Lady Alyss”

“Yes, I see” the Baron replied, seemingly unimpressed with whom he spoke “It is my duty to inform you that Lord Strahd von Zarrovich believes the Lady Alyss and this embassy to have been aiding terrorists within this great city. As such her diplomatic status is hereby revoked, she, and the members of this residence will be taken into custody for questioning while this contents of this house will be confiscated for evidence purposes. Please step aside and surrender your household staff and occupants to us immediately and I can assure that your lives will be spared for the time being” Horace stared hard at the little man, before allowing his eyes to drift across the two Black Guard Members and the eight well-armed city guardsmen. He took in a long breath before exhaling slowly

“No” he replied simply

“No? the man said surprised, need I point out that you are hopelessly outnumbered? I have two Black Guard and…”

“AND I AM AN HONALIAN KNIGHT HUMAN!” Horace roared with enough force that the Baron took an involuntary step back “I PASSED MY TRIALS OF KNIGHTHOOD ALMOST FIVEHUNDRED YEARS AGO, AND HAVE BEEN BATTLING FOR MY KING AND COUNTYMEN EVER SINCE!” his voice dropped to a deadly whisper “I stood alone against twelve devils in the great war, and I lived to tell the tale, do you really think eleven pathetic humans, even if two have fancy suits would cause me to turn on my honour, my oath or my duty to the Lady Alyss? How little Don-Ton understands” he spat at the ground of the Barons feet, causing the little man’s face to turn red with anger

“This is an illegal occupation now, you and your occupants are criminals of the highest orders, do not think to defy me, I will string up that whore you call a lady and…” as he spoke he whipped his rapier from its scabbard and pointed it at the Knight. The Knight did not wait for him to continue, in a singular fluid movement the Oaken Oath raced from its scabbard, Horace stepped out of the front door and cleanly thrust his sword through the throat of the Baron. His sword spun quickly flicking the blood in the faces of the on looking guards as he stepped back into the doorway of his embassy and sheathed his sword. The Baron gurgled something in surprise before dropping to the ground dead. The Black Guard roared in anger and as one drew blades and approached the doorway. As the first attempted to thrust his great sword they found something halted them, the doorway seemed to have an invisible barrier that would not allow them past. They roared again and tried attacking several times, all for not.

“I can see you gentlemen are busy, so I will leave you to it” Horace said as he closed the door and locked it, he could hear the Black Guard pounding on the barrier and knew they would not have long before the magic gave way. He turned to assess the situation, and nearly jumped out of his boots in surprise, standing at the foot of the nearby stairwell was his dear friend Rand. “Rand, you scared me half to death… when did you arrive?” His friend offered a slight grin

“Only just, I saw your door guests approaching and thought it best to come in a different way” Horace offered a nod to this

“Well, your timing is excellent, I could use a Ranger right now, or maybe three”

“One Riot, One Ranger” Rand said quoting the old Honalian adage. “We need to get everyone out of here, what is your situation?” Rand asked turning and walking with Horace towards the kitchen

“I have three Honalian Honour Guard in the house, in addition to myself, the Lady Alyss has a single Lady in waiting as well. The embassy has a cook and a few groundskeepers, but they are local and will only need to be freed from the house, not the city” Rand scratched his chin considering his friends words as Horace continued “We have stables down the street, but I would be shocked if the Don-Tonians haven’t seized our horses already” as they approached the kitchen Rand moved the kettle to the stove and much to the cooks chagrin tore a piece off of loaf of fresh bread, he spoke with his mouth half full.
“The entire city will be closed today, no way we are making it through any gates, and I dare not attempt scaling the wall in daylight with the Lady Alyss… that means if we are getting out, we are doing it by ship”

“There is still a blockade Rand, no ships are leaving the harbor…”

“Without tangling with the Don-Ton Navy, I am aware, but coin can be a powerful motivator, and that is still our best bet… how long will the magic hold?” Rand asked, Horace scratched his head thinking for a moment

“Three, maybe four hours, longer if Alyss and I feed it, less if they bring actual wizards down to drain it” Rand nodded at the assessment

“Alright then, let’s say I get two hours, three tops… I am going to slip out, get down to the docks and find us someone who is willing to run the lines, maybe rustle us up a little muscle for our run back as well.”

“I’ll inform the Lady and get her packed and ready to go, remember we are going to be well and truly surrounded by the time you get back, have a plan for extraction please.” Rand smiled at Horace

“Come on Horace, I always have a plan” he said playfully

“Really, like that time in Eiradun?”

“We both agreed that that one doesn’t count, too many mice” the two shared a laugh as Rand took a gulp of the Kaffe that had just been poured

“Honestly Rand…” Horace said sincerely “I’m glad you’re here, this one is going to get harry” Rand put his shoulder on his friends arm

“Don’t worry Horace, we’ll get her out safely, I promise” with that the Kings Ranger took one final swallow of Kaffe, straightened his bow, and turned to the basement to leave and hopefully find aid.

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