Bit of a long one, here. Just wanted a good pause. *evil grin*
Lodaris leaned on the railing of the ship, looking out over the horizon. The Azure Rider was sailing over the waves towards Juriss, and he and Alina were the only passengers aboard. A dozen sailors manned the ship, all natives of the island, and he considered them out of the corner of his eye as he looked back the way he came, following the wake towards the horizon. After a day at sea, the far harbour was no longer visible.
The Rider had been at sea a full day, and Lodaris was feeling the strain. The captain remained in his cabin around the clock, charting courses, and his first mate ran the ship tightly. While the sailors were chatty, they were also focused, and they were nervous around the Exalt that had booked passage. Lodaris was used to solitude, especially since coming West, but he was unusually antsy on this voyage.
"Still worried?" Alina glided soundlessly up beside him, leaning on the railing and looking upwards at her companion. Lodaris nodded slowly, eyes fixed on the horizon, as he flexed his fingers on the railing.
"Of course." He shook his head slowly. "Two days searching the harbour, and no one knows who that... creature... was." The frown deepened. "I don't believe that we should have left."
"It would have been a month before the boat came again." Alina sighed, and shrugged. "Besides, he didn't seem dangerous, exactly." She paused. "Well, alright, he did seem dangerous. But not evil. He didn't even kill the mugger."
"Not out of compassion, I'd wager." Lodaris looked down at the waves, shaking his head. He sighed quietly. "That sounded like the tales of the deathknights that sometimes roam certain parts of the world. One of the Silver Prince's minions, I'd wager. His presence here cannot possibly bode well."
"Maybe not." Alina looked out over the sea, her mind drifting to her dreams. "But he brought the darkness with him. Maybe he's the one that was holding back..." She broke off as Lodaris grabbed her arm and leaped backwards in a single motion. A fraction of a second later, the waves exploded upwards.
As she flipped in the air, landing smoothly on her feet, Alina gasped at the ship surfacing next to them. It was longer than the Rider, close to eighty feet in length, with a slimy mucus covering it from bow to stern. The mucus stretched upwards over the mast, although as Alina watched she saw it edging downwards, allowing black sails to unfurl. The front of the ship was twisted into a spiral, edged with teeth, and a dozen green eyes glittered along its length. Alina's eyes widened as one blinked balefully, focusing on the Azure Rider.
Lodaris's voice was grim as he sprang to his feet. "Lintha."
Around her, sailors dashed for cover or ran for the sails. A heavy boom echoed through the Rider as the interloper fired harpoons at nearly point-blank range, anchoring itself to its prey. Moments later, the side of the new vessel exploded outwards, collapsing into bridges that sank sharp fangs into the side of the ship. Fortunately, the sailors of the Rider had been too busy working to be near the ship's rail, and none were caught by the expanding bridges, but Alina heard the crunch of wood under their advance. As sailors gathered, drawing swords and spears, and even a firewand in the hands of the bosun, the enemy began to cross.
Their leader was sparsely clad, with pale gray skin and burning green eyes. He wore black seaweed, woven together into a strong but flexible breastplate, and he held a jade sword, as broad as it was long, easily in one hand. His smile was sharp-toothed, and as he swept his gaze across the sailors, they gasped and fell back at the promise of violence in his eyes. Alina felt horror bearing down on her from behind his gaze, but focused her mind; she, Lodaris, and the bosun alone stood their ground, as the Lintha crossed the pulsing bridges behind their leaders. A score of pirates thronged the edge of the ship, carrying wickedly toothed axes and swords, all grinning maliciously.
"I'm not going to pretend that any of you will survive this." The Lintha captain grinned darkly, his daiklave tapping against the deck. "But if you throw down your weapons, you can die quickly."
"When the captain comes out..." The bosun trailed off as Lodaris took a step forwards, drawing both his swords and crossing them in an arc in front of him.
"This ship is under my protection, monster. Leave now, or die." He settled into the Fire Dragon Form, as the Lintha's eyebrows raised.
"A Dragon-Born? What is of interest in their pathetic little island?" He shook his head, keeping his eyes fixed on Lodaris. "And why do you think you can defend them?" Lodaris took a step backwards, gritting his teeth, and then leapt forwards. The Lintha simply gestured, raising his sword halfway.
Lodaris's advance halted as if he'd crashed into a wall. He staggered backwards, staring into space with a horrified expression. Alina looked from him to the Lintha captain confusedly, as Lodaris fell to one knee. A single word whispered from his suddenly whitened lips. "Ariss..."
Alina's eyes narrowed, and she leapt through the air, summoning her chakram to hand as she flipped backwards. For a moment, her feet braced on the mast as she flicked the chakram forwards, sending a wave of Essence duplicates end-over-end through the air towards him. The raider stepped backwards, raising his sword and tilting it, sending chakrams slicing into the deck, and smiled grimly. His free hand rose and gestured towards her.
As she landed on the deck, Alina saw Citrios standing before her, battered and bruised, chained to a wall with torturers standing around him. She knew that it was impossible, that it couldn't be real, but his memory was stronger than the reality of his absence. He buckled under a blow as one of the men around him hit him, and fixed his gaze on her. "Because of you..." The vision faded, but the emotion behind it remained. Waves of crushing despair buckled her down, and the Lintha captain laughed as the Rider's crew retreated. She struggled to her feet, trying to summon up the will to fight, just as a tremendous blow from the captain's reaver daiklave sent her crashing back to the deck, feeling blood welling across her side. Beside her, Lodaris was lost in a private world, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Suddenly, a shadow raced across the deck, reaching upwards to grasp a Lintha crewmember. As they turned to face this new threat, a second shadow slid under the door leading to the captain's quarters, grabbing a second Lintha and throwing him overboard. The door to the deck blew open, and everyone paused, staring at the newcomer.
Alina couldn't make out anything of her except that she was female, and that her eyes burned darkly behind the veils across her face. A thousand veils of red and purple garbed her from head to toe, and she stepped sideways from the doorway as she looked over the deck. From behind her came a cultured male voice. "Get your Yozi-spawned rears off my ship."
The man from the bar stepped into the sun. He was wearing his cloak, and it rippled in an invisible wind as he and the Lintha captain regarded each other levelly. The strange shadow-shapes held their places, one grasping its target firmly, as did both the Lintha and the Rider's crew. Finally, the Lintha captain spoke. "So, you are the notorious Captain Steel. I am not impressed."
"And you must be the famed Lintha Captain Narquss." Captain Steel smiled, and gestured with one hand. "The legend of your Eyes of Regret have reached even me. I, for one, am pleased to make your acquaintance." His smile changed tenor, becoming a baring of teeth, and Alina saw fangs again. "Now, I'm not going to pretend that any of you will survive this. But if you throw down your weapons, I might miss you in the confusion."
The Lintha captain laughed. "You are only one man, 'Steel'. And you cannot protect these people." He made a gesture with his left hand, and Steel raised an eyebrow delicately. There was a pause, and the Lintha captain's brow furrowed. "What is this?"
Captain Steel shrugged. "What can I say? I do not regret anything I have done."
"I cannot believe that YOU are an innocent." The Lintha's hand grasped the hilt of his sword.
"Didn't say that." Steel shifted his posture, holding out his hands. With a faint twist, a pair of sais leapt into them, black as night. Watching, Alina saw faces forming and dissolving under his grip. "I said I didn't regret what I'd done. Shall we dance?"