Port City Eight
Blackmore rested his elbows against the bow of the ferry as he took a drag of his cigarette. Staring into the sunrise through the smoke, he contemplated what he had listened to in the night they departed. Guard duty, he had told them, but their conversation was just too enticing to depart from. Possessions. Dream Eaters. What a marvel to hear. Blackmore reflected on the individuals he had met. He would have liked to know Samuel Brownlee further.
"Enough of that." He snapped himself out of it. Aiola was now in sight, and with that, peace and quiet. Once the ferry docked, they would be near the city of Nirvana, a place famous due to its history with a group named Nirvanists, religious historians dedicated to documenting the world and its creation. From there, they would have an easy journey, with the Chang Monastery, a place where Li deemed it safe to rest due to his long history with the residents, located in the mountains next to the city.
The large red and white accented ferry docked. Stairs were let down for passengers to exit onto the boardwalk. The first off was Zade. He let in a deep breath, smelling the salty air before walking forward. He was followed by Blackmore, with Marshall toting the group's heavy luggage behind him. Atticus, Blossom, Chris, and Li departed and met up with the rest of the group.
Noticeable as one exited, an unusually large Halan junk — the Second Wind — was docked nearby. It seemed to be built with a mix of woods — elm, teak, bamboo, and various softwoods. Three masts jutted from the deck, two large towards the front, one smaller one over the steering cabin.
"Well, we don't have Samuel anymore. Hopefully, we're not screwed without him," Chris commented.
Li took in the sights of the city. Months, maybe years, had passed between his last visit, but little had changed. "I'm sure we'll do fine without him."
"I'm sure Mr. Li will do fine guiding us through this, Chris," Marshall confirmed.
"Come," Li hobbled forward to the front of the group. "Much awaits us."
As Marshall made it to the top of the steps, he set the suitcases down. Lagging a bit behind the rest of the group, he had reached the small plateau where the monastery stood. In the distance, the city of Nirvana seemed incredibly small. Two large ornate gates were hinged upon a wall, with gold symbols decorating it. The monastery was octagonal with black shingle roofing lining the wall. The group stood on a small stone platform carved into the mountain thousands of years ago.
To the right of the gates was a bell attached to a rope pulley. Li pulled on it.
The gates opened, revealing two monks on the other side, as well as a tall, dark-skinned man. He wore a dark gi with specialized gold lettering and black shoulder pauldrons.
"Welcome back, Wen," the man said. "And your guests?"
"Are Marisol and Robert in? I need to see them, Isaiah," Li rushed.
"Yes," he answered. "Come in, but you will have to leave your weapons outside."
"Are you sure this place is safe, Mr. Li?" Blossom asked, reaching her hand into her brown jacket and pulling out a pair of knives and a gun. She slowly placed them on the ground in front of her.
"It is the safest place there is."
Blackmore sighed. He opened his jacket, removing both a small switchblade and a long hunting knife, as well as one of his submachine guns. "Fascists."
With the group now unarmed, Isaiah led them inside. Within the tall walls, there were over one hundred monks, standing orderly and chanting. Behind them, a large temple with orange roofing and red and teal accents stood.
"Whoa," Marshall gasped.
"Nice place," Blackmore said.
"It is not mine, however, it is the Changs'," Isaiah explained. "However, I am the lead monk here."
"Where are the Changs right now?" Chris wondered. "We have some urgent business with them."
"They are in the meditation room having tea. I'll take you to them," Isaiah answered.
He led them through the main courtyard and to the main temple. Sliding a shoji open, they entered and done a hallway made it to the room. Within, a Halan couple, both with long black hair and well-defined cheekbones and jaws, sat facing one another with a teapot and two cups between them.
"Hello, Wen. I see you brought some friends," the man, Robert, welcomed.
"Yes. Speaking of which, could you all leave the room?" Li asked, turning to face the group.
"I'll take them to the artifact room," Isaiah responded.
As they left the room, Atticus could hear a faint "we need your help" from Li.
The artifact room contained a great many objects of note, most displayed on pedestals with a small nameplate beneath them. An ancient golden sickle-sword covered in markings in an unfamiliar language bore the label "Great King Nzulk's Blade." Next to it was an open manuscript, its pages water-damaged and its cover dusty. Its nameplate read, "Codex Seventy-Five, 20 TP."
"I really hope we can stay here for more than a few days," Atticus said. "We've spent so much time going from place to place, one after another."
"I wouldn't bet on anything," replied Blackmore. He leaned against a tall podium. "If there's anything our road trip has taught me, it's to expect the worst."
"So, what do we do now?" Chris wondered.
"We just wait," Atticus replied as he pulled a large book off a shelf and began to open it.
...and the court of the gods found that Xeren had committed crimes so numerous and unforgivable that execution was deemed a necessity. Palvatar, the giant who carried a scythe gifted by the Shephard of Souls, was to carry out the execution.
When the soul of Xeren was torn from his body, it split into two halves. Of the first, nothing is known. Of the second, a luminescent red sphere appeared in the skies of Euclid. It circled the world time and time again, never changing the speed or direction of its orbit.
If it were to be claimed, the soul could imbue its possessor with unimaginable control over reality itself, akin to that of a Power.
"Hey, Chris, Marshall?" Atticus began. "Do you remember that light we've seen a few times? The red one?"
"Of course we remember that!" Chris exclaimed. "I mean, how could we not? It was sure quite an unusual thing to see in the sky."
"Well, remember how Steven told us that were theories it was connected to some hidden leader? This book claims that it's the soul of the god, or well, Power Xeren and that he was killed by others like him."
"What's this about a light?" Zade asked as he walked over, holding his hiking stick tightly in his hands.
As Chris explained the conversation, Zade began to wince. "Ah yes, I've heard of this light before, back in the days where I still lived in Muné."
"Why do you guys still care about this garbage?" Marshall asked, finally breaking his silence. "We're not on vacation here, this is life-or-death. Why do we keep going on about this shit? The Dream Eaters, the red comet and all this other shit doesn't matter. Can we not take this seriously?"
No one responded before Marshall threw their bags down and stomped out of the room.
Li departed from his meeting with the Changs in high spirits. He was almost to the artifact room when he spotted Marshall walking away from the room.
"What is wrong?" he asked. Marshall only shot a glare in his direction.
Concerned, the man entered the room and saw the group. As he approached, Li noticed something strange. From this angle, Atticus bore a striking resemblance to Gabriel. Atticus was younger, of course, but his face was uncannily close and his eyes were the same light green.
"Mr. Li?" Blossom spoke up after noticing Li standing in the doorway. "What did they say?"
Li snapped out of his stupor and walked over to the group. "They said we can stay. We'll be going to our rooms soon."
Aaron had dropped out of the Search Party the moment he heard they would be going to Muné. He said he would rather not risk his life and leave his family behind. No one could argue with that, however no one else backed out. Rosington had arranged for a cargo ship to drop them off at Nirvana on its way to a port near Louhwark, Hala. They would then take the Smithson-Reed Ferry to Muné as Dyson recommended.
Savannah looked out over the deck and watched the waves. Lisa stood to her right, watching the sunset. Charles was to her left. He tried to imitate the others by blankly staring ahead at the ocean in front of him. Jordan was seated behind them, reading a novel. The only sounds were the crashing of waves and a light sea breeze.
"Hey, listen up," They all turned to face Dexter as he exited the ship's cabin. "The ship is behind schedule because of our stop. We'll be dropped off at a nearby town called Crehambraugh, stay the night there and depart for Nirvana in the morning."
"Have you even been there before?" Lisa asked. "I don't know if it would be a good idea for us to stop in unfamiliar places."
"Relax, it can't be that bad," Dexter showed his tablet, which displayed a map of Aiola. "Look, Nirvana and this town are both parts of Sampi." He tapped the screen, which changed the landscape view to one which showed the borders of each country. Each country was colored red, orange, yellow or green.
"You see that?" Dexter asked. "Sampi and its neighbors are all green, meaning little to Coalition and angel activity within its borders. This is one of the safest places to be."
"Clarify what the Coalition is," Charles told Dexter. "I am aware of multiple coalitions, though which you are referring to was not evident from your statement."
"The Nuyö-Dyavol Coalition, Charles," Dexter explained. "It's an alliance connecting the demon army, Nuyovian governments and crime syndicates. They have a great reach, although we shouldn't have to worry about them until we get to Muné."
The vessel docked at a beach and the party departed. Lights shone from nearby buildings, yet the beach was empty and lifeless. The passengers proceeded over a bridge to the town. The town streets were much like the beach.
"Where is everyone?" Savannah asked.
"It's getting dark, they're probably asleep," Florence adjusted his fedora and continued.
The party kept walking for a few more minutes until a light was abruptly shone on their faces.
"What are you doing outside?" A vested, balding man asked. He held a flashlight in his right hand and a switchblade in his left. "Curfew started hours ago!"
"We're sorry about that, sir. We didn't know about any curfew, we're new to town." Jordan explained.
"I'm curious," the man started. "Are you tourists? Refugees? Just passing through?"
"We are passing through Crehambraugh on the way to Nirvana," Charles replied.
The man scratched his beard. "Well, this ain't a big deal, and I have more important things to do," he looked to Dexter and Florence. "How about you gentlemen give me 40 gil? I won't snitch on you, you go on your way. Deal? I'll even show you to the nearest inn for an extra 20."
"Alright," Florence nervously fumbled with his coat pocket and then his wallet, grabbing six thick coins for the man.
The man pocketed the coins and pointed to his left. "Thanks. Inn's that way." He walked away without another word.
The group saw a building with faintly visible signage reading "Nettlefold Inn." They proceeded into the lobby, where a few patrons sat around a fireplace or watched a small television. A child spun around with her toy airplane as her father read a newspaper. She appeared to be the only person in the room without a lethargic appearance. The attendant at the front desk was typing something as they approached. His nametag read "Gerald."
Jordan warily walked up to the front desk, "Hello, sir. Well, a man with a switchblade threatened us about a curfew and demanded money. Do you know anything about this?"
Gerald looked up from his computer. "He was part of the town watch," he sighed. "You must be new here. The curfew is real and you best be glad he only demanded money."
"What?" Lisa asked, shocked. "What do you mean?"
"They've done far worse for less than being out late," Gerald lowered his voice. "Klaus Lempo -- we're supposed to call him the 'mayor' but he's really a Coalition autocrat -- took over the town five years ago. The watch is supposedly a citizen-run extension of the police that take care of lesser crimes. In reality, Lempo lets his old buddies in the mafia threaten dissenters to his regime with knives and swords. You want my advice? Get out of here as soon as you can."
Savannah glanced at the group then back at Gerald. "Uhm, we only plan to stay for one night," she said, not offering any more information. "Do you have any available rooms?"
"Alright," Gerald said. "How many do you want?"
"Two," Florence replied.
Ten gil were exchanged for two room keys. The party began to make their way to their rooms, all but Charles pulling suitcases. They were almost to the elevator when Dexter spoke up.
"I have an idea," he said. "The mayor, Lempo, controls the town watch. I have a pistol, a Gauss gun, and a combat android. His lackeys only have knives and swords." Lisa, Savannah and Jordan exchanged confused, concerned glances. "I say me and Charles go down to town hall tomorrow and have a talk with the mayor."
"Getting involved in this town's business would be stupid, Wellington," Lisa began. "We should just move on, we're not GU agents."
"If the GU was going to do something, why would Crehambraugh still be as it is five years after Lempo seized control?" Charles asked. "I assume they are either unaware of the situation or unwilling to engage."
"Which is why we need to do something now," Dexter added. "We have an opportunity to help these people suffering under Coalition rule. Either we take it, or we hope—" Ding! The elevator doors opened. Dexter paused and went into the elevator with the others.
Jordan spoke up next. "You're putting yourself and Charles at serious risk with little to gain," he noted. "Maybe we could try and get in contact with the GU? Like Charles said, they might be unaware of what's happening."
"That would put us on their radar," Florence said. "What Dexter and his robot do isn't my problem, but we're not giving the Union a reason to look into what we're doing here."
"And Dexter's scheme wouldn't attract any unwanted attention?" Lisa asked.
"We're just gonna meet with him, try and get him to disband the watch," Dexter replied. "Even if something happens, it'll just be me and Charles that take the brunt of it."
"Someone has to confront Lempo," Savannah chimed in. "Even if the GU has plans, they're only making it worse by waiting. I think you should do it."
Lisa glared. Jordan was taken aback.
Another ding. The group exited the elevator and continued on to their rooms. The debate continued on as they went, yet Dexter's plans did not change.
Charles and Dexter, armed and ready for a confrontation, made their way into the town hall. It was quite large and well maintained. Every surface seemed to have a slight shine to it from the lights streaming in outside. Men and women of various apparel walked about the foyer, usually in small groups of three to four. Dexter walked towards an elevator, Charles following.
Breaking from one of the groups, a tall dark-skinned man approached the two of them. Placing his hand on the elevator door, he grinned. "Do you have business here?"
"We plan to ask Mayor Lempo to order the immediate dissolution of the town watch and consider resignation due to abuse of power," Charles explained.
"That's some good shit," the man chuckled. "We should have you tell jokes at our dinners.” He stopped laughing. “If anyone actually tried to do that, they would be dead before this door even opens."
The man reached down into his pocket and pulled out a knife.
"My friend here," Dexter nervously eyed the knife. "Has some very strong opinions on the mayor. I, uh, only want to speak with him about some issues affecting the town."
"Indeed, we mean you no harm. There is no reason to resort to violence," Charles agreed, although he was preparing his knife in case there were any sudden movements.
"Oh, there won't be any violence," the man sneered. "And you won't be meeting with the mayor. He's a busy man, and today he has a full schedule."
Dexter began to back away. "Oh, I understand. We'll come back tomorrow."
When he assumed he was out of the man's earshot, Dexter whispered to Charles, "We're taking the stairs."
"No, you aren't."
An older man with scruffy dark brown hair, tan skin and a white suit blocked the stairwell. He held a spiked bat in his hands. Dexter retrieved his pistol and took aim at the thug.
"We are armed as well, I wouldn't recommend that," Charles replied, emphasizing his own knife.
The gangster continued towards them, undeterred by the warning. Dexter shot at him.
"Is this the best you can do?" The man chuckled. "I've got a vest on! Haha!" He charged at Dexter with the club.
Charles took his knife and cut the attacker's cheek. The man scowled. He pushed Charles down as Dexter put some space between him and the gangster. He pocketed the pistol and retrieved Aaron's coilgun from his pack. He launched two projectiles at the gangster. The thug dodged to the left, preparing to laugh, before a small round pellet shot into his eye. He fell to the ground with a great thud.
Charles stood up. His systems were still recovering from the attack, the combat functions especially impaired. The android's basic functions were still in adequate condition, however.
"More hostiles on stairs," Charles noted. "I can only provide limited assistance for a few minutes. A full inspection or even repairs may be required upon our return to the Nettlefold Inn."
Dexter nodded. Behind the group, a loud gunshot could be heard. With all eyes turning, the man who had stopped Dexter and Charles at the elevator could be seen wielding a shotgun.
"Stop the lollygaggin' or I'll kill these bastards myself."
The trio of teenagers and Florence had moved from the inn to a nearby park. All of them exchanged few words as nervous thoughts about their friends plagued them. Finally, Savannah spoke.
"Do you think we're going to find them?" she asked. "We only know they were near Headre weeks ago. They've probably left by now."
Jordan turned his head over to Savannah, "They've undoubtedly left. Hopefully we could find another lead, though."
"It's highly unlikely that we'll find another lead, they're probably keeping a low-profile," Lisa stated.
"Well, yeah," Savannah admitted. "But we know them better than anyone else. If they're going to be found, we're gonna be the ones who find them."
"Do we really know them?" Lisa asked. "The Atticus that Jordan and I knew wouldn't fake his death for months and return as a terrorist insurgent. And you... only knew most of them for a day or so."
"Sorry for being optimistic," Savannah grumbled.
They went back to silence after that exchange. Florence continued to write in his notebook, occasionally stopping to review his prior notes. There was little news to report, but he could not find anything else to occupy his time.
"Excuse me," Florence looked up from his book to see a man with a black coat and slicked-back hair. He was accompanied by five others. The detective recognized one among their ranks: the vested man who had confronted the party for being out past curfew. Florence gulped.
"I'm Terrance. We're with the watch," the man explained. "Your friends have been causing quite a stir at town hall and we'd like to know why."
Florence calmly stood up and reached into his jacket. A mechanical clicking was heard as he revealed a long, alabaster white revolver. "That's funny, I'd like to know something too." He pointed it towards the group of mobsters. "Do you feel lucky, punks?"
The thugs scattered. Three fell in quick succession. An especially confident attacker attempted to strike Florence from behind with a bat. Florence turned around and shot him in the arm. The bat was dropped.
Jordan hid behind a bench. Once he was out of sight, he tried to slow his heavy breathing. His heart raced. Lisa and Savannah similarly took cover behind other benches. Further shots rang out, more screams and bodies dropping to the ground with a heavy thud.
Then all the sounds abruptly stopped. Lisa looked out through the slits in the bench to see Florence slumped on the ground. A knife was stuck in his left leg. Terrance had snatched the gun and pointed it at Florence's head.
With Florence incapacitated, the attackers began to spread out, looking for other targets. A man with a long, steel sword noted movement beneath a park bench. Upon closer inspection, he found there was indeed someone hiding nearby: Savannah. The girl screamed as the attacker brought his sword down.
A clink of metal against metal. Savannah discovered she was holding a sword similar to the attacker's, although its blade was engulfed in flame. The man stepped back a bit. Savannah felt a sharp pain in her forehead. She winced.
What just happened? She remembered the strange occurrence at Manta, how Baptiste's gun had suddenly appeared in her hand. More questions flooded her mind. How did I pull that off? Why did it happen again?
"Hey, over here!" The attacker yelled to his compatriots. "This one's got a weapon!"
Savannah tried to strike the man’s leg. The weight of the sword was too great. The man grinned, seeing her struggle and raised his knife, cutting her down the arm. She cried out in pain and finally stabbed him. He fell, but not before slashing at her leg. Savannah turned around before she saw the blood pooling around his body.
Don't think about it, she thought, it was either you or him.
Savannah struggled to stand as she faced a second mobster: a muscular woman whose sword bore intricate engravings. She scowled at Savannah. The girl's greatest concern was the woman's vest, which looked to be bulletproof.
The thug tried to charge at her, hoping to deliver a killing blow while she still struggled to keep upright. Savannah dropped to her knees. The gangster only struck the empty air. The girl used the chance to swipe at her opponent, who failed to dodge. With much effort, Savannah was eventually able to get back on her feet.
Terrance took note, aiming Florence's revolver at the girl. As he prepared to shoot, the mobster was suddenly pushed to the ground. Florence retrieved his revolver from Terrance and shot him in the stomach. Overwhelmed and leaderless, the watch began to retreat.
A few pedestrians were out walking. They kept their distance as a girl with a sword ran by. They could only assume she was a member of the watch, chasing someone down. It was better to stay out of it, for their own safety. Strangely, the girl's sword seemed to glow a bright orange, as if it was perpetually aflame.
Savannah had told Jordan and Lisa to stay behind as she went to assist Dexter. At Florence's request she took his gun, although she did not plan to use it. When she finally reached town hall, she saw the foyer was empty. Savannah slowly walked over to the elevator. As she approached, she began to hear very faint noises. They were eventually recognizable as screams and gunfire. Charles and Dexter were still dealing with the mayor's guards. Savannah hurried her pace.
She entered the elevator and pressed the button for the third floor. The doors closed and calming music played over the intercom. When the doors opened and Savannah stepped out, she discovered that the sounds were now coming from underneath her, presumably on the second floor. Worried, but not deterred, Savannah pressed onward to the mayor's office.
The mayor's two guards wore armored vests and, more worrying, were armed with pistols. Savannah slashed at the arm of the one to her left. He dropped the weapon while the other prepared to open fire. Before he could, the pistol was abruptly removed from his hands. Savannah shot the man in the leg.
With the officers dealt with, Savannah turned her attention to the suited man they had been protecting. Lempo cowered in his seat.
"Think before you act, please," he begged. "Your friends said they wanted me to disband the town watch, right? I can do that. Just put the sword down."
Savannah did not respond. She moved closer to the mayor.
"I'll resign," he continued to plead. "Put the sword down and I'll resign! I'll g-go before the Union's c-courts! I'll — I'll —"
Lempo stopped. The sword was lodged into his stomach. Savannah slowly began to process what she had just done. Another headache flared up. She tightly shut her eyes.
When she opened them, Savannah was no longer inside the mayor's office. She was in a grassy field. The corpse of a man slain by the sword was in front of her, but it was not Lempo. It was a massive being, taller than anyone she had ever seen, clothed in blue robes with golden accents. He had long, white wings protruding from his back. It reminded Savannah of Hiroshi and how he had claimed to be half-angel. The man's clothes were stained red with blood. His eyes remained open in shock, though the life had been drained from them. As Savannah studied the corpse, cheering abruptly erupted behind her. She turned to see a great congregation of creatures, all with inexplicable appearances, howling and chanting at her victory. The noise died down as they turned to look at something in front of her. Four colored spheres had manifested. Each expanded, all revealing a different environment on the other side. A forest, a desert, a building and a cave.
Then she was back in Lempo's office. Police sirens blared in the distance.
Dasim entered the conference room quietly, taking in the moonlight, tinted red through the curtained windows. At the head of the long table was a man in dark armor and a cloak, to his left a bald man in a maroon suit.
"You wanted to see me, Cicero?"
"Sit down, comrade," responded the armored figure. As Dasim took a seat across from the other man, Cicero continued. "His name is Leonid Gryaz, and he is gainfully employed by the Svatovid. He has come to inform us of the situation in Crehambraugh."
"Aye," responded Gryaz. "Lempo has been sacked. A group of Thelsh, no more than three, killed all of our soldiers."
Cicero looked back to Dasim. "This brought something to my mind. Do you remember that story you told me when I was young, about my father?"
"The showcase of Ahriman, yes," Dasim said. "It would be impossible to forget."
"He told you, 'I would begin the next battle with this in hand,' if my memory does not betray me," Cicero stared at Dasim through his helmet's visor. "This Thelsh woman summoned a flaming sword in the middle of a rainstorm from thin air and cut through an entire town's defenses."
"Do you think this is how your father would make his return known?" Dasim was unimpressed. "I recall him specifying that he would use the sword after defeat in battle. The Powers' execution was not a battle, by any means."
"Do you think my father would be so naive as to not realize that the powers the be would punish him? He showed you the sword so that you may herald his return, general, and I think you're being faithless."
"With all due respect, Lord Cicero, I feel like you may be getting too excited about a false lead," Dasim paused, considering something. "Did you check the armory? If the sword is not a replica, it would no longer be in our possession."
"Ahriman vanished from its display case hours before Gryaz arrived. There was no evidence of an intrusion," Cicero looked Dasim straight in the eye. "That was my father. I have no doubts."
|Season One:||Awakening • White Room • Bare Trees • One Night in Gladea • Divided we Fall • Hide & Seek • Exit Music • Reunion • In Somnis Veritas • Carpe Diem • Primo Victoria (Part I • Part II)|
|Season Two:||Crumbling Castle • Roaming King • Safe Haven • Marked Map • The Less I Know the Better • Riding the Wave • Centuries of Damnation • House of the Rising Sun • The Master|