Menu

Chapter 26 – Setting Off

Sander’s Prospective

The next day, Blue, Ashen and Chesney cut their morning training a short. They took some practice swings, but didn’t get to sparing. Instead, Blue laid out more of the details about the upcoming match.

“Now then, about the upcoming match between the two of you.” said Blue, eyeing both Chesney and Ashen together. “The match will be a game of tag. The time limit will be from noon to sundown. The last person who is ‘it’ is the loser.”

“How do we tell who is it?” asked Chesney.

“How? Just keep track between the two of you. You aren’t going to cheat, are you Chesney?”

“What? No, I don’t need to, I’ll win anyways.”

“About that, I have an idea.” said Ashen.

“Yes?”

“I’ve been studying magic tools, and I think I can make them in time if I get the materials, but I have an idea.” said Ashen. “How about this. We will use a magic tool from which you can create any weapon or effect from.”

“Any weapon?”

“Yeah. Like a sword you can swing, or a projectile you can throw, and so on.”

“Won’t that be rather dangerous?”

“Nmm. The things you create will be made out of magic. When you land a direct hit on the other person, it will temporarily paralyze you for a minute so that the other person can get away, and makes you glow Red or Blue to signify that you are ‘it’. You can also use the magic from the tool to block attacks as well. That way, it’s like we’re fighting against each other, but we won’t actually hurt each other, right?”

Such a thing is impossible, I say to myself, before reminding myself who is saying that. For someone who can create their own magic system, something like that should be possible, shouldn’t it?

“That… that would be cool, but are you sure you can make something like that? I’ve never heard of anything like that at all.”

“Yes, I have already worked it out, but like I said, I need some materials.”

“What do you need?” I ask as I walk up to the three of them.

“Um…” says Ashen, looking up at me, “Well, I need magic cores, two pairs of bracelets with the right mountings, and some time at the forest mansion with the tools there.”

“The bracelets, can they be anything?”

“Since they will be magic items, and I want to be able to keep using them afterwards, I would like them to be of good quality that would fit Chesney and I as we keep growing. The cores should be good so that they have the capacity to keep adding spell components to it.”

“But even if we get a high class core-ah you, you can use the Moon Bear cores as you like-you will be limited to at best three or four basic spells, right? And from what you’ve described, this would be a rather major spell, so you would only be able to fit one in there, correct?” I say.

“Eh? Ah, no, I mean, if you break it down, that is, if you break the spell components down, and just add the right components and pathways, you can do any combination of spells, you know? You are really limited by the number of components you can etch into the core and then from there, you are limited by the spells that those components can be combined to form, right? It’s like, I mean, it’s like, if you have a a bunch of letters, they can be used to make any number of words, right?”

“What? No, I’ve never heard of anything like that. You usually can only put one or two spells of any note in there before the core would run out of room.” I reply.

“That is, well, that is…”

Ashen seeems rather nervous talking to me. Is it because I am not around enough? I’ll need to fix that. That stupid old fart, making my daughter miss me…

“You would be limited by what you can put those components together with, but you can use any spell that you can form with what is available, or at least, with what instructions are placed inside it. For example, if you have the components a, b, c, 1, 2, and 3 in there, you can arrange them in any order and make any combination of spells that utilize any combination of those, as long as they have the right number of components. You can’t use, say, three B’s, but you can use one A and one 2 to make something.”

“Ah, I guess that makes sense. No, I don’t really get it, but you say it can be done, right? Are you sure? Have you made one before?”

“No, I haven’t yet, but I’ve read through all the notes I brought home, and I have written out everything I need to do, so in theory it should work. It is not all that different from what I did in the other world, just with different mediums, you see. I spent all night designing it so that I could get it done in time.”

“I see…”

“So, can I? Can I get the equipment?”

I stare at her for a solid couple of minutes before I respond.

I look up at Blue.

“It’s up to you. I am willing to bring Ashen there, and I know you wanted to see it yourself, but if you are willing to go to the village to order them…”

“Hmm… No, no I’ll need Ashen and Chesney with me for that. I was planning on it being a surprise, but I have had a present idea in mind for you. You too, Chesney.” I interject to Chesney, who seemed a bit sulky from being left out. “Since you can’t use constitution to protect yourself like Blue, Amelia and Chesney can, I was going to have some equipment tailored for you from the Moon Bears that you and Blue took down. For that, we’ll need yours and Blue’s measurements.”

“Mine as well?”

“Mother’s as well? Why?”

“Ah, well, the equipment we will be tailoring for you will have to grow with you. As you grow into it, it will grow to adapt to you. For that, we need to know roughly how you will be when you are older.”

Ashen looks over at her mother.

“To grow up with me to what I will look like in the future.”

Oi, Ashen, the place you are staring at is…

“Yes, ahem, yes, how you will grow in the future.”

“Sure, I’ll go for it.” says Blue, ruffling Ashen’s hair, and clearly noticing where she was looking at before.

“For Chesney, I was thinking of a sword, but…”

“Ah!” says Ashen, “For Chesney and for Mother, um… can you get them both bracelets of good quality, and good quality link cores? With that I can make them like what you said Mom-er, Sara, had.”

“What Aunty had?”

“Yes, a sword that comes out with magic. That way they can bring it out or dispel it at any time without having to carry it with them.”

“What do you two think?”

“Sounds amazing!” says Blue.

“Hmpf, it is a suitable weapon for one such as myself.” says Chesney. I can never get what is going through his head….

“Well then, shall we get going? I’ve asked Julie and her daughter to pack lunches for us, and while they are cleaning up the forest mansion, Blue and I can look around, and you can tinker in the tool room.”

“How do you know about the tool room?” asked Ashen, shocked.

“Why, you say? I’ve discussed it with Shaeshade, of course.”

“Ah, Shaeshade!”

“You never said I was not to talk with others?” a voice came out from Ashen’s shadow, as a small cat appeared. “Do not worry, I did not touch upon anything private. We only discussed the state of the mansion, and future plans.”

“Future plans? Like what?”

“Just as I have confidence with you, Ashen, I hold it with others.” says Shaeshade.

Seriously, for all this to come from a cat, I murmur under my breath…

“I heard that.”

“Nothing, I said nothing.”

“Well then.”

And like that, we got our things together, and began the trek towards the forest path.

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 25 – Plans for Return Visit

It has been a few days since my escapades in the forest, but I am eager to get back to the forest mansion. Shaeshade has also been pestering me to make my way back there. But there is a hurdle in the way-mother. I will need to convince her in order to return to the mansion, let alone being able to commute there regularly. But I have to try anyways.

Things got more complicated sooner than I expected, however. Father returned home, and upon hearing of my adventure in the forest, called another family meeting.

And so it was that I found myself at the dinner table with the family around me yet again. Except this time, Chesney was there for some reason. I guess because he was party of the party that came to rescue me.

Around the brown wooden table sat Father, Mother, Amelia, Chesney, Mormock and our cook Julie with her daughter.

“It seems we are all here. It is nice to have a meal with us all together every once in a while. For that, I must apologize for being away for such times.” said father.

“No, no, it is not your fault. Your duties keep you away.” said Mother.

“Really, it is all that shitty old man’s fault. I feel like I am running the country instead of him sometimes.”

“That just means he puts a lot of faith in you.”

“More like, he doesn’t want to do the work himself.” sighs father. “He just disappears sometimes during the day and then comes back conveniently from ‘his walk’ after things are decided. If only Bazel could get a better hold on him…”

“What if you put a homing spell on him to see where he’s going? You could just follow the signal and find him when you need him.” I interject.

“Homing spell? What is that?” asks Mormock.

“Well, I haven’t made one yet, but shouldn’t be too difficult. I can make a magic tool that will vibrate or let out a sound the closer the two pieces of the tool are together. Of course, I can make only the receiver tool react so that the person who has the homer won’t notice.”

Father’s eyes are starting to sparkle. Excellent, excellent.

“You can do that? Can you do that?” asks Father.

“Yes, well, but to do it, I need some materials from a certain place.”

“Certain place?”

“Yes. There is a mansion in the forest that has the materials I need to make the tool. If I could go there-”

“No, you cannot go there alone.”

“Come on, I rea-wait, alone?”

“Yes, alone. I have heard a little bit about it, but you found the Blue Star Mansion in the forest, correct?”

“How… how did you know that it belonged to my past incarnations?”

“I heard about it from Shaeshade, of course. Such a nice tressym, that one is.”

“Wait, you know Shaeshade? How?”

“How, you ask? Isn’t he right here with us?”

“What?” I exclaimed. When I looked over where father was motioning, there was indeed a black cat, complete with wings, just like the statue, sitting at the end of the table and eating some meet off a plate. I stared at ‘Shaeshade’.

“I was wondering why it was so quiet, but, wait, Shade, you can leave me?”

The cat looked up at me, and I could hear his thoughts.

“Of course. I am a boggart, of course. We can naturally take physical forms when we encounter others, though usually only for a short period. With your ample magical power to sustain me, I can maintain a physical form for long periods, though it is still more comfortable within your presence.”

“I have heard the story from Shaeshade, here. I am not all too unfamiliar with the mansion myself. Though I have never visited, I have read past accounts by the Blue Star Alicia, and Sara herself had mentioned to me in the past that she felt some familiarity in this area. It is one of the main reasons that reason why I stationed our family in this fiefdom, away from prying eyes. I knew there would be a connection, and I hoped you would find it. Well, I was hoping it would be a little less eventful though.”

“My kind are fearful of others, especially of man, but we have no fear of you, Ashen. With your power boosting us as well, we have faith in your associates, your family, that they will do us no harm. Thus, I deemed it appropriate to inform your father when he confronted me.”

“Father? How did you even know of Shaeshade in the first place?”

“I met him as he roamed the house. I knew that you would be a prime target for a boggart to siphon magical power from, but that none would dare try to do so for fear of your retribution, so I simply asked with the assumption of your cooperation with him. And I was right.”

“It was shocking, truly,” added Shaeshade.

“What else did you tell him, Shade…” I grumbled.

“Nothing personal or private, only the events of our meeting, our escape, and the nature of the forest mansion. Be grateful, I have negotiated passage back to our haven for you.”

“Negotiated?”

“Yes.” said Father. “We shall all go.”

“All? Everyone here, you mean?”

“Yes. There are some things that I would like to confirm in the library. Blue and Amelia will come as safeguards, as will Chesney. Julie and her daughter have volunteered to take a look and to do some cleaning of the place to return it to a place fit for habitation.”

“Fit for habitation? You mean we’re going to live there?”

“No, not that. I just know you well enough that you would definitely sneak off there regularly. This time around, you were fearful that as it became dusk, your mother would come looking for you. For that reason, you made your escape, and were put in even more danger. In the future, it would be better to stay the night in the forest mansion rather than go through the forest at night. For that reason, we should prepare it and bring it up to snuff.” said Father.

I stared, alternately, into the eyes of Father and Shaeshade.

“Ahem.” coughs mother. “There is an additional rule, Ashen. You must not go to the forest without an escort. You must bring one of myself, Amelia or Chesney with you. It is dangerous to go alone, so take us.”

“I get the feeling there is an alternative motive here.”

“Well, it also sounds fun, exploring an abandoned castle, er, mansion. Also, we needed a location for your game of tag with Chesney.” says Blue, grinning ear to ear.

“Will… will it be okay? With all the boggarts, and stuff, they won’t attack, or stuff, right?” says Chesney in a worried voice.

“No, they will not harm you as long as you do not threaten them. As long as Ashen is near by, you have nothing to fear.” says Shaeshade.

“But, only when Ashen is near?” Chesney says in a panicked voice.

“Yes, yes, so mind your manners, Chesney, or I’ll sick the big bad boggarts on you.” I say to him, mockingly.

Oh, he looks like he is swallowing what he wants to retort. Fufufu, this may be fun.

“In addition, Ashen, I have collected the Moon Bear pelts that we received from this time, and am having something prepared. It will be a while till it is done, but look forward to it.” says father.

“Roger that.”

“Roger? Who?”

“Ah, it means I received your words and understand.”

“You and your idioms…”

“Don’t you mean idiots?”

“Shut it, or I’ll ask Shaeshade to pay you a visit tonight.”

“Nothing, nothing, nothing. I don’t say nuttin.”

“Father,” I ask, “when will we be going to the forest?”

“Let’s see, let’s go there tomorrow after your sword training. That should give us the afternoon to scope things out. How does that sound?”

“That sounds good to me. I am excited. I have some things I want to make, I just need the tools, materials and the link cores for it.”

“Link cores? Well then, after we visit the forest, let’s stop by the town and pick up some supplies for you from the magic shop on the way home.” adds father.

“Sander…” says Blue.

“Blue, it is time that you faced the villagers. Staying in the shadows will only bring more rumors. Besides, I hear you left a good impression on them after this incident.”

“Did I? There is no way. It will be, it will be, like, last, like…” Blue trailed off.

I see. So mother was afraid of visiting town for fear of the villagers, wasn’t she. That explains much.

“Going back to our discussion, but when you mentioned that we would all be going, you did not mention Momark?” Amelia interjects.

“Yes,” says Momark, “I have some other tasks that I must attend to while we’re home. We won’t be here for long, so we have to do some maintenance on our equipment, the carriage, and gather some supplies. I plan on heading into town tomorrow and getting everything situated.”

“Oh? You won’t be coming with us?”

“It isn’t because you’re afraid of the boggarts, are you?”

“Yes. I am. I am afraid of boggarts.”

“Strange of you to admit that openly, eh Mormack?”

“What can I say, I had a bad experience, everyone has something they are scared of. And it is not something I ever want to experience ever again.” Momark looked into space, his eyes narrowed. I get the feeling that it is not the boggart that he is afraid of, but what he will do if he runs into the boggart himself. Maybe his trauma is more about… no, let’s not speculate about something so personal.

“You understand, right, er… Shade?”

“Yes, I understand. I will not say it.” says Shade.

“Good. Keep it that way, will you?”

“Yes.” says Shade, with sorrowful eyes. That bad, eh? So it is probably a tragedy rather than a fear. No, no, don’t speculate, don’t speculate.

The mood went kind of flat, didn’t it.

“Hey mother,” I ask, “Am I allowed to use magic, or magic tools during the match with Chesney?”

“Let’s see… Chesney does have a big advantage over you… what do you think, Chesney?”

“Huh? Well, I think I can beat you even when you use magic, but that is not a match of swordsmanship, is it? I say, you can use magic tools then, but only if I can use them as well.”

“I don’t think I can make tools for both of us in time. I mean, this will be my first try.”

“No, you don’t understand, I already have some magical gear of my own. I’ll use them when the time comes.”

“Alright, but don’t be too shocked, hehehe.

“Oy, don’t push it, lass.”

“Lass?”

“Brat.”

“Narcisist”

“Now, children, behave.”

“Yes, mother.”

“Yes, master.”

With that, we finished eating and left the table.

By the way, as punishment for not showing me his tressym form earlier, I spent the night hugging Shaeshade, and rolling in bed. Mofumofu. Serves him right.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 24 – Side Story – Blue’s Escapades IV

On a raid of a vessel, a nobleman was captured and brought aboard.

The appraisers were having difficulty figuring out what his price would be. His background seemed unknown, like he was hiding it, but it was clear he had some influence from the intelligence that they had collected.

The Noble was brought to Blue’s cabin.

She had decided that she should handle this herself, as it seemed rather suspicious and she was good at seeing through the deceit of nobles.

The man was brought, his hands bound, to her cabin.

There was Blue, the man, and Blue’s assistant.

When the door closed and the footsteps walked away, the man greeted her.

With his hands in front of him, unbound. Blue had no idea when that had happened, and the assistant moved to act.

Before she could do so, she was stopped by Blue, who was staring at his hands.

In his hands was a Slave Key.

He said he was glad she understood. Blue went to motion her attendant to leave them, but the man called the attendant by name and told her she may stay.

He obviously knew a lot about them.

Blue bit her lip.

What now.

Is control over her worth the damage The Fleet would take?

The man sat back in his chair, and looked at Blue with a curious look.

It reminded her of the way that her father had looked at her mother. A look of control over her, and desire for her. She felt shaken.

This must be her older brother. How else would he have the slave key. Though she couldn’t believe that the mistress had not killed her after all these years. Had she died?

The man looked at her and started talking.

He had come as the representative of an interested party.

So he was sent.

This was a set up.

He said that things would be changing now, and that much of The Fleet would be under new management now.

That the employees of The Fleet for those business lines would be taken over by his organization.

Blue was pissed.

That he could think he could make such demands just because he had her Slave Key.

She motioned her attendant, but she stopped after he held up the key.

Her attendant valued Blue over all else.

The man continued talking, and started laying out his.. would you call them demands or terms?

1. He said that his organization would be taking over all The Fleet vessels, and all of it’s sailors, that had any offensive or military capability. (What? Is he trying to start a war or something? And how do we protect ourselves? And why would the sailors not just mutiny?)

2. All Fleet vessels that remained would be under the control of The Fleet, but that they would be restricted to operating as Fishing, Shipping or Passenger vessels. They could not carry nor ship any weaponry. (So we’d have some ships left, but no means to defend ourselves, so we’ll be the raiding victims now…)

3. The Fleet would have to pay a tax to his organization when trading with foreign countries. (What? How are you going to even enforce that?)

4. The Bandit division would be disbanded, and would be rolled over into the Escort division. (I am confused. Aren’t they needed to go hand in hand? Why would you only keep one? The Escort division is useless without the presence of the Bandit division! Is he trying to bankrupt us?)

5. The Escort Division would be taken over by his organization. (Of course. Wait, correction, is he trying to bankrupt us AND his organisation?)

6. The Covert Intelligence division would be taken over by his organization. (How does he know about that?)

7. They could continue the Prostitution division, but that it would be regulated by his organization. (That’s generous, I think… huh? Just how powerful must his organization be to have all these demands, and enforce such rules on them, when not even the country could touch them. Wait. There is something there. On the tip of…)

8. All Slaves that were illegally acquired will be turned over to his organization. (Wait, why just the illegal ones?)

9. The Fleet will continue operating their Black Market Goods, Black Sales Front, and their Legitimate Sales Front. (That’s generous, but will we have any products left to sell?)

He stopped. Blue looked at him. She scoffed at him, as if to say ‘is that all?’

No, he said. There are two more demands.

What are they, Blue asked?

First, he said, Blue will be resigning as the head of The Fleet, and will no longer be concerned with the running of this enterprise.

‘What?’ Blue said. She glared at him with eyes of hatred. Her own brother, treating her as his slave, all over again, making her live in fear all her life, then trying to rip apart all that she had built. Would that family never let her be free. Hadn’t it been enough when they killed mother?

And finally, he said, about Blue, herself, and her next role.

‘My next role?’, Blue replied.

‘Yes, Blue Testarossa, you shall become my wife.’ said the man.

‘WHAT?’ Blue screamed. She was furious. Exactly what had been done to her mother. What had tormented her all those years. She was to suffer the same fate?

She looked at the Slave Key. Could he get it from him? Wasn’t her life, her future, on the line? Fuck this family. And it’s her own Brother! That’s incest. That’s disgusting. She said as much to the man.

‘What?’ He said. He stared right into her eyes. Blue couldn’t read the expression. There were too many things in there at the same time.

‘Blue’, he said.

‘Don’t call me Blue. Who gave you the right to call me by my first name? I don’t remember ever giving YOU the right to call me that?’

‘Oh?’ He said. ‘Do you not remember at all? We used to be quite close, you know? And even if you resist now, I am afraid that I will not let you go. Not after all these years.’ He reached over to her. ‘I knew you would surface. I knew I could find you. I’ve been waiting all these years, I will not let this go.’

Blue was angry. This was just like her mother all over again.

‘I did do it properly, you know.’ He said.

‘Properly?’ Blue asked.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Prior to his death, I had already gotten your fathers approval for your hand in marriage, you know? Though we kept the engagement a secret.’

‘What…. how could that even be, that’s disgusting, to think that man would do that… and to even try to control me as he did mother….’

‘You know,’ he said,’ I did do it properly, I told you. I got your mothers approval as well.’

Blue’s thoughts stopped. ‘What… are..’

‘They both agreed that it would be by far the best way to protect you. Not just from the Mistress, you know. Many nobles were out to kill you.’

‘What? Why? Why would anyone want to kill me then? I mean, well, besides the mistress, I mean. Was it the Kidnappers thing?’

‘No, I am not familiar with ‘The Kidnapping thing’, but I will have you tell me all about that episode.’ He smiled an angry smile. ‘No, as a matter of fact, the reason they wanted to kill you, was it not for the very reason that I am having this conversation with you? The topic of our engagement, of course.’

‘Whh….. how would they know… or did father talk with…. what… even so… who the hell would marry their own brother?’

His face stopped. It looked like his brain had temporarily stopped working. He put his face in both of his palms.

‘Ungh… I can’t believe you.. seriously, how dense can you even be. Why wasn’t I the first one to come to mind, you know? You didn’t even interact with him that much. When I get back, I am going to have to find a way to punish him… what division generates the most paperwork to deal with… heheheh…’

‘You lost me… If you’re not Brother, why do you even have the Key. The only one with access to that would be the head of the family. I know all about it. You don’t think I’ve tried since I left to acquire it?’

‘You know, Blue.’ He said. ‘I was there, you know.’ He stared at Blue with heavy eyes. Sobering eyes. ‘Your mother and I were having our afternoon chat….’

‘Afternoon chat???’

‘Yes. It was an important thing to me to speak with her. We would discuss you, her worries, you, the mistress, you….’

‘I get it… point being?’

‘As I said, I was there, you know. We heard the roaring and the footsteps. Your mother urged me to leave before I was found, and the guard tried to head her off and grab help. I picked the lock on the door, and hid inside. The mistresses anger raged so much that she completely didn’t realize that the door was already unlocked when she opened it.’

He looked down.

‘Once she entered, she went right for the cabinet. As the master had just died, and your brother was not yet of age, she had become the family head, and could undo the seal. I watched,’ his voice shook, ‘as she reached in, and grabbed the key, and I watched,’ his voice choked, and tears ran down his face, ‘as she commanded her.. your mother… to choke the neck with both hands, to swallow the tongue, to vomit, to stop breathing.’

Blue was appalled and her emotions were in a swirl, tears ran down her cheek.

‘And she died, horribly, slowly, I couldn’t stand it, I wanted to kill that bitch, that is my life’s greatest regret that at that moment, I lacked the power to smite her.’ Tears of fury now were falling down his face instead of sadness, I could tell.

‘The mistress was so overjoyed. I guess that was a good thing, in the end.’

‘A good thing?’ Blue raged.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘She didn’t lock the cabinet, after all.’ He held out the key in the palm of his hand, and presented it to Blue. What was he doing. Wasn’t this his leverage?

‘Before she could remember, I grabbed your Key, and ran out. I ran into the guard, and when he saw what happened, and saw me coming out, he told me to leave immediately, and to not tell anyone what I saw. That he would try and catch you and warn you to flee before the Mistress came to her senses.’

‘Yes, I met him. He pressed his wallet to me, and sent me away before I could run into the Mistress. What happened to him?’ Blue said with concern. The key was in her palm now.

‘Dead. The mistress used her power to frame him, and have him executed for killing your mother. I can never forgive her no matter how long I live, no matter how many lives.’

He was shaking.

Blue felt that if anything, he seemed to have loved her mother more than she had herself. She thought back-she didn’t like thinking about those days-and remembered her mothers behavior.

When she was young, she had always been treated coldly. But hadn’t she been treating her warmly before she… passed away. Was it the talks with him that did it? She wondered.

He looked up at her face and into her eyes. His tears has stopped falling, and now in them was look of determination.

‘I thought, I hoped, that I had been able to convey to you this entire time. With all the time we had been together. You may not realize it, but you were, truly, the only one I could say I was close to, you know? It is a lonely position, being at the bottom of the top. Even so,’he reached out his hand to grab hers. She reflexively pulled back the hand with the key inside, but he was grasping the other one instead.. curious…

‘I ask again, he said. Please, will you not join me, and become Blue Testarossa Astrania?’

Blue paused, and took in his face. It did seem kind of familiar, now that she thought about it. Her attendant gave an audible gasp at his last word though.

Why? It was like she realized something. Wait. I think he said something very important right now…

‘Um… can you repeat that one more time, I think my brain stopped working just now…’

He smiled. ‘I will repeat it as many times as you want. Would you not become joined with me, Blue Testarossa Astrania?’

Astrania… Astrania… this is the country of Astrania… the King is Astrania right?….. wasn’t there that kid I used to hang out with named Astrania… I think he was…

And everything hit her.

Why he knew about the Intelligence division.

Why he could arrange to be on that ship.

To be brought to her, alone with only a close attendant present.

To make demands to hand over whole divisions of their ‘criminal’ empire.

Why all the parts that he listed in his demands coincided with either military protection, taxes or regulation.

There was only one ‘Organization’ that would be concerned with that. And only one that everyone in the organization, at least if given a pardon, would probably still keep working for in return.

At least, if she endorsed it, and was no longer there to lead them, right?

And thinking back, with all of what he said, she remembered who he was.

‘I guess that is true. From those days, though I had a lot of ‘friends’, there was really only one who would have gone this far for me. Who would have the power to protect me from the shadows, the authority to force father to hand over a contract slave, the understanding to bond with mother. Really, there was only one from that time, right?’

Blue looked down at her hand, at the Slave Key.

I mean, the choice is mine, she thought.

He handed over his power over me without me even realizing it.

Everything is in my hands. And isn’t this what I’ve been, ultimately, building for my entire life? To legitimize those who were illegitimate? To get redemption for those who society would not even allow redemption for? To, myself, to be seen as a person and not as a slave, or a boss, or a legend, but as myself?

Blue swallowed her saliva.

The Fourth Prince, sitting across from her, looked back, with a bit of worry line forming between his eyes.

She reached over, and took his head in both of her hands. And then slapped him hard with her left hand.

‘THAT IS FOR THREATENING MY ORGANIZATION WITH THIS RUSE!’ she yelled.

Slap, hard, with the right hand this time. ‘THAT IS FOR HOLDING MY SLAVE KEY OVER ME FOR THE ENTIRE DAMN SHAM OF A NEGOTIATION!’

His eyes were shocked, and he looked dismayed.

That look, huhuhu, I kind of like it.

She grabbed his head again with both hands, and started to yank his head, violently, towards her.

‘And This is my answer.’

She pulled him back over her, and they both fell onto the bed together.

Her attendant was already out the door before they landed.

A little while later, or maybe a long while later, the ‘negotiations’ seemed to have finished by the sounds from inside the cabin.

The attendant sighed.

She had stood guard, of course, outside, just to make sure they were not disturbed, and she had to glare away several busy bodies wanting signatures for paperwork, or wondering how the ‘appraisal’ had gone.

She wondered if her master and best friend really had been that dense.

Hadn’t she talked, repeatedly, incessantly, the entire, damn, time, about that guy from the time we separated from the merchant twins at the highway till becoming the ‘Cabin Tomboy’ for the Captain?

Hell, even after that. Sigh… I mean, I didn’t realize that he was royalty, but I knew pretty quickly who he had to have been from the behavior of both of them.

He knew how to poke and prod her. Blue’s face had always been a mirror into her soul and made her rather transparent so to speak, but he was certainly practiced at making her change expressions at a rapid, and amusing I have to admit, pace. Well, sigh… I wonder where I will be following her next, I guess…

She walked over to the window and stuck her head out.

There was something going on up in the sky. Lightning was dancing around, like a ball in the sky.

Suddenly there was a huge banging sound.

A flaming meteor seemed to appear right out of the sky.

She, Amelia, could see two bodies separating from it.

One had a lightning bolt embedded in her chest, as she turned towards the other figure, and a flash of fire burst through and destroyed the other figure. The other figure fell down into the sea, and Amelia lost sight of it.

From the other, only smoke and ash remained… or so I thought.

There was something.

A small blew meteor had flung itself from the debris, coming right towards Amelia.

She stood in shock and awe, as the orb burst through the ship and into the cabin that she had been standing guard over.

There was a scream, and a few seconds later, the door was kicked open.

There stood a man, in scant clothes, holding Blue wrapped up in a sheet.

He called Amelia by name, and said ‘Turn us around, we’re going home! I must consult with father right away, and then confirm the rituals, and then we must get the wedding done right away!.’

He was like a panicky, over doting father already, and it hasn’t even been a couple of minutes yet.

Eh? So quickly? But…

‘We can’t wait, you know? Fufufu a I can’t believe it, a father already? But… ah… but that means I don’t have much time left for the honeymoon phase before Blue gets too big, right?’

‘What are you talking about?’ asks Blue

We both look at her.

‘Blue,’ says Amelia, ‘what just happened with that blue meteor just now?’

‘Um… it broke through the wall, and scared the crap out of me, and then hit me in the stomach. ‘

Amelia sighs. So dense. She lived in the capital, in a noble house.. did she completely ignore her lessons? Even Amelia knew about it, and she was only part of a lesser noble family.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘you’re pregnant after all. Congratulations.’ He, Sander, was beaming, stupid couple mode already?

‘Eh? Pregnant? But we just did… does it always happen that fast?’ said Blue.

‘You… I say. For someone who managed to create a world class criminal enterprise, why are you so dim? Do you really not know? The legend of your own damn kingdom? The Blue Star of Astrania? I mean come on, you’re named after the damn thing!’ said Amelia.

That day, Amelia was able to see an amazing expression that she had never seen on Blue’s face before. She should have learned to draw, Amelia thought to herself, and swore to definitely keep a scrap book from then on.

Nine months later, after the Asatrania government announced the absorption of The Fleet Organization, the creation of The Royal Navy, and the Pardon and Freeing of all members of The Fleet, in a quiet little countryside village, Ashen Testarossa Astrania was born.

But that’s a different story.

By the way, Blue still has her slave crest because it was decided between her and her husband as a symbol of their relationship, their trust in each other, and because the presence of high quality slave crest meant that it would protect her from others who would wish to kidnap her and try and enslave her themselves since you can only have one crest at a time.

Another reason, of course, was that to remove a high quality slave crest requires a certain level of power and knowledge, and there are few people that are able to do so. The issue is not that they cannot find someone, but more that they cannot find someone that they would deem trusty enough to confide in that would not either willingly or forcibly have that knowledge taken from him.

Thus, they decided to just keep with the status quo, and simply secure the slave key in as secure a place as possible.

Also totally not because Ashen accidentally found the slave key and, not knowing what it was, accidentally turned it into a completely different magic tool that causes the person who has the slave crest on them to be boosted with combat power equal to the power of the one who was in control of the slave key.

Nope, not that reason. Nope.

Also the Captain referred to Blue’s Shipboard Combat style as the strongest fighting style in the world that nobody can actually use.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 23 – Side Story – Blue’s Escapades III

Blue untied the boys, then has them untie the girls.

She then turns to questioning them, asking if anyone knew about the surrounding area. The first boy replies that they had traveled once before this way with their father. There should be a draw bridge that they need to cross eventually. They would need to manually draw the bridge down, so that would give them time to get out.

Blue tells them that they have to leave right as the cart starts moving again, and to jump into the grass to not make sound hitting the dirt. Absolutely no sound must come out, and must be at the same time so they do not notice the shaking of the cart. Hopefully the horses starting forward would mask their movement and sound.

The Boys grab a girl each, while the other girl and Blue jump.

They successfully jump without notice, and hide in the reeds while the cart continues onward.

Blue presses the boys, while they wait for the cart to be out of sight, about the nearest landmarks and cities.

There is a city due north the way that they were driving, and that was probably the kidnappers destination and their home base.

There is a town to the west that it a bit further, but they would need to cut across country to get to the road. The road they are on has a lot of traffic during the day, but is empty at night due to the cities closing their gates. That must mean that the kidnappers are well connected to be able to open the gates at night.

There is a mill on the river to the east of them, one boy mentions as if he had forgoten. Blue says that is where they will head towards.

The Kidnappers will retrace their steps when they find they are gone.

North or South on the road, they will be found out.

If they go West, it is likely that they will be head off by the time they reach the other road if the kidnappers go by a connecting road.

The Blue tells the boys to run towards the West through the grass, then stop, run back, and then they will come back along the reeds on the hard part of the soil to not leave traces, then they all will head for the mill.

They will stay outside the mill in the grass until morning. If the kidnappers come, they will check the mill, but not the surrounding area. Then, they will make for the road again, and hitch a ride back home.

The plan works, and they successfully hide from the kidnappers while the mill is checked.

In the morning, they go to the road, and the boys and two of the girls manage to grab a ride with a merchant going back to town that recognizes the boys.

The stern girl stays with Blue.

She tells her that unlike the other two, who were snatched, she was sold by her uncle, who had been doing things to her without remorse or punishment.

She was sold because she kicked him in the nuts so hard he may have lost them.

She has no desire to return, and decides to stick with Blue, who seems to know what she is doing.

Blue decides to let her tag along.

Along the way, she asks why Blue is trying to leave, and why she was not scared of the kidnappers.

Blue replies that she can handle herself well enough, that she has to get out of the city as far as she can, and that it was the quickest expedient to get away quickly, quietly and unseen from the city, so she let herself get kidnapped.

The girl asks her how she had the guts to do that.

Blue replies that well, she was worthless to the kidnappers anyways. Girl doesn’t understand, as Blue is very handsome and would for sure fetch a high price.

Later in the journey, she sees Blue’s back and the high class slave seal.

Trusting the girl by now, Blue tells her that her mother was a servant mistress of a noble, and that once her father had died, the mistress killed her mother. So she escaped as fast as she could before the mistress could remember her, and her goal was to get as far away as possible in the hope that the slave key would, somehow, be too distant to activate.

Blue asks if she still wants to come with her, if she wants to go.

She replies go where? She has no place to go to, anyways, so why not accompany a friend who’s fun to be with.

Along the way during the travels, Blue ‘acquired’ a couple short swords, and began to combine all of the techniques that she has learned, while she teaches the girl how to defend herself.

This is what evolves into Blue’s signature fighting style, Shipboard Combat, who’s focus is to be able to fight regardless of opponent and take advantage of any terrain. The style is complicated and has a lot of moves, and requires a lot of skill to handle. Like Ashen’s magic, with Shipboard Combat, instead of learning a Style, or a set Technique, you learn the basics. Then you learn advanced things you can do that modify the basics. You learn hundreds of small movements involving your body and your weapons. You then fluidly improvise techniques as you go during a fight.

This is very hard, and to most expert swordsman, seems very nonsensical and weak.

To Blue (and her disciples), having set techniques is useless.

You are almost never in the perfect position to use the technique. Your opponent has studied all the counters to your techniques. Such sword fighting is just chess, or maybe even just checkers. You just keep making moves until the game is over and the one who played the right order wins.

For Blue, the fight is fluid, and the fight is always unique. There is no such thing as the same fight twice. There will always be a different opponent, a different terrain, a different environment, a different mindset, even if some parts of it overlap.

Even in exact same scenario, it will not happen the same way again.

So instead of using a predictable pattern with set moves, you throw that out the window, and adopt a fluid approach that you conform to any situation as it happens.

Your opponent cannot counter you, because there is nothing to counter.

It is like a battle to see who can hit their opponent first, and while their weapon is a rapier, your weapon is a water hose.

They can’t block it. They can’t deal with it. They can’t avoid it.

They have honed themselves to winning a certain game, against certain opponents.

All you need to do is keep changing the rules of the game you are playing until you find one they are bad at.

They are good at a couple games. You re great at all of them.

Shipboard Combat is an evolving style, as it can always be improved simply by adding to the list of actions that you are capable of doing.

She eventually names it Shipboard Combat, not because it is primarily used for fighting at sea, but because it is a style that assumes that, like sword fighting in a rough sea, the environment that you are fighting in is always fluid and changing.

Eventually, they make it near the coast.

Along a backwoods path, they encounter some bandits, and a few of them waylay them while the others look on while chiding them about attacking children.

The attacking bandits are immediately defeated in a style that they had never seen before. The two girls smugly invite them to carry their comrades and lead them to their camp.

Once at the camp, they are chided for bringing children with them, that they are too young to be good for sex, and too small for work.

They reply that they didn’t bring them, they were brought by them.

Blue inquires about a boat. Bandits laugh her off, and tell her she can’t handle even a rowboat. They ask where she wants to go, and Blue says to the continent.

A rowboat won’t even get a hundred yards to sea, what the hell is she going to do.

Blue asks about passage.

The Bandit Leader comes out, and starts talking with them.

Unlike the others, he is talking to her as an adult, and not a child.

He says she would not be able to handle a boat, she would need passage on a ship.

Blue asks where she can gain safe passage.

He says that while they’re alive, there ain’t no safe passage.

Blue says, ah, pirates eh. Well then, why don’t you take me.

He replies that he ain’t taking her for free.

Blue says she will work it off on the voyage.

He replies that it ain’t no voyage, they have no destination, no path, and no timetable. She would be useless in combat with her size, and that she should just go home and play sailor somewhere else.

Blue starts replying that if he’s not capable of a simple job of carrying a couple girls, but gets cut off.

He attacks her instantly. Blue immediately reacts, jumps back, and draws her sword in a fluid motion.

He fights in a one handed saber fashion. He sets his stance and starts to move at her, and Blue’s movements become sloppy to him.

He is confused as the leap backwards indicated a lot of skill, but her movements since then are sloppy as if they have no meaning nor technique to them, as if she is just making it up as she goes, and that he would have thought that she had been trained by the conversation that he had been listening in on since then.

As he moves to attack, he keeps finding himself off balance.

None of his attacks are landing right. His footwork keeps becoming sloppy and off center. He comes to start thinking that she is doing it on purpose. That every time he goes in, or adjusts his style, she immediately moves to counteract him regardless of how he attacks.

Even when he abruptly switches styles from fencing to two handed, he can’t control the fight. He changes to two handed, and while the girl starts fighting worse, and her movements are becoming jerky, she is still adapting to him. His strength is that he knows many sword fighting styles. Whatever his opponent uses, because of his knowledge, he can use the technique that counters it.

But this girl takes that to a completely different level.

It is like being proud that you built a tower out of blocks, then seeing one made out of water.

Instead of a technique to counter technique, she has no technique at all. However you slash, like flowing water, she will separate before you, then reform afterwards. B

ut, her movements are slowing down, he notices.

He takes advantage of that, and swings with an uppercut, hitting her sword and flinging her arms above her head. In the same motion, he tosses his sword in the air, and throws two daggers from his belt with each hand, hitting her shirt above the shoulders and pinning her to the wall behind her.

Then he catches the sword.

Blue glares sadly at him.

He stares at her, and then looks at the other girl who had accompanied her.

Her movements had been weird throughout the fight. She had stood with her sword drawn at the sidelines. And as the fight had progressed, she had constantly swung her sword.

But she had not joined in.

She just swung it.

It dawned on him that she had not been watching the fight.

In her minds eye, she had been participating in it. Studying the techniques being used, going with the movements, and swinging her sword against a shadow.

After either of their sword moved, she would follow with a similar movement.

Was it her studying habit, or the other girl’s? Or both?

He called out to his first officer to give the girls a tent, and give her a cloth to wipe down.

He looks between Blue and the other girl, and calls out that looks like he’d have a couple of cabin tomboys after all.

The other bandits start mumbling between themselves, about the fight, and how the captain never chooses an attendant since he keeps kicking them out.

One of the boys is grumbling jealously at Blue, as he had been trying to work on the ship for a long time, had finally got approval to, and was told sarcastically that he’d have to settle for him as an cabin boy, only now for a couple of girls, younger than him, to stroll in and take that away from him.

They couldn’t even challenge the captain in a fight where he had gone easy on them, somehow not registering that the captain had not gone easy at all, nor that the second girl could kick his ass as well.

The first mate talks to the captain that if it is alright, and the Captain says that he lost that fight. He only won because she ran out of stamina, and that advantage will go away naturally, since all she needs to do is grow up and forge her constitution.

The girl who accompanied Blue will be her personal adjunct, never letting that position go. When Blue moves to the mansion in the countryside after her marriage, she will follow her there and help raise Ashen. She is extremely loyal and very strong, and has an even more level head than Blue. Her name? Amelia.

Ashen becomes the captains cabin tomboy, as he calls her. He is surprised to find that every time he or another member of the crew tries to teach her something, she can already do it, so they end up teaching her mastery of it, and teaching her assistant instead.

As time goes on, Blue assumes more and more responsibilities, and people follow her.

She shows talent by introducing new lines of work for bandit troupe, finds the right people to run it, and sets a code of honor and morals for the organization to clean up their behavior, though it was a bit similar to the captain’s before her.

Her reasoning for it is that they must be professional and businesslike in everything they do. They must show their victims, their rivals, their enemies, their pursuers, and their customers that they are doing a business, and that they will conduct themselves with a predictable, expected behavior that shows no malice.

At first, many chafe and disagree.

But as new lines of enterprise are created, and are made to follow this system, they notice things.

For one, those business lines always seem to do very well.

Surprisingly well.

In the Black Market, rather than charging a lot, they charge a premium on market price.

Because of that, even if they are selling for more at times for things than their competition, everyone seems to always go to them first, and buy from them if they have any choice.

The Escort Squad has set team roles, and set numbers for how much protection you order, and replacements sent if personnel losses occur. They work together with adventuring parties rather than quarrel against them. Thus, they keep getting hired even on relatively safe journeys, and even get referrals from adventurers who should be their competition.

Smuggling rates are set by cargo type, cargo risk and cargo size, in a matrix that is easy to use for the illiterate, and an equation that is easy to use for the merchants. Since the cost is always known before hand, they have a steady stream of business based on the known price and the reliability.

The Bandit Troupe got reorganized as well, with the intelligence branch working on gaining information from the government, adventurers guild, merchants guild, and so on. Because of that, they avoided bandit clean ups, they preyed on merchants that were out of favor with the guild, and knew when strong adventurer parties would be protecting potential targets. Instead of laying in wait, they were scheduled and planned ahead of time. And increasingly, instead of seizing the cargo or taking a hostage, they would simply be given a fee for letting them go.

That cut down casualties, and profits were still high since they did not have to try and sell the plunder and instead got ready money.

In addition, part of the guarantee of the bandits was that they would not be attacked by their organization again for that or the return trip, and for an added fee, they could get an escort service for less than the normal cost.

Eventually, the Escorts and the Bandits started to be seen less as robbers and thieves and more as a form of tax and law enforcement.

Some of the funds even went towards rebuilding roadways to make them better, which improved travel time and increased traffic on the roadways that they wanted to target.

The merchants seemed to treat it as a known cost of doing business and a road maintenance tax, and as they did not bother targeting civilian carriages, which made travel safer, more frequent, increased business, meaning more merchants.

The country even stopped trying to deal with them and left them to their own devices, instead hunting down other bandit troupes instead.

Rumor was that this was due to the intelligence branch coordinating with the government, setting some ground rules, and letting certain shipments go unmolested while targeting certain ones that seemed at the time to be of no value.

They had somehow become a respectable criminal enterprise.

On the sea, Blue had shipbuilders cranking out ships for the organization as fast as they could build them.

Using the slave system, which initially many were unhappy with, they were able to crew ships and acquire human resources quickly.

Motivated crew, as well, which was something unheard of previously even when they had just 1 ship.

The Fleet, as the organization began to be called, dominated the sea around the kingdom, and expanded all along the coast.

Eventually, rather than raiding, they became more focused on shipping itself.

They started acting like the maritime police. They would end up protecting other ships more often than not.

The Captain and First Officer had retired from sea life, and now worked in an advisory position to The Fleet, and training new recruits.

Blue assumed control over the organization, and her fame rose.

She became legendary, and a popular topic across the country.

Eventually, her exploits reached the capital. And there were many who remembered her from their childhood.

Things in the government, partially because of the intelligence branch, started to change as well.

The King and his advisers would look at the way things were ran, and started to change their views. The Fourth Prince had become a close, though secret, adviser to the King who had despaired over the quality of his first three sons. The Fourth Prince proposed a plan to his father, and his father gave him cart blanch. A plan was put into action.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 22 – Side Story – Blue’s Escapades II

A lone child, no matter how stealthily she is, cannot travel far alone. She lacks stamina. Her legs are short and slow. Her dress, though of low stock in the houses of nobles, was of high quality compared to the slums. And once she reached the countryside, she would lose any cover at all as she traveled on the road.

She would be lucky if she could find a farmer with a horse and cart.

But if anything, Blue was observant. She was street smart.

She could see the kidnappers observing her. She knew when and where they would strike. She had heard about their MO from her discussions with the spy who taught her stealth. She knew that with no supplies, no food, no water, no tent and no practical weapon, she would not make it very far outside the city and into the countryside. Even the money that had been pressed on her was not of as much use as you would think, as she would be very conspicuous trying to buy something from a store.

She was able to buy food from a stall, acting as a child out running errands for her mother. But she was not able to acquire much more than two meals worth.

What would the Kidnappers do? Well, since she was clean, fed, and dressed in nice clothing, they would probably assume that she was the child of a merchant.

The first step, after securing the target of course, would be to either get her out of the city, or to a safe house with other kidnapped children, as fast as possible. She hoped that it was the former.

Blue ate the food that she carried, two meals worth, and drank the water that she had received, adding in a pinch of salt and sugar as the Assistant Knight Captain had instructed her during her training. Fed and hydrated. She prepared herself mentally, and allowed herself to fall into the kidnappers hands.

To her surprise, the answer to her previous thoughts was a combination of both options. She was hastily thrown, tied up, into the back of a covered wagon. The assailants drove out of the city as quick as they could, passing a guard that looked the other way and tucking a tinkling bag into his pocket.

She looked around. There were five other children with her, in various stages of dress. As they had been captured early in the day, and she had waited until dusk, she was in by far the best shape of the children. She was loosely bound with her wrists behind her back. The others, however, were bound at both hand and foot, and with gags tied over their mouths.

Their dress was a mix. Three girls, and two boys. The girls were of poor dress, but with cute, though haggard, faces. The boys, on the other hand, were dressed alike and of the same age, in well tailored clothing and features that clearly indicated that they were related. Brothers or cousins, Blue guessed.

Those that were conscious stared at them with haggard eyes. They had probably been snatched earlier in the day. The girls throughout the day, the two boys probably an hour or two earlier. Like she planned, she was just the catch of opportunity. She had made herself look helpless and lost, an attractive target, one that they would let their guard down upon and not take any real measures to secure and bound.

Blue assessed the the other children’s situation a bit more. The results were clear, she thought. The girls would be sold into prostitution. The boys would be held ransom, and then sold into slavery if the ransom was not paid. No clue what would happen even if the ransom was paid, however.

Some kidnapping groups held to ransom terms religiously, holding the belief that if they reneged on a deal or hurt a hostage, it would only lead at best to no one ever meeting their demands, and at worst to them being hunted down religiously by angry and wealthy patrons.

But other groups just did it as a crime of opportunity, where they could just sell the kids into slavery regardless.

The fate of the boys would probably rest on if the family was able to calm themselves down enough to think rationally and hire a hostage negotiator. Negotiators were usually on the payroll of the abductors anyways, but this also made them more valuable to hire as they would almost assuredly bring the return of the hostage, and the kidnappers would get a bigger ransom once the negotiators fee was included in the haul.

If the negotiator was not affiliated with the kidnappers, though they were usually affiliated with almost all of them int he area, they would call upon the power of the other kidnapping rackets to beat down the malcontents and retrieve the hostage with only the investigator’s fee. After all, the name of the game was to play by the rules, or get no spoils. You can steal with impunity from the poor without consequence. You cannot steal from the rich-instead, you just turn it into a financial transaction and off you go. Anger, Power and Money is a bad combination to deal with, so just replace the Anger with Relief, and the Power with Negotiations, and you are only left with profit.

While these thoughts went through Blue’s head, she had begun getting herself adjusted and free of her bonds. Tighten the fingers, twist the wrist, did she need to dislocate her elbow too?

No, it was sloppy knot-work.

The other children stared at her with open eyes as she calmly shed her restraints and stood up with no fear in her face.

Was she there to rescue them?

Blue sat down on the bench. and stared back at them curiously.

She was rather annoyed.

The eyes of the girls were a mix of pleading and ‘you will meet the same fate as us’ kind of feeling. The boys were looking at her with expectant, almost demanding gaze. Like she was their servant and of course she would rescue them. Even though they were in the least danger.

But what to do.

She needed to get as far as she could away from the city. Therefore, the longer she rode the wagon, the better off she’d be.

It’s the opposite for these kids.

They would slow her down.

They would likely doom her escape.

Perhaps as a diversion?

No, just the warning would be enough, and they would for sure turn traitor and point out the direction she went.

If she took some with them?

The boys looks pissed her off.

The girls looks kind of irritated her too.

The girls were in the most danger.

They would also be the most dead weight.

Far away from the town, they would be weak, slow and expectant on her.

Since they were poor, maybe they had scavenging skills? Who knows. The boys would be more capable. They were at least twice as big as the girls were. Though they were obviously the sons of merchants, perhaps they had experienced travelling with their father on a trade expedition? Maybe they could camp out? Probably not though. And they would be freed as a matter of course if they just waited. Though if the girls all left, there was also the chance that the kidnappers would just take out their anger on them and sell them into slavery without ransom just to spite them.

Blue sighed to herself. She was too soft, wasn’t she. She held a finger to her lips, and took off the gag of the girls first. The boys looked indignant and starred bitterly.

‘Puhah’ the girls exhaled as their mouths were clear of the cloth bindings. Blue grimaced. So loud.

‘Now, you three. Please listen up, and be silent. No noise must leave your lips, or you will be doomed to the Red Light, you know?’

‘What? No!’

‘Mamma!’

‘shush!’

At least one of the girls had her wits about her. Though that shush was still a bit too loud. Blue held up a hand and listened. The children followed her eyes to the front of the wagon. No change from the drivers seat.

Blue stared at the two boys with her eyes narrowed.

‘Just so that you are aware, this ain’t no rescue mission.’

The first boy’s eyes showed anger. The other’s rolled around his head in panic.

‘Don’t look at me like that. I’m just hitching a ride on this thing anyways.’

Now the girls were looking at her in shock.

‘Wha-ow’ One of the girls started to make a sound, and the third girl headbutted her, then hit her with a glare.

Again, too loud, dammit.

Blue sighed, and then returned her gaze back to the two boys.

‘Look, you two. I’ll bring you along, but I have conditions. Don’t look at me like that. Should I only take big eyes here?’ Blue motioned to the boy who’s eyes were spinning earlier. The first boy’s eyes started to show some fear. Good. Good. ‘Conditions. First, shut up. No talking. Period. Second, follow my instructions to the letter. Three, you, carry her. You, carry her. You, are you fine walking?’ After addressing the two boys, Blue asked the girl who seemed to have her wits about her.

‘Yes, I can keep up.’ she whispered back. A tomboy huh…

Blue looked back at the boys.

‘Decision? If yes, we’ll begin the plan. If no, I’ll just take the girls here, and be off. You two are in the safest position, since you’ll just be held for ransom.’ Their eyes looked relieved and a little defiant. ‘Though with these three gone, they may just sell you into slavery out of spite, though.’ Aww, their eyes fell again. Where was all that fight from just now?

The two boys looked at each other, and give a reluctant nod.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 21 – Side Story – Blue’s Escapades I

Ashen’s parent’s marriage is a very strange case.

Her father is royalty, even if he is very far down in the line of succession as the fourth son, and that the next ruler will often come from a generation or two after the current ruler due to the life expectancy of the elves.

Her Mother is primarily known as an outlaw pirate who had great accomplishments, but still a criminal, even if she was pardoned.

The fact that she is still technically a slave is not very well known, but it has already been set in belief by many that she must be a former slave. This is because of the way that her Pirate Fleet operated regarding recruitment.

Blue’s method of recruitment was to go and buy Slaves; generally slaves that were undesirable and cheap, slaves that would make good sailors, and slaves with unusual or special skills.

The latter is important because of how traditional Elven society is; things that are unusual are usually avoided until proven beneficial and adopted at large.

So even obviously (to her mind) valuable slaves would be left to rot because their abilities were avoided, unknown, unwanted, undervalued, not understood, or whose benefit was not yet proven to society at large.

But the biggest part of her recruitment method was how those slaves were bought. Slaves would be bought by both legal and illegal slave merchants. In general, it was illegal to enslave an Elf unless certain conditions were met, the most common being that they were either a criminal, or that they had a large debt that they were not expected to be able to pay off even over a long period of time.

Illegally, there were kidnappings, unwanted children, prostitutes, formerly indentured servants, children of criminals, relations of a disgraced house that had fallen from nobility despite technically only either the person who caused the fall and/or the head of house being legally the only one who could shoulder the blame, and other such circumstances.

Indentured servitude, which was essentially slavery, was where a poor family would sell the rights to their children to nobles where they would be given an undesirable or dangerous job to do with little care for their safety. Unlike a slave, which had value and could be sold or invested in, an indentured servant usually had a contract to pay their family a certain amount of money, and to provide for the servant the basic means of life, and would be for a set period of time (usually from ten years old until thirty years old). As such, they were used for tasks that had a high rate of sickness or injury that would lower the value of a slave, which was seen as an investment rather than a means to an end.

Another form of technically illegal slavery was practiced by the nobility. To ensure that their servants loyalty and silence, there would often be an understanding that they would have a slave seal applied to them to prevent them from betraying the house. It was hoped that the seal would be removed if and when employment ended, though it was not unheard of for such servants to be sold illegally as slaves depending on the circumstances.

Children of slaves are considered slaves themselves, and thus children of servants who have a slave seal, even if it is hidden/secret/illegal would still be considered legal slaves. This was mainly because of affairs of nobles who would take servants as mistresses and wanted to control or deal with the children resulted from an affair. This was done to make the lines of succession clear, and as punishment by the legal wife to the servant who dared interfere with her marriage, even if it was the husband’s betrayal.

Incidentally, because arranged marriages are much more common among the aristocracy, resulting in more frequent cases of incompatible matches, both parties often have lovers or concubines themselves. This behavior gave nobles an ill and tarnished reputation by the rest of society when it came to concepts of loyalty and faithfulness, but their power would overshadow that.

Blue’s recruitment method was to buy a slave, then have them work for the fleet in a training or apprentice phase, depending on their talent level when they were purchased. Once they reached a level of talent where they could be given a role, they would then be paid wages.

These wages, however, would be docked a certain percent. When a certain amount was reached that was roughly equal to the cost of the slaves original purchase, the slave would be taken to a Slave Dealer.

There, with the assistance of other members of the fleet, they would purchase another slave whom would ‘replace’ them.

Their slave seal would then be removed, and they would be given the choice to continue working with the fleet, or to cut their ties and be on their way.

Most of the former slaves would overwhelmingly stay with the organization. It was very difficult to get employment without connections, and most slaves either had no family, or had their familial connections cut off long ago.

If they could find employment, their wages without connections would be low. If it was known that they were a former slave, their wages would be paltry. The wages provided by the fleet were not lofty by any means, but they were far higher than most slaves would be capable of earning on their own without some special skill or talent that made them valuable.

Wages were, though, understood to be highly dependent how the fleet was doing in general as well in their various different enterprises.

Most former slaves would also stay because of the loyalty and camaraderie felt for the fleet that had taken from from the despair of slavery, treated them very well as slaves go, gave them training and skills, then provided them with their freedom in exchange for giving another the opportunity to take that path themselves.

The former slaves were not treated much differently than the current slaves, which was mainly a factor of how well they treated the slaves in generally, but were afforded more freedom, not compelled to do work against their wills, and were given more freedom of choosing the work that they would be able to do with the fleet including more prestigious jobs or positions.

Slaves were, however, still occasionally given highly valued jobs relating to their skills or talent, and rather than being seen as usurpers by the others, were instead seen as respected and valuable talents that had been acquired. This was mainly because of the low literacy and mathematical ability of those who had fallen into slavery, as education was something that was provided by a home tutor by the parents at an early age, by nobles schools when they were maturing, or by apprenticeship of a trade. Otherwise, education had to be slowly gathered through experience of their long lives.

Because of this, often the former servants or children of servants of nobles were valued highly if acquired as they were often more likely to be educated or be familiar with etiquette that was needed for the more public facing enterprises of the Fleet.

Most former servants or children of servants did not come up for sale often because they were usually killed to silence them or prevent another noble family from trying to use them, if they were the child of an affair, to take over a house by fighting for inheritance rights.

One thing that was almost universal among all current or former members of The Fleet, be they slave, former slave, or hired, was an intense loyalty or admiration of Blue Testarossa.

The Fleet’s operations included; Prostitution, Smuggling, High Sea Piracy, Black Market Goods, Front for Selling Stolen Merchandise, Covert Intelligence, Escort Protection, Banditry, Fishing, and Foreign Trade.

The fleet started out as unorganized raiders and bandits.

Blue had been the child slave of a servant mistress of a high noble house that served the Ruler of the country. Her mother saw only her job and duty to serve the house, and was an unenthusiastic mistress. The head of the house, however, was very smitten with her, would not let her refuse, and would try and dote on her to try and win her favor, even if he already had control of her body.

The wife detested the servant, and treated her with disdain whenever she could get away with it, and treated Blue with abuse. But because of the Head’s favor, the wife had to be cautions about the abuse.

Growing up, to get away from the abusive environment as much as he was able to do so, Blue would often sneak away. In doing so, she began playing with other children who would also sneak away from their families to play and do mischief. This included other slave children, but also the sons and daughters of nobility that found their life constricting and would flee their handlers whenever they could to find a breath of freedom.

As such, even though they were associating with slave children, they would often be envious of them and treat them well, without understanding that their freedom was the result of no expectations and the expectation that they would become servants when they were old enough to work.

The playing was done with the tacit approval of the parents, who had done so as well in their youth, as a way to form bonds between nobles of different classes. A slave child might be such now, but if they managed to spark a compatible relationship with another family, they could turn into an unexpected windfall of tying together a relationship between the houses, or a way to control the other houses heirs.

Even the Royal children were allowed to take part in these escapades as a way to make connections with different strata of nobility which would serve them when they grew up and they needed eyes and ears into the different layers of nobility that they themselves could not penetrate and would be on guard against them There would be family servants or guards that would watch over the children from the shadows as well. This, of course, was all unknown to the children at the time, and is only something they would come to realize on their own after they had matured.

As such, it was often a shared cherished memory of childhood that bonded them together.

Amidst all of this came Blue.

Blue was unusual.

She had a large amount of charisma and would captivate all of the children regardless of their status. They would be willing and eager to move as her hands and feet, and did so because of their faith in her as she never abused or took advantage of any of those who came to follow her. By always being aware of their concerns, fears and desires, she would easily garner trust.

Not only that, but she had not just one group of followers in this way. Being particularly clever and agile, she was able to move across the noble districts to the hidden areas where children would gather with ease. As such, she would become a member of, and eventually the defacto leader, of three different groups of noble children, whom were only vaguely aware of each other.

She did all of this by nature, and not by any clear purpose or motive.

That is why everyone was drawn to her.

This did not, obviously, escape the eyes of the servants and guards that watched over the children. And Blue was one of the few observant enough to notice them watching from the shadows. As she approached them and gained their favor, they would begin teaching her their own skills and specialties as well as a matter of course.

She learned sword fighting from the Assistant Knight Captain, Hand to Hand Combat from a Body Guard Maid, Cooking from a trainee cook, scouting and camping from a guard who was a former adventurer, stealth and knife skills from a family spy, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic from a family tutor, and Archery from a former Ranger.

Blue somehow as able to gather an abundance of skills, and master all of them, with ease.

She was the leader of the children, but she was not particularly close with anyone. There was only one who she would confide in, and that was a boy who was the fourth prince of the royal family. She only knew he was related to the royal family, but was very far down, though.

The boy idolized and fell in love with Blue, though she did not understand his affection. Love and affection in that sense was not something she understood. She was treated as the enemy by the wife of the house, and her mother treated her as a cross between a burden and the daughter of a noble that she happened to be taking care of as she was the reminder of her bond/shackle with the lord.

Though missed by the house that she belonged to and her mother served, other servants, and their masters, began to pay more attention to this girl who seemed to be poised to control the next generation of the nobility. There was fear that she, even if she did not directly marry into the royal family, would eventually assume so much control over people that she would become Queen just by merit.

Her talent and charisma was that great.

Plans were made often to eliminate her, but she was protected from the shadows at the same time by the servants who she had befriended.

But, a certain event occurred. Her father fell ill and died suddenly. On a hunting trip, he had broken his leg falling off of his horse, and a blood clot formed in a vein. It detached, and he suffered an aneurysm. With her mother’s protector gone, and the widow’s grief, Blue’s mother was quickly silenced and killed through the use of slave seal. With the chaos of the house, the loss of her mother, and the realization of her fate if she stayed any longer, Blue fled the city.

There was a witness to Blue’s mother’s murder, however.

The fourth prince had had the habit of sneaking over to Ashen’s house. He would try and coax her to play if she was there, under the auspices of leading her to the rest of the group.

If she was not there, he would have talks with Blue’s mother about her.

Because of the talks, her mother’s attitude her had begun to soften over time.

The fourth princes talks with Blue’s Mother, of course, were done in secret since he did not want to reveal himself to the rest of the family and be found out (and sent back home), and she did not want the mistress to know that she had contact with the royalty and to stir up even more resentment.

Thus, they would often meet in a secluded area of the house that was normally under guard. The guard would turn the other way and ignore the two of them, as if he saw nothing.

Soon after the death of Blue’s father, the mistress’s grief and rage ran wild. During a talk with Blue’s mother, the mistress charged over to the area. Hearing the commotion, the guard and Blue’s mother told the prince to hide or to leave quickly.

The Prince did have some talents though. Unlike the other children, he was especially skilled at escaping his guards and getting to places he was not allowed. Unlike Blue, who could do so with ease with her natural agility and strength, the Prince was not very physically fit. Instead, being clever, he was very skilled at picking locks and hiding in shadow. He quickly picked the lock and slipped into the storage shed behind where they would meet while Blue’s mother and the guard panicked at the on coming roar from the mistress as she charged towards their location, and closed the door.

He hid in the back and watched. The mistress charged in, and accosted Blue’s mother.

The guard, fearing what could happen in the altercation, rushed off to get help and to restrain the mistress and left to get a servant to bring the mistress back to her room.

The mistress went off about how Blue’s mother was a filthy whore, and now she finds her attempting to steal the key to the slave seal (that she was coming to retrieve).

Under protests, she tore open the door (not realizing it was unlocked in her anger), unlocked the case with the servant’s slave seal keys, grabbed the key for Blue’s mother and with a look of triumph, ordered her death on the spot.

It is normally impossible to order a slave to do harm or kill themselves. But there were tricks and techniques to work around this problem. The trick was to command the slave to do multiple small actions that would lead to her death. Hands to your throat, stop breathing, swallow your tongue and vomit. All reactions that could be ordered at least temporarily, and all that would do harm. But with all of them together, the slave would choke and strangle themselves to death while they suffocated, a horrible and painful way to die.

The prince watched this in shock as the mother of his most important friend died horribly in front of him with nothing he could do.

With a spit down at the corpse, the mistress walked off triumphant.

The prince stared at Blue’s mother’s face in horror. This, for sure, is the future that awaits Blue. He knew of it. It was only because the mistress was engulfed in triumph that she had forgotten Blue’s key as well. He quickly climbed up, found Blue’s key and fled the scene with stealth and haste. He had to find Blue and warn her.

Blue never heard that warning.

When she returned, the house was in an uproar. The guard spotted her, and grabbed her as fast as she could. He did not allow her to see her mother’s body, but calmly and coolly told her of her mother’s death, and that she must flee at once or she would surely follow. That she could not risk being seen by anyone else in the house.

No goodbyes were allowed. Even what meager possessions she possessed were not allowed to be collected. The guard reached into his coat, and pulled out a purse with all of the money he had on him. He pressed it into Blue’s hand, and told her to flee the capital at once. Get to the countryside. Get to the sea, Leave the country if she could manage it.

It was only a manner of time before the mistress would remember her existence and seal her fate as well. Any venture into the house and she may either run into the mistress or encounter a servant who may speak of her. The slave key was still locked up, and no one would be able to get access to it but the mistress. But if she ran far enough, perhaps there was hope that somehow, the signal of the slave key would not reach her if she could only get as far away as possible.

And thus, Blue Fled.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 20 – Magical Engineering

Ashen’s Age: 10 Years Old

Ashen’s Prospective

As expected, I got told off for going off the trail in the forest. Actually, I got told off for going in the forest in the first place.

Amelia initially wanted to ban me from my afternoon trips, but I was able to have a conversation with Blue to rectify that.

I told Blue and Amelia about the forest mansion, how it is guarded by boggarts that were friendly to me, and that it belonged to a former incarnation of the blue star. They did not know the name Alicia, though. I’ll have to ask father if he knows anything about her. Shade doesn’t know that much about her, and knows nothing after the royals took her away from here.

I got Blue to allow me to return as long as I brought her there first and she made sure everything was safe. Then, I would need to bring either her, Amelia or Chesney with me for subsequent trips.

I can abide by that, but I ran it past Sheashade first to make sure that the boggarts would let them through. He said that anyone accompanying me would be able to make it through the fog and the barrier. I have plans to mollify Blue and Amelia further, though, hehehehe. Oh, Blue and Amelia couldn’t see the fog by the way. To them it was more of a dark haze.

I also have not told them about Shaeshade yet. I am still getting used to him myself after all.

As an aside, it looks like mother’s now on speaking terms with the village, and I am now allowed to head in there to play myself. Mother told me that the hunters knew I was there all along, and appreciated my help. When I did not emerge from the forest like usual, they grew concerned and formed a search party. I need to repay that trust as well.

I still have my bag with the journals. For the time being, I’m going to study these, and make some magic tools for myself and some as a present for Blue, Amelia and Chesney for coming to my aid.

After mother defeated the moon bears, the hunters collected the carcasses and took out the link cores, and Amelia gave them to me, saying that she suspected I’d want to use them for something. She also gave me some smaller link cores that the hunters had gathered as well. They insisted on giving her them in exchange for the moon bear materials. Though I did also get a hold of the pelt of one of them.

Magic tools and magic items. It’s my time as an engineer to shine. It’s what I have been waiting for.

Studying the journals, there are some rules for creating magic tools.

1.
Magic tools must be supplied mana externally, either via a magic crystal, the users own mana, or a combination of the two.
2.
Magic tools must be made of existing matter, and not magically made. This is because any magically made materials will evaporate, and thus break the tool.
3.
Magic tools can create magical effects, but those effects are temporary.
4.
Magical effects created that interact with normal matter will revert have the matter revert to their original forms after the magic has evaporated away.
5.
Magic tools are in general rigid with their intake and output of magic. Though the journal indicates ways to change the power of the magic tool via circuits and gates, and other physical settings (mechanical/hardware). It looks like the author was just getting into manipulation by mana itself (software) before the journals cut off.

I hearken back to my fight with the moon bears.

I think my general strategy can use some improvements.

Really, the setup takes a lot of concentration and preparation. I was barely able to wing it when I was first attacked, and I reacted on pure instinct, but I really need to be more prepared for surprise attacks.

Ashen, just so that you remember, I cannot cast your magic, I can only control what you have out. Don’t forget that. Ah, but if it was a magic tool, I could probably activate that.

That’s what I’ll need to do. I need magic equipment. Bracelets for claw weapons, boots for gliding. I can probably make a circlet or glasses for magic eyes. How about a cloak for the shields? Wait, didn’t a wise woman once say it? No Capes! I’ll have to think of something. Rings? Necklace? Bracelet? Belt? Vestments or other clothing?

The engineer in me is getting excited.

We had some of the materials for magic tools around the house, but not much of them. But Sheashade says that there are more materials back at the forest mansion. So I practice a little with the materials I have on hand, and then use the journal and sketch out the magical tools I want to build.

First are the bracelets.

I draw them as bracelets that cover part of the hands, and use soft metal to wrap between the fingers like a half glove. I go for braclets because I want to keep my hands free to cast magic, but I also need to create a barrier around my hands so that I do not hurt them while slashing with claws. After all, I can’t actually touch the weapons I create, so my hands would be in danger of getting hurt. The true power of the bracelets are that they can store magic spells written to them for quick access by myself or Shaeshade, while still allowing for spontaneous spells. I plan on storing different weapons and magics in the bracelets to allow myself to be more versatile in combat.

I use a moon bear link core as the magic stone on the underside of the forearm. This is so that it won’t get hit accidentally when moving around.

I went a little overboard on designing them.

The bracelets each can create a Weapon, such as a claw, stave, scepter or a shield. The shield can be made of Diamond, Sapphire, Ruby or Emerald. With another command, you can cover them with a magical flame effect. Diamond has a white magical flame, Sapphire has an ice or water effect, Ruby has fire, and Emerald has a mana draining effect. It will pull mana from the one it slashes, and use it to harden itself. I can also use the Emerald in the reverse, and send mana into a target.

The weapons, such as the claws and scepters, appear at a fixed location from my hand and extend out, allowing me to shield myself or slash at enemies. They also remain a fixed distance away so that I can hold them in place with magic.

For the rotating shields, I did a similar effect but imbued it into a necklace. When activated, the necklace will create any number of bricks of the chosen type, same as the swords and with the same effects. They are shaped like a hexagon, but with sharper angles. They deploy in alternating rows that orbit around the caster, with each row going a different direction than the one above it. This allows you to have momentum and the ability to easily move them into place and block in time. They also have grooves so that if all pulled back towards the caster, they lock together to form a solid barrier.

The number of shield blocks is controlled by the caster. Really, though, the biggest thing is that Shaeshade can manipulate magic tools that I am wearing with my mana. He just cannot use my spells. So with the magic tools, he can cover for me and create more shield blocks without me having to stop and create them for him.

I used the third Moonbear link core for this.

Next, I designed a pair of glasses. They cover my field of vision, and instead of pouring mana directly into my eyes, I can pour mana into the glasses instead. This creates a Heads Up Display (HUD) and allows me to use magic to mark my vision, or things around me, without projecting mana to them. It also allows Sheashade to send me messages or alert me to things through the glasses.

Because of the size limitations, I am using two normal link cores for these. They’re located behind my ears. They also act as counterbalances that prevent the glasses from slipping off as I move.

Finally, I designed shoes that I can activate glide at will. These also use normal link cores as I didn’t have enough moon bear cores to go.

I also designed gloves for mother that produce magic swords like father said Sara used, and for Amelia and Chesney, a single glove each that does the same.

I have one moon bear core left to be allocated. Don’t know what to use it on yet.

I have my designs. Now I just need to build them.

Mother burst my bubble though when she told me about a competition, though.

Next week, I was to have a competition with Chesney. A game of tag. The game starts in the morning, and ends at sundown. The last person it will lose, and the winner gets to make a request from Blue.

I already know my request. I fear Chesney’s though. Will it be for me to stop training with them, and have mother all to himself? I hope now. I need to win this, don’t I?

Side note: When I held my link core in my hand, it filled my hands and was the size of a baseball. The Moon Bear link cores were the size of marbles. Just how much mana do I have?

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 19 – Search Party

Ashen’s Age: 10 Years Old

Hester’s Prospective

Today was another good hunt. The guys and I entered the forest early this morning, and were able to catch quite a bit of game today. We didn’t even need the assistance of our guardian angel, though she did peak in on us in briefly in the afternoon. Three baras and two deer. That was our haul. That should feed our families for quite some time, with meet left over for the market. The hides, materials and link cores should also fetch a good sum. There are not many of us who venture deep within the forest, after all, so materials are always in demand.

As the guys and I trounced out of the forest, a little slower than usual due to our load, we saw Bernard’s group standing in the clearing and talking with each other.

“Yo! Bernard, what are you still doing here. You just finish, or going in for a night hunt.”

“Night hunt? Don’t be kidding. Only you are dumb enough to do that. You know that there are a pack of Moon Bears hanging around lately. It’s the full twin-moon tonight, so they’re more dangerous than usual.”

“Well, not only I, but I bet the angel would be fine at night as well.”

“About that. We’ve been talking. No one’s seen her since the afternoon. Usually she makes her rounds on the forest path, but today, no one saw her on the western road.”

“Hmm? You sure you guys just didn’t miss her?”

“Well, about that, there were traces that mid way along the eastern path that someone broke through and headed inward towards the heart of the forest.”

“You think she broke from the path? That is somewhat unlike her.”

“Well…. there were also traces there. Of the bears. We’ve been waiting out here for an hour, but no sight of her. It is late, but we’re thinking we should go in. She’s helped us enough, and we’re the adults here, we should be looking out for her, ya know.”

“Yeah, I got it, but how many guys have you got? Going in at dark is dangerous. We won’t be able to see where we’re going ourselves, let along her?”

“We?”

“Of course, we’ll come too, right guys?”

The rest of the guys looked a little leery, but none disagreed.

“Ah, but someone has to watch over the kills and get them into town before they spoil.”

“Ah, I’ll do that. I think I can handle the wagon myself. And when I get home, I can ask mother and sister to help me unload without you. We’ll hold onto the other’s shares until you are back.” said Ashland.

He was our youngest, around 19. Having only tagged along with us for these last 6 months, his experience in the forest is limited, and he’s rather timid by nature. Sure enough, it would be best to send him back anyways.

“Hmm… that is probably for the best. Please let your mother know whats going on. We’ll be back later.”

“Ah, yeah.” said Ashland.

We helped load the carcasses that we were carrying, slung from a pole between us, into the wagon. Ashland jumped into the driver seat, and we saw him off down to the village.

“Now then,” said Bernard, “We have about 20 of us here. I think that should be more than enough. We should prepare-”

As he was speaking, three more people joined us from up the road, two women and a young boy. I recognized them straight away, though I don’t think the others have. They have not interacted with them much. But I would know the two women anywhere. Though I have seen them many times, I have not talked with them before. Even during my time as a member of The Fleet.

The Fleet was a criminal organization, primarily focused on piracy. But it was more than that. It was a pillar of defense, and bound together the coastal communities, which shared in it’s profits and were protected each other it in turn. The Fleet was made up primarily of slaves and ex-slaves.

That is how I came to join The Fleet in the first place.

The Fleet would purchase slaves from slave dealers, and then give you the opportunity. Through work, you would earn a meager wage. That wage would go towards buying your own freedom. You were to work and work hard. But you had some say over your profession. The Fleet had many activities aside from piracy, dealing in prostitution, gambling, protection, banditry, and the black market. If you had special skills or a predilection for one or the other, you would be shifted in that direction.

Once your freedom had been purchased, that sum was used to buy your replacement. So the more slaves were acquired, the more they worked, and the more slaves were freed, and the cycle would start over again.

For girls, the prostitution angle was actually rather popular, surprisingly enough, as unlike brothels run by other organizations, tarts in The Fleet’s houses were treated like queens in comparison. They were protected, could turn down a john, got regular health checkups, and got quite a large cut from their activities.

For me, I did not go that route. I was a pirate, through and through. And as a female pirate, there was none other to look up to than Blue Testarossa, the leader of The Fleet. A genius of naval tactics, and the founder of the art of Shipboard Combat, a legendary (among fleet members) fighting style that allowed you to fight any opponent on any ground. Unlike other fighting styles that were rigid and for whom you forced your own style upon them to defeat them, shipboard combat would do the opposite, using your opponents style and the terrain against them, regardless of what that style was, or where you were fighting. Only a few were able to master it, but everyone knew a bit of it. Even knowing it at an intermediate level gave you a large advantage over opponents when fighting on a bucking ship.

She was the one who came up with the system for slaves buying their replacements. There is also the legend of how, during mid fight with some members disparaging her that she had never known the life of a slave, nor hardship by her noble looks, ripped off her shirt to show her slave crest, still adorned, on her back. She was a slave, and one that was not yet freed, unlike many of them.

About eleven years ago, however, things changed. The kingdom had begun cracking down on the fleets activities, and pirate organizations from other nations were hitting Astrania hard. It was then that Blue struck a deal. The deal pardoned all Fleet members, and gave them the choice of joining the Kingdom. In return, The Fleet’s organization would become the backbone of the kingdoms neglected Navy, and allow them a scaffold and a model to build their navy around.

The practice of slaves buying their freedom through work had also continued.

Even the protection and banditry racket had been molded into the kingdom, becoming highway law enforcement and escorts-something they had become anyways as everyone would always pay the marginal fee to avoid banditry on the highways regardless. The only difference was that it was now sanctioned.

After the deal, I decided to return to a normal life. I used my skills to put together a team of hunters, several former Fleet members themselves, and settle down in this village. I say settle down, but I am still just living with my folks. I really should settle down, shouldn’t I. Hmmm…

“Blue, I’ll head over, and see what I can learn.” I heard woman say to Blue. Her name was Amelia, and she was Blue’s adjunct back in the Fleet. It looks like she has still stuck around Blue all these years after all. I gave her a little wave, and she tilted her head a bit before giving an understanding nod.

They approached us and opened up.

“Hey! What’s going on?”

“Ah, hey there. We’re all just gathering. There is someone lost in the forest.”

“Who is it?”

“Ah” says another hunter, “It’s this little girl. We see her around here a lot, but no one’s seen her come back yet. She usually wanders the forest path, and then returns. But this time, we think she may have gone of the path.”

Another hunter pipes up.

“I saw her move off the path a bit, but then there was a roar and a commotion. Moon bears, if I had to guess it. I tried to get over where it was coming from, but I Was blocked by a boggart. I can’t get past one of those on my own, so I called for help. It’s the least we can do to go help her out. She could be wounded, or lost. For all she’s done for us… we just can’t give up.”

“All she’s done for you? Do you know who she is? What has she done?” asks Blue.

“She’s just a local girl. I don’t know her name. But whenever we”re out hunting, we can see her watching us. She think’s she’s being clever and out of view, but I mean, we’re hunters, we’re used to tracking the unseen, right? Anyway, the little miss is a magician, whenever we get in trouble or bite off more than we can chew, she’s there from the shadows helping us. Saved us from quite a few jams, if I do say so myself. But she never asks for a reward, or even a portion of the hunt. Kind of a silent protector. So we keep an eye on her as much as we can and keep her out of trouble.”

“And since no one’s seen her leave the forest, we’ve gathered here after the hunt.”

“Who are you guys, anyways. We don’t see you around here. How did you hear about this?”

“I’m the girls mother.” says Blue.

“You are? Well nice to meet ya, er-”

“Blue. You can call me Blue.”

“Blue, hah, you wouldn’t be the great Testarossa” he says, mockingly.

“As a matter of fact, yes. Yes I am.”

Those of us who were former Fleet members grabbed others by the arms who looked like they were reacting to the name Blue. We made it clear that we would support her if they were to cause a scene. Thankfully, everyone calmed down soon after that.

We decided to split the group. Bernard’s hunter group would head through the western path along with Amelia and the boy who had come with them. We would take the eastern path with Blue. As there were more former fleet members with our group, we were more comfortable with Blue together with us.

Along the way, the group of us started discussing the predicament. We were mainly concerned with the Moon Bears. With Blue among us, though she seemed to be at the back of the group and lost in thought, we knew we could take a moon bear or two. At least, I hope we can. With the twin full moons, they’ll be at full power tonight.

I drop back a bit, and try and talk with Blue. It is a rare opportunity to talk to a legend, after all.

“Hey, I heard you say that the angel is your daughter, that true?”

“Huh?” she says. She didn’t hear me as she had been lost in thought. I repeated my question. “Ah, yes, she is.”

“How old is she?”

“Ashen is ten, close to eleven this year.”

“Nine or ten? Wait, that would be around the timing of the Fleet agreement, wouldn’t it? You didn’t do the agreement just for her, did you?” I asked.

“Huh? What? No, no, of course not. Though Sander, who brokered the deal, is indeed her father, and my, er, um, husband.” She said, blushing.

“Wait, it wasn’t, er, forcibly, um….?”

She started to glare at me.

“Ah, if I am mistaken, I am sorry. I know you don’t remember me, but I served under you, you know, so I care about you, you know.”
She looked at me with a blank look.

“Um…. Hester, wasn’t it?”

I was shocked. “You remember? I don’t think we ever spoke.”

“You were one of the rare female pirates in the fleet, of course I had heard your name before, and had you pointed out. But yes, we never did get to interact, did we?” said Blue.

I paused for a moment.

“So Ashen, you said it was? She was with that Sander guy, right? Was he a government official?”

Blue looked left and right, then leaned in. “Fourth Prince.”

“PRIN-” I began, but she clamped her hand over my lips.

“Keep it down. It ain’t a secret, but don’t want too many people yapping about it.”

“I am sorry, it is just… prince.. no wonder he was able to broker that deal.”

“Yes, he was a childhood friend, so he was concerned for me, and for the kingdom.”

“Ah, so the rumors you were a nobless were true after all.”

I think I leaked some disdain in my voice. But it didn’t match her disdain that came next.

“Noble, feh, who can call a daughter of a slave maiden a noble, regardless of what my ‘father’ was.”

A slave maiden is a derogatory term for females of lower noble houses that serve higher houses. To ensure their loyalty, they and their ‘children’ that may come from improprieties with their masters, are given slave seals to keep them in check and keep them silent.

“Aren’t you worried then? About your seal? If some noble want’s to control the fleet, they could control you, is that why you did it?”

“Hmm? It was always in the back of my mind, but it never came up. At the meeting, Sander had acquired it, and had been keeping it safe for me.”

“Ah, is that why you did it then?”

“I don’t even know why I am discussing this. I haven’t told anyone but Amelia, though she was there.” said Blue. “But no, he gave it to me before negotiations, and I, er… let him keep it afterwards.” she said, blushing.

Ah, so a long lost love affair rekindled. It does make me think that she may have done the deal more out of love for her partner than for the Ffleet, but if you think about it, it was likely because of that that the fleet got such a good deal in the first place, so it was all good.

It was a dream come true for many of us who wanted nothing more than to get our lives back and turn legitimate. There were those who stayed the life of crime, but now we could be in the light without nearly as much prejudice as before. We were now not ‘former slaves’ but ‘former fleet members’. That’s not as much an upgrade to some, but it is a good deal better for others.

Blue perked her head up, as we heard crashing ahead of us. I caught glimpses of something through the trees, and crashing and explosions.

“WINDBLAST EARTHWALL!” I heard a childs voice ring out, followed by the roars of bears.

Before I knew it, Blue was gone from my side, and was charging ahead, both the swords at her waist drawn. I don’t know how she was able to move that fast, it was as if she were made of light.

And just like that, she slashed, and both Moon Bears that followed the little girl, the angel, were cut in two, followed by a third in toe.

“Amazing…” “Woah…” “How the…” voices leaked out.

That was the power of the shipboard combat style, after all. I couldn’t even follow it, and I was an intermediate at it.

I ran up and caught the flying girl Ashen in my arms as she flung herself from the forest. Ah, her arms, large crystal claws came from them, but I was able to maneuver myself to catch her without making contact with them.

“Woah, er, hah, thanks.” said the girl.

This little girl had been fighting… three moon bears? She was scratched up, and her clothes torn, but I could see no wounds.

Behind her was a path of destruction. Shattered crystals and a three meter clear path of blown up trees. She had cleared out so many large trees in her path while fighting the moon bears.

Looks like we have another pathway into the forest.

I handed Ashen off to Blue, and ran ahead with a few of the guys. Bernards group was coming around the bend as well.

Quickly, I gave orders to the guys to start securing the moon bear carcasses for their meat and fur, We would take them back to the village. While they did that, I dug into the carcasses and secured the link cores before they evaporated. To be safe as well, I hurried up the path further, and found a fourth bear hobbling along the path as well. This I can handle, and I quickly stabbed it through the back of the neck, and twisted my sword. I then cut it open and got the fourth link core, and then called the others to carry it as well.

I still need to find out what Blue wants to do with the bears, but they’ll provide plenty of meat and materials. Killed at the full moons, they’ll be the finest of materials.

I take the link cores, and put them in a pouch.

I walked over and found Ashen in her mothers arms, and looked at the loving embrace. I didn’t want to interrupt that, so I walked over to Amelia.

“Amelia, here, the cores from the moon bears. Please give them to Blue, would you? I don’t want to interrupt.”

“Ah, yeah… Thank you, Hester.”

“About the Moon Bear carcasses, what would you like me to do with them?”

Amelia glanced over at Ashen and Blue, then turned back to me.

“I would like the Link Cores and the pelts. The rest you can keep. Send them up to the manor when you are done. Will that serve as payment enough?”

“Ah, yes, that is plenty.” I said. “The manor? Where are.. you mean Blue is the lord of the area?”

“Ye…yeah, she is. Though I do much of the work myself. She just spends the time training with Chesney and Ashen. But what can you do. She had to have some title, married to Sander, after all.” said Amelia.

“Ah, yeah, I’ll have the pelts sent up. Here,” I handed her the pouch, “Here are the link cores for the four bears.”

“Four?”

“Yes, there was a straggler. It was badly beaten, and I finished it off.”

“Ah, so Ashen must have…”

It hit me then, that Ashen had been fighting four of them, and managed to get away in that state. That is amazing in and of itself.

“But yeah, I’ll take them. If I know Ashen, we’ll get something surprising out of them.”

I lowered my voice and leaned in a bit. “I know that Ashen is the daughter of Blue, so she would be amazing, but seriously, how is she that strong? Even when she watches over us, she does amazing magic.”

Amelia leaned in as well. “Well, I’ll tell you Haster, as I’ve confided in you in the past, but…”

I leaned in further.

“Ashen is, well… the Blue Star, after all.”

I was speechless.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 18 – Rematch

Ashen’s Age: 10 Years Old

Ashen’s Prospective

Remember the principles from gaming. From Counterstrike to real life paintball.

Actively concentrate at all times.

Your opponents could be anywhere, so just assume they are.

It might not be your opponent that is there, though, so confirm before attacking.

Use blitz tactics and get to the choke point first. If you can’t get there first, blaze through and disorient them.

Finish them as fast as you can before you’re the one overwhelmed.

Lets go in prepared, with our defenses up and our weapons ready. Lets assume the worst-that they are camping the entrance of the gate on either side. There were four of them earlier. Lets assume the same amount or more now.

It is as you said, there are two sitting at the front gate, from what my friends have told me. I do not know where the other two are. Probably in the forest.

Okay then. If they are expecting the gate, then lets disappoint them!

I bring out eight diamond bricks and have them orbit around me, four in one direction and four in the other.

I activate my magic and cast a spell to create sapphire claws around my arms. These will let me slash in close range, while also protecting my hands. Thankfully, I can cast around them as well.

I activate my glide ability and rise up off the ground.

Shade, please take control of the bricks.

Affirmative.

Okay then, let’s do this!

I jump over the side wall, ready for the fight.

I land, and find that I am right behind a moon bear. As I suspected, they were sandwiching the gates. Clever for magic beasts, aren’t they. Tenacious to have been waiting here all this time.

The white circular patch of fur on top of it’s dark brown fur glowed in the moonlight. That must be why they are called Moon Bears. It’s claws and eyes glowed with similar fury. But this time, I have the drop on you!

It tries to turn around and react to my sudden appearance, twisting it’s body and biting out. I quickly launch two bricks at the back of its head, and slash with my claws downward into its spine.

Crash, the bricks smash into its skull, and I break the skin and bone with the slash of my claws on the moon bears back. It crumples instantly, dead.

BANG! BANG!

I look up, and two of the other moon bears have arrived. While I was surprise attacking the first one, the other two instantly attacked me. Thankfully, Shade was able to block their attacks with a diamond brick each. The bricks have cracked into pieces, and tumble about.

I quickly kick off the wall to my right, and shoot towards the forest, throwing the crumbling diamond bricks into their faces to buy some time. They’re still off balance and landing after their attack. I try and get some distance between us and shoot towards the direction I originally came in from the path. That is my hope, that I can find the path and get out of the forest in one piece, and hope that either they do not follow me out of the forest, or I run into help.

Shit.

The fourth moon bear is in front of me, cutting me off. They must be very intelligent magical beasts, coordinating and planning to this extent. It lunges at me as I bound towards it.

[FIREBALL]

[WATERBALL]

I cast a fireball over one claw and a waterball over the other and throw them at him at the same time.

The moon bear is able to dodge, but because of that, he had to abort his attack on me.

But my main objective is not that.

The waterball and fireball collide and create a wall of steam and fog. I pass through it as fast as I can, pushing off from tree to tree to gain speed. The burning steam blinds the bear that was attacking me, and should obscure me from the two in pursuit.

I don’t have time for more complex magic.

After bounding forward, I fire two of the diamond bricks behind me. I hear a satisfying crunch. I must have landed a good blow there on the blinded moon bear.

CRASH!

I grew conceited. As I bounded forward, the two moon bears attacked me from each side. My remaining two bricks are crushed into shards again. I have none left except my claws, and I can’t summon them without some effort beforehand. I don’t know the spell well enough. It would take me a minute or two to get them back up. And without them, my defense is nil.

I throw the shards at their legs and keep going forward. Go! Go! GO! Have to get away! If I, if I take just one hit from those guys, I’m screwed.

LEFT!

[WINDBLAST]

I throw a wind blast to my left and push myself to the right, bear claws slashing right where I was a second before.

RIGHT!

[EARTHWALL]

I create a wall of stone to cover my right side, and it crumbles from the bears attack.

I have a second to go before it climbs over the rubble.

“SOMEONE! ANYONE! HELP ME! MOTHER!”

I cry out for the help. I cry for the first time in my life. This life.

Sara’s face flashes through my eyes, but is replaced by Blues.

Blue’s face?

“ASHEN!”

No, that’s the real thing!

Blue blazes past me, and with two slashes from the swords in each hand, the bears are bisected. Easily. So easily. The opponent that I struggled with all my might, was defeated in a moment.

Mother.. you really are strong, aren’t you?

I can see a band of hunters in front of me on the path, and further up the bend, some more hunters led by Chesney and Amelia coming towards us.

“Really, in the nick of time.” I muter before collapsing to my hands and knees, then helped up by the hunters.

Really, for someone who went on a walk because they were down about their strength, I was still somewhat full of myself, wasn’t I?

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)

Chapter 17 – You were my only friend

Ashen’s Age: 10 Years Old

Ashen’s Prospective

Playhouse? Does that mean that you intend on coming back here? Regularly?

A voice rings in through my ears. No, inside my head.

What the hell? Where is that coming from?

I look around. There are wisps around the room. I look down and there is a black wisp on my chest.

What!?

I stumble backwards and land on the chair I had just stood up from.

I speak out loud.

“What or who are you?”

We are the ones to whom you left to take care of the mansion.

“I left? You mean, you recognize me somehow?”

Of course, Alicia. Do you not… remember us?

“Alicia? My name is… wait… how do you know that I am the same as Alicia? Do I look like her?”

You bare a resemblance, but are not her figure.

“Then how do you know that I am Alicia?”

Your mana is the same as Alicia. We would know it anywhere.

“By any chance, is it that Alicia had a blue link-core?”

Yes.

“But my link core is slightly off from hers? Larger capacity and a little foreign?”

Now that you mention it, yes, just like that.

“Then you knew that Alicia would come back because…”

Alicia told us that we would meet her again, but in a different guise, and that, however sadly, she may not remember us.

“I see. So Alicia was one of my former reincarnations. And this house, was this my residence?”

Yes, before the Royals took you away.

“So it was then that the Kingdom incorporated the Blue Star line into their bloodline, eh? How long ago was this?”

We don’t know. We have just been waiting. Waiting. For so long. For so long.

The voice sounds sadly happy. Like a great reunion with a long lost friend. Wait, this is a reunion of long lost friends, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. For us, Alicia was our only friend. It is her that gave us this refuge, and for her that we protect and maintain this place, waiting for her return.

“Speaking of, what… what are you?”

We are what the Elves refer to as Boggart.

“Boggart? The kind that turn into what you most fear?”

Yes, that is our nature. It is our defense against those who would mean us harm. We are beings of magic, but we, ourselves, do not have much power. We feed off the ambient magical power in the air, or directly from other beings. But we ourselves are weak and easily killed. To protect ourselves, we use our telepathy to find what our attacker most fears, and transform into it.

“That sounds hard. What do you do if their greatest fear is a concept?”

We use something that we can manifest as, and would cause enough trauma for them to avoid us from then on. Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword, and leads to our being hunted as much as feared. It was Alicia, who created this barrier around this forest mansion, who gave us a place of refuge. It will only allow those whom Alicia has given permission to enter.

“So that is how you know that I am Alicia? Because I can enter?”

Yes. Even though your large mana capacity would let you break through the barrier by force, the barrier still let you in without effort.

I look out the window. As there are no trees in the mansion grounds, the sky is visible. The sun has almost set.

“Ah! The sun! If I don’t get home, mom will start panicking. I need to go!”

As long as you return, the rest will be happy, but…

“But?”

Please don’t leave me again. It’s been so… empty. Please let me go with you!

The plea reminds me vividly of when Elizabeth beseeches Booker to humor her.

Can I really turn this down? It feels like it would collapse in despair if I told it no.

“If you follow me, you will be in contact with those persons with whom you fear? Can you handle that?”

If it is to be with Alicia again, I would bare anything.

“Ashen. Call me Ashen.”

Ashen.

“How will you follow me? It would be weird to have a black lens flare follow me about like an anti-Huggins.

Huggins? No, I’ll understand it soon. I can be with you without others knowing.

So he’ll be invisible? I guess that is fine.

“Go ahead then, you can join with me.”

At that, I felt an oozing sensation on my chest. I look down and I see that the black wisp is entering my body. I put mana into my eyes, and see it enter my Link Core.

“Wah! What are you doing?”

You will understand shortly.

What is he? Ah. Aaah. Aaaahhh. I can feel him inside me. Merged with me. And I can kind of feel the remorse, and the adulation of reunion from within me.

We are now one. Thank you. Thank you!

The voice is now, instead of entering my brain, from within it. It is also no longer in Elvish, but at more of an understanding nature.

I can kind of feel it reading my memories. Hey! I get that you can do that, but please don’t look at the embarrassing ones!

Yes, with your consent, I will review your memories later.

It spoke with confidence. Yet, I seem to be placing a lot of trust in it.

Hey, I can’t keep calling you it, can I? Do you have a name?

Yes. Alicia called me Shaeshade.

Shade, huh. It’s… nice to have you aboard… Shade.

And so, I’ve gained yet another weird quark about this body in this life.

It also seems that I no longer need to speak to communicate with it… Shade.

Turning to the next problem, how do I get home? Are those bear things still out there?

Yes, the moon bears are still wandering around the entrance of the mansion.

Is there a way to sneak past them?

It is possible, but unlikely. Moon Bears can see well in the dark, and can sense magical power. Ashen possesses a very large quantity of mana, and so they will be surely notice you if you are close by them.

Why are they obsessed with me? Are they hungry?

They are hungry, but they also bare a grudge. Against the hunters who steal their prey and drive them off, and of Ashen for wounding them earlier.

I didn’t do much damage though.

On the contrary, you did a large amount of damage with your magic bricks.

That is… true. I could use the magic gem bricks as a projectile. But I also need them as a shield. I’d also need many of them queued up to shoot, and I need to use them to block and slash with as a shield and sword. It is too much for me to keep track of. I’d be crushed just trying to get my bearings.

I can handle that for you, Alice-Ashen.

You can handle it?

You almost called me Alicia…

Yes, sorry, Ashen. Allow me to help you out. As long as you create them, I can handle the movements of the blocks around you. If I were to suggest, if they revolved around you, they would have both speed to throw with and function as movable shields to protect you.

Yes, yes, yes! I can picture it now. It’s like Agent North’s barrier shield! I guess that makes you Theta. Or maybe Alpha?

I don’t really get the references you are making. I have not looked through your memories yet.

Kind of like this.

I picture North’s energy barrier.

Ah, I get it. And I am the little guy there, who controls it while you fight?

Yep, that’s the idea. Does that work for you.

Affirmative.

Then let’s do it.

I gather my pack, and check it. In there are the remnants of the lunch I packed myself, and two of the notebooks left by Alicia. One of the notebooks is the aforementioned engineering notebook on magic tool ideas. The other details materials to use for magic tools, as well as the methodology of making magic circuits. I can affirm they were made from Alicia. In addition to her name being written on the corner of the inside of the notebooks, I can just picture her thoughts as she was when she was writing in these notebooks. I can tell that we were once, at least partially, of the same mind.

Partially?

Yes. I am not completely Alicia’s reincarnation, but not unrelated either. My mother, Sara, was one of the incarnations in the past, and I inherited the link core from her. At least, I think it merged with mine. Then I died, and was reincarnated into this form.

Ah. That explains why your memories are so fragmented. There is a lot of room here for memories in the link core. It is as if the memories other than yours, and your previous life, are locked away. You are very mature for a child as well.

That would make some sense. When I first examined the link core, I noticed that one of the circuits was unfinished. It was after finishing that circuit that the core merged with my own. I am guessing that the circuit for retaining memory, and that the reason I came back was because I somehow activated it my giving it mana. My mother wouldn’t have been able to do that, since without her link core, she had no mana. Hell, until then, I didn’t even know I had mana. There is no magic in that world.

This is all very confusing. Will it make sense after I examine your memories?

Yes, yes, it should.

We continued to banter back and fourth as I left the library, and walked down the stairs. It is late dusk, so I need to hurry. If I don’t get home soon, mom may call out the militia.

I walk down the stairs, and through the front door. I closed the door and after walking out of the mansion, look again at the courtyard fountain.

Hey, is this Alicia?

No. This was here, along with the mansion, before Alicia came here.

Maybe there is a relation.

Shade, do you know the way out of the the forest?

I only know the area around the mansion, but I can guide you to the path where we first found you.

That will do fine.

Let’s go over the plan.

Use mobility to hover and move around at speed. Diamond and Sapphire Shield claws covering both left and right arms for protect and swiping ability.

Anything else?

Orbiting diamond bricks that can be used to block attacks, or be thrown as artillery.

Right. And remember, I can’t physically touch them. If I do, then I lose the magic control over their position, and I take their full weight, and the pressure of whatever affecting them as well.

I don’t want to be crushed.

I stand in front of the gates.

Glide boots, on.

Sapphire Claws, on.

Diamond Shields, orbiting.

Let’s do this.

 

Previous Chapter | ToC | Next Chapter

(Image Source)