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The Sea Between

Chapter Text

The silvery moon shone in the sky, its offspring stars twinkling around it like a gilded painting. They were so bright even though they seemed so far away. They guided many a lost soul, and they told wondrous stories of old.

In this world, light begot darkness and darkness begot light. One could not exist without the other; the sun and moon moved as a cycle ubiquitous and omniscient in all that ever was and will be. The cycle existed in the very hearts of all things, humans and seraphim alike. If one element were to go missing—if the sun had stopped shining or the moon stopped reflecting, the world would fall into a darker chaos than the blackest of midnight.

Once upon a time, such an event did happen. The double ouroboros that transcended the physical realm had come unhinged, and an all-encompassing nothingness began to bleed into reality. The Governor of the Six Evils who ruled over conceit, greed, selfishness, cowardice, lust, and obsession tore Himself from the perpetuating loop that kept His power in check. Monstrous was His power, and no one was strong enough to stop it. No one but one brave seraph—the Ever-Loving Silver Flame that continuously illuminated the world. Two sides of the same coin, these wills battled for the propagation of life. The dark forces wished to sunder emotion from the hearts of people and grant them a faux relief from malevolence that threatened the world every day while the light forces believed that without emotion, life was meaningless. To live without feeling and caring was one not worth living. The Silver Flame was aware that such an ideal also constituted suffering and pain, but were those not gifts of life? Did such feelings not remind people that they were alive? The counterforce that balanced the Six Evils decided to help the Silver Flame. Without the light, She could not exist. Without the dark, She was doomed to suffer for eternity.

“Some say that to this day, they are still fighting for the world we know today,” an old man told his beloved children.

Zenrus was a lightning seraph with god-like ability; however, his small, hunched, and aged appearance betrayed that fact. Without his tall sandals, he stood only about four feet tall. It was more than enough to tower over his children. He was never seen without his long thin golden pipe, and his bushy eyebrows hid stern but loving little eyes.

“That’s all for today, Little Ones,” he told the two boys.

“But Gramps!” the brunet whined.

“We want to hear more!” the head of aquamarine quarreled.

“Sorey, Mikleo—you know it’s time for bed.” Zenrus took up the candle that cast a warming glow on every surface of their bedroom. Save for the abundance of books scattered around on the floor, there was not much else to their cozy sanctuary. “You two are growing boys, so you need to rest. If you don’t sleep, you will stay small forever.”

“But what about the Silver Flame?” Sorey asked.

“And what if no one wins?” Mikleo questioned.

“I promise, you will find out tomorrow,” Zenrus abated. “Now, you must go to sleep.”

The two boys moaned and groaned. They were too excited to go to sleep. They needed to have their curiosity quelled now. The suspense was a creeping shadow on their minds, a hellion waiting to pounce on them when they least expected. What if the Six Evils was a hellion now? What were they going to do? They couldn’t fight them being so small.

The door clicked shut behind Zenrus. He had returned to his own room. They were free to do what they pleased until Sorey got tired since Mikleo didn’t require sleep and only did so because his friend often loved to cuddle at night.

They were very young, around five years old or so and still so entranced by the magic that existed within the many books that lined the walls. But no other tome held their imagination and wonder like the Celestial Record.

The one who read it most was little Sorey. Practically the embodiment of the shining sun that lighted the isolated world of Elysia atop its lone mountain, he was endlessly curious and adventurous. He was the one that suggested random excursions to the Mabinogio Ruins, and he loved what history had to offer. Growing up with the seraphim had left him untainted, his pure heart yearning for the great expanses he dreamt about after reading the ancient texts. For one so small and malleable, he was far more intelligent or even precocious than the normal child.

His partner in crime and the moon that glowed by his light was Mikleo. Only slightly older than him by a few months in human years, he was a seraph of water, as pristine and pure as his element and dearest friend. He clung to Sorey as Sorey clung to him; the two were inseparable even from birth. Calm and collected on the outside yet easily flustered when it came to their shenanigans, he trained every day under the tutelage of the village elders to hone his magic to keep Sorey—a lowly human—safe. Despite their bond, however, there were things that made the gap between them noticeable.

While Sorey had regular chestnut-brown human hair and regular shining emerald eyes, Mikleo had mystifying pale-aquamarine seraph hair and astonishing amethyst eyes that contrasted strikingly with his celestial porcelain white skin. Sorey had rather boyish features. Mikleo was more androgynous. There were even times that the former was afraid to hold his hand or hug him or play rough. To him, Mikleo was similar to that of a delicate artifact from the myths and legends. A single wrong touch could shatter him, and such an event played over and over in a series of nightmares that plagued him throughout his childhood.

Yet still, Mikleo depended on Sorey as much as the converse. Without him, Mikleo feared he would have turned his back on humans. He was never able to fathom a life without human interaction, and he found them absolutely fascinating when the elders told him stories about their kingdoms and cities, their ships and voyages across the seas. Yes, that was something he wanted to experience with Sorey one day. To travel to every corner of the world with his best friend was a dream that coincided like a symbiotic lifeform with Sorey’s desire to bring seraphim and humans together.

As the years progressed, this symbiosis evolved into a debilitating codependence in their formative years. The separation anxiety either one experienced when the other was not within his field of vision was something that Zenrus and his people were not prepared for. It became as much of a problem as a characteristic of them as a pair, and it was only when Mikleo began to train seriously as a seraph and Sorey as something else that the issue was somewhat lessened. They still had to be with each other, but they learned that even if they did not persist in the presence of one another, they were still a permanent part of each other’s lives. Object permanence, as one elder liked to put it. When they outgrew the silly notion that they ceased to exist, living independently became easier.

Nevertheless, it was paramount that they still coexisted. Sometime in their adolescence, Mikleo learned that his adhesion to Sorey was not just because they had been raised together. The night he had learned his true purpose and why he had to remain at his side was the night that Mikleo’s heart was thrown into doubt. If his presence beside the only human to have contact with seraph was just a tool, then what was their childhood?

“Sorey is someone special,” Zenrus explained then. “He’s to become the next Oracle.”

Of course, what exactly the Oracle was was a long-guarded secret by the religious institutions among the humans. There was no explanation other than that the first Oracle had been a man named Siegfried who had been bound by a pact of sorts to a fire seraph wielding blue flames named Brunhilt.

One thing he knew for sure—this title was supported by the human’s ability to converse with the many gods and goddesses that kept balance and order in their world. Resonance, it was called, and Sorey’s was extremely high. Over the years, Mikleo tried to learn what becoming the Oracle meant. The only way he could think of it was a series of melodies and countermelodies that performed like a question-and-answer. Seraphim were the melodies, each with their own thoughts and feelings that shaped their ideas of their surroundings. To speak with them, Sorey had to become their countermelody. He was a flexible young man. While changes could come off as flippant and superficial, his heart remained sincere and true to his love.

By the time they were seventeen, Mikleo had come to learn what being the Oracle meant as far as society was concerned. His purpose was a secret, but his status was made public. Sorey’s birth was celebrated with festivities and food made by everyone in Elysia, but there was something of a bittersweet atmosphere permeating the gathered celestial folk. It was then that he had learned to fake his smiles and eagerness; Mikleo had known him long enough to tell when he was hurting and depressed.

“In a few days, it will be time to say goodbye to Sorey,” Zenrus had said. There was a quivering in his voice that was barely detectable if at all. “As the new Oracle for the Hyland Kingdom, he will embark on his pilgrimage. And to legalize his new status, he will marry their princess Alisha Diphda.”

The announcement had hit Mikleo like a sack of bricks. Marriage? The word floated and buzzed in his brain like hornets. Why did he have to marry someone he didn’t know? For what purpose did marriage serve?

“Zenrus, must we truly give into their demands?” one of the elders—a woman named Natalie—asked. “This isn’t fair to anyone involved.”

“I have to agree,” Zenrus’ right-hand Kyme spoke. “Given the bond between Sorey and Mikleo, this puts us all at great risk.”

“And we would be at greater risk if we were to violate our treaty,” Zenrus opposed. He puffed onto his long golden pipe. “I’m aware of how tragic this is, but our hands as seraphim are tied. If we don’t offer him as the Oracle, we may face a greater danger than pirates claiming our land for their own.”

The villagers of Elysia fell silent, hushed by the apparent logic they had been faced with. Their leader had spoken, and he had spoken with a gravity that pulled Mikleo and Sorey’s hearts to the very bottom of the sea that surrounded their mountain. The two boys had been prepared for the day that they would have to go their separate ways.

Which is why, after the party had ended and the seraphim had all returned to their homes built to acquaint Sorey with human habits such as shelters made from raw materials and eating and sleeping and basic hygiene for the night, they stole away to the forest around Mabinogio Ruins. The canopy of the trees were thick, but they were not so thick that the moon could breach and cast a solemn shadow on them with its borrowed luminance. They had time alone together so many times, reading and dreaming, but things were different now. The days of their youth were drawing to a close, and the dream that they shared to explore the world and teach their respective kinds about the coexistence they craved was not going to be realized. At least, not together.

There were many things that were left unsaid that night. Their hearts swelled with sorrow, and they only thing they could do to remedy it was to hold each other in their arms and breathe in what may have been the last time they indulged in their flowery scents. Sorey’s sunflowers and Mikleo’s anemones blended in their memories as a small bouquet.

“Sorey, please don’t forget me,” Mikleo asked of him tearfully, hands gingerly holding his fingers. “You’re my best friend, and while I can’t bear the thought of never seeing you again, knowing that you’ll remember me makes me happy.”

“I won’t forget you,” Sorey promised him earnestly. “Even if I have to marry the princess, my heart will always belong to you. One day, Mikleo, I promise to come back and be by your side. Even if it takes years, I’ll come back.”

It was difficult for either one of them to put faith into the promise. They could not see into the future, yet if they did not believe in that, everything they told each other would have meant nothing. Sorey was smiling sincerely at Mikleo. Perhaps he did believe in it, and it was why he could say it so fervently.

The tightness of their embrace was their binding contract. They knew that there was no one else in the world that could love them like they did each other. No princess, no seraph—they only had each other even when they were destined to be miles apart.

But was this all really enough? In the pale moonlight, their forms were washed with a revelation. Was there something that they could do to solidify this bond more than just an ephemeral touch?

“Sorey, can I share a secret with you?” Mikleo asked with his face partially hidden in his shoulder. His slender hands lay gently on the taller boy’s back, relaxing as a small gap opened between them so their eyes could meet. “I learned my true name, and I was told not to tell anyone what it was unless I absolutely loved and trusted them. You are my one and only, so I want you to know it.”

“But that’s breaking the rules!” Sorey gasped. “Mikleo, you can’t!”

“But I want to!” He pulled him close to his body again. “There’s no one else that I wish to know what it is. Will you let me tell you?”

It was a gigantic leap of faith, but there was no arguing that they felt the same about each other. To tell one’s true name to another was a sign of trust, faith, and love. Among seraphim, it was a taboo only to be broken when two individuals could leave their well-beings in someone else’s care. It was in the ancient tongue, and thankfully both of them knew it.

Mikleo leaned closer to Sorey’s ear. The golden feathers that sprung from the ear cuff tickled his cheek, and he would miss it dearly when they held each other like they did now. Swallowing the nervousness of offering a declaration to him, the water seraph’s breath trembled.

“My true name is…” he started. Heart pounding, his body burning with anticipation that someone would find them, he hesitated for only a moment. “Sorey, my true name is Luzrov Rulay.”

Sorey understood the meaning behind the name thanks to his studies of the ancient tongue. He had to wonder if Mikleo was given this particular name or if he had chosen it. Luzrov Rulay meant “enforcer”. He was far from the rough-and-tough guy; he was small and thin and vulnerable when casting his magic. It was only when Mikleo admitted that he was hoping to be the guardian of the precious heart that quietly beat in synchronicity with his that the name made sense.

Over the next few days, Sorey and Mikleo spent as much time as they could together as requested by Zenrus. With the advent of his departure encroaching on the sanctity of the secret deep love they held for each other, it was of most importance that they stayed in each other’s company until the very last day.

They never did much more than sneak swipes at each other’s hands when standing close together. At night, Mikleo was implored to sleep under Zenrus’s roof while Sorey rested in his own abode. It had been a calculated effort by the elders to ween them from each other unknowing of the promise that they had made, of the transgression that Mikleo had committed by telling Sorey his true name. It mattered not, for when the fated day arrived, as tight-lipped as they had been, they could not hide how horribly broken-hearted they were.

The soldiers that hailed from the Hyland Kingdom sailed from the canal city of Ladylake, shoring their ship on the white sands that skirted the Aroundight Forest below Elysia. A woman of high caliber was the first to disembark from the ship. Her primrose hair contrasted with the royal blue that represented her king and princess. She was a busty woman, yet men in her company knew better than to ogle her for it wasn’t a sign of beauty but of strength. She carried herself as a skilled warrior and the right-hand of her princess. Before guiding the soldiers to the arch that served as the threshold between the human world and the seraphic world, she strapped her sapphire spear to her back with a thick leather belt that was consumed by her cleavage.

The trek up the mountain to the gate of Elysia wasn’t arduous. The seraphim, as protective as they were of their home, had made the path easy to climb with their oldest members of society in mind. Despite the hazy darkish purple scenery of the Aroundight Forest, it offered a calming mysticism that the soldiers were unfamiliar with and even criticized. The curtain of trees opened up tantalizingly slowly to the majestic apex where the bright blue skies met with the grass-covered rocky tops of the mountains.

“So, this is the true appearance of the lost island called Elysia,” the fearsome woman whispered to herself.

The Hyland Kingdom’s forces were not to be trifled with, but they prided themselves in being less barbaric than their enemy to the northeast—the Rolance Empire. Unlike them, they had somewhat more amicable relations with the celestial race, boasting that they were worthier of their pacts with them; hence their arrival to deliver the Oracle to the kingdom.

When Mikleo first saw the woman in blue, he felt a knot twist in his stomach. If she was simply an official, who was the princess that Sorey had to marry? A wall-like girl with the appearance and resilience of an ogre? He would never know. He, as he had been taught, was never to leave the mountain unless he most certainly wished for death. That was also why he was so nervous about Sorey leaving with these people. He had been kept pure and safe on Elysia. Surely, if he were to venture out into the world of humans where war was common and pirates sullied everything and every place they went, he would lose the bright white light that shined in his soul.

Even when this woman bowed before Zenrus and Sorey, poised and dignified and bound by his duty, there was a tension that no one could describe. She introduced herself as Maltran the Blue Valkyrie that represented the Hyland Kingdom and aided the princess. She had come for the Oracle Sorey, who was now of age to marry Alisha.

“Must I marry someone I’ve never met?” he asked with a straight face like a diplomat. “Wouldn’t such an act compromise the purity that has been cultured within me and lead me into temptation?”

“Marriage is simply the bond between the next in line for the throne and her guide through life,” Maltran explained to him. There had been a hint of irritation with his rather presumptuous concern; however, there was also the semblance of jealousy in her garnet eyes. “This is to keep peace, and as such, it is imperative that you follow through.”

Mikleo, who had night before told him his true feelings, waited for him to say something to counter this archaic idea. Alas, Sorey said nothing. It was as if he was accepting that this was his fate. There was no turning back as he conceded, wished everyone a happy everlasting life, and joined Maltran and her soldiers down the mountain and through the forest back to their lavished ship.

Sorey had been groomed as a young man of simple tastes. Cut off from the rest of the human world and its vices, he had to question the piety of the ones spiriting him to Ladylake. What was life like with all these fancy doodads and unnecessary decoration to display their religious belief? Admittedly he was naïve, but he still had his principles. The life of a royal, he already knew, was not one that he wanted.

Life in Elysia had gotten quiet now that Sorey had left for the city. Mikleo waited for the day that he would return, his nose upturned to the modern-day commodities and novelties. But that day never came. Days passed. They turned into weeks then into months and years. Sorey never came back, and the water seraph could only believe that he truly forgot their promise. He had been married to the princess-now-queen. So long he had waited that he simply let his body grow and develop. His aquamarine hair that felt like masses of clouds had become an avalanche down his back, and while he was still slender, his body became slightly more masculine. His shoulders had broadened, and the androgyny of his face evolved into the suave handsomeness of a foreign prince. His cerulean clothes had gotten too small for his developed stature, swapping for white adventurer’s clothing and sextuple capes that flowed behind him like the water he commanded.

It was not the only thing that had changed about him. In the days after Sorey’s departure, he had become isolated and depressed; he had lost the other half of his heart when he left. Zenrus’ solution was to simply take his mind off of it. He asked Kyme and Natalie to train him.

“He should learn to defend himself in case things don’t go as planned,” he mentioned to them.

Mikleo was definitely hesitant at first. What point was there in harming things when there was no one to protect? But he grew to understand the importance of learning how to fight. So he sharpened his skills under Kyme and Natalie. He learned how to control his water and conjure up spells from the former and how to fight with his staff from Natalie. In time, he developed his own style. Instead of using currents, Mikleo froze the water to create needle-sharp projectiles and shields from ice. Instead of using his staff to deflect attacks, he learned to dance out of the way of his adversaries and use it as a club. He wanted to learn to fight; he had to learn to fight because if he could fight, he would find his way back to Sorey.

Time made him cold and reserved to the world. He loved everyone in his village dearly, but his motivation stemmed from seeing Sorey’s smile again. He trained his body and mind to become the epitome of the sentinel. He had become the perfect bodyguard for the one he had always loved.

Eight years after the Oracle had left the Mountain Village of Seraphim on the lost island, he was ready to set out into the world. He had to find him so he could forever stay by his side.

Chapter Text

Waves gently swished all around him in an impenetrable darkness. In his mind, he only dreamed of the bathwater that he used to share with the only complement to his soul, but the faint creaking bothered him. It wasn’t the creaking that sounded when something was being pushed beyond its limit to snap. It was a low creaking accompanied by the equally quiet shuffle of stationary things around him. The ebb and flow underneath it all offered a soothing rocking motion like that of a baby’s cradle, and it reminded him of when they were infants and Zenrus used to lull them to sleep with old folk songs passed down through the millennia.

The air smelled of fish and salt, and while some would be opposed to the musk, it comforted him. Perhaps it was merely the scent of adventure that quelled his anxious heart and coaxed it away from the familiar mountain island he had known his whole life, or maybe it was simply because he was a water seraph. The more this scent drifted around him, the more he picked up hints of oak or pine—he wasn’t quite sure even with all his studies into the flora around Elysia. Then the sickly aroma of rum intruded his nose. And every once in a while, a deep inhale transformed the smell into a strange taste on his tongue.

He was climbing slowly out of whatever void he had fallen into. He was beginning to register unfamiliar sensations on his bare skin. What were they if not his clothes? Damp and sticky, somewhat grainy. Maybe he wasn’t wearing anything, and his skin had been embraced by the very water he controlled. Had the God of Water Amenoch met with him at some point? He climbed further; something soft yet stringy and drenched was on his back, sticking to it like tape. All around him there was a moistness that cooled his body. Cotton linen—bed sheets—and a thicker comforter over him. His head was floating on a cloud that had been soaked through.

It was becoming harder and harder to climb, his limbs becoming stiff and heavy as if he had been paralyzed. He forced himself to continue, however, until he was completely immobile. The darkness glowed a deep red first, then golden orange, then radiant yellow. Finally, he opened his lilac eyes to the burning brightness of a candlestick.

Groggily, Mikleo moved his hand to his face, immediately noticing that the circlet he had always worn since he was a toddler was missing. Alarmed that it had been stolen or misplaced—just not there on his forehead—he lurched forward from his supine position in the small cot. He was speechless, his mouth dry. He scanned his surroundings.

He had learned that the strange mixture of smells—salt, fish, and pine as it was—was all because he had been asleep in a ship’s cabin. Kerosene lanterns hung from the ceiling in a crude iron chandelier above a small round table used for eating and playing card games. His cot was situated in a far corner from the door with a little modest nightstand next to him. On it, his circlet and a pitcher of water. The cabin was decorated with many treasures ranging from colored glass vases to golden anchors that weighed far less than they appeared to one or two treasure chests containing random knickknacks.

Mystified and bewildered, his attention fell to the ground by the door of the cabin where a pile of wet rags sat. He touched his skin, drawing the connection that he had been dried off with them. But then…where were his clothes? He felt a peculiar friction down his waist only to realize that he was without undergarments as well.

“Why am I naked?!” he whispered, panicked, to himself. “What marauder would dry a man and take his clothes away?” A bubble of nausea arose from his belly. “Ugh, why do I feel so sick? Where even am I?”

There was some sort of chattering outside of his cabin. It sounded like a young girl and four men. They were discussing something about their cargo waking up and talking to himself, to which one of the men suggested that he had come down with some sort of seaborne delirium. The youngest-sounding of the men scoffed at the idea, peeking in through a slight crack in the door. They spoke again, this time questioning if they had instead happened upon a siren-turned-human. If that were the case, this man was prepared to harpoon him.

“See, this is why you got demoted in the first place,” one of the men, also young and somewhat lackadaisical based on his voice, sighed. “Look, we should just go talk to this guy, make sure he’s got his sea legs, and drop him off somewhere.”

“Judging from his clothes, he doesn’t have his sea legs and would probably die if we just left him on an island or something,” the girl countered, clearly not interested in this new find. If not for the sarcastic wit evident just vaguely in her voice, Mikleo would have felt offended. “Which reminds me—Benwick, did you dry those clothes yet? We need them perfectly clean if we plan to dump him naked and sell those garments.”

“L-Lady Edna, would that not be rude?” this so-called Benwick stammered. “We can’t allow a siren of that physique to gallivant in the nude.”

“You are aware that sirens can eat people, right?” another man, deep and flirtatious was his voice, asked him.

“I-I-I’m well-aware of that!”

“Aye, Benwick does have a point,” the last voice, deep but not flirtatious, conceded. “Still, those clothes were strange indeed. And that circlet—”

“Oh, Benwick, don’t forget to pawn off that circlet,” the young apathetic girl named Edna added. “I’m sure it’s worth a fortune with an emerald that big set into it.”

“Hey now,” the lackadaisical voice chided. “We might be pirates, but something like that might be a family heirloom or something.”

“Your point?”

Mikleo listened to the banter closely. He had heard the word “pirate”, and if that was truly what he had heard, he asked himself how he had come to be on their ship. He wanted to confront them about his missing items, but the idea of jumping out of the room with nary a thread on him sent a shiver up his spine. Aside from Zenrus and Sorey, no one had seen his bare body—then the thought struck him like an oar to the head. Whoever it was that had taken his clothes had seen him naked. Face reddening like port wine, he hid under the comforter, and he listened carefully for the sound of people entering the room.

What was he going to do if they did intrude on him? He could have held them at ice-point. There were five of them—he couldn’t fight all of them at once. Sure, he could take Benwick captive, giving him back only when his clothes were returned. He still had the staff that he had made himself out of the trees around Mabinogio Ruins, which conducted the mana that was infused into the air as well as spewed unseen from the earth. And he did excel at using it as a club.

Of course, all this overthought was for naught. A strong gloved hand pulled the comforter back, and his pale backside was revealed. The cool sea air that snaked in through the small window just a couple paces from the cot slapped him, and he could only yelp from the surprise of feeling the safety and the warmth of his covers being torn away from him as the ocean chill greeted him.

“So, he was awake!” the flirtatious man chortled.

Mikleo slowly peeked over his shoulder at him. This man was much taller than him with long wild silver-to-peridot green hair spread behind him like tattered wings then tapered down into a braid. There was a single long bang that leapt from his forehead. He was, for the most part, shirtless; a coiling white tattoo spun around his torso and most likely his legs. There was a jarring embroidered and tasseled shoulder pauldron on his right arm with a burgundy cape reaching to notch of his elbow. He clearly had some sort of fascination with belts—one on each wrist of differing lengths, one wrapping snuggly around his chest and presumably was what kept the pauldron sitting on his shoulder, one that wrapped around his waist that held up some little purse, one on his left thigh, and three on his right thigh. His boots were rather plain, and as he turned to talk with the next person of interest, there was a sturdy ivory gun holster with a flintlock pistol tucked into it on his rear.

The man standing next to him was the polar-opposite of this happy-go-lucky buffoon. He was downright scary—as a pirate should be. His face was hard yet still held an ephemeral beauty akin to that of the seraphim. His yellow-to-gold hair was short yet wind-tossed, tamed down by the massive black and gold plumed captain’s hat. One of his ice-blue eyes was covered by a similarly decorated eyepatch far too extravagant for a run of the mill ruffian, adorned by a shining red jewel where the eye would be. That same jewel was set in a brooch that held his ruffled blouse and ascot together, which hung over a wine-colored velvet vest. A pearly coat trimmed with black and gold reached down to the floor, enshrouding premium cinnamon pants and strapped boots. A gold chain had been looped through a belt loop.

Next still was a strange pirate-samurai man with a fearsomely large sword on his back. His face wasn’t as rugged as the first man but not as pristine as the second. In fact, his face was bisected—human-like on the left but marked with evil on the right. A saffron headband held his hair up like a ridiculous patch of raven-colored wild grass to reveal that devil eye that made Mikleo feel uneasy. The black markings on his face trailed and tapered down the side of his neck, ending where a vermillion scarf was tied. One arm was decorated with a thick gold band and bandages while the other side was an entire pectoral guard and shoulder pauldron combination complete with a matching bracer that had an intriguing oriental design. His hips were encased in more guards tied with gold ribbon, and his legs morphed into billowing purple pants before armored boots similar to the bracer pressed the fabric to his calves. His feet were the strangest parts of the ensemble—a pair of flat geta sandals and toed socks. Mikleo couldn’t help but wonder what he would do if they got wet.

The fourth man—who appeared much younger than them—looked more like a country bumpkin than a pirate. Compared to the others, his clothes were as plain as any civilian pretending to be a pirate. His tattered pirate’s hat doubled as a nest for his baby sylpheagle, sitting on his hair…that matched said sylpheagle right down to the curling antenna hair that stuck up from both their heads. He wore an oversized striped red blouse under a simple leather vest. His pants were held up by a single giant belt loosely on his thin hips as well as around his stick-like calves. His shoes were essentially falling apart at the seams, and the only pricey item he had on him was the magnificent telescope tucked in a hard leather case on his back.

Lastly was the apathetic girl, whose ice-blue eyes were identical to the lavishly-dressed man, and Mikleo could only draw the conclusion that they were related. She had the same yellow-to-golden hair down to the very length and style save for the side ponytail that had been constricted in a pear-colored silk ribbon. A metal copper headband lined over the crown of her head, burying the ends in those golden locks. Over the thin white frilled blouse befit for a lady and held closed with a single ruby brooch, a vest of sangria and dotted with gold trim sat. Gold chains hung loosely from the ends, their purpose either simply for decoration or otherwise unknown. Like her older male counterpart, her double-tiered skirt was something of a caramel color, with a dandelion petticoat peaking from underneath. Black pinstriped stockings fed into buckled knee-high pumped boots, making her taller than she was by about three inches. The strangest thing about this girl was the peach umbrella of which the handle was shaped like a heart and a small golden mascot hung from one of the ribs.

Certainly a strange band of beings, and Mikleo debated whether to address their eccentric fashion sense or to defend his bare bottom from their gaze until he got his clothes back. After all, if anyone was going to attack first, it should be him—the very un-seeming, very naked, and very confused hostage on this pirate ship. Then he realized that perhaps taking a hostage himself with only a wooden staff was probably the least frightening adversary. His circlet was metal and could be a sharp object if he held it a certain way. Yes, that was a good plan! His amethyst eyes fell on the jewelry.

The water seraph leapt off the flattened bed to the weakest-looking patron before him, grabbing the circlet from the table. He held him close, the pointed hook on the front digging into the young man’s neck at just the right spot that he could wrench out his jugular vein if he was pushed enough.

“A hostile, eh?” the lackadaisical samurai pirate sneered. “I knew it was a bad idea to rescue this guy!” He gripped his giant sword with a calloused hand. Had this man not taken dedicated care for his sword, the number of battles he had fought in would have been evident; the clues to just how battle-worn he was lie in the faint scars on his body. “Let the scrawny dude go, and I won’t tear you limb from limb.”

The viciousness exuding from the man seemed amplified from what felt like a chilling evilness. The devil eye appeared to have been glowing from the bloodlust that seemed uncharacteristic for someone that sounded like they had far too much time on their hands. And the sword, now pulled before him and aimed at him and his meat shield, shined crimson. It struck a fierce terror in his heart, and no matter how hard he tried to fight against the desire to do as he was told to release his captive, Mikleo shakily took the circlet from the young man’s neck. Death came for everyone, but he didn’t want to meet her just yet—not until Sorey had grown old with him.

“Everyone, just relax, would ya?” the man with long braided hair sighed. He shrugged before approaching the new face aboard their ship, hand cupping chin as he examined him thoroughly. “Hm, I thought so.”

While he was already cornered, the water seraph—still as naked as the day he was born—stepped back into the wall of the cabin. He detested the way that this man was looking at him, but there was nary a thing he could do to hide himself. He then remembered there was a girl present, and his immediate instinct upon that notion was to at least hide his nether regions haphazardly with his slender hands.

“What is it, Zaveid?” the fancily-dressed man asked.

“He’s a seraph like you, me, and Edna. Well, at least that explains why the seas were pretty calm around him despite the storm.”

“Whatever he is—if he plans on staying on this ship, he’s going to pull his weight,” Edna harrumphed. “I’m not babysitting any stragglers we pick up, got it?”

“Ever the charmer,” Zaveid heartily laughed.

“Do you want me to throw you overboard?”

“Talk with your brother about that first or else he’ll punt the ship into next week again.”

Mikleo slowly let down his guard. He started to associate the names to the faces. Edna was the little pirate girl. Eizen was the fancy one. Zaveid was the one with the strange fashion sense. That left the samurai and the one he had just taken hostage, and he waited quietly and patiently for their names to come up in the conversation. One thing he was proud of concluding was the fact that Eizen and Edna were related, which either meant he had to be extra careful or simply refrain from teasing either one too much.

Teasing? He wondered why he thought he would tease them. He didn’t have any intention of staying with these people on their ship, and then his mind returned to that fact that Zaveid picked up that he was a seraph. Were they seraphim? How could they tell other than outward appearance?

“How do you know I’m a seraph?” he asked after finding the courage to intrude on the bickering between the tanned man and the small girl. The talking ceased at once. “Can you detect it, or is it just that obvious?”

Eizen and Zaveid exchanged glances at each other. The samurai, too, was confused by the question. The young pirate cleared his throat, and Edna let out an exasperated sigh. Tugging on her brother’s sleeve, she beckoned him to lower himself so she could speak into his ear.

“Aye, I suppose that would be a good idea even if we need to keep moving,” he gruffly said to her. “Benwick, go up to the deck and let everyone else know we’re staying in Pendrago tonight.”

“Aye, aye, captain!” Benwick, the young pirate, saluted. He took one last look at Mikleo before climbing up the series of steps to the deck above.

Unsure of what to think of his supposed rescuers and where he even was, he revisited the section of the Celestial Record he had memorized about their destination. Pendrago…it was a port city unlike the canal city of Ladylake where gondolas were used to move around. At least in the capitol, solid ground allowed people to move independently and without restraint. He felt safer on land even if he was a water seraph. The Celestial Record itself came to mind—where was it? If it wasn’t with his clothes, why not with his circlet?

The look of anxiousness and possibly slight seasickness was evident, as perplexing as it was to the four that were left in the cabin. Eizen knew it wasn’t because the seas were rough, but there had been a negligible pull of the ship as it neared the port. The calls of cargo men and other ship workers echoed outside, some warning of the ship pulling up to the dock and some ordering where to unload things from a trade ship.

Of course, there was still the matter of Mikleo’s clothes, which no one apologized for taking but had kindly dried them off using as many candles as they had onboard in the other corner of the cabin; leaving it to dry by wind and sun put them at risk for blowing away or another pirate swiping them. While he was grateful that they had done that kindness for him, he was sure they searched it for any items they could sell. Eizen, Edna, Zaveid, and the samurai left the room so he could get dressed. There was still some salt left in the grain of the fabric of his pants—most likely from apparently wading in the water—yet when he touched them, he began to recall just how he had at least ended up in the sea. Pulling on his shirt then his tunic and gloves, the memory became more vivid. He reluctantly tied up his knotted and matted hair, cursing that as soon as he had the freedom, he would buy a comb to get them out. Before sliding his circlet back onto his forehead under his bangs, he stared at its great emerald.

“Sorey…” he breathed. “I can’t get distracted. I have to find him. I need to be by his side and protect him.”

But he had to question his own motivation. What, exactly, was he wanting to protect him from? The woman that had whisked him away to a new land for some cockamamie wedding? He couldn’t stand the thought of her, but he couldn’t let his anger get the better of him. He slid the circlet onto his forehead.

As he stepped out from the cabin into the long wooden hallway that felt more like a twisting tunnel than that, he heard Edna’s voice tear the silence asunder in frustration, more emotion than he had heard from her since he met the crew. While he was interested to know what would elicit such a reaction, he needed to understand where he had come up. He looked on the walls, plain as the dead trees the wood had been used, for any indication. He carefully walked to stern of the ship, climbing up the creaking steps up to the deck still searching for clues. What he found filled him with the long-forgotten wonder and amazement that had driven him and his dearest Sorey to travel the world.

Blue skies bleeding into peach as the golden sun set behind him, the clouds a light lavender with silvery outlines. The deck was crawling with pirates swabbing and moving cannons or ropes, Eizen and Edna standing above them all at the helm as they worked. They kept an eye out for anyone that got injured, and as it turned out, someone had albeit only by scratching his arm on the corner of a crate holding ammunition. They didn’t leave their post, and when Mikleo heard someone call out from the crow’s nest that they were approaching Pendrago, the samurai-pirate climbed up to them.

“Alright, we’ll be pulling into the port soon,” he notified. “Are we having a night or just restocking?”

“Just restocking,” Eizen replied. “We need to get back to Ladylake before those marauders come back and sink the Van Eltia. Rokurou, go check up on that kid.”

Mikleo had now learned the name of the ship he was on and the final man that had been in the room with him, and he felt uncomfortable. Why was this ship heading to Ladylake? And what marauders?

Rokurou nodded in his direction, signaling to the captain of the ship that the supposed “kid” was standing not too far behind him. He got a laugh out of watching him stare at the cresting waves around them like the curious child he felt he was. He almost wanted to make fun of him for being a water seraph that had never been at sea, but perhaps it was too cruel to rain on his parade when they had just become acquainted.

Once the ship had docked in Pendrago, and the pirates disembarked to buy supplies at the many shops, Eizen rounded up Rokurou, Zaveid, and Edna. The four of them had to be his most trusted persons, Mikleo had concluded. Something about this fearsome man was more than that—he commanded his ship with what seemed like an iron fist that was only matched by his sister if not surpassed by her. Yet when the water seraph looked at him, there was a sturdy protectiveness to him. Whether or not he was that way to his sister, to the crowd with him now, or to his entire crew had yet to be determined; Mikleo did not feel like he was included and was perfectly okay with it. He didn’t want to be a part of them. He wasn’t a pirate. He was Sorey’s personal bodyguard…well, he would be once he found him.

He didn’t expect to be guarded much longer with this crew, and while he could have stayed with them to reach Ladylake then leave their company, he was nonetheless stuck with them at that moment. The question was what to do with his time. Surely, he wasn’t needed to be with them.

“The five of us will be getting a few barrels of bourbon and rum,” Eizen said. “We’ve got a long way to Ladylake, and I’m not having an episode like last time…Zaveid.”

“Oh, come on!” Zaveid grumbled. “Can you blame me? We stopped on an island after going a week without food and not a drop of alcohol. How was I supposed to know that the plants there were hallucinogenic? They just looked like cabbages!”

“He’s not wrong, Eizen,” Rokurou sided. “If I had been hungry and thirsty out of my mind like he had been that day, I would’ve eaten anything, too. Not going to lie, though—you seemed to have enjoyed the view back then a little too much. With the way he was on that tree, I mean.”

There was mischievous and suggestive grin aimed at the captain, whose face had gone as red as the jewel in his eye-patch. Edna spun her umbrella on her shoulder, hiding behind it as she snickered at her brother’s chagrin.

“I quite remember how you were that night,” she teased. “Couldn’t hold yourself back, and you even called that lumbering idiot a delicious hunk of meat before eating him.”

“Ed-na!” Eizen gasped.

“Listen, I’m about half your age but know more than you could ever hope to guess.”

Mikleo couldn’t begin to understand what crude comedy show he was listening to. He didn’t want to understand; the purity of mind and body was important to him, and he had to maintain it if he wanted to see Sorey again. He stepped back a bit away from the small party of questionable scoundrels for a little stall carrying handmade items.

The little old woman that was in charge of it sat motionless, a painted red smiled on her face which made her look like a living doll. She greeted him was a shallow nod as he browsed her wares for what he so desperately needed. He quietly looked, eyes shifting from pocket mirrors to pocket watches to pocket books until he happened on pocket comb cut from blue tourmaline.

“Has that caught your eye?” the old woman asked with a tremor in her raspy voice. Mikleo gingerly picked it up. It was much sturdier than he had initially thought. “That crystal represents the tranquility of the blue sea. For someone that looks as majestic as you, it would be a nice fit. And, if I might add, it’s enchanted.”

“Enchanted?” Mikleo asked. “How?”

Zaveid approached the stall as well. He eyed the comb, scoffing at it like it were some girlish accessory despite the old woman’s disapproving glare. “Enchanted, my ass,” he went on. “Only thing enchanted out here is the Abbey’s altar boys, and that’s a stretch. Pun definitely intended.”

“Silence,” Mikleo ordered. The comment rubbed him the wrong way the same way that the preceding conversation had, and now more than ever, he wanted to know what about the comb was enchanted. “Go on, ma’am,” he respectfully said.

The old woman straightened herself. “If you comb your hair with that comb, for the next five days, your hair will be impervious to tangles.”

“Told you,” Zaveid said.

Mikleo’s eyes told him to get lost. The shirtless pirate raised his hands, backing away slowly to the closest tavern where his shipmates were waiting to collect the barrels. While it was undeniably possible that he was probably being swindled, but he really needed the comb. He handed her one hundred gold pieces for it, pushing it into a soft small pouch for safekeeping. Once he returned to the pirates, he found that Rokurou and Zaveid were smiling a little too strongly for his liking. Eizen had gone inside of the tavern while they had been staring at each other, coming back out to tell them that they were allowed one drink before they headed back out to sea.

“I…I don’t drink,” Mikleo uneasily said.

“You will once you have a beer,” Rokurou laughed. “You seem a little too tense, so a drink will help you out.”

“No, really, I’d rather not.”

“You’re not going to be part of this crew and not have a drink with your new captain,” Zaveid pressured.

“New captain? What the hell are you talking about? I didn’t sign up to be a pirate.”

“This is what happens to people that get rescued by us,” Edna explained. “So if you don’t want to be stuck in this city where your pretty face will get you mugged or something much worse, you should take the acceptance and stay with us.”

To be offered an acceptance to a pirate crew was a strange event. Most prospects were hazed. Pick some pockets, sink a ship, pillage a village, eat hallucinogens while playing strip poker. If they couldn’t handle the job, they were left behind to fend for themselves against other pirates. But the crew that manned the Van Eltia was different. They didn’t believe in all the wickedness that pirates were typically steeped in. It was a ship that strived to make the seas a safe place, as a place to have a good time evidenced by whatever it was that Zaveid had done on that island with those hallucinogenic cabbages. Nevertheless, becoming a pirate was not close to anything that Mikleo wanted to do. He had to find Sorey, not sail the thousands of seas in search of pleasure.

Then again, perhaps that was the reason why they enlisted him. He was a stick in the mud lost in the world, and furthermore…

“We have no idea what happened before we found you,” Zaveid purred.

He made his way to the barstools, tapping the countertop in a beckoning fashion before ordering four beers and a bottle of rum. They couldn’t get so drunk that they couldn’t do their jobs on the Van Eltia, but getting Edna drunk would calm her down so she didn’t nag everyone while they were working.

“Everyone, grab a drink and seat because it’s story time!”

Eizen, Rokurou, and Edna were not opposed. Mikleo, understandably, was annoyed despite knowing that attempting to retrace his steps would remind him how he had ended up with them in the first place. The bartender poured out four beers and a shot of rum then proceeded to clean his mugs and glasses, most likely listening to the zesty tale that the water seraph was to tell.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Gramps, I have to leave,” Mikleo said.

It was the request that he had been practicing for months once his training was nearing its completion. He had never been one to demand freedom from the safe but now suffocating life atop Elysia’s mountain. Likewise, Zenrus did not want him to go out into the world. The outside world was dangerous, which made Mikleo even angrier. He had let Sorey go into the unknown world with people he didn’t know, to never return, to live as someone’s trophy husband while he pretended to be royalty. He couldn’t bring this to light with the old seraph.

“Mikleo, if you head out now, you will put yourself and us in danger,” Zenrus warned him.

“And if that truly is the case, then what about Sorey? Gramps, I’m sorry, but I can’t live like this. I need to find him. I need to bring him home.”

“And how do you plan to do that?” Zenrus waddled up to him, his wrinkly hands holding Mikleo’s covered ones. “This is suicide. If you go to Ladylake alone, they will hang you in a public execution.”

“For trespassing?”

“For kidnapping their Oracle! Humans are misfits, blinded by their own desires!”

“But that’s why!” Mikleo got down on his knees, clutching Zenrus by his shoulders, staring into his beady eyes partially hidden by his shaggy eyebrows, and pleadingly asked him to give him his blessing to leave Elysia. Zenrus couldn’t refuse him; he saw into his heart like how he had seen into humans’ hearts. The love dwelling within was strong and reckless, and his only wish was for him to be safe. He reminded him that his element was water, not fire.

The next morning, Mikleo set off from the island where Elysia was founded in a small wooden dinghy. It didn’t have a sail, just a single oar crudely carved from a dead log. He had built it in secret over months and years for this day. Woodworking was not his talent, but he had tested the boat enough times and mended it enough times that it was seaworthy. If it sank now after so many trials and errors then, and only then, would he give up on trying to find Sorey.

He wasn’t required to eat or drink to stay alive, but the motions of providing sustenance to himself would keep him sane. What small rations he had would help him replenish energy faster, and given that he would have to row miles and miles with little rest to get to his destination, it was imperative. He had a map that he painstakingly drew from memory to help him navigate; Ladylake was a very long way away. The sooner he left, the better it would be.

He didn’t look back at the village. The only one who knew he had left was Zenrus. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Natalie and Kyme that he was leaving, but he was sure that the skills they had taught him would come in handy. They would be proud.

The small dinghy was pushed out slowly, catching the waves and tides of the crystal blue waters that crawling up and slid down the sandy beach. Its captain leapt in once the water was deep enough, propelling himself out into the great beyond with the oar. His heart was racing. This was what it was like to go on an adventure.

The sea was so calm. Mikleo forgot that water was the symbol of tranquility—he had been so caught up with making a force of battle. But here, under the sun that served as the stand-in for Sorey when he needed someone to talk to, it was all so serene. It had to be. He was a water seraph, after all.

Despite this fact, the trip wasn’t all smooth sailing. Storms formed in the ocean at random, fierce and raging. There were times that the thunder and lightning frightened him, and without the sun to grant him comfort, he had to wait until they subsided before progressing. The rain fell hard and loud on the wood. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought that the drops would pierce his boat like bullets. But he did know better. This was merely a test.

During a storm that had started not long after he left the island, bludgeoned by the torrential rain, Mikleo looked to the sky. Even if the sun wasn’t where he could see it, it was still there. Even though Sorey wasn’t by his side then, he was still wishing to meet with him.

Deep breaths. This was part of his training. Tranquil mind, steady heart. Become the water itself, and there was nothing he couldn’t do. Mikleo gracefully moved his arms like the waves were extensions of his body. Manipulating water on this grand of a scale wasn’t something he had learned, but the principles that his mentors taught him were easy to adapt. Ebbing and flowing, his lithe body stretched and bent and moved the waves. He had closed his eyes as serenity overcame him, opening them once again when he realized that the raindrops were no longer pelting his face. They were stopping in mid-air, suspended in mana that was allowing him to control the water.

Never before had he felt so liberated existing as the element he had power over. Dancing by himself in his tiny vessel felt like he had gone to some beautifully strange world where the ocean water reflected the sky like a mirror. Now it was dark and grey, but when the storm had emptied itself into the aquatic basin, the sun returned, enveloping him in a warmth that could only be described as sublime.

“Sorey, you came out again,” he lovingly told it. “I know you weren’t there, but could you see me? Could you feel me move the water around?” He gazed up at the sky. “I can’t wait till I see you again. I want to show you all the things I’ve learned.”

Days passed, and rations were getting low. Mikleo had done his best to simply steer his dinghy straight until he found some indication that he was near the city. The only indication he ever got were the fleets of pirate ships sailing in the distance. He knew not to get near them, for they would plunder his vessel and take him captive.
No one was ever sure what pirates did with the stragglers they met at sea. Some claimed that they would murder them without question while others said they would assimilate them into their crews. Mikleo didn’t want to find out which ones they were, so he stayed far from their courses.

More days passed, but still no sign of Ladylake. He began to accept that he had gotten himself lost, probably by turning at some point without realizing, or the currents carried him somewhere else while he rest during the nights. He rowed and rowed until he noticed the waves sounded more violent behind him.

“We’ve got a straggler off the bow!” a voice yelled.

“Oh no…” Mikleo gasped. He tried to paddle faster, but the pirate ship behind was massive.

He turned to see which kingdom it belonged to, but the jolly roger neither depicted Hyland nor Rolance. It was a skull between zigzagging bones. It was a bona-fide pirate ship.

“Halt!” another pair of voices ordered the water seraph. He kept paddling. “Halt, or we will destroy you!”

“Just my damn luck,” he muttered. He threw down his oar, the shadow of the pirate ship looming over him like death itself.

Ropes from the ship rolled down, snakes coiling just beneath the surface. A girl with red as blood hair slid down and swung into his dinghy. Her entrance nearly capsized the vessel, which frightened him more than her appearance.

She was clearly the captain of her ship, the skull and bones of the jolly roger miniaturized on her pirate’s hat. Periwinkle eyes that shined like the water’s surface contrasted with the black and grey coat obscuring a mint green ruffled blouse; like Eizen, she had silver tasseled should pauldrons reaching down and a single pocket on either side of her arms. A gold scarf tied like a bandana around her neck covered the V-neck opening, which offered only a tiny window at her chest. Brown leather belts with gold buckles wrapped around under her bust and on her hips under a tantalizingly small portion of her belly. Her black and white striped pants, tied tightly with red ribbon, reached down into her worn brown boots decorated with gold that had been put through the elements. Two thin green ribbons swayed behind her under the coat.

The girl herself had a deceptively kind face, and had Mikleo not known any better than to trust every pirate he saw on the seas, he would have foolishly asked for assistance. He stared at her, attempting to analyze what he could about this maiden pirate and her vessel. He glanced up to the deck only to be blinded by the sun. How treacherous like the currents that brought him to this unfortunate situation. The figures that had been with her were little more than blacked out silhouettes. There was one figure that didn’t look humanoid, though, but closer to a boulder. Whoever it was, they were shrouded in a heavy cloak from head to toe, which prompted him to wonder—why? It wasn’t necessarily hot on the sea what with the salty breeze keeping them cool when moving, but the sun beat down on their heads with a ferocity that would make them sweat and burn faster than any fire. Light that reflected off the surface warmed sea-goers as well, but not to such an extent, and they were far from the surface anyway.

While Mikleo was sizing up this pirate captain, she was scrutinizing him. A lone man out on a dinghy in the middle of nowhere with little food and water sparked her curiosity, yet there was an insatiable bloodlust in her eye that sent a chill up his spine—though, he couldn’t show that to her. The only thing she explicitly saw on him that seemed of any value was the book that he had read over and over when he didn’t have anything to tell the sun. But such a tome was rare, especially one that had gilded gold on its cover and pure silver on its corners.

“Aren’t you a bit ill-prepared to be out here by yourself?” she asked him coyly. She smirked at him, the telltale sign that she was plotting something.

Mikleo caught the ever-so-slight change in her face. He was cautious.

“I’m just travelling to the next city,” he explained. “I’m an adventurer, and I’d like to start from the canal city called Ladylake.”

“Ladylake, huh? And what might there be in Ladylake?”

“A safe starting point. I’m planning on mapping the world. Accurately.”

The pirate girl lifted her chin, slowly turning to look back her ship. She turned back to Mikleo just as eerily slow. “And you thought it was a bright idea to cross these seas by yourself in this sorry excuse for a boat?”

Mikleo began to feel very unsafe in these unknown waters. He couldn’t escape this ship, but he was confident in his ability to fight. Additionally, he realized, she hadn’t determined that he was a seraph, especially one that could control the very water they were floating on.

“Well, give me what you’ve got and we’ll leave you alone,” she said.

“I don’t have anything.”

“That’s a bloody lie if I’ve ever heard one. You’re not the one we’re looking for, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to leave empty-handed. You’ve got a copy of the Celestial Record—the very first that was written. It’s worth quite a bit of money, so hand it over. If you do, I promise you that we won’t kill you or leave you stranded out here.”

She reached behind her back inside her coat, pulling out a dagger made of obsidian crystal. The water seraph had learned about such weapons. They were said to be handcrafted by the God of Fire Musiphe. If a mortal was able to clear his trial by sailing through the sentient volcanoes and prove that they possessed the valor to confront him, he would make those weapons as a sign of their bravery.

But how could someone as low as a pirate come to possess them unless she had stolen them? Thievery was the opposite of bravery, and Mikleo was even more sure that she was nothing more than a dirty scoundrel.

Gripping his wooden staff tightly in his hand, he was prepared to shoot her off the boat and use the water to propel him far from them. But such magic conjuring required a lot of energy, and had the storm not drained him of his power, he could have done it right then and there.

“Oy, I wouldn’t fight if I were you,” someone with a rather sultry voice from the ship warned him. “You’re not the only seraph around here.”

“Seraph?” Mikleo gasped. They had him figured out; of course, only a seraph would attempt to fight with nothing but a dinky wooden staff.

If they already knew that he was a seraph, there was little point in lying in wait. As tiring as using his magic was, he commanded the ocean to defend him. He raised his staff like a seasoned mage, and a serpent of saltwater rose from the briny depths. Its head morphed into the vague shape of a water dragon—a long and terrifying snout, spiny fins, and undulating feelers that extended to either side of its face.

“I refuse to let you get in my way,” Mikleo said. Just as the pirate captain had a bloodlust in her eyes, he had an innate desire to defend and protect. “I must find him.”

Perhaps it was something other than mere magic. His mental state had changed remarkably, and he was cognizant of that change. The new personality that came out with dragon of the sea was unknown to him until that moment, supplemented by his wish to make it to his destination and wrench Sorey from the crown’s hands. If he were stopped now, he would never see his dearly beloved ever again. That. Could not. Happen. No matter the cost.

The dragon of the sea, composed of water with tiny schools of fish swimming within it, coiled around and around on itself, frightening the pirates of this ship. Even still, the pirate captain was undeterred. In fact, despite her prey’s flashy warnings and threats, he was vulnerable. She was agile for one born and raised on the seas, and she was quite perceptive. She stared at the serpent, and just from one look, she could tell that other than forming creatures from water, he could not command it to attack. He had never done anything as grand as that dragon, having only discovered recently that he could move water in large quantities on his own.

“You’re still wet behind the ears,” she murmured.

Dashing like a ninja, she homed in on Mikleo. She snatched the Celestial Record from the water seraph’s pouch on his back, breaking his concentration and consequently destroying the imposing dragon from the inside. Fish rained on both the dinghy and the pirate ship.

“Give that back!” Mikleo demanded.

“Not on your life!” the pirate captain scoffed as she grabbed onto one of the ropes and was hoisted back up to her crew. “Until we finish our contract, stealing treasure is the only way to make money. But don’t worry, we’ll sell it to someone who will take good care of it!”

Beside himself, heart sinking faster than any ship sunk by the fabled Flying Dutchman, he fell to his knees. He pleaded and pleaded that they relinquish the book back to him only for each request to fall on deaf ears. He didn’t hear anything over his cries, but he watched the pirate captain speak to the one in the cloak who walked to the very edge of the bow. Eyes like the finest peridot shined, and suddenly a great tempest formed overhead. Thunder and lightning cracked and popped, wind gusts tossing him from side to side on the tiny vessel. They grew more and more violent until he was thrown of the boat before it was smashed into pieces. Debris caught in the gusts whirled around him.

“H-Help!” Mikleo gasped and rasped and choked. “Please! I-I—I can’t—swim! Help me! Don’t leave—me here!”

“A water seraph that can’t swim?” one of the other crew members guffawed.

“I beg of you! Please!”

He managed to jump a little higher from the water in some vain attempt to latch onto anything that would support him. The broken splintered wood of the dinghy continued to spin around him in a tornado, one hurtling toward his head. While it struck him deftly enough to knock him unconscious, the golden circlet protected him from any would-be resulting laceration. The gusts died down, and the pirate crew watched as the water seraph began to sink into the abyss, the dark mysteriousness of the sea swallowing him whole.

Everything from that point was a far-off memory or a dream that he could barely begin to remember. He recalled drifting down, down, down into the darkness. Seraphim bodies weren’t as soft as human bodies, and things like smoke didn’t bother them when they breathed. Water in the lungs, however, was different. It couldn’t be filtered out…at least, not without some sort of help.

His chest throbbed with every breath that he unconsciously took, pulling in more fluid into his lungs. A haze was over him, and he couldn’t help to think that it was all a cruel joke. He could never save Sorey. He wasn’t ready enough. He had left far too early to even begin to think of bringing him back home. He was not the epitome of the sentinel that he thought he was; he was a failure.

Then something transpired. He didn’t know how it happened or why; it just did. Someone or something brought him to the surface. The wood remaining from the destroyed vessel floated into a loose raft, water placing him gently on his side atop them. The water trapped in his lung wormed out of his mouth, and the sea around him calmed to a standstill. He lay there, half-conscious and fully delirious, in the burning sun. His body was wracked with pain, his head especially pounding to the sound of the waves outside of his little ring of safety. He was wheezing.

Time passed, his eyes fluttering closed then open then closed then open until a shadow slowly encroached on him. It was the size of a giant pirate ship, but its sails were strangely pointed to the bow and ran alongside the hull. There was no jolly roger, only sigils.

“Hy…land…?” Mikleo uttered weakly. “So…rey…?”

The ship grew closer, and it became obvious to the healthy layman that it was neither of those. Whoever was sailing toward him, they had to be good people. At this point, Mikleo’s consciousness came in waves.

He was lifted out of the water with a large stone pillar.

He was placed in a bed.

He heard a girl’s voice and a laidback man’s voice.

Then…

Nothing.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“And then I finally came to find myself in your cabin,” Mikleo finished.

He hadn’t touched his beer, but everyone else had emptied at least three mugs. Edna had downed seven shots of rum and was still lucid. The more he reflected on the story, the crazier it seemed. To live on an island that barely anyone in the world knew about. To sail from that island to Ladylake to find someone named Sorey. To learn how to control water in a storm, and to cross paths with pirates while in a small vessel with no sort of defense except a dragon made entirely out of water. It was the stuff of drug-induced fairytales. Well, perhaps “drug-induced” was a bit much, but it was the beginnings of a journey that no one had taken as far as the Van Eltia crew was concerned.

“That’s one fucked-up tutorial mode,” Zaveid sighed. He took a gulp of his fourth mugful of beer. “But! This is all the more reason you should join our crew—right, Eizen?” He smiled, possibly drunk on the beer he had had.

“I can’t deny that,” Eizen agreed, trying to hold onto his sobriety like a wriggling cat. “Your boat’s been destroyed, and you already had a run-in with the notorious Scattered Bones. They’re the worst pirates out there in all the thousands of seas. If you were to get stopped again, they might just kill you.”

“Scattered Bones?” Mikleo repeated.

He thought back to the jolly roger. The bones were scattered in a way. He, however, had never heard of them. He had never heard anyone mention them. They weren’t a brand-new crew, but they were something of a fledgling. Regardless, they were a ruthless bunch when they deemed it was necessary to use force to get what they wanted. Their captain was named Rose for her hair, and her second-in-command was a mysterious seraph who had somehow gotten a hold of a pair of Eyes of the Fae. Such a power was only given if the user had managed to find the two islands considered to be old myths—Normin Eyeland and Katz Eyeland. By visiting these two islands, the user was granted the Eyes of the Fae in exchange for his normal vision only if he remains out of the sun.

“Any particular reason?” Mikleo asked.

“Eyes of the Fae are extremely sensitive to light,” Rokurou explained. “They’re meant to find enchanted beings and things—gods and shit. Too much sunlight, and the user is blind as a bat.”

It was a strange thing to quest for especially considering the consequence of disregarding proper protective eyewear, but different strokes for different pirates. It made sense then, to Mikleo, how the humans had determined him to be a seraph.

“That all said,” Edna interrupted. “I guess Meebo is going to join our crew.”

“I never agreed to that!” Mikleo countered. “A-And Meebo?!”

“At this point, you really haven’t a choice,” Eizen drawled. “You’ll be killed if you try to sail from Pendrago to Ladylake; Pendrago is a huge supporter of the Scattered Bones…enlists them for jobs and stuff. Sail with us, and we’ll get you to Ladylake—you just have to repay your debt.”

“I-I have a debt now?!” Mikleo screeched.

“Calm down, Meebo,” Edna said with ladylike posture and speech. “It’s only for the rest of your life.”

“Seraphim live for thousands of years!”

“So die early then.”

Rokurou let out a hearty laugh. “Well, all that’s left is to get this guy a title! Can’t have people calling ‘Mikleo’ or ‘Meebo’ everywhere. You made a dragon of water, yeah? Then how about the Dragon of the Sea, Mikleo?”

“No, please, that’s not—”

“Got a nice ring to it!” Zaveid joined in. He asked the bartender to top them all off. “Raise a glass, everyone! To our new shipmate, the Dragon of the Sea himself, Mikleo!”

While everyone in the bar and the crew members of the Van Eltia celebrated his anointment to piracy, Mikleo wasn’t sure whether he was happy to have found a new family or upset that he was betraying what Zenrus had taught him growing up. If it meant that he would find Sorey sooner, though, he was willing to take it. He couldn’t afford to be mugged again, and he now needed to recover the Celestial Record. Everything he had learned so far was preparation to take charge of his life. He wanted to spend it protecting those that mattered to him. He wanted to see the world, and he wanted to be forever at Sorey’s side.

Joining the celebration, Mikleo raised his beer mug with Zaveid, Eizen, and Rokurou before immediately chugging the barley alcohol to the very last drop.

Chapter Text

The sea breeze felt nice as it combed through her hair. Having spent her whole life on the ocean, the salty taste and fishy smell which put off many civilians and royals painted the concept of “home” to her. She never knew the sweet smells of bakeries or the incessant chatter of people or the sturdiness of land as well as she did the sea. And she kept that sentiment very close to her heart as she took her regular glance at the one whom she wanted to feel the same.

The sun was still out, which prevented her from stealing a kiss from the one she loved. He was particularly strict about exposing himself in the light because of his eyes, but he always made up for it at night when the silvery moon simply peeked into the captain’s quarters. It was only then, because the light wasn’t harsh enough to damage him, that he removed the dark and heavy cloak from his well-muscled body.

Under the cloak was a man around the same height as Zaveid. He wasn’t as built as him, looking slightly smaller and more delicate yet still appeared capable of snapping people in half. His hair was the same, too. It was just significantly shorter ending at the nape of his neck, but the silver-to-peridot coloring was exactly as the shirtless pirate on the Van Eltia. His eyes, though enchanted by the Fae, resembled the most beautiful and perfect moldavite gems, and they were quite possibly his most striking characteristic. Unlike others on the ship, his mouth was full of razor-sharp teeth. When he had first become part of the crew, his shipmates teased him about his mother being a shark despite him not having a mother or a father. Of course, there was a bright side to them. Whenever his captain was feeling particularly frisky, she urged him to sink them into her shoulders. And he always—always—obliged.

Captain Rose ran her ship with the philosophy that they were on this planet for a good time and not for a long time. Along with piracy, she and her crew dabbled in the markets, including the shady kind. Whatever spoils that had been saved up every two weeks was used partly to restock their supplies as well as to let her people go wild after selling off the rest. She was a strong captain and even benevolent to her subordinates despite the callousness she often displayed when she confronted that strange water seraph that couldn’t swim. She treated others as she wanted to be treated as long as they were compliant in the beginning. And her crew admired her for it. So when she granted them their time to get drunk, bed men and women, and gamble; they took it with a graciousness that would befit a queen more than a pirate.
She also wanted from her followers the same treatment. A girl had needs, and of everyone on the Scattered Bones, there was only one person that she allowed to touch her and kiss her and ravage her whenever she wished.

“Dezel, could you come here for a second?” she called out to this man.

Another man, much taller than her and Dezel but possessing a kind face, stood next to her. He was older than Dezel based on the soft wrinkles on his face, but whether they were truly from age and not the sun and salt was indeterminable. He wore a black top hat with a jeweled golden belt stitched around it, and his clothes consisted up a black and green quarter-sleeved shirt and dark brown pants. His hair was plentiful and voluminous, and it was all tied back into a loose tangling ponytail.

“I’m surprised that you’re so taken with him,” he said, his voice soothing and sweet. “Wind seraphim are known to be much wilder—not as wild as fire seraphim—but as the wind can be. Like a raging tempest.” He had a habit of crossing his arms whenever he spoke with her. It wasn’t ever in a defensive way but in a proud way.

“It’s just the way I like it,” Rose teased him. She had an alluring smirk that sometimes this man had to be cautious not to fall in love with. She was charming, which made her the perfect thief when she needed to be whether it was of hearts or of gold. “Your brother definitely is a wild man in the sack.”

“Well, once he gets started.” Lafarga chuckled before leaving his captain’s side to check on the cannons. “It’s one of the few times that he really gets to go crazy since he’s adamant about keeping up his tempered appearance,” he said over the sloshing water.

“Don’t I know it!” The two let out a laugh at their fellow pirate’s expense.

And it was that wildness that lit a flame in Rose. Bedding a seraph wasn’t an easy feat, as Lafarga had told her when they first met. Water seraphim were the easiest, according to him. It wasn’t an insult; it was an observation.

Water seraphim treasured the vulnerability and purity that came with making love. They preferred to be controlled and gave their partners the reins. It was very rare that the spirit of the tsunami, as they called it, took over and made them as hungry as others. When such a desire of that ferocity did overcome them, they took a long while to satisfy it. On the other hand, there were rumors that perhaps it was the best way to indulge—after all, they believed that their intercourse should move like the waves in slow, rhythmic motion.

Fire seraphim were the complete opposite of water seraphim. They sought passion and fun. They were dominant no matter where they were in the relationship. One-night stand or not, they wanted the excitement of the need for speed. Most of the other seraphim were put off by their views towards sex, but none of them ever seemed to care enough to curb their appetite.

Earth seraphim were more stoic and methodical and used proven methods to get their partners ready. They were observant in their quietness, learning incognito about all the things that made their partners tick. Did they like bondage? Did they have a need for long foreplay or short? As scary as they seemed, they were considerate, and patience was a virtue if it meant that the payoff would leave everyone happy. And once it was time, they were known to have the maximum sex appeal.

And finally, the wind seraphim. They were similar to earth seraphim but made their requirements obvious in various ways. The way they dressed, the way they talked, the way they ate their dinner at the table with the person they liked, the kind of fish they pulled from the sea when fishing, mating displays, et cetera. They were very the play-by-ear…or play-by-eye type of seraphim. And they were insatiable.

As such, Rose liked a man that was hard to figure out. It made their time together much more rewarding. The most she had figured out thus far was that Dezel’s personality was rather dichotomous. When they were in public, he actively avoided her or snapped at her. No one really knew why. It was common knowledge to every pirate on the ship that they were an item even if either one occasionally took different partners or even just pleasured themselves. But the second that they were by themselves in the captain’s quarters in the wee hours of the morning, Rose was usually busy undoing his soul.

But she didn’t feel like submitting him to her ministrations tonight. They had business to attend to, specifically about the enemy of their contractors based in Rolance. She was guiding the ship into Hyland territory in search of their target. She needed Dezel’s eyes to seek the person of interest out. Then, when they’d detained them, she would allow herself the pleasure of sleeping with him. Now was a time to sharpen her and the rest of her crew’s focus.

Dezel met with her and Lafarga near the helm. “What do you want?” he asked her gruffly. He looked more like a thug than someone with magical eyes. He crossed his arms, and the bad attitude that everyone had come to know was in full-force. “You know I hate being in places where I can see the water.”

“Don’t look at the water then,” she fired back, much to his irritation. She, Dezel, and Lafarga stepped towards the charts next to the wheel. She pointed at their approximate position on the boundary between Hyland and Rolance. Then she dragged her finger to Ladylake, circling it slowly. “We only have a few days to find the Hyland ship. Eguille predicts, based on the trade routes, that the ship carrying the target is mixed here. His coronation celebration starts two days after he arrives in Hyland, so we need to stop that. Then we need to bring him back to Rolance for execution.”

Lafarga was more of a pacifist than a fighter on the ship, and he looked uneasily at the charts. He never understood the purpose of this mission. What was the point? What was there to gain by executing innocent people? He remembered when the Scattered Bones had been contracted to search and destroy their target, though. He was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, they had been told. He had been trained to command the forces of nature to hurt people and commit acts of war against Rolance, exacerbating the tensions between the two kingdoms. Still, he felt uncomfortable with the whole mission.

“We need to capture him alive,” Dezel sighed. “Good luck with that.” He was disinterested, clearly, but he also never promised not to kill targets. It was simply a matter of someone getting to him before he did. “So, how are we intercepting the ship?”

“Like we always do,” Rose said with a nasty smile. “You’ll just have to, oh you know, rough up the seas a bit.”

She pointed again at the charts, this time using one of her daggers to mark the Hyland royal ship on the trade route. If Dezel created a dangerous enough storm that would knock it away from the trade ships, the Scattered Bones could meet it. It would be the only royal ship with mounted weaponry and battle-ready members. With their firepower, Rose knew that it would be easier than anything to sink it and take the target. And if he ended up getting shaken up as a result, she would just say it was an accident, a byproduct of their very necessarily rough apprehension.

“If we have to kill anyone on the ship, we’ll make sure the bodies are never discovered,” Rose finished up. “We’ll have to sink them.”

Lafarga had heard that tone in her voice before. Once, a couple years prior, they had taken a trading ship. It was a ship from Rolance carrying gold and jewelry to small island called Gododdin. The Scattered Bones had heard of the tremendous amount of loot on-board, and naturally, they aimed to steal it. Dezel had then used his tempest-swelling powers to throw it off-course, which inherently caused a number of the crew members to be thrown into the icy depths of the northern seas. The cold had instantaneously frozen and killed those people, and the bodies floated on the underlying current that would eventually wash them up on shore. The trade ship’s own cannonballs were used as weights carefully placed on the corpses to push them far below the surface and into the trenches that were obscured in darkness. Lafarga had viewed the whole thing as a mass murder, and for what else but loot that had turned out to be cheap fool’s gold anyway. The thoroughness of the coverup after the siege was the main reason that Rolance had enlisted them. They were a ruthless bunch, and Rose wouldn’t care if it meant that she could get her hands dirty just for the hell of it.

It hadn’t always been this way; no, this was a very recent change in their creed. It had come after some sort of event that no one on the ship could actually remember. It was a pocket in time that seemed to only exist as a far-off dream. How frustrating they had felt, and in a way, the callous nature of the pirates was the result of it. How did it become this way, and how could they go back?

“Oy, I can see ships due east of us!” a man in the crow’s nest alerted. He had long, bushy, flared hair like a fox’s tail. His face was strange, like a Kabuki actor’s interpretation of a fox. Even his ears were like a fox. He wore a leather bandit’s outfit, thick and aged but otherwise still comfortable. “Should we advance?” He leapt down from his perch, collapsing the telescope he was using and handing it off to another of the crew.

Rose glanced at him then in the direction he was spying. “Good work, Lunarre. Let us begin,” she said. “We can’t miss this opportunity.”

Lafarga felt uneasy to say the least. Moving in on trade ships again made him sad. Things didn’t used to be like this. There was someone that once had stopped her from doing this. The Scattered Bones moved to the chain of ships. In a matter of minutes, they would be fulfilling their mission.

Chapter Text

“Lady Maltran…I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Across the thousand seas on the other side of the world, the Hyland Kingdom stretched far and wide. It was comparable in size to Rolance, which instigated the growing tensions between the regions. Although, there were only a couple of populations encompassed by it as opposed to the other’s five or six cities and towns. Hyland covered Elysia, Ladylake, and Marlind while Rolance included Pendrago, Gododdin, Lastonbell, and the smaller communities that were the suffering offshoots of those cities. Other cities that were vying for independence were also divided. Hellawes and surrounding snow-covered cities stayed to the north, and Stonebury was the historic sister city to Lastonbell. There were even many places that had suffered the consequences of the conflicts—Kylfe and Forton to name a couple. The only places that remained neutral were Lohgrin and its surrounding area Lothringen as well as a small village hidden on a small island called Plitzerback.

But perhaps there was beauty in that conflict that could only be seen by those that lived far away from it on Elysia. Even if Zenrus had an agreement with Hyland, they were isolated from the political unrest that haunted both kingdoms. Almost negligible even. The peace that the seraphim lived in blessed them with flora and fauna. The ravages of war and the mounting disgust by humans for their own kind, however, left their lands barren.

Which is probably why Ladylake, the hub of the Hyland Kingdom, tried so hard to establish a rich and prestigious appearance to all who visited. Ladylake was built on a massive ocean-like lake tucked away in an inlet surrounded by mountains and still emptied into the seas. It was a canal city, where the use of gondolas was required to travel to different places. Of course, there were smaller areas that allowed for pedestrians to walk about, but it was primarily built on water and was to be traversed as such. The castle wall that divided the main district and the prestigious nobles’ district was fitted with a large waterwheel that spun to power the entire city and keep it afloat. If it stopped, Ladylake was doomed to slowly sink until it was lost underwater deep in the abyss below.

Additionally, the energy generated from it purified drinking water and allowed the royal engineers to built special ships called koiships. Koiships were the newest technological advancements as far as warships went. They were as large as regular ships though more streamlined. The top was identical to that of them, but the bottom of the vessel was where the name came from. The hull was shaped like metal segmented koi fish. They fed on krill and other small fry in the sea and were sentient; thus they were capable of forming opinions and judgments. Their speed was based on the bond with its captain, therefore requiring that the captain treat the ship with the respect they would give to their stereotypical feathered partner. That wasn’t all; the koiships were capable of falling in love and even mating with other ships, though the logistics of such behaviors had been hidden by the developers to avoid causing unnecessary anxieties to the nobles and crewmembers alike.

Of course, it wasn’t nobles that rode on these ships. They simply inspected them, and more often than not, there was only one noble that made sure they were seaworthy even though that wasn’t her job as the princess of Hyland.

Her blonde hair had been pulled up into a crowning bun on her head with only her bangs zigzagging around her face. Her eyes shined liked demantoide as she stared at one of the koiships. Gripping the skirt of her royal blue gown, she sighed. She wanted to ride on one of these majestic contraptions, but her duty lie in waiting for the Oracle.

“Lady Alisha,” a young girl’s voice came from behind her.

Alisha turned to find her adviser Maltran and another walking to her. The second girl had flaming red hair tied into two high-sitting pigtails. Like her princess, she too had brilliant green eyes. She stood straight and tall, her duty being the brick and mortar of her very being. Her noble’s uniform had come from the Church—a cupcake dress colored ivory and trimmed with gold beset with a cropped blue jacket. Like Maltran, she wielded a spear, and compared to her superior, she was much more conservative with how she dressed. She kept her chest hidden and made herself appear smaller than she really was.

“Lady Maltran, Lady Eleanor,” Alisha greeted them. She turned back to the koiships.

“You seem troubled, milady,” Eleanor noted. “What ails you, princess?”

Alisha let out a sigh. She always worried about discussing her problems with her subordinates because she felt guilty about making them anxious. But the truth of the matter was that the Oracle Sorey had never arrived to Ladylake, and it worried her deeply that something terrible must have happened to him. If they had put him on a koiship, perhaps he wouldn’t have disappeared without a trace. The koiships weren’t completely siege-proof—more like siege-resistant—but they would have offered some protection. If the entire crew was murdered, the ship would swim away from the danger or eat the marauders trying to kill everyone.

The point was, and Alisha stressed it at every single conference and audience and any other -ence she had to sit in on, the koiships were far more practical and useful and helpful than the other nobles seemed to think outside of using them for warfare. What was the purpose of holding them in storage only for battle when they could transport of very precious cargo?

“Lady Alisha, try not to fret so much; it’s not good for your health,” Maltran advised. Her garnet eyes shined. Alisha straightened. “If you so desire for a koiship to head out in search of the Oracle, we can arrange for that.” Maltran approached one of the ships. “Once our envoy returns, we can let them take this one.”

She stood before a koiship that was orange like the evening sky and trimmed with gold underneath the blackened oak that composed the back. This particular ship was female, her rhinestone eyes glittering beneath the water’s surface. Her name was Ogram, and she had been one of the first koiships to have been built. Just because she was the first did not mean that she was the worst, and for all it was worth, she simply adored Alisha like a mother. She would do anything for her.

The koiship did not like Maltran and was indifferent to Eleanor. So when the Blue Valkyrie approached her, the wood on the ship creaked as if to groan, denoting her annoyance with her. No one yet had learned all of the specifications of the noises the koiships made, resulting in such creaking to simply be dampness settling into the wood.

“Is it really wise to send one out? And to those misbegotten cretins?” Eleanor seemed to oppose. “Surely, we can entrust a different ship to them and save these from being abused by them.”

“How many ships have we sent out to even just mask the one carrying the Oracle?” Alisha questioned her. She stood straight, her eyes burning with frustration but the rest of her face exhibiting the royal restraint necessary to hide it.

“Milady, I didn’t mean to…”

“We cannot lose the Oracle. If we do, our Lady of Lake Lailah will not be able to help us. Everything will be for naught.”

“Lady Alisha, I suggest you retire to your chambers for the rest of the day until dinner,” Maltran told her.

The ship hangar where the koiships resided was large and spacious, rumbling and hissing with the water that kept them afloat. And it was that kind of place that made Alisha feel smaller than she was. Something about her hand telling her to go off and relax made her feel like it was unladylike to be upset over something that she had valid reason to fret about. She prostrated herself, leaving the koiships and heading back into the Diphda Castle.

“Lady Maltran, was that necessary?” Eleanor asked her. “She is awfully distraught about the Oracle.”

“Our princess needn’t worry about his safety. We have capable men and women; if he has indeed been kidnapped, we can find him,” Maltran said resolutely. “If you will excuse me, Lady Eleanor, I must go check on her. You know how she gets when she is upset.”

Eleanor watched Maltran leave, her brow furrowed wondering what she meant. She didn’t know how Alisha got, and it wasn’t something she wanted to find out anytime soon if she went off the deep-end and trashed her room. She left the hangar, returning to the Church with apprehension about their situation.

As far as Alisha was concerned, the princess did not throw tantrums or scream into the endless void where nothing made sense. She, instead, sat quietly at her desk. A quill in her right hand and her personal wax seal in her left, she had finished writing a letter. She had learned from a very young age that using her family crest ran the risk of officials mistaking her letters as decrees and documents from her parents the king and queen, so she had Maltran fetch a seal that simply said “A-D” in stylized cursive. Additionally, the letters were in the common language, thus masking that it was anything royal in general.

Her room was gilded with gold and splashed with pinks and whites much like her armor when she was allowed to go gallivanting with her soldiers. On the mahogany windowsill, a messenger pigeon sat and stared at her with beady eyes. Its wings were dyed a burnt orange underneath.

“Rosario, make sure you get this to your master,” Alisha cooed at it. “Maybe he can help me. At the very least, he can listen to what I have to say.”

The pigeon waited calmly for the princess to approach and wrap her note around its leg. She lifted it to the sky, sending it on its way. And it was then that her chamber doors echoed with a few knocks. Maltran made her presence known before she entered Alisha’s chambers.

Alisha didn’t move from the window. She stared at the greenery below her bedroom, and when she looked at the Blue Valkyrie, the look of worry that was always evident on her face seemed to lighten a little.

“Staring at the populace again, milady?” Maltran asked her.

“I just wish I could go out more often,” Alisha replied.

“There are dangerous people out there. Once we retrieve the Oracle, you’ll have someone to be with you at all times in my stead.” She waltzed up to her princess, pulling her close so that her breasts cradled her cheek. “You know I love you more than anyone else in the kingdom, but as per my duty, I cannot remain at your side.”

Alisha blushed but not in the same happy fog that her right-hand was.

“You’ve been so tense lately. I understand it’s nerve-wracking not knowing where your future husband is, but I can offer myself to you so you can forget for a little while.”

“Lady Maltran…I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alisha breathed.

“That is only because you’re so stressed.” Reaching around her waist, the rather terrifying woman gently pulled her close.

The relationship between Maltran and Alisha had been a long-guarded secret between the two. It had started only a couple years when the princess learned that her duty to her people meant that she was to marry the Oracle. Maltran had always loved her, and she worried that with the marriage, she would be pushed to the side. To prevent that from happening, she had confessed to Alisha, and knowing how broken she would be if she didn’t accept her love, Alisha agreed to being in a relationship with her. They had been together every day since then. Thus, Maltran made it part of her ever-growing list of tasks every day that she had to make sure that Alisha was happy.

And she understood very well how to do it. After all, she had once dreamt of a day that she would be in a position of power and authority, even going as far as to imagine herself as a pirate queen. Pirate queens—really any woman that demonstrated strength—were skilled at getting under the skin and exhibiting a deft knowledge of the art of pleasure. While she would never tell another soul, she had experimented on herself to determine what ministrations would leave Alisha wanting more, and what she learned she was excited to use.

Alisha, on the other hand, was far more conservative than she liked. Even Maltran’s touch made her tense, which made loosening her up to bed her more difficult than it should have been—at least, in Maltran’s mind. It was as if the princess had never even tried to learn what made her tick nor had any inherent desire to do so. So when Maltran guided her to her bed, she was hesitant.

“Lady Maltran, I—”

Maltran placed a finger on Alisha’s supple lips.

“Come now, Alisha. You needn’t use those formal titles when we’re alone.” She sat her on her bed. “Just lean back and relax.”

Maltran’s eyes shined, the lusty glint in them reflecting brightly in Alisha’s. Although the princess didn’t find such antics to make the situation better, and although she wasn’t one for lewd activities, she felt like she should appreciate that her efforts. She would have felt guilty otherwise.

The gown that Alisha wore around her castle was a long and rather lavished one, and it was a challenge to take off. Maltran, however, was one of the ladies that always offered to help. She started with Alisha’s jewelry. Crawling between her legs and hovering over her, she carefully took the little tiara comb from her hair. She took her earrings and necklace then unraveled the majestic bun that had fanned on top of her head in just the perfect way that filled the tiara. Next were her long shimmering silver gloves. Both women’s fingers were intertwined, and Maltran kissed her to sate her excitement.

“You’re always so beautiful,” Maltran whispered on her lips. “A pretty little doll.”

“M-Maltran…” Alisha squeaked unsurely.

Despite the bodice of the dress being interfaced, Alisha’s breasts were still palpable through it. With her free hand, Maltran stroked the side of them, running them up around the underneath where they filled out. Alisha’s face had become red; no matter how many times she cradled her chest, she never got used to it.

Maltran surely loved how her princess looked as she was beginning to lose herself to the ministrations of an experienced hand. She always wanted to see that flustered look of her superior. It made her yearn for more, and if she wanted more, then the girl pinned under her would oblige and offer herself up without question. And whatever Alisha’s reactions were now with only one hand naturally doubled when Maltran used both. The Blue Valkyrie, dominating the precious flower, gripped both her breasts and massaged them gently. Too hard and she would cry out in pain. Too gentle and she would lose the heat that was generating in her belly and legs.

“Mal…tran…” Alisha mewled.

“Patience, Alisha,” Maltran crooned. “What would be the point if I went too fast? I want you to relax.”

She held her abdomen, tracing her slender waist and flaring at her hips like her dress. The ribbons and lace on the skirt of it prettied the hot mess beneath it all, and Maltran couldn’t help but be amused. The chaste and pure princess was so easily led into temptation—it was no wonder that the fantastical stories she used to hear and read always painted pirate kings and queens as the white rabbits leading nobles into forbidden gardens. Alisha was her noble. Maltran was a white rabbit beckoning her into her rabbit hole.

Touch could only do so much, though. Maltran pulled away from her for just a second to undo her jacket and expose the voluminous assets she had been gifted with. After all, she knew that Alisha had always been somewhat jealous of what she had, and she used it as a carrot. The princess, who was hot and bothered as it was, stared at the incredible pair of breasts before her, and her mouth couldn’t help but begin to water. Whatever armor and accessories her hand had, she took them off with ease so that only her trousers remained.

Alisha wasn’t allowed to touch her; she never was. It was unbecoming, Maltran would tell her. Her hands were not allowed to become tainted. She wasn’t allowed to pleasure anyone but the Oracle. But with the barrier of cloth gone, Maltran had better control. She reached up her dress to just where the bodice ended. Gently, lightly, she glided her hands on Alisha’s stomach. Down, down, down until she came to the edge of her panties, which remained on. Alisha watched as Maltran climbed up on her for a better angle. Her fingers snuck under the silk cloth.

“A-Ah…!” Alisha’s voice escaped from her throat like the chirps of a caged bird.

“You’re so wet, my lady,” Maltran cooed. “I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet.”

“I-I’m sorry…I…can’t help myself…”

Maltran shushed her gently. She stroked her once as she listened to her mewling and panting. She so enjoyed watching her princess squirm under her touch, especially as she bucked her hips and tried to follow the supple fingers of the Blue Valkyrie. Alisha’s legs spread farther and farther apart, her hands gripping her sheets so tightly that they might have torn had she clenched any more. Maltran massaged her, entering her only when she saw that things were getting boring. She ordered Alisha to keep her voice down, and the princess obeyed. Saliva dribbled from her lips, her wanton moans coming out more like raspy whispers.

“See?” Maltran asked her. “This was a good idea. I always know what is best for my princess, Lady Alisha.”

“B-But…what about…the Oracle?” Alisha hiccupped. Maltran rubbed her again, eliciting another long and yearning moan. “I…must remain…unsullied…now more…than ever…”

Maltran removed her hands from Alisha. A look of disdain was evident on her typically emotionless face for only a moment, a moment that Alisha still had not regained her lucidity. She composed herself. Although she was forever bound to her duty as the princess’s hand as well as her guard, she hated that she would soon lose her grip on her. The Oracle, though not required to fall in love with the princess, would surely be smitten by her. He was going to steal her away, and she would be left without someone to love.

Exhausted from the rousing, Alisha felt her body slow to a stop, the pulsations and contractions between her legs that searched for Maltran progressively disappearing as she fell into a deep sleep to recover from both her hand’s advances as well as the stresses and worries that she was prescribed for life as the Princess of Hyland. Maltran left her. She needed a bath not only to wash the frisk from her but to just think about the situation revolving around the Oracle.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, the messenger pigeon had arrived in Pendrago, and some distance from its true destination was where Mikleo hunched over the tavern’s countertop. Having never tasted alcohol, he was feeling incredibly sick. Zaveid and Eizen were inclined to believe that they should have mentioned what it did, and it seemed more like something Edna would do to poke fun at the new recruit. After all, she liked to toy with others no matter who they were. Regardless, Mikleo was one of them now. As such, they were in charge of making sure he didn’t accidentally kill himself before they even left the city. Eizen asked the bartender to fix him up something that would settle his stomach and prepare him for the worst hangover he was ever going to experience. Rokurou had other things to attend to.

He was the Van Eltia’s weaponsmith, and as much as he wanted to stay and help out with Mikleo’s predicament, it was far more important for him to gather raw materials to practice his trade on the high seas.

“Your weapons aren’t going to make themselves, so you guys,” he said nonchalantly as he stepped backwards from the bar with his fingers shooting invisible pellets at them, “have fun.”

Just like that, Rokurou had abandoned them. Mikleo could barely lift his head from the countertop, the booze in his belly bubbling up like a geyser. Popular belief was that cupping a hand over the ever-gaping mouth was the best way to prevent oneself from spewing his fluids; he found out very quickly that hands were the worst possible solution. Thankfully, most of what came up was only the alcohol. He hadn’t eaten anything to absorb it, which was good and bad. The bright side—no food chunks. The bad side—he looked unsophisticated now. It was embarrassing. Even more so that two grown men that were both much taller and more muscular than him were trying to take care of him.

“Alright, up and at ‘em, kid,” Zaveid sighed, picking him off the counter. Much to the bartender’s disgust, the puddle left a slimy residue. “You’re a water seraph, you know. Clean up!”

“Give me a sec…” Mikleo asked of him before retching again.

“No, don’t vomit in the same spot!” Eizen chastised with a guttural roar.

It seemed to be a reflex with earth seraphim because the captain’s first instinct was not to help him to some discreet place to spill his stomach again. Instead, his brightest idea was to use his earthy powers. With a stomp and well-placed punch to Mikleo’s stomach, he shot him out of the tavern into the streets. It was like watching a rocket speed off into a concrete wall, its trail the glistening spray of saliva, stomach acid, and disappointment.

“Eizen, we just recruited him!” Benwick scolded him.

Eizen didn’t care. He apologized to the bartender before his crew of eccentrics followed him out to see if Mikleo was still alive. He was, so there was little cause for alarm, but the water seraph was unconscious for a moment before shooting up from where he was lying in a panic.

“I thought I’d been shot into another dimension,” he dazedly said. “What the hell did you do that for?!” he demanded to know.

“You became a burden to the bartender,” Eizen said. “I merely got rid of it.”

“By shooting me into a wall!”

“Meebo, if you have time to complain about how we handle burdens, you have time to clean yourself up,” Edna told him. She turned her nose up to him. “Now quickly, because no one appreciates the smell of vomit.”

Mikleo stood up, miffed that he was really just a punching bag for these new so-called “friends”. His staff in hand, he gently twirled it like a composer’s baton. A stream of crystal-clear water materialized from the air, the microscopic water droplets around them collecting and condensing to form a swirling stream that he led to hover above him. He tapped his staff on the cobblestone beneath him. The water fell on him, as mortified as he was to wash himself like this, cleansing away the bile and booze.

“There, happy?” he bit.

“No, but then again, it takes more than a bath to make me happy.”

Mikleo let out a disgruntled sigh and rolled his eyes only for them to fall on a peculiar one at one of the stalls in the streets. He cocked his head; the others with him didn’t seem to notice him.

This person was a small and very young boy with sandy-blond hair fading to white. A lock of long hair circled above his head like a halo, and his eyes were a curious lime green. He wore a long cloak of embroidered ivory, a little blue ascot peeking out from under what looked like a large collar decorated with a golden Faberge-like egg. His black tights made his legs appear as twigs in his little loafer shoes. He was buying a vividly red apple.

“Hey, Mikster, we’re going,” Zaveid called out to the water seraph.

Mikleo glanced at them then back at the mysterious boy, who had strangely disappeared without a trace. Thanks to that, he couldn’t figure out where he could have gone, and he was forced to forget about him.

They boarded their ship, lifted the anchor, and steered out of port that night despite the initial idea to stay until dawn. The taciturn water seraph found himself veered to the bow. Truly a gorgeous night to set sail, the sky was black as a raven now, twinkling diamonds dotting the heavens in an ever-expanding mural. The lights and torches all over Pendrago that would have normally erased them made them shine brighter, and it was then that Mikleo accepted his new life as a pirate. He needed to learn more about his crew. More than anything, though, he needed to find Sorey. It was going to be a long time before he saw him again, and the idea of that wounded his heart. Even worse, to find him, he would have needed the Celestial Record.

“I didn’t even check to find one…” Mikleo muttered. “No, it wouldn’t be the same.”

He couldn’t just buy any regular Celestial Record. He needed the one that he and Sorey shared. It held their memories, their love for each other. It had the original map, no matter how worn it was. And in that book, a precious dream had been hidden. He had to get it back.

“Mikleo!” Benwick called from the deck. He was waving at him like an idiot, or perhaps he was simply excited to have a new friend. Edna was standing with him. “Come here! Come here!”

After Mikleo put away his concerns and worries for Sorey and the Celestial Record, he met with them. They asked him to recreate the giant water dragon he had made when he encountered the Sparrowfeathers. He didn’t understand why; it was just a massive waste of energy, something he had yet to recover after chugging the beer at the tavern like a nincompoop. He promised them that he would show them later when he was rested, but in reality, he wanted his time alone.

“Look alive, everyone!” Zaveid’s voice suddenly rumbled over the entire ship. Every head turned to him and his captain. “We’re getting ready to launch. You know what to do—find something stable!”

“Stable?” Mikleo repeated.

“Eizen’s punting the ship,” Edna explained. “If you don’t go below deck or hold onto something, you’ll get thrown off.” She closed her umbrella. Making her way over to one of the cannons while Benwick ran to the helm, they braced themselves.

“Why not just sail like regular pirates?” Mikleo questioned.

“Clock’s ticking, Mik!” Zaveid laughed. “Haven’t you learned yet? We ain’t regular pirates!”

Mikleo grab hold of the anchor’s winder. He felt fear in his heart. Or was this anticipation for the chaos that was waiting for him?

Eizen stomped his foot the same way he had in the tavern, his whole body glowing with a golden light. He shot both arms into the air then to the sides. Moving like a martial arts master, he stomped again, swung his arms, then punched in front of him. Simultaneously, the Van Eltia shot into the sky, much to the shock and amazement of the people of Pendrago who had never gotten used to the display of utter power. The massive ship soared through the air, and Zaveid’s turn came to show off his magic.

Despite his muscular build and angled face, Zaveid stood in place with grace and dignity. Like water, there was a calming sense when they watched him. But water was slow and tempered. The wind was tumbling and free. Eizen regained his center, turning to watch the wind seraph’s tut.

He took five steps forward, five steps back, the trunk of his body leading him. And the ship was suddenly suspended in the sky. He twirled once, twice, three times; and the ship turned with him. He used the momentum of the spins to carry him forward, lifting his leg before circling back to his starting position. Folding over himself, whipping his limbs out, he commanded the wind to push the Van Eltia forward over the neutral territory.

Mikleo was still holding onto the winder when he realized that everyone had let go of their braces to watch Zaveid dance. He, like everyone else, was enchanted. The silvery light cascading from the moon, the wood all around them—they weren’t on a ship but a stage. This wasn’t just seraphic magic. Similar to the monstrosity that Mikleo had created with his dragon, this was a glimpse into the very core of his soul.

Zaveid stretched and pulled, stretched and pulled. He carried the ship now into the Hyland waters, and it was then that Eizen threw off his coat and hat and joined him. Compared to Zaveid’s lithe movements, his were clunky and grounded. Dancing together, the earth and the sky was a match made by the very heavens illuminating that night. Mikleo had to notice that they were careful not to touch. The sea splashed and crashed under them; the ship tilted down. The entre crew braced themselves again.

Eizen and Zaveid were dancing closer and closer until finally Eizen took his hand. They danced in synchronicity, movements mirroring each other especially when Zaveid leaned on Eizen as he leaned back. The ship trembled as pillars of earth caught it while the wind lowered them. Finally, after the rocky landing, the Van Eltia was back on the water’s surface, and the two unfurled from each other, this time leaning forward as the winds guided them into the inlet where Ladylake resided.

Chapter Text

Salty air and bright sunshine morphed into the smells and general darkness of Pendrago City. The distance between Hyland and Rolance was far greater than people thought, and to a measly pigeon, it was almost like flying for a century without rest. The size of the bird, however, gave it an advantage. Larger birds like sylpheagles were always intercepted while pigeons avoided detection a greater rate. The expectancy of finding clues to hidden treasure or lost maps always ran high if pirates had trapped them. If the more-apt royalty caught them instead, then the nobles would work to decipher the enemy’s plans.

That was why Alisha disguised her letters the way she did. If she wrote in the common language, Rolance officials wouldn’t know it was the Princess of Hyland herself that was writing to someone in their territory. If she used a different wax seal from her family’s she was sure to simply come off as a lowly peasant girl. But the destination of the letter was also kept under the radar. The recipient was not part of the royal family and not a commoner.

Rosario, whose tail was dyed to denote that he belonged to Rolance, was the perfect messenger. He wouldn’t be captured because he flew to the window of the knights’ tower that served as lookout for the castle grounds. He stood there on the windowsill watching his master.

A tall and bulky man who wore dedicated exhaustion on his face. His silver armor shined, tempered by the orange and brown plaid colors that denoted where his loyalty lie. A single metal wing curled off his shoulder like a molded cowlick. His hair was kept buzzed on the sides while the crown of his head was styled in a small mohawk like a rooster, and curiously enough there was a large scar that prevented any growth just past his temple. He stroked his goatee as he looked over battle plans, unaware that his messenger pigeon had arrived.

“What sense is there in this?” he muttered to himself. “The Platinum Knights are tasked with defending the emperor himself, but it is unnecessary to have us posted like this.”
Rosario cooed and chirped, as if he knew that his master was so bound to his duty that, more often than not, he was oblivious to his returns. While that was the case, he was always elated to see that his bird had safely returned from his flight across the thousands of seas. He looked up from the documents spread on his table.

“Rosario, you’ve returned!” he happily greeted. Without a moment’s hesitation, he made his way to the window, picking up Rosario on his finger and carrying him to his cage to rest and eat. “I know these flights must be awfully straining, but I do appreciate it.” He set the bird carefully down on the lining as he cooed cheerfully. Getting water and refilling his food dish, the man traded with him. “Oh, this is a letter from Alicia!”

He quickly pulled the letter from Rosario’s leg, unfurling it like some sort of grand scroll from eons before. To him, that’s what these notes were. They were precious gems to him yet worth little more than garbage to anyone else. The words—whimsical fantasies and loquacious ramblings of dreaming girl—gave him such joy that sometimes he wondered if he should sneak out of Pendrago to meet her. Of course, most of the times that he wanted to see her were also times that they had traded flirtatious summons and playful beckons. Unbeknownst to others, the two had shared their deepest desires with each other.

The correspondence had gone on for about a year. Alisha, bored one day and after having a night with Maltran, decided to try an experiment. It wasn’t like she didn’t want to be with her right-hand. She was so tired of seeing the same scenery, associating with the same people, wearing the same clothes, and even subjugating herself to the same pleasures that she felt herself growing stagnant. That was when she decided to send a sylpheagle out to deliver a single word: HELLO.

Naturally, her sylpheagle was identified to be a bird from the Hyland region and was thus captured by Rolance forces. Nothing on the bird indicated that it was a royal messenger, however, so before it was to be slaughtered and used for rations, the captain of the Platinum Knights took the message from its leg and set it free back to Hyland. It was technically treason, but he managed to argue that killing a bird that had probably gotten lost was crueler than some of their capital punishments.

When he had read the message after seeking privacy that evening, he responded after deliberating it. His fellow knights thought it would have been smart to try and get information out of the sender. There really was no need. After all, it came from a commoner and was signed by an Alicia Dystlia.

They had gotten so deep in their conversations now that he couldn’t fathom never hearing from her again. He liked her ideas, and he thought she had a brilliant mind. He often asked why they had to be in separate countries, and warring countries at that. He had thought at times proposing to her, as impersonal as it was to do it through a letter and not in person. Had he not read the letter he had just received, he would have.

The man paced around, reading the letter aloud:

My dearest, Sir Strelka,

I have so many heavy thoughts on my mind that I worry I might drown in my anxieties. I do not mean that I might kill myself, but I don’t know what to do. There are at least two things on my mind, if I may at least express my concerns.

The state of my city is dire. My fellow citizens are growing more and more restless with each passing day due to the inexplicable suspense that has rendered everyone useless. I wish to remedy their troubles, but it would take only the greatest magic to accomplish that. I’m only one person, and no one else seems to even worry what may happen. The Church seems to have some sort of plan, but what it is I do not even have the slightest clue.

Secondly, I am to marry someone I’ve never formally met. I have not even spoken to this man. I do not love him, yet my family believes that if I marry him, our partnership will benefit us. For this, I must oblige. The man is from a different land—exotic and possibly feral—but I have also been told that he is quite intelligent and gentle. I cannot help but fear that my family has taken advantage of his naivete, or perhaps they have taken advantage of mine. Not only that but someone already very close to me…may not be happy with the marriage. It might make her very angry.

Sir Sergei Strelka, what should I do? I care for my friend. I feel obligated to marry this man. I love you deeper than the sea. I am aware that we may both be biased, but we must think realistically. To whom do I gift my heart and promise for all eternity to stay by their side?

Your everlasting,
Alicia Dystilia

The letter caused an unfamiliar aching in his chest. It was strong. There was more sorrow. This was all too much for a lone simple girl to face. How he wished to hold her in his arms and shield her from the stresses of life.

Sergei was especially torn at the prospect that she was to marry someone else. Should he tell her, or should he deny his feelings? No one would intrude on him; he was in the captain’s office of the knights’ tower. Rosario had gone to sleep. It was now or never. He briskly walked to his chair at his large table, grabbing a quill and parchment. What was he to write? Would it be desperate to propose from the get-go? No, he decided that he needed to counsel her. Deep breaths passing through his body and bringing forth the wave of calm he needed, he began to write.

To my everlasting, Alicia:

I do not claim to know the future nor am I known for giving sound advice to anyone outside of my platoon, but please know that I will try my best to offer my opinions.
It hurts me to say that Rolance is aware of the crisis in Hyland. Marlind has been struck with plague. Kylfe is in danger of famine. Reneed is being ravaged by pirates in your own region who are spreading the disease. We’ve already lost Horsa to famine, and Forton is on the verge of collapse from stone sickness. The way that Rolance handled those situations sealed their fate. Hyland can save Kylfe and Reneed; the kingdom is smaller than our empire. There is hope. Petition your government to allocate resources to the places in need, and if your councilmen care—which they should—they can save their lives. This is the only advice I can give on that matter, and I deeply apologize for that.

As for your marriage. How strange that a commoner participates in arranged marriage. I love you more than there are stars in the sky. Being in different territories—conflicting countries—is keeping us apart, and no matter how much we wish it, we cannot be together. I regrettably say that if your parents believe they will benefit from your marriage to this other man, then you should accept him. Nevertheless, I will never stop being in love with you.

Your dearest,
Sergei Strelka

Writing the letter brought tears to Sergei’s eyes. He had loved her for only a short time, yet the love was deep and pure; and no amount of good will, good wishes, or good intent would erase it. He desperately wished there was something else they could do. Why did a common girl need to be in an arranged marriage? Wasn’t that only for nobility? What if the man she was set to marry a noble then? He was outranked if that was the case! She had to be beautiful—the wealthy looked to those with immeasurable beauty to mother their children if they were from a lower status. If she were a princess, she wouldn’t have such problems. A princess could only marry nobility.

Naturally, lost in his thoughts, he hesitated to prepare the letter for delivery. It sat flat on his desk, the ink drying slowly with the slight breezes that funneled into his office. Pacing and worrying, perhaps even overthinking the whole notion that Alicia would message him with her doubts. Would it be possible to elope? Sergei was an honorable and upstanding man, but even he didn’t agree with what his emperor wanted to do. He knew not what they were planning, but it reeked of something nefarious.

Sergei glanced at the letter again. When he thought about it and tossed the idea around in his head, his heart sank more and more. Why was he just going to allow her to marry someone else? She wrote him because she didn’t want to marry this person. He stepped to his desk, opening the drawer and pulling out stacks and stacks of letter from her. Leafing through them he found one that he was ashamed to have kept but knew he had to as a testament to their relationship.

“‘I must confess, Sir Strelka. There are nights where nothing can calm me more and bring me a more peaceful rest than your letters. I have never met you, but strangely I can hear your voice when I read them. The sensual details of some of these letters make my heart flutter, and as sheepish as I may be, they stoke a fire within me that I am compelled to sate. Maltran does not know about these, but I have noticed that her ministrations do not pleasure me as much as your words. I hope that there is a day we can meet. I want to hear your voice. I want to feel your heart beat with mine,’” he read to himself. “Dammit, I can’t just let her go like this!”

He returned to the letter after putting the stacks away. Fueled by the desire to at least attempt to liberate Alicia from this proposal, he tore off the second half of his letter but kept the first. He took a new parchment, dipped his quill, and began to write furiously:

As for your marriage, I cannot say that I agree with it. You are your own woman, for one. You should be able to choose who you wish to marry. And I want to finally say it now. You know that I am a knight—the captain of the Platinum Knights which serve Heldalf and Artorius. Please, I beseech you! Tell your parents this. We may be from warring kingdoms, but both of us want to leave the conflict. Let us elope and finally consummate our love. There are plenty of places that are in the neutral regions we can escape to. Haria has beautiful summers. Hellawes is a winter wonderland all-year round! My flower, Alicia, we can go anywhere, and I promise to make you happy. I will be brutally honest, but I do not think you will be happy with this man that your parents have selected for you. Try to get them to reconsider, and if they do not change their minds, then…then I will ask my twin brother Boris to sail me to your home. If I cannot propose to you in this letter, then by the gods I will propose there in person in the company of your parents!

A thunderous knock resounded on the door to his quarters. Sergei hastily hid the letter under the desk and threw the quill aside. He permitted entry, and as the heavy door opened, all of the tension and suspense flushed out of him with a sigh. Boris entered.

“Oh, it’s only you, brother,” Sergei calmly greeted.

He brought the letter back to the desktop. Standing up from the chair and making his way to his mirror image, he greeted him with a salute. Boris and Sergei were identical save for the scar that ran into Sergei’s hair, and the latter always felt comfortable with him. Twins shared a special bond, as if they were tied within their souls. Sergei told him his secrets, and Boris advised him on what to do.

“Writing to your mistress again?” Boris teased him. He had a deeper voice than his brother.

“She’s sent some unfortunate news about the state of her country and her love life,” Sergei told him. “She’s to be married off soon.”

“Well, that’s not good. What do you think about that?”

“It’s awful, of course!” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “I am aware that I have never met her in person, but her words make my heart sing. The melancholy in this last letter—it urges me to do the unthinkable.”

“Which would be…?” Boris’s eyebrow cocked up, and he was very wary of what this meant. “You don’t mean—”

“Fear not, brother,” Sergei assured him. He waved the notion away, turning to face his esk where the letter sat to dry. “As I swore when I became the captain, I won’t abandon Rolance for something as frivolous as love. Truly, if I were to choose between her heart and my loyalty to my country—well, it should be obvious what I would choose.”

“I should hope that it’s obvious! You know what will happen if you are charged with treason!”

Sergei shushed him before addressing his reason for coming to the captain’s quarter of the knights’ tower. Boris had no choice but to let his brother’s apparent folly rest for now. He reported that the emperor Heldalf and his joint ruler Artorius had summoned their Platinum Knights.

Heldalf and Artorius were the two emperors of Rolance despite Heldalf being the figurehead. Both wished to crush the Hyland region and assimilate its territories; however, they had different methods to their madness.

Heldalf wanted to simply destroy Hyland. Raging fires and even possibly poisoning the people with pestilence and famine. To them, the people of Hyland were a scourge that needed to be eradicated for the good of the world. Anyone who sympathized or sided with the enemy was immediately executed. In contrast, Artorius didn’t want to erase them. He and their adviser Melchior had been talking in private behind closed doors. Whisperings of their conduct and plans were thought to be rumors among the empire. No one was sure what they were on about, and for all they knew, there was some sort of secret code to it all. The only inkling that anyone—Heldalf included—had on their goals were that they needed to seize the Oracle no matter what. And as it happened, the Oracle was within their reach.

Sergei put his letter in a locked drawer to finish dry before sending it out. He couldn’t let anyone see it, especially anyone that worked closely with Heldalf and Artorius. He and Boris made their way to Pendrago Castle. The dreary gothic architecture never ceased to unnerve Sergei; it looked like a torture palace more than anything else, and as they traversed its great dimly-lit halls to the audience chamber where the rest of the knights slowly gathered before their rulers, they saw a little girl dressed in all black.

Her skin was sickly white—whiter than bleached sheets. Her hair started black then faded into a deep violet pulled apart into two pigtails with little braids on the sides. Her eyes were the color of orchids, her ears impish. A single mole sat under her eye, adding to this strange mysticism and wickedness emanating from her. Her outfit was quite simple. All black leather fashioned into a common pirate’s outfit befit for underlings. Instead of a cutlass in the sheath, there was a cropped wand with a ruby at its tip.

“It seems everyone is present,” Artorius stated. “We should begin.”

Sergei watched from the front of his knights at the two men before him. Artorius, with silver hair and blue eyes and pure white and silver robes, and Heldalf, golden hair and brown eyes and pure black and gold vestments. He had always thought it was strange. They were perfectly opposite of each other yet wanted the same thing, but then opposites attracted. Together, they were a force to be reckoned with.

“Platinum Knights, attention!” Sergei called out in a booming voice that he rarely ever used. His soldiers straightened, standing with poise and anticipation. “My knights are ready, your Highness.”

“Excellent,” Heldalf rumbled.

“We have called you here with an update on the situation surrounding the Oracle,” Artorius announced. “He has been spotted at sea. The trade ship that was transporting him to Hyland has been apprehended, and the Oracle is within the grasp of our envoy, the Sparrowfeathers. Symonne had confirmed this with her Third Eye, and now it is up to a few of you to retrieve him at the rendezvous in Haria.”

The knights began to whisper among each other.

“We understand that Haria is one of the islands whose people have died out due to a parasitic fungus,” Heldalf took over. “This is precisely why this is the rendezvous. Hyland soldiers will not land there due to fungus, according to our source. Melchior advises that we meet with the Sparrowfeathers within the day and return him here posthaste to avoid contamination.”

“Sire, if I may!” Boris spoke up. He raised his armor hand. Heldalf acknowledged him. “Sailing to Haria in a day both to and from is impossible. Our men are not equipped to sail, nor will any ship in our arsenal cover that much ground in that short a time.”

Symonne giggled. “That won’t be a problem,” she tittered. “After all, who needs invention when a seraph of darkness can easily get you there in a matter of hours?”

“She’s a seraph, Your Majesty?” Sergei asked for clarification.

“And a loyal one,” Heldalf complimented. “Symonne is a seraph of darkness and space. She can assist you in reaching Haria before nightfall.”

The twins’ hair stood on end. They weren’t fond of seraphim. They surpassed logic and made phenomena transpire like witchcraft. It was because of seraphim that they had lost their home at an early age. It was because of seraphim that they were hesitant on bringing the Oracle to their city. But there was no getting around it. They had to accept her help or face execution for treason.

“Is there anything else we should know?” Sergei asked.

“Yes,” an old voice cut in.

The soldiers and their commanding officers all turned to see a man somewhere in his centuries approaching the gathering. His face was flabby and covered in liver spots and deep wrinkles, but a voluminous beard hid most of his face. He had a golden eye and cane. His robes were ivory and blue, denoting he was from the Abbey. His mushroom-like hat was his indicator of his high rank.

“Melchior?” Artorius uttered in surprise, but no such emotion was evident on his face.

“I have received word from Magilou that a band of seraphic pirates has landed in Ladylake,” Melchior informed. “We must get the Oracle before they do.”

------------------------------------------------

Mikleo, frazzled by the punt from Rolance waters to Hyland waters, was still confused, amazed, and mystified how he was still alive. He had thought he was going to die horribly if he was flung off or if they hit some sort of obstacle and subsequently sunk. When they had landed and continued to sail into the canal city, he was almost positive that he had died and was simply in the afterlife. He had to question, then, did seraphim even have afterlives? What if he was just a ghost haunting the ship?

Furthermore, he couldn’t comprehend what he had seen. Seraphim had magic powers that controlled the very elements of nature. He had only learned of his ability to wield water to a scale on par of what he had witnessed Eizen and Zaveid do. They were both incredibly powerful with Zaveid’s winds lifting and carrying the Van Eltia into Hyland waters while Eizen was forcing towers of rock from the sea floor. Even the mysterious figure that had brought forth a typhoon that capsized his dinghy, in retrospect, had struck him with awe. He was younger than they were. If they could do that at their age and level, and if Mikleo was capable of that water dragon now, what would he be capable of in five years? Ten years? A century?

But even more perplexing was the performance that Zaveid and Eizen delivered to generate that kind of magic to move earth of seismic proportions and muster monstrous winds. There was a certain intimacy there that had caught him off-guard, too. Of course, Edna had mentioned some sort of inebriated episode involving the two, but during that dance, he felt it. The lucid awareness that they had, the intimacy that had given birth to such coordination. He yearned for that closeness with the only person he would ever love that deeply. He had to find Sorey no matter what it took.

He was torn from his thoughts by Benwick’s declaration that they had arrived in Ladylake’s ports. He pointed to the bejeweled castle and sanctuaries that flanked it, the mega-shrine sitting just in front of the palace itself. The lower sections of the canal city were not as extravagant as the gem-studded walls of the castle and palace, being comprised mostly of water-damaged hovels. It didn’t take long to find people living in squalor, looking around deviously as they held their fishing poles and buckets to catch their next meal in the government-owned water. It was despicable seeing the dissonance between the commoners and the nobles, yet it wasn’t supposed to matter to him. After all, he was a pirate now. He was not confined to the socioeconomic depravities of the lower class nor the pompous and snobby privileges of the upper class. The only thing that he had to be careful of was that the upper class decided who they attacked. It was a tidbit that Rokurou had mentioned to him just before they arrived. That was what “envoy” meant, and if they were foolish enough to refuse the contracts given by those with power, they would be executed swiftly and without mercy.

“The rich are definitely not the people you want to piss off, especially the royals,” Zaveid said. He and Eizen were standing together, their fingers loosely intertwined between them. “If you tell them to fuck off, they’ll hunt you down and rip out your insides.” Their hands parted. Eizen walked ahead to disembark from the ship.

“W-What? Then why do you even go to cities like this?” Mikleo questioned him and the rest of the Van Eltia crew. He didn’t understand these pirates and why they did the things they did, yet if he remained ignorant, he knew that he would fall behind. He would only become a burden. “If they could kill you at any point, why put yourselves in that kind of deal?”

“Easy money,” Edna told him as curtly as possible. “Royalty pays top dollar for their contracts. We may be seraphim, but we can’t just make supplies appear out of nowhere. We have to buy them, like decent people.”

Mikleo knew something was up at that point. He had come to Ladylake strictly to search for his long-lost Sorey, but for the Van Eltia crew to be here, they had to have been contracted. He felt his stomach drop. He didn’t become a pirate to be a slave to the rich. And he most certainly did not want to serve the people that had stolen away his precious partner.

He hated that he was inevitably going to have some amicable connection with those people. He hated it so much. But it was necessary. He had to work with them if he wanted Sorey back.

“It’s about noon, so we’re right on schedule,” Benwick reported. “Then again, Maltran did say that we were supposed to get there by daybreak.”

“Maltran?” Mikleo uttered.

“Hm? Yeah, she’s the right hand of the princess.”

“She also has this ‘bitch’ vibe, but like…the bad kind of bitch,” Rokurou added.

The seraph of water clenched his teeth and fists. Of course, fate was cruel. Only by its magic had it brought him to where he had been trying to go, but the circumstances of being at the beck and call of the woman that had separated them. It was more than cruel; it was sadistic. If Sorey was there in the castle sitting next to the princess, he knew his heart would break. He had to calm himself. Let go of the anger he had for Maltran and Hyland, he repeated to himself. But how could he when the one he loved was chained up by some vixen who would no doubt take advantage of him? Why did he have to become their lapdog?

“Let’s get this show on the road,” Edna sighed. The sooner they spoke with Maltran, the sooner they could relax in town before heading out again.

Eizen agreed with his little sister, leading everyone up and down the elevated walkways and bridges over the canals to the palace. The aging and damage caused by the tides going in and out every day for years were evident on the buildings, and it made Mikleo wonder about his affinity. Water gave life while also weathering away its environment. He thought about the other seraphim with him. Wind weathered things as well, yet a breath of fresh air was revitalizing. The support and structure of stone was valuable until it collapsed and crush some poor unfortunate soul underneath it. Fire was inherently destructive; however, where fire burned, new life was bound to sprout much like how the legendary Phoenix rose from its ashes. Caught in the middle of the elements were humans, subject to the ebb and flow of nature until they eventually died and somewhat dependent on the whimsies of these powerful beings. It was the circle of life albeit a dilapidated one. Somehow it was depressively sobering.

The trek to the palace felt like it went on forever, and it was most definitely caused by the winding paths that led to it. It was as if the city itself, aware that Mikleo was coming to the city, had made a good-intentioned effort to prolong the inevitable confrontation. He wanted to use his water to carry him right to the front gates and to Maltran so he could give him a piece of her mind for taking Sorey away, though. Nevertheless, there had been an agreement between Hyland and the Van Eltia crew. They weren’t allowed to use their magic powers within the city waters on the premise that if civilians were to accidentally or purposely get hurt, they would be arrested or executed. Naturally, they couldn’t allow that to happen without even meeting their clients.

When they did come to the marvelous palace and all its nauseating splendor, they were greeted with spears to their throats. The knights that guarded the area were always suspicious of the pirates as their protocol requested, especially since they were seraphic pirates. Eizen, who had dealt with them over and over again, showed them a small piece of paper. It was a permanent permit allowing direct entry and conference with the princess.

“The princess should know better than to consult with vagabonds such as yourselves,” one of the guards spat at them like venom.

“What can we say?” Zaveid teased. “She’s got a heart of gold and the mind of a naïve child.”

“Just let us through,” Rokurou sighed. “You guys have seen us plenty of times to know that we have business with the kingdom. It’s literally the only reason we’re here.” He gripped his shoulder suspiciously. “Or are we going to have to force our way through?”

The guards couldn’t deny that they had been there for multiple occasions. Even with Rokurou’s threat, they could not deny that they had seen their permit. They stood aside, but they kept their threatening looks and air about them. Eizen led his crew into the palace. A girl dressed in a purple and pink witch’s outfit peeked around the corner of a building at them.

Inside the palace, the walls were made of ivory and gilded with the shiniest gold they had ever seen. Vases of white flowers lined those walls, the cerulean tile floor covered by a long royal blue carpet. The tapestries on the walls depicted the Hyland’s royal family crest. It was a gaudy display of the foolish power that the nobles had, and it never failed to irritate the pirates. The populace was struggling to survive while these bigwigs lived in pointless grandeur. Every royalty was like that. It was sickening, and Mikleo hated that humans lived like this instead of in harmony with one another.

Still, Eizen vouched for the princess’s humble kindness. “Princess Alisha was never one to show off her wealth,” he said while they waited for someone to see them in the foyer of the palace. He kept an eye on the halls on either side of the entrance for a servant or official. “She’s actually considered to be the most hated princess because her father married a common woman. Of course, the vices of riches got the woman’s head, and both of them flaunt what they have. But Alisha? Nay, she tries her best to hide her status when she manages to escape into the lower-class areas.”

Mikleo didn’t want to believe that was the case. She had taken Sorey from him and his home. What righteous person would do that? Only a hypocrite would. What did it matter if she tried to blend in with the commoners? Did she use that knowledge and experience to make their lives better? As far as he was concerned, Ladylake had always been a place of division. Until there was proof that Alisha was working to unite her people, he couldn’t accept what they painted.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” he tersely said.

“Whatever floats your boat, kid,” Zaveid chuckled. “Really, though. Alisha is the antithesis of the royal family; hell, she might even be that to Rolance if she had been born to them.”

The conversation died after that. Mikleo was unmoving with no intention of accepting their opinions of the princess, and the pirates could see that. They didn’t try to sway his thoughts, but at the very least, they made it known that they did not think she was a bad person.

After a few more minutes of waiting around, someone finally came to address them. Fiery-red hair and spring-green eyes, Eleanor confronted them with her spear ready in her hand. Even though she had greeted them before, she never got used to the idea of operating with pirates. It didn’t matter, though.

“Elly!” Rokurou happily chimed upon seeing her. His eyes sparkled with an unrequited love that, for lack of a better word in his own mind, grossed Mikleo out and made his skin crawl. “How is our lovely priest doing? Your beauty is more radiant than the sun and moon combined, my dear!”

“And you’re still as disgusting as ever,” Eleanor rejected.

There was a notable sound of something shattering, but it was a mystery as to what it was. Edna had heard it before. She didn’t hesitant to explain that it was the sound of his heart and ego breaking within him.

“What’s this?” Eleanor noticed. “You’ve brought another pirate? Don’t you remember the agreement? You’re not supposed to bring any more people here!”

“Aw, shucks, Elle,” Zaveid sighed. “We saved this kid from drowning in the sea, and you know what happens with that. Besides, he was on his way here.”

“That doesn’t excuse him!”

“Don’t get your panties in a twist, priest girl,” Edna chided. She bounced her umbrella on her finger. “Let’s just get this meeting going. Wasn’t it Alisha that said it was urgent? Where is she?”

Eleanor had to let it go. She prostrated herself, clearing her throat and composing herself to handle the present issue. She explained that the princess had retired to her chambers for some rest before the meeting, and she was to bring them to the hangar at her request. She led them there. The interior of the palace gradually became dark and grimy from the moisture that leaked from the holding area into the halls until they came to a large metal door that had been locked by a special mechanism.

“Upped the security?” Eizen asked her.

“Yes, His Majesty the King requested it since this technology is rather valuable,” Eleanor explained. “If Rolance were to invade, they cannot breach the hangar. That reminds me, you all will be the first outside of the royal family to see what it is we have in store.”

Mikleo glared at Eleanor. How could the Van Eltia crew be so friendly with her? Then, like ink spreading in alcohol, he sensed tens of consciousnesses. His head was throbbing, all the pulsating speechless minds resonating with that inside of his skull. It felt similar to whatever it was that had pushed him from the murky depths of the abyss that threatened to swallow him before he was rescued. But these differed in that they were much weaker. The single presence that had saved him was big and powerful. These were small but numerous.

Eleanor held the blade of her spear up to a glyph in the center of the door. Reciting what sounded like gibberish to them, she touched her blade to it. Immediately, the valve spun. The pressure that kept the door locked tightly disengaged with a hiss. They had been granted passage.

“What was that?” Rokurou asked, trying to make small talk with her.

“It’s a special code,” Eleanor bluntly said.

“And…?”

“I’m not telling you, cur. You might try to break in or something.”

“Yeowch, chill. Only thing I want to break into is your heart.”

“That was terrible,” Edna commented.

“No one asked you!”

The Van Eltia crew and Eleanor walked down to the docks where Alisha and Maltran were standing. Ogram creaked loudly, notifying them of Eleanor’s and her entourage’s arrival. The koiship silenced when Mikleo among all approached the two. She sensed his aptitude with water, and he sensed her belligerent curiosity. Was she sizing him up?

“Lady Alisha,” Eizen greeted. “Lady Maltran.”

Mikleo instantly glared at Maltran, who had had no recollection of ever meeting him and thus didn’t acknowledge his disdain for her. But he was even angrier to see that the princess was this insignificant girl. How had she had the power to bring Sorey here with just her word? Even in his infantile power, he could swallow her whole and drag her to the bottom of the sea. He refused to accept that she was a princess or anyone with any sort of influence.

“I’m so glad to see you, Captain Eizen,” Alisha graciously said. “Have you been made aware of the current situation?”

Mikleo looked away from them in rage.

“No, enlighten us,” Eizen replied.

“Very well.”

Alisha’s face grew grim. She elucidated them of the Oracle’s failure to arrive into Ladylake. He was supposed to have arrived days ago, but he was nowhere to be found. She had a sneaking suspicion that his ship had been seized by pirates, and it saddened her to think that perhaps those pirates were envoys to Rolance.

Having never met Mikleo, she took a moment to explain that she and the Oracle were to be wed as a sort of peace offering between Ladylake and Elysia. He hated it, and hated it, and hated it—but he couldn’t just leave. He needed to know how he could help his beloved Sorey and possibly how to spirit him back home to Elysia among their friends and family and away from this girl.

The mission, thus, was clear. They were to find the pirates that kidnapped him and rescue him.

“Only then can my heart be at peace,” Alisha told them.

Mikleo held his tongue as best as he could. Seeing the burning garnet eyes of the Blue Valkyrie and the simpering excuse for a princess, he had a rage in him that was dying to escape. Ogram creaked as if warning him to stand down unless he had a death wish. Still, why were they going on this mission to make sure she was happy? He wanted to rescue Sorey so he could be happy! Damn it all, he wanted to yell out in his frustration. But he couldn’t. No, he couldn’t because then maybe—just maybe—Maltran would remember seeing him by his side when they came to discuss the marriage eight years ago. He had to endure it until they could get a chance to take their leave and he could finally let out all that emotion!

“I had a feeling that was the mission,” Zaveid sighed. He wasn’t very happy with this turn of events. “But there’s something else, yeah?”

“After much deliberation, we are going to entrust to you one of our koiships,” Maltran said. “Ogram here has refused to leave Lady Alisha’s side, so we will be giving you one of our more battle-savvy koiships Nenyp.”

“Oh, great,” Edna muttered. “So, ships are sentient now?”

Maltran and Alisha debriefed them on the koiship and how to live with it. And they stressed the phrase “live with it”. The koiships were living creatures, they repeated, and they were to be treated as such. Naturally, Eizen and Zaveid were a little put-off. Both Mikleo and Edna noticed their disappointment and hesitation. Rokurou and Benwick were fascinated.

“And what if we have certain matters to take care of on-board?” Eizen skirted around.

“We’re all adults here,” Edna spoke. “What happens if our crew needs to give a fuck or two?” The Van Eltia crew was used to her brash words and how straight to the point she was, but not everyone was as blunt as the young earth seraph girl.

Eleanor and Alisha blushed at the question. Maltran, however, did not shy away. “Would you have sex inside of something that was aware of your carnal relationships? I would suggest that all the tomfoolery take place outside of the ship.”

“You hear that, boys? No dicking around on the koiship. That would be sexual harassment, and we do have a code against that, don’t we, Eizen?”

Maltran cleared her throat. “You didn’t let me finish. That would be the case if you were taking Ogram with you. Captain Eizen, Nenyp will be in your care. Since you two are both male, there should be no problems. After all, this ship will be connected to you on a subconscious level once you make a blood oath with it. Should you have any escapades with anyone, he will do his best not to get in your way; in fact, he may attempt to…improve the experience.”

“Please, Maltran!” Eleanor screeched while motioning to cover her lady’s ears. “L-Lady Alisha is right here!”

Zaveid rubbed his neck. “I don’t know how I feel about a ship being aware of us doing the dirty,” he nervously chuckled. “That’s a kink some people have, but I don’t know think any of us appreciates people or ships watching us.”

Eizen put a finger under his chin in thought. A sentient ship who knew his way around a battle was certainly an asset to their seafaring. Aside from permanently having something like a small child listening at any given point in time he needed to relieve some stress, he decided that this was an advantage for them. As far as he knew, enemies didn’t have koiships; they wouldn’t just have the upper hand but also a bounty of new ways to forage for food and explore the seas. He accepted Alisha’s offered partnership on behalf of the koiship, but he declined to take the ship out now. It was getting late, and they still had some unfinished business to take care of. He discreetly tapped Zaveid’s boot with his.

“We truly appreciate the opportunity to use one of your koiships,” Eizen thanked them.

“Of course,” Alisha smiled. “Our goal is to bring the Oracle safely to Ladylake. I cannot think of a safer option than on a ship that knows to stay out of harm’s way until it feels the need to fight.”

“I agree. Now if you could excuse us, we have some things to take care of. Please hold Nenyp here until morning—late morning. No, until midday.”

“A-Are you sure? If you set sail today—”

“Good day.”

With a bow to the princess and her guards, the Van Eltia took their leave with the promise to retrieve the ship in the morning. It granted Mikleo some relief; he was about to burst had they stayed in Alisha’s presence any longer. He followed his crew members back to the port so Eizen could deliver the news to the rest of the crew.

“With all that said, I decree tonight is a long-awaited Night of Debauchery!” the captain announced with some urgency in his voice. There was silence at first. Then, all at once like a roaring tsunami, the crew members cheered and rushed off the Van Eltia in glee and lust and gluttony.

Mikleo scurried out of the way of the sea of seraphim to avoid being trampled. “Night of Debauchery?” he uttered in question. He was curious what it meant until Rokurou and Benwick explained the event to him.

It was a night in a long while where the crew members were allowed to drink, gamble, and sex anyone and anything. There were no rules, but Eizen knew that his people knew their boundaries enough to not commit heinous crimes that would get them thrown into prison. But that wasn’t all. There had been a particular musk in the air, a change in the atmosphere surrounding Zaveid and Eizen. Edna warned him that they needed to be left alone.

“Let loose, kid!” Rokurou encouraged him. “You won’t be getting another one for a month, so time to let out all that pent-up anxiety and rage you had from seeing Alisha for the first time. It’ll do you some good, you know?”

“N-No way!” Mikleo refused. “I…I have to stay pure for Sorey! If I’m going to do any sort of foolishness like that, it has to be with him. It can only be with him.”

Rokurou, Edna, and Benwick exchanged glances. They weren’t going to force him to do anything he didn’t want to do. They invited him to have a drink with them, but Mikleo declined that as well in favor of staying on the ship. Zaveid and Eizen had at some point left them to do as they pleased and disappeared without a trace. Unbeknownst to the water seraph, the invitation had been to keep him out of trouble.

Without anything better to do on this night alone on the ship, Mikleo looked for ways to learn how to prepare to set sail. It didn’t occur to him that he needed a chaperone to show him the literal ropes to become a better crew member and an efficient pirate. He had had the chance to have someone help him, and he had snuffed it. As he searched for things to do, his mind kept returning to Alisha’a request to bring Sorey home. His blood boiled, and alone under the moon and stars, he went to the bow of the ship. Conjuring up a bubble of water from the ocean under his feet, he stuck his head in it and just screamed. His voice was muffled and gurgled. No one could hear him vent his frustrations, and he had never been happier to be a water seraph than in that moment. It felt like the weight of the seas had been taken off his chest. His mind was clear, and whatever tears he shed mixed with the salty water that gave him the comfort of his own little space.

“Sorey…isn’t just some trophy husband!” he said inside the bubble. “I have to do whatever I can to save him!”

When he burst his own bubble, he decided that now was as good a time as any to explore the ship. While he did, he would soon learn why it was imperative to take up invitations to drink and gamble. Even if he had seen some of the world now, he was still literally and figuratively wet behind the ears. He criticized Alisha for her naivete, but he was woefully ignorant of his own.

He walked around the deck then eventually approached the captain’s quarters slowly as he examined everything from the sea to the sky to the sudden breeze and little quakes that rocked the ship. He just didn’t know what to do, and the sudden volleys back and forth on the growing chops in the water incessantly broke his concentration.

“What the hell is going on? Are we on some sort of tectonic plate, or a meeting point between two?” Mikleo whispered to himself. “And I didn’t sense the tides dropping for a storm or a change in currents…” He placed his hand on the doorknob leading into the captain’s quarters. “Maybe I can ask Eizen what to do.” He opened the door. He would learn that it was like opening the doors to a great hellfire.

Chapter Text

A girl dressed in a pink and purple witch costume toddled up with her long blonde hair bouncing with each step behind her to the extravagant ivory doors of Ladylake’s shrinechurch. Her lime-green cat-like eyes examined it thoroughly. She wasn’t merely investigating it but also taking in the magnificent structure of the holiest place in the city. She took one of the seven books hanging around her waist like a skirt, leafing through it and comparing the drawing to the real thing. She was in absolute awe that she was face-to-face with such a grand building. Her elven-pointed ears twitched; someone was coming her way.

A tiny familiar stood by her leg. He was purple like parts of her outfit yet his face was obscured with an over-sized top hat with eyeholes cut out of its side. He gripped his little red bowtie in fear, the demon wings on his back—purely decoration—shivering and trembling with the rest of his miniscule body.

“We need to hide!” he warned with a raspy whisper.

“Oh, no, Bienfu dear,” the witch girl giggled. “No running this time. Why, we’ve been given a very important mission. I can’t simply abandon it knowing that our lives depend on its success.”

She pulled out a paper doll from another one of her books. It was starch-white and cut out in the shape of a human. The doll—Guardian as she called it—was nothing more than a homunculus or effigy that she used when caught in a tight spot. All she had to do was get the target’s blood on it, and she could use it like a voodoo doll. It was a special ability that she had instilled on top of using it to channel her magic.

In fact, it was one of the many lost techniques in the world that had been sealed away because of the dichotomous ways it could be used. Some would use it for good, ensnaring hoodlums or criminals and stopping them from attacking civilians. Others used it for evil, torturing innocent lives by folding the limbs and even ripping the Guardian in half. The girl had used them for all sorts of things, and the madness in her eyes denoted that she wasn’t afraid to do it again.

Back when she worked for the circus that travelled on the seas—oddly named Carpenter’s Walrus—she had trapped sea animals. With her magic, she would tear them apart for the enjoyment of the humans that paid to see her. At first, she felt horrible for cutting short the lives of harmless animals, but as she grew, she learned that it was the only way to survive. Until she was liberated by an old man that lived in Pendrago. That old man was Melchior. He had taught her how to use her magic more efficiently, and in time, she became his beloved daughter and most trusted informant. Of course, she had gotten to know Symonne, and the two had gotten along well enough. Between her magic and Symonne’s mastery of illusion, Melchior had created a particularly deceptive team.

But now wasn’t the time to reflect on their synergistic relationship. She waited for whoever was approaching to show themselves. And once he did, she sucked her teeth and put her doll away. Standing before her in the silvery moonlight of the quiet night around the shrinechurch was a man with a fox-like Kabuki appearance. Dressed in black leather, eyes glowing gold, a sharp-toothed smile curled up on his cheek. In the dark, it looked scary as if his mouth had been slit from ear to ear.

“What’s up, Magilou?” he greeted.

“God, Lunarre! Could you have been sneakier?” Magilou scoffed. “To think I would have wasted one of my Guardians on you.”

“My bad.”

Lunarre, who worked as a lookout with the Sparrowfeathers during the day and whenever they were out to sea, was a trained assassin by night on land. His captain Rose had learned of his alternate trade on accident, and it was precisely while she made him lookout. No one could catch him off-guard, and he could catch everyone off-guard save for those who worked with him. After all, why would he need to sneak up on his colleagues?

Magilou had only met him recently. In that short time, she knew she didn’t care for him and much preferred to work with Symonne, who was at least competent in her opinion. Still, she had to follow orders.

“Alright, spill the beans,” she whispered. “How’s the target?”

“Out cold for another couple days.” He walked closer to the witch. “The captain made a pretty strong cocktail using that recipe you gave me. What was it? Mustard seed, deadly nightshade, cane toad testicle…it’s honestly horrifying, and I have no idea how you even tested it.”

Bienfu gagged. Memories of being the guinea pig for such a concoction rushed back to him. Magilou smirked; her little familiar was subject to all kinds of torture to test her creations. Mustard seed and nightshade were used as medicines, but the concentrations had to be just perfect to ensure that the subject would die from poisoning. That wasn’t much of a problem as Bienfu wouldn’t die so easily. He wasn’t human but a weaker type of seraph. And she knew from Melchior’s research that seraphim and the gods that governed their world were capable of ingesting more poisons than humans could even begin to handle. The third ingredient—cane toad testicle—was merely a prank. No one would be willing eat it, and much less anyone would drink it after it was blended in a potion. She had read in the older apothecary books in her mentor’s collection that it had two different effects depending on what it was mixed with. If it was mixed with sedative elements, it would trick the person’s body into a numbing drowsiness. If it was mixed with stimulants, it had an effect similar to an aphrodisiac. When she had tested her potion on Bienfu, she made sure to mix it with the former set of ingredients because she didn’t want to deal with a creature unable to sate its hunger after taking it.

“I have my ways of doing things, Luny,” Magilou cooed. “Back to business. If the target is still unconscious, then you have some time. Do you know where to rendezvous?”

“Haria. What about you?”

“Tomorrow I’m going to apply to be a maid to the princess. Apparently, they need someone to ‘give her a good laugh’ every now and again. And who better to do that the Magnificent, Marvelous, and Magnanimous Mazhigigika Miludin do Din Nolurun Dou!”

Lunarre rolled his eyes. “Just don’t introduce yourself like that. And don’t fuck this up.”

“Me? Fuck up? Whatever do you mean? I’m not the one who’s incompetent!” Magilou suddenly seemed to switch on him. “You should heed your own advice, in all honesty. You seem to forget about your track record of making a mess of things.” She waved him away. A wave of eerie calm came over her like the tide on a full moon night. “But whatever. We don’t have time for this rivalry. We must go our separate ways while the night is young.”

“It’ll be problematic if I’m spotted here; even more so if someone catches me heading back to the Sparrowfeathers. Once you’ve infilitrated the palace, make sure you let Melchior and Symonne know.” He turned away from her. “As a forewarning, if things go to shit before we can deliver the target to Pendrago, Rose has decided to kill him.”

Magilou simply stared at him, her eyes lidded with suspicion. It wasn’t in the plan for the target to be executed. She needed to speak with Melchior before that happened if it happened. If he were to die, she would have to explain what happened despite not being there. Lunarre, as flippant and nonchalant and lackadaisical as they came, warned her again that his captain hadn’t killed anyone in a while. She was itching to sully her fingers with crimson again.

“I understand,” she responded. “I’ll consult Melchior for a Plan B.”

Lunarre took his leave, walking from the shrinechurch grounds in the view of one of the great stained-glass windows where a woman in red watched quietly.

---------------------------------------------

All was quiet on the Van Eltia save for Rokurou, Edna, Benwick, and Mikleo conversing up on the deck. The Captain’s Quarters were just underneath, yet thanks to the massive amount of wood put into the ship, it felt isolated from the rest of the world. No sound could be heard from it. The only windows were seaside, allowing for the moonlight to peek through the somewhat misty glass.

Eizen had been meticulous when decorating the room. A decent-sized circle table sat in the middle of the room with five chairs. A lockbox of gold coins and several maps were sprawled on it, the map having seen better days before it had been marked up with red ink. There were X’s where there was treasure yet to be found and scribbles over the places where they had searched. A desk was positioned before the wide window, stationary items like parchment and a quill and inkwell arranged so that he could simply pick up the pen when he needed to. Shelves and drawers held keepsakes and trophies of his crew’s pillaging near the door, and to the side of the room was his uncharacteristically lavished cot. The sheets were made of the finest golden silk. The curtains pulled to either side of it similar to a canopy were of heavy wine-colored velvet. On the wall in the bed area was a single hook.

Zaveid strolled along to a cabinet holding all sorts of liquors then picked up a couple of tumblers. The pep in his step was evident. For every step he took, Eizen could hear the notes to some jolly melody. He pulled a ball of ice from a bucket for each glass. It was never-melting ice they had stolen from the north. Legend had it that long ago, long before the gods they worshipped now were even born, a spirit named Celsius once lived there. Her ice had been there for millennia, never melting and never moving. It was a wonder of the world, and whether the story was true or not, it was a fun way to think about the northern ice caps. Of course, there was a high chance that such a story was simply conjured up to help sell it to the layman.

The wind seraph grabbed a bottle of whiskey, filling the tumblers half-full. His mouth was already watering at the sight of the golden liquid. It had been a while since he last had a private drink with the man he had given his heart to. As he poured the liquor, he felt Eizen’s icy eyes on him. It was tantalizing and titillating.

“Taking your time, are you?” Eizen teased him. “The longer you take, the less time we have.” He sat at the table. Leaning back, a leg crossed over the other, there was an air about him that seemed rather impatient. “Oh, I get it. The longer you wait, the better it’ll be?”

“Bingo, Eizen,” Zaveid lulled. Tightly closing the bottle and replacing it in the cabinet, he knew what he was doing. “After all, I can be insatiable, so I’m trying to make this easier for you.” He waltzed over to the table with the drinks, sitting in a chair adjacent to Eizen. “After all, we’re going to need to make sure we get it all out tonight.” Setting the tumblers on the table, he flashed him a knowing look. “It’s going to be a while until the next time.”

Eizen watched him, reading his body language then acting accordingly. He took one of the tumblers filled with whiskey from Zaveid, clinking his glass before downing the liquor in one gulp. He was relaxed, and the drink warmed his belly. But Zaveid wasn’t. In fact, he was anxious.

The koiship was sentient. It had its own opinions, and it would know whenever someone was having sex. The ship they were getting was male—just another one of the boys perhaps. It unnerved the wind seraph what had been said. If given the chance, the ship would try to enhance the experience. It was like having someone watch, and since he had never had anyone listen to him getting it on with Eizen aside from the cabbage-induced night on that island he mentioned where most everyone was too inebriated to think, such a thought made him increasingly uncomfortable. That was why he was delaying their night. He wanted to squeeze every last bit of ecstasy he could out of it.

Eizen began to take off the smaller accessories. His hat, eyepatch, ascot—anything that he could take off at that moment that would elicit any whiny reprimands. If Zaveid asked—and he often did—he just said that he was making himself comfortable.

“What do you think about the koiships?” Zaveid asked him, somewhat distracted.

“They’ll be advantageous at the very least, and…”

“And…?”

“You can’t tell me you’re not curious about how they could make having sex better.”

Zaveid blushed. Usually he was the one to bring up such topics, but not tonight. Tonight was the last night they would be spending on the Van Eltia. After tonight…

“After tonight, things are going to be different. It’ll be like having a kid. An omniscient kid. An omniscient kid who is very aware of what kind of nutting up we get to.”

“Oh? I didn’t think you would mind this much!”

“Eizen, before I met you, I used to take care of kids. And children don’t need to know what adults do!” Zaveid crossed his arms with a pout.

Eizen laughed. “Alright, alright. How much longer are you going to wait to give me the go-ahead? The night’s still young, but I’m waiting to pleasure you.”

“Always impatient, you know?”

“That’s because you’re usually the one begging to start.”

Zaveid raised his glass to that. He swallowed the whiskey before unravelling his braid. With a curling finger, he beckoned Eizen to him, and the earth seraph did not hesitate. He got up from the chair, taking long strides to him. Straddling him while he was still seated, Eizen lifted his chin with a finger. With his other gloved hand, he masterfully undid the belts holding the pauldron and vest to him. Next was the necklace, and unlike the belts, he was extra careful taking it off. It was precious to him, and if it got caught in his hair, it would cause him pain that he knew he didn’t like.

“You got your pendulums?” Eizen asked him while unclasping the necklace and setting it on the table. Zaveid was breathing in his scent from his shoulder.

“Of course, I do,” he chuckled. “What kind of knots are you going to try this time?”

“Something basic because someone wanted to waste time.”

“Fine by me, just make sure it’s tight.”

Eizen affirmed he would. He looked into his amber eyes, desire not yet evident. That was the fun part—he wanted to make him beg for it.

He was in charge of bending Zaveid to the point that he was pleading to come. He was slow and methodical not out of his partner’s preference but because he loved to bask in the glory that was making him go crazy. He knew what he liked and didn’t like. No hair pulling, but he wanted teeth and nails burying into him. He was particularly fond of shibari and how it felt to have the binds pressing and rubbing against his skin.

Eizen, though, did love him intensely. While he never showed it, he was more concerned that Zaveid was enjoying himself even more than he was, and as a ritual, he always used the first kiss to remind him of that. He slowly and gently caught him. Innocent and chaste and long enough that the message got across, the first kiss of the night set the baseline.

“Remember, you can tell me to stop anytime you want,” he always said.

“That would be the real torture,” Zaveid always joked. “Why would I want to stop before I’ve come, huh? Let’s get started.”

Eizen’s lips curled into a devious smirk. That was the go-ahead; now he was allowed to be as rough as Zaveid wanted, and he relished that he was someone that wouldn’t be entertained unless it was rough. But of course, he couldn’t just dive right into him. He had to build him up to it. He stared at his lips, succulent and positively delicious. Now even he was having a hard time keeping himself calm despite no other emotion on his face than the mischievousness that he tended to have.

He went in for another kiss, this one with more motion and desire behind it. But he stopped himself, and Zaveid looked at him with want. It was too early for him to stop, but then he had been the one that tried to delay having sex so that his restlessness would increase the pleasure exponentially.

Eizen slipped off his long glove. Zaveid was pinned under him in the chair, and he knew he wasn’t going to fight to get up. “So, how are we going to do this?” he asked him tantalizingly. He cupped his face lovingly at first before he passed his thumb over his lips seductively. “How do I get you to completely submit in the fastest way possible?”

“If I were still a ripe virgin, I’d already be wet,” Zaveid teased.

“True. I remember when this was all it took to unravel you. Then again, you were always horny as hell back then.”

“Who isn’t when they’re a strapping young man? Or woman in some cases?”

Eizen wormed his thumb into Zaveid’s mouth, who obediently opened it and let him probe him. He felt the wind seraph shift under him, as if trying to make sure he didn’t get excited too quickly. No, there was still so much to do before he could begin to get hard. His eyes were lidding.

It was difficult trying to stay calm, though. Zaveid couldn’t help himself, and he began to inch towards the finger in his mouth. Eizen removed his thumb at once.

“Ah-ah, you know the rules,” the captain lightly scolded. He leaned forward to kiss him, pressing into him so he could explore as deep as possible into him. “Even if you’re not that ‘strapping young man’ anymore, you’re still so needy.”

“Ah, shut up.”

Eizen moved to his cheek then ear. “How long do you want to stay here?” he asked him, but it wasn’t out of concern. He was coaxing him to move to the bed, and it was here that Zaveid had a chance to fight back.

“However long it takes you to make me a sobbing mess,” he teased him.

“That won’t take too long, then!”

Removing the other glove, Eizen grabbed onto Zaveid’s massive pecs. Both were built muscular and strong, but Zaveid’s chest was almost always on display. In front of everyone, he wasn’t allowed to grope him unless it was nighttime and most everyone was drunk out of their minds. And his grip wasn’t some kid’s grip, either. It was powerful—so powerful and delectable that Zaveid had to lean into his hands, his own following up on his captain’s. Eizen bit his neck, one hand still cupping one pec and squeezing it. His teeth left a trail down his neck to his shoulder.

It was a rush that Zaveid had felt time and time again, yet he never got tired of it. It was like when the tides came in. And Eizen was very aware that they were coming in. He did what he always did when he started to get excited—he got off him. He took his pendulums, stretching them at the level of his crotch so his partner could see that it was time to start moving things along.

“Ready for the opener?” he asked. His icy-blue eyes glared at him with such seduction that perhaps Zaveid was paralyzed by him. “You know what to do.”

“Fuck, you’re going to make me walk over there?”

“Alright, have it your way then.”

Eizen stepped up to him, and without a second to spare, he took him by his crotch. Zaveid let out a restrained gasp; there was nothing to stop Eizen from handling him as such, and he was glad about that. He was always so reserved when around his sister or anyone else. These moments in privacy were special pockets of time where he could loosen up and take charge of him. But he didn’t lead him anywhere; he simply just rolled his manhood in his hands. The thick fabric of his pants unfortunately lessened the sensation. That was all he needed to coerce Zaveid to carry himself to the bed. He had to work for it.

Leaning in closer to his ear, his low alluring voice tickling him inside and out, “How am I supposed to touch you properly if you’re over here? Or…could it be that you want to be dragged over there?”

Zaveid crooned at the lilt in his words, a tiny whine rumbling in his throat. Eizen palmed him more and more. He still wouldn’t take himself to the bed, so the captain had no choice. With Zaveid’s pendulums, he began to tie him. He draped one of the pendulums around his neck, tying the first knot at the center of his somewhat heaving chest. That was all he needed to make a leash for someone so disobedient.

“Come on, Zaveid! Time’s wasting,” Eizen purred. He yanked the leather cord of the pendulum, and the wind seraph staggered behind him. “Don’t you want it? Or maybe you’re doing this on purpose. Someone really wants to be punished.”

“Perhaps I do,” Zaveid chuckled.

Eizen did as he said he would do, dragging him to the bed in the alcove hidden by curtains. He pushed him onto it. He stared down at him, an annoyed glint in his eye, as he threw his vest off. He didn’t intend to take anything off. After all, why should he when he was the one in charge?

Zaveid lay on the bed before him, the leather cord hanging somewhat loosely around his neck. Both had a role to play, but Eizen had to break character for just a moment to steal a deep kiss from the self-induced helpless man. He was a spectacle, and he wasn’t even completely naked yet.

The lovely hazy was drifting. Eizen held him down below again. His fingers worked to undo the belts around his waist and legs because, at the end of the day, true pleasure would only come from the thin cords waiting to bind him.

“Wow, even undressing me without my help?” Zaveid teased him. “Gotten rusty already?”

“I could just stop here,” Eizen threatened. “This won’t really work if you’re wearing pants that won’t even let you get it up.”

“You have a point.”

Eizen didn’t let Zaveid’s chiding get to him. He knew what he was doing, and while working on the principle of delayed but increased gratification, he was perturbed by the idea that Zaveid thought he was going too fast. Undressing did require some sort of teamwork, though. Zaveid’s pants were tight—abnormally and horrifying tight for any man—that he needed to comply out-of-submissive-character to get the pants off. His undergarments came off with them.

“Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to business,” Eizen nonchalantly said.

“You were in business before?” Zaveid joked.

“You’re really asking for it, aren’t you.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

An exasperated sigh sounded before the captain hovered over Zaveid. He kissed him quickly then move to his neck and bit him hard again. The wind seraph grunted. This time there was a little blood.

“Now, shut up, and let me work,” Eizen said, his voice low and seductive. He took the leather cords to tie two more elaborately intricate knots before coming down to his half-hard member. He carefully tied the cords around him while cunningly fondling him. Cold air and tight leather fell on his skin. Zaveid couldn’t do anything; the feeling had left him paralyzed in want. And the way that the cords had been tied, Eizen smirked almost evilly. “There we go—I’ve made sure to delay any and all gratification.”

“You asshole,” Zaveid growled.

“Right, on your stomach.”

Eizen continued threading up Zaveid until he was an erotic birthday present. The pièce de résistance? Zaveid’s hands were tied behind his back so that Eizen could chain him to the hook once he looped it over.

Now that he was completely immobile and helpless, Eizen was free to do what he wanted and free to order him to do his bidding. The tightness of the cords along with the lingering strain in his elbows had their intended affect. Eizen simply marveled at the tanned face melting into lusty tears before him. The cord holding him hostage was taut, his chain rattling ever so slightly.

“Now, what to do first?” Eizen cooed. He simply sat and stared at him. “It didn’t take you long at all to get hard, so I wonder how long you can handle not being able to come.”

That sultry voice. That assholish taunting. He knew it turned Zaveid on while he sat there waiting for something to happen. He decided. Kicking off his boots, he climbed onto the bed then stood before him so that his crotch was in front of Zaveid face.

“How does it feel not being able to have this?” he teased him.

“Eizen…this is cruel…” Zaveid whined.

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed.”

Of course, being told that he was cruel wasn’t going to stop him. He leaned into Zaveid, and the poor wind seraph,whose mouth watered at the very presence of his lover’s still-sheathed cock, made an attempt to at least touch it with his nose. Then he just need to move his head a little more to get at him. That is, until Eizen pulled away, returning to the liquor cabinet for another swig of whiskey and to decide what to do next.

Perhaps he already knew. Because seeing Zaveid like this got him excited, too. He took a minute to bring out his cock. With it in full view to torture the wind seraph that it was something he couldn’t have, he walked over to one of the drawers that had a small lock on it. The key was sitting on top of the dresser; it wasn’t a secret he needed to hide. Everyone on the ship knew that they usually had sex with each other. But the lube he pulled out from the drawer wasn’t for Zaveid quite yet. He obscured his view while rubbing the slick liquid on him.

“I figured that if you saw me come first, it would make things much harder for you.”

“You and your stupid jokes.”

“Pun unintended.”

Eizen began his dirty deed, stroking himself slowly and methodically not for pleasure but to drive his partner up the wall. He wasn’t a fan of shibari, but knowing that Zaveid had gotten him into this situation where he wasn’t allowed to come until the captain gave his order was probably the best thing that happened all day and night. Even when Eizen undid himself and bucked into his own hand, he was far more aware of the impatience bubbling in the one across from him.

“Eizen, don’t you fucking dare,” Zaveid growled.

“Who’s the one tied up? So just watch and enjoy the show. Oh, I forgot, you can’t!” Eizen teased him.

“I swear, if you come before you fuck me, I’ll never forgive you!”

Eizen just continued doing what he was doing, slowly building the pressure in him until he would reach his tipping point. Zaveid’s protests and struggles as he felt that same pressure in him made it all sweeter. Unlike the wind seraph, though, Eizen had discipline. Something as elementary as this wouldn’t make him spill so easily. He wasn’t like Zaveid. He took himself to the wind seraph. He sat there between his legs, dick still in his hand. A lecherous glint shined in his eyes.

This was the pinnacle of their times together. For as adventurous as they were together, and for all the torment that Eizen delivered, he only did it with Zaveid’s gratification in mind. When Zaveid didn’t like something, he didn’t hesitate to tell Eizen. His voice would change, and the pleasure evident on his face instantly became eclipsed by anger or disgust. He would demand to be untied before leaving for the deck. The times he didn’t like what Eizen was doing were times in which he would stay far from the earth seraph, which gave the latter the chance to reevaluate what it was that went wrong and to reformulate his methods.

As such, he knew at this point that Zaveid was genuinely enjoying it. It was a game where they had to play against each other. And once someone was declared the winner—in whatever context they had determined at the beginning—only then would they meld in love. Eizen looked up into Zaveid’s eyes. He didn’t say anything. He only bit his inner thigh before enveloping him in his mouth.

“E-Eizen…!” Zaveid gasped. He could barely contain himself now, his mouth becoming a waterfall at the warmth that wet cavity taking hold of him.

Eizen peeked up at him, his tongue caressing him in such a lewd display that almost gave him the strength to break free from his bonds. If he could have, he would have given up waiting for him to bury himself in him and instead had his way with him. That were many things that Zaveid cherished about his relationship with Eizen. He allowed him to do what he wanted, for one. There were times unlike now where Zaveid wanted to be on top. Other times were similar to this moment where he wanted to be ravaged from the inside and out. Eizen always obliged.

The captain sucked on his lover long and hard while stroking himself. It wasn’t to please himself; he knew that. If he kept pushing closer and closer to the edge, he would act on that feral desire. In turn, Zaveid would lose himself. This was the ultimate way to keep him under control.

But even Eizen had his limits. Zaveid moaned, his breath hitching in his throat. Lower half trembling and quivering from the inability to release, chest heaving as his mind tried to figure out what to do to alleviate it. That sight of him was going to be Eizen’s undoing. He had to hurry!

He could barely stand and much less scramble onto the bed to unchain Zaveid from the hook, but he forced himself to do it. He had to before it was too late. He had pushed to the point of no return—it was now inside him or later on his bedsheets and risking that feeling of betrayal.

Eizen positioned Zaveid on his knees despite his arms and wrist still being expertly tied behind him. With just a bit more of the lubricant coating his member and fingers, he quickly dug into him. The sweet, sweet sound of Zaveid’s voice cracking at the feeling of Eizen’s one finger—two fingers—three fingers inside of him and stretching open the entrance to nirvana before plunging deep into him rang throughout the room. There wasn’t any time to work up to any sort of desirable pace; Eizen just thrust into him his wind seraph even though Zaveid had no means to release. His nails dug into him. Zaveid moaned and begged him to let him come, yet at the same time, the captain was deaf to his pleas. It was starting to get too painful to bear.

“E-Eizen…! I…I need to do it…!” Zaveid almost cried at this point.

Through the haze overcoming both of them, Eizen struggled to untie Zaveid until it was clear he had to use brute strength to break the cords. One by one, the pieces of leather fell off. The pressure pulsating in Zaveid, however, wouldn’t lighten up.

“Maybe I can ask Eizen what to do,” a somewhat familiar voice came from behind the door leading out into the halls under the deck.

Eizen was peaking. He clawed into Zaveid in ecstasy. His arms wrapped around him with his hands grabbing onto his chest muscles and squeeze. His pace was steady and fast and strong. He was an earthquake rocking through Zaveid’s body. Just like how waves developed or how volcanoes erupted, his essence burst into his lover like seismic waves from an epicenter. Zaveid let out a cry that dripped of pleasure and pain. Even though he had wanted the binds off so he had the freedom to come, he still needed that extra push. The two leaned back so that Eizen could take hold of Zaveid’s cock. He pumped him eagerly while still thrusting into him from behind.

“Eizen…Eizen…!” Zaveid huffed and panted, eyes slowly closing and mouth agape.

“Hey, Eizen, is there—”

Mikleo opened the door, oblivious at first to the noises they were making in the bed. And the moment that he entered the room, Zaveid exploded forth. His liquid soul shot out in bursts over his captain’s hand in a way that the water seraph, who had been foolish to stay on-board, could only think of as a cannon.

Eizen and Zaveid were both spent, probably even too exhausted now to think or acknowledge Mikleo’s presence at that moment. The earth seraph kissed his wind seraph on his neck through his hair and on his shoulder. As a gesture of caring, he gently and carefully massaged him where the cord had been tied. It was somewhat sore from the leather, but it would heal. It always did.

“U-Uh…” Mikleo stammered. If he could bleach his eyes and erase what he had just seen, he would have done so gladly and without hesitation. He forgot what he wanted to ask, slowly backing up to the door.

“Huh? Oh, hey, Mikster…!” Zaveid greeted with a tired smile once Eizen’s kisses brought them back down from their high. “What brings you here?”

Mikleo had never seen anything like what he had just seen. His face was red and flustered, his mind positively short-circuiting.

“What are you even doing on the ship? Weren’t you invited out to drinks?” Eizen asked irately.

“I…I…” Mikleo stuttered. “I must be going!” He ran out the Captain’s Quarters

“Hm? Weird kid.” Zaveid sighed.

“He hasn’t hit puberty yet. Leave him alone.”

While Eizen let go of him, and he allowed him to pull himself out; Mikleo was scrambling back to his cabin on the other side of the ship. He shut the door behind him.

The water seraph had never been around seraphim that lent themselves to the vices and pleasures of human life. He had never seen any sort of sex like that; he had never seen sex in general. But here he was—intruding on the captain and his lover like an idiot. The thoughts that began to leak into his mind worried him.

What if…?

He could do that…?

With Sorey…?

He leaned against the door. What if he can Sorey could be like that? He slid down, his hands over his mouth as if forbidding him from even mentioning his name with these thoughts. Could he really have that? Or would that be bad? Would Sorey think it was disgusting or unbecoming of a seraph? What would it take to ask him if they could meld like that together? What would it take to bring him back to his side in the first place?

Chapter Text

The shrinechurch in Ladylake glistened in the morning sun. Gold and sapphire, in a way, it was the crown jewel of the lake-locked city itself. It was far more prestigious than the palace where Alisha spent her days. It had tapestry that was akin to royalty, an altar that burned for eternity thanks to the deity that watched over them, and was built out of marble. It was the epitome of the privilege that the rich felt, who scorned the poor because they were not lucky enough to enjoy such lofty lives. The priests that maintained the place of worship gave flowery speeches and disseminated the holy word among the peons were as greedy as them but had no qualms about taking from the poor in the name of the Great Lord that blessed the world.

But even as they worshipped the White Light that purified them of their sins, the Lady of Lake named Lailah saw through their lies. It was so easy when they wore it like wedding veils that were disposed of in front of each other and those who had been elevated to their status. It was disgusting, she always thought, and she hated to hear them speak ill about her interests. They would preach all sorts of things about her piousness and that because she was the holy maiden of the city, her sexual exploits were in direct contradiction with their teachings.

Lailah was a respectable woman, mild-mannered and soft-spoken but so powerful that a mere waggle of her finger could burn the city. She was an incredibly powerful fire seraph who agreed to give her blessing to the city as long as she had a place to rest and a place to engage in her guilty pleasures. Like her kin, she was one to let herself be taken by the throes of passion. Fire seraphim were wild, and she had her needs, but she didn’t let those define her. In fact, it was the priests that had decided to paint her as the mother of all in the city, and every time they had told her not to pursue such vices, she threw back at them:

“If I am the mother of all, how could I have had so many children if not by fornicating at least half as many times as there are people in this city?”

It was a statement that almost always shut them up, and it was a good excuse for her to leave the shrinechurch for an excursion or two. On these trips out of the holy grounds, she would find humans and seraphim alike to bed and make her rounds about the city. If it wasn’t one person at a time in rapid succession to sate her voracious appetite, it was two or three at the same time, and she was in control. She had to be.

She didn’t use her status and power flippantly. Those under her spell, intoxicated by her beauty, bowed to her. To them, it was an honor to be chosen to make her climax. Thankfully, Lailah was only ever depicted in historical art to be with child; she couldn’t get pregnant herself—no seraph could. She could lose herself in the rush without worry. But as a motherly person, she made sure that humans were safe themselves. She never mixed women and men to prevent them from cross-multiplying by accident. It was rudimentary, but she didn’t want to put others in a position that they couldn’t afford to be in.

She hated what the shrinechurch made her wear, too. A bulky headdress that stood two feet tall and was mostly made of ivory and gold to denote her holiness. A short, flowing dress with the sides cut out in such a way that she had to question if she was supposed to be conservative and modest or enticing and with long bell-shaped sleeves. It was a fashion disaster, so when she went out, she made sure to change.

Back in the early days of the Van Eltia crew and before Eizen and Zaveid had become a couple—of which she was envious—the wind seraph had gifted to her a gypsy-styled pirate’s costume that made use of her assets. There were a couple times that she had managed to get Zaveid alone, and even fewer times she and him had slept together. Back then, he had been preoccupied with other seraphim, and she wanted him. As fate had it, and as the fortuneteller that she dabbled as, she knew they couldn’t be together. She saw in his cards that there was someone else for him—Eizen. And while she had appearances to keep, she did think about what it was like to meld with him now.

Of course, the only one who wasn’t aware of this side of the Lady of Lake was Eleanor. Lailah wanted to keep it that way. Eleanor adored her like a goddess, worshipping her shirinechurch. But it wasn’t because Lailah was Lailah. Eleanor had studied the teachings of the Church for years ever since she was a little girl. In those teachings, she learned that Lailah was the successor of the previous Lady of Lake named Brunhilt.

Brunhilt had started the practice of having Oracles, and she worked closely with another seraph named Seres. It was because of her that it had to be started. Seres worked very closely with one of the mythical forces that kept the world in balance. She kept to herself after appearing at the steps of the shrinechurch one day, and Brunhilt had taken her under her wing. The two worked together to make sure that the people were happy and healthy, and they were more prudish than Lailah. But Seres’s time in Ladylake wasn’t long.

She lost control of her fire, igniting during when once prayers had begun. She burned brightly like a star on earth, the flames licking the walls and drapery inside. The shrinechurch had been reduced to ash; Seres had perished. From then on, Brunhilt petitioned the Church to begin the Rite of the Oracle. A man named Siegfried was chosen to be the first with his heart pure. She chose him based on that, and she knew in her soul that she could use him to meet with the double ouroboros and ask them why they had murdered Seres. The mystery of her spontaneous combustion was never solved, however. Brunhilt and Siegfried, in their sanctity, eloped with each other.

“It’s such a dreamy love story,” Eleanor used to say about the history. She was a girl that wanted her knight in shining armor to sweep her off her feet. Naturally, whenever Rokurou tried to hit on her, though, her immediate reaction was a negative one.

The morning after the Van Eltia’s night of tomfoolery, Lailah sought her devotee after the first prayer of the day. She greeted her with slight bow and a warm smile. Eleanor loved her like a mother, and oftentimes she told her that she truly wished that she could be her daughter. But the time for such lofty wishes wasn’t now. Lailah looked uneasy.

“Milady, good morning,” Eleanor said with utmost respect and admiration.

“Good morning, Lady Eleanor. Do you have time? I need you to pass a message to Lady Alisha.”

Eleanor, dutiful and thorough, pulled out a pen and a small piece of paper. She typically partook in the custom of writing a wish and tossing it into the altar fire, but she could spare one to alert Alisha of something that Lailah deemed important.

The Lady of Lake mentioned to her that she had seen two people conversing just outside of the building late last night. She couldn’t make them out in the dark, but she knew that it was a man and a woman. The woman had an impossibly long name, so identification would be extremely easy.

Eleanor vowed to send her message to Alisha post-haste. In fact, she didn’t even hesitate to leave now. She said her farewell to Lailah, and when she arrived back at her place next to Alisha, she asked for her attention. Alisha had just sent out a messenger pigeon.

“Lady Alisha, Lady Lailah mentioned she saw suspicious activity around the perimeter of the shrinechurch last night,” she abruptly said. “According to her, it was a man and a woman, but she couldn’t see any identifying details. One of them had a very long name. I think we should post more guards around the shrinechurch as well as begin searching for the trespassers.”

Distracted by the bird, Alisha agreed to only posting more guards. It was oppressive to search the city for criminals they didn’t even know what they looked like. Instead, it was easier to simply have more guards until they could learn who the perpetrators were. After all, tipping off the intruders would only make it harder to find them.

“I mean no disrespect, but wouldn’t randomly increasing patrol around the shrinechurch alert them as well?” Eleanor asked dubiously.

“Perhaps it will, but I don’t want to make the populace more frightened than they already are,” Alisha sighed. “Until the Oracle arrives, we must take care to ensure the mental health of our people…and by ‘we’, I mean you and me. The council is already not concerned with him missing.”

“You do have a point.”

Alisha asked that Eleanor keep her eyes open for suspicious activity as well. The two girls walked through the palace until they came across Maltran and another girl in tow. Her blonde hair was wrapped into two giant balls on either side of her head. Her off-shoulder maid dress only went down to the middle of her thigh before her legs transformed into thigh-high black and white striped socks. Her red shoes matched the red collar around her neck, on which there was a tiny bell. Her headdress mimicked the look of mouse ears, and of course, there had to be a curling mouse tail behind her.

Maltran was annoyed by her promiscuous attire, but this girl promised that it was simply easy to clean in her strange outfit. She introduced herself:

“Ah, you must be Lady Alisha! My name is Magilou, and I would love to audition to not only be a maid but also your own personal entertainment girl!”

“E-Excuse me?” Alisha stammered.

“You heard right! I’m a bonafide circus-trained jester! My magic and jokes no know bounds! Oh, I’ll explain that one to you—the words “know” and “no” sound exactly alike! I could switch them on you, and you would never know! Or do I mean no? Yes, milady, fairest of them all! That is only but a taste of the comedy and allure of Magilou the Magnificent!”

“U-Um, what about the cleaning part?”

“C-Cleaning? A-Ah, yes! I can clean! I’m the best cleaner, and I have many amazing cleanings!”

Eleanor closed the distance between her and her princess to whisper in her ear. This Magilou was such a strange character that she wasn’t sure if she could be trusted. She spoke in incoherent riddles. Maltran remained silent, but her primrose eyes concurred with Eleanor’s warning. And Magilou detected the change in the atmosphere.

“I-I beg of you, dearest princess! I have a family to feed. I need this job. I will make it worth your while!”

It was a bargain that Lailah had heard oftentimes while she prowled the streets from those who hung outside of the taverns at night. There were only two results from such a proposal, and only one of them meant a good time. She stepped up; whatever this sniveling girl was trying to pull, she wasn’t going to let her. She knew that Alisha, who wanted everyone to live comfortably, wouldn’t refuse that promise. She was too nice for her own good, and Lailah herself wasn’t one to deny someone an opportunity to a good livelihood. Magilou was going to get the job despite there being no real need for it because that was what Alisha did. Maltran and Eleanor could only advise her, but Lailah had her status as the Lady of Lake.

“I suppose it would be alright,” Alisha said just as Lailah had anticipated. “I’d hate for your family to suffer.”

“Oh, you’re too kind, milady! See? I can already feel the lingo sit right into my noggin!”

“Lady Alisha, are you sure it’s wise to let her into the palace grounds? We don’t even know who she is aside from her strange name,” Maltran warned. Her primrose eyes glared through Magilou with the icy sharpness she always had to newcomers to the kingdom. “And you don’t need a jester.”

Alisha was a complex girl under all the frills. She was tired of having Maltran toy with her especially as she wrote to her secret admirer. Having someone new and as eccentric as this girl would be a nice change of pace. She figured that at the very least, she would keep her busy enough that she could write in peace. Eleanor, devotee of Lailah and guardian of Alisha, had to agree with her superior. It seemed so strange that she would appear, and right after Lailah had mentioned there was some strange activity. She was prepared to keep a close eye on her.

“You can trust me! Cross my heart and hope to live! Under this shining roof, in the presence of the radiant Princess Alisha!” Magilou gushed. “Now, let’s talk about my pay and boarding, shall we? Oh, and Little Miss Apple-Hair, would you be so kind as to take us to a private place to discuss my necessities?

Eleanor bristled at the insulting tone. Maltran rested her hand on her shoulder. It was important not to rock the boat. Lailah, accepting that she wouldn’t be able to talk with Eleanor for a little while longer about what to do, watched Alisha and the elven-eared would-be witch stroll down the hall.

She escorted herself out of the palace. How could she be so gullible? Then again, Lailah understood, Alisha hadn’t known the ways people lied and cheated like she did. She had been with plenty of others, and the ones that were caught offering their services were the ones that stole riches right from under their victim’s nose. She tried to remember what she had heard—something about Haria. She needed to get on a boat to Haria. When she returned to her shrinechurch, she stared up at the giant crest denoting the benevolent god that protected the legends. She asked for the confidence to leave, and upon deciding that it had to be that day, she set out to find her way to the island town.

----------------------------------------

The Van Eltia crew had set sail that morning on its course to Haria in the Southern Seas with their new koiship. The sea breeze was on their side, caught in their sail at full force which allowed the sentient ship to lazily let himself be pushed along`. The sun was behind them. Eizen and Zaveid convened with each crew member to assure that there were no problems on the horizon because the last thing they wanted was another pirate crew getting in their way.

It was the first long voyage in a while. Trips between Pendrago and Ladylake weren’t as long as trip all the way south or all the way north. There were numerous obstacles in the way like whirpools and the occasional singing siren waiting to lure entire crews to their watery deaths. Of course, the seraphim weren’t affected by them, but those like Benwick were. The only way he usually didn’t fall for such folly was whenever he was focused on getting to their destination.

While they technically could have sailed far south, they risked coming into sailors from Reneed, Kylfe, and Marlind. On top of sailing through rough waters, they had had enough run-ins in the past with other ships and fleets that it was better to stay out of strictly territorial water. Sailing in the Great Camelot Trade Waters thus became the norm for any and all ships that regularly left from Hyland Seas and Rolance Seas.

Edna and Zaveid scanned the zenith of the ocean together while Rokurou work on repairing their wares. Things had been quiet, much to the wind seraph’s worry. He may have been drunk last night, but the fact that they had a visitor walk in on him getting rammed from behind by the captain of their ship was mortifying. He had spoken with Eizen before setting their course.

“Please, Eizen, you have to see if he even remembers what he saw,” Zaveid begged his partner. “And if he does, launch him into the sun.”

Of course, Eizen wasn’t particularly upset that Mikleo had seen them. He wasn’t like Zaveid, who had regrets after having voyeuristic sex. Part of his ability not to care came strictly from how scary he looked. No one would fight him or tease him if they saw his orgasmic face. Everyone would never let Zaveid live it down. Though, he had to make sure that such incidents were water under the boat; if the wind seraph wasn’t abated in his anxieties, there was a good chance they would never sleep together again for as long as either of them lived.

Eizen, after all this thought, went down to the cabins to check on the water seraph. He first knocked on his door lightly. No answer. A little harder. Still nothing. Wiping his face of the irritation that had grown on him, he cracked his knuckles. If Mikleo wasn’t going to open the door, then he had no choice but to force it open. With a deft punch, he blew the door off its hinges right into the wall on the other side.

“It’s considered polite to open the door when your captain knocks,” Eizen gruffly said. No one was standing at the door, though. “The hell? Where did this kid go?”

He stepped inside. He didn’t sense anything out of the ordinary, coming to the little cot. There was an empty bottle labelled absinthe lying next to it, and under the covers was Mikleo. He looked dead.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, did this idiot drink an entire bottle of the green fairy?!” he panicked. He grabbed the water seraph by the scruff of his shirt. Quickly and without hesitation, he flew up to the deck. “The stupid kid drank all the absinthe we had!”

“For real?!” Benwick gasped.

The other pirates scoffed and caused a commotion as they watched their captain wrench open Mikleo’s mouth after hanging him over the side of the ship. He stuck his finger to the back of his throat, and as soon as he did, the water seraph spewed all the alcohol he had drunk. It was certainly a rude awakening for him, but not as rude as the following reprimand.

“C-Captain Eizen…?” Mikleo muttered. The sun flashed his eyes as the captain pulled him up to his face.

“What the actual fuck is wrong with you?!” Eizen bellowed. “If you wanted some absinthe, ask for it! Don’t drink the whole thing by yourself! Do you want to fucking die a human’s death?!”

“Easy there, boss,” Rokurou soothed. “Kid probably didn’t even realize it until it was too late. But seriously, Mik, don’t drink that stuff unless you’re in good company.”

The water seraph held his head once Eizen let him go. What was he talking about? Oh, he remembered. He had walked in on Zaveid and Eizen having—

“H-Ha…! Ha-ha!” Mikleo forced out, the strange and unnerving sight creeping back into his mind.

Zaveid hid his face in his hands. Surely, he would remember what he saw, and the wind seraph, embarrassed by what events had transpired, wished he could just disappear. Edna snickered:

“Oh, boy, but can you blame him? I’d drink myself into a coma if I walked in on you coming. Well, if it really bothers you, we can just kill him and dump his body to the sharks.”

Rokurou placed his hands on his hips. “If we killed him, then we’d lose the only other person we could pick on besides Benwick. You think Benwick wants to go back to that lifestyle?” he laughed. He eyed Mikleo and Eizen. “Zaveid, you’re a frisky guy; why not just let Mikleo in on your fun, too?”

“Excuse me? I may be kinky, but I’m not sharing Eizen with a kid,” Zaveid growled. “He’s like…1575 years younger than me. He’s a baby!”

“But in human years, he’s an adult,” Edna corrected. “Besides, I don’t think he’s interested in that sort of fun.”

Mikleo snapped his eyes on Zaveid. Immediately, he scrambled to his feet and bowed before him. He begged for forgiveness, apologizing for walking in on him and Eizen. If there was anything more embarrassing than having him catch him in the act, it was him shouting it to the high heavens for all to hear.

“Just stop talking, would you?!” Zaveid begged.

Then he felt a shiver down his spine; all of the non-human entities on the ship did. For Zaveid, he felt a change in the wind. The air pressure had plummeted, bring down with it his stomach and heart. For Eizen and Edna, the ocean floor trembled, striking a sense of fear in their core. For Rokurou, it was a fearsome force that sent him on alert.

For Mikleo, the water spoke to him. He felt a sense of familiarity. A long-lost warmth, the scent of sunflowers, the sweet sound of someone sleeping. It was calling to him. Out atop the sea like a song from the deep, a precious lapis lazuli, he sensed the Celestial Record. If they stayed the course, they would reach Haria soon enough. But how could they keep going when the Celestial Record, charmed with that magic presence, was there within reach somewhere? Had it been lost at sea? Or could it be?

There. On the horizon. There it was. The flag that bore the jolly roger of the Scattered Bones. It was sailing just ahead of them.

“Eizen,” Mikleo uttered. “We need to catch that ship.”

“We’re not getting into a skirmish.”

“We have to. That ship. They’re the ones that took my Celestial Record.” Mikleo keep his amethyst eyes on it. “They stole the only thing I had left of him. Please, we have to get it back!”

Eizen was nervous. This was the first time he was going to communicate with the ship. That morning, he had only greeted it and asked that it cooperated with him. Now, he had to order it not only to follow the Scattered Bones but to also sail as fast as it could. Nenyp linked with Eizen, reaching deep into his heart. He understood what Eizen wanted, as per Mikleo’s urgent request.

“I hope you know what you’re getting us into,” the captain said.

“Whatever we get into, now we can see just how much heat this ship packs!” Zaveid said, devoid of the embarrassment from earlier. “I can feel it. Another wind seraph!”

Nenyp the Koiship sped behind the Scattered Bones at breakneck speed. Edna and Rokurou and Benwick all hung onto whatever they could. Mikleo’s calm rage gave him the extra boost needed to push them right alongside. And at that moment, taking the Sparrowfeathers by surprise, he locked eyes with their red-haired captain.

“I’ve found you!” Mikleo declared. “And I’ve come back for what is mine!”

Chapter Text

It had been several nights since Rose had last coaxed Dezel into her room. She had been sleeping with other crew members in various one-night stands as a way to sate her hunger while delaying the true prize. She refused to be considered as an easy lay, though. Having sex with her was a high honor; she was, after all, the captain of this crew. She didn’t allow just any of the crew members in her bed either. She only lent her time to those that caught her eye. Did they bring in a larger haul of treasure than everyone else? Did they catch the biggest creature from the sea? Her crew had to work for her approval.

The only one who never needed to meet some sort of pre-requisite was Dezel, He didn’t seem like it, but he was far wilder than anyone else in bed, and it was just what Rose liked. Those sharp shark-like teeth piercing her skin was a drug far more potent than ecstasy—probably because he was the only one to have teeth like that. When they grazed her skin, whether it was her lips or thighs or breasts, she lost a little bit of control of herself. Dezel also enjoyed having Rose. She was the only one he wanted despite sometimes letting off steam with other shipmates. So anytime that the two wanted to meet for a night, they convened just at sundown and prepared to go at each other until daybreak. And since they still had two nights worth of sailing before they reached Haria, Rose settled that they were allowed to be with each other until landfall.

Rose’s captain’s quarters were lavished like Eizen’s with a more feminine touch. Instead of velvet, she had rose-colored satin from artisan weavers in Lastonbell and furniture made from gold mined from Lionel Island. Her desk made of oak was littered with maps upon maps denoting where treasure would be. There was also a written permit for sailing decreed by the Rolance kingdom so that they could travel freely. With this permission, finding and delivering the Oracle was smooth sailing. And with him in possession, it was time for a well-deserved break and reward.

That night began with few words exchanged between Rose and Dezel, both of whom hadn’t even waited to get inside the room before locking each other in passionately messy kisses. Rose had her arms around his neck and head while he gripped her by the waist. Backing her up to the door as she clumsily grabbed and turned the elegant doorknob, he became more aggressive.

“Dammit, Rose, I just realized something,” Dezel growled as he dipped deeper into her.

“What?” she replied, breaking away for just a moment.

“That kid is directly under the quarters. What if he’s listening to all this?”

“Since when did that become a problem? Everyone else can hear each other all the time. Besides, I’m not terribly worried if his sweet virgin ears get a load of us; it would probably entertain him. Open him up to new possibilities and whatnot.”

“He’s not one of us.”

“Ah, relax! Besides, it’s not like you do much screaming unless I’m pegging you—and that’s only ever happened once.”

“You promised we would never speak of that ever again.”

“And I’m not…entirely!”

Once inside the captain’s quarters, Rose proceeded to undress herself. She slipped off her corset and tossed aside her hat. She slowly opened her blouse so that Dezel had to suffer with only seeing a sliver of her voluptuous breasts pushed up by her lacy bra. She dropped the rippled skirt, revealing a pair of magenta thigh high stocking with garters. Of course, she would let her beau take care of the rest.

“So, what’s the plan for tonight? Getting right into business, or that slow tantalizing buildup?” she asked bluntly. “Either way is fine for me—just as long as the buildup isn’t too long.”

“I remember you always like foreplay,” Dezel teased as he approached her.

He dropped his cloak, and underneath he wore a simple black vest and pants with a dark green button-up. It wasn’t necessarily pirate attire, but he felt more comfortable in that than the frills and ruffles that everyone else usually donned. He loomed over her, making her instinctively fall back onto her bed.

“Well, you got me,” Rose giggled. “But I only like foreplay if you’re the one doing it. After all, the only one I truly love on this whole boat is you. And you know your way, so I’m rarely ever disappointed.”

“It’s been a few months, right?” Dezel said low and guttural, nearing her face. “I’ll do my best.”

Locking lips with her once again, he started slowly. The short time that they had wasted with banter had culled the feeling somewhat, but his drive was back in no time. As he kissed her, he rocked back and forth, inhaling and exhaling in rhythm before moving to her neck and biting her roughly. While others would normally whine or wince, Rose let out a restrained moan. Restrained because she wanted to save it for the best part later on. She was fully aware that there was someone listening below them, and she was all for scaring him.

Dezel massaged her breasts as he feasted on her, bringing his attack to their center as he methodically worked his way down. The bra was in the way, but that wasn’t his destination. Oh, no, not by a long shot. Farther and farther he went down her abdomen, and as he did, Rose propped herself up with her legs spread wide. When he came to the edge of her panties, he kissed her through them first, slowly and carefully before he gripped them with his teeth and slid them down. Of course, she lifted herself enough so he could get them down past her knees. He peeled off his vest and undid his shirt, but he left his pants for now. If he so much as grazed a finger on them, he would have shortchanged Rose the experience for the night.

He nipped the inside of her thigh, gazing up at her from below. “Have I ever told you that you’re the only one I ever do this to?” he said with a sense of love that seemed to have come out of nowhere.

“Maybe because I’m the only one who actually likes it,” Rose teased.

Dezel let out a chuckle before biting her again and sucking on that little portion of her flesh. Closer and closer, he kissed all over the insides of her thighs, and Rose quivered with each little advancement.

“So?” Dezel asked as he neared the destination. “How is it so far?”

“Exactly what I’ve been wanting since the last time we fucked,” she replied somewhat in a daze. She snapped out of the fogginess of pleasure to find that he was hovering over her, his hand pressing into her crotch. “Gods, do you know how hard I’m trying not to just lose it right now?”

“Making me work harder then.”

“No, making sure you’re thorough.” Her legs instinctively spread farther out as she encouraged him to start digging into her. Time was pleasure, and pleasure was something far more valuable than money at this moment. “You’re also the only one that knows exactly where to touch, so congrats!”

“I’m not blind; of course, I’d know.”

“Oh, getting a bit cocky now, are you? Well, chop-chop, I’m rarin’ to go!”

While Dezel rubbed and worked her, she tried her best to get at his pants to release the weapon he was trying to keep out of reach. The only way she could manage it was to lean more into his touch, which drove her mad. Falling in and out of the stupor, she tried to make her way to him.

“Would you relax? It makes this a lot harder.”

“Oh yeah, that’s the point.” She got the button undone, and in one swipe she unzipped his pants. “She strikes, and she scores!”

“Are you done?” Dezel asked her with exasperation. Or perhaps it was hunger. And the main course was on the horizon. “Quit squirming.”

“Make me,” Rose taunted him.

“I can stop right now.”

“N-No, wait! That’s torture!”

Kneeling back down and still kissing around her, he began to focus on just how to pleasure her. He asked that she took off her bra because now he needed her to help keep her attention. Instructing her to grope herself, he went about setting his tongue on her. Rose moaned and shivered just a little as he slowly lapped her up. She couldn’t help herself as she grabbed at his hair in glorious anticipation for the next leg.

“D-Dezel…go faster!” she begged.

Dezel smirked, alluringly asking her, “Where would the fun be in that?”

He kept working her, slowly like before with such discipline that Rose was nearly in tears as she tried everything to go faster until she finally came, and the moans that she had worked hard to keep inside finally escaped. Dezel was clearly proud of his handiwork—or tongue work—but that wasn’t all he had in store for her. That had the whole night to engage in some tomfoolery, and he was going to use it. He climbed onto the bed, reaching for her breasts. Before he knew it, she had lunge at him, flipping him over so that she was on top. Even though her body was pinging from the vibrations of her orgasm, she wasn’t going to let him just casually do as he pleased. She tore off his undergarments and bask in the presence of the only other thing she wanted inside her.

“I never get tired of that, but I really want you inside me,” she chimed drunkenly.

Dezel, both amazed at how desperate she was and terrified that she would hurt herself, tried to get her to take things slow. But at this point, there was no stopping her. Rose sat on top of him in naked splendor, bending down to kiss and bite his neck the same way he had done to her. She placed his hands on her hips then situated herself so that she could pressed herself down on him.

And while this was all happening, Sorey lay in the brig under them. He had never known what sex sounded like or what it was before leaving Elysia, and he had been kept away from it to preserve his purity. Listening to Rose’s moans and Dezel’s following soon after only made him question if they were in horrible pain or crying. The rhythmic thumping and squeaking confused him even more. He didn’t know much of what they meant to each other either. He had heard Rose with countless others on the ship, but none of them sounded as enthralled as the seraph with her now. All he could do was just endure it for the rest of the night and hope that they would land in Haria soon.

He thought about how let down Alisha probably was to know that he was being shipped to some island far away south. His mind drifted to Mikleo. How was he doing? Surely, he believed, that he had moved on with life and he’d forgotten all about him. They had loved each other dearly, but they weren’t going to meet up ever again—not at this point. Once they reached Haria, he wouldn’t know where they were going to take him.

But for now, he had no choice but to listen to the noise above him, which temporarily distracted him from hunger and seasickness. They weren’t feeding him as they should have because they assumed that a well-fed parcel would be able to escape. Despite Sorey not knowing how to fight properly, they didn’t want to take that chance. Lafarga, the only one to pity him, was the one that brought him food—a shallow pan of gruel and crackers. Sorey never complained, thanking him for something to put in his stomach. Until recently, anyway. Rose, knowing that they would be reaching Haria soon, wanted to make sure he wouldn’t try to fight them when they delivered him to Rolance’s fleet. The only way to do that was to force him to starve. Once he was in their clients’ hands, they could do what they like with him. Forced labor, prostitution, drug mule—it didn’t matter to the pirates as long as they got their pay.

Sorey lay on the hard bed in the brig, the moaning just as loud as it had been an hour ago. His stomach grumbled. Nausea settled in the back of his throat. He could never admit that all the gruel he ate never actually made it through him. The bucket he was given to use as a toilet served more in catching whatever he regurgitated. He truly appreciated that Lafarga made sure he ate, so he made a habit of asking for forgiveness when he couldn’t keep it down. Not in person, but the wind seraph could hear him stifle his sobs.

The next morning, after Rose and Dezel had woken up from their night of rough play, he confronted her about it. He didn’t like how she was treating him, and even if he was their captive, he had to be delivered still alive and unharmed. “I know we’re pirates, but we’re not barbarians, Captain,” he told her. Rose had crossed her arms to hold her silky robe closed before him. Like everyone else, Lafarga had seen her. “Now is not the time to act like some modest virgin. We need to take care of him; we have two days until we reach Haria.”

“And your point?” Rose scoffed. “He’s just cargo.”

Precious cargo. Why are you being so callous?”

Rose was irritated by Lafarga’s nagging, and if he weren’t so close to Dezel, she would have thrown him overboard. She conceded to him and, not waiting for Dezel to join her down in the brig, went with Lafarga to see Sorey. She swung the door open to find that he was curled up on the wooden bed suspended to the wall.

“Wake up,” she ordered him.

The Oracle sat up, his head swimming like the fish beneath them. Even though he had already spewed whatever contents he had had in his gut the night before, he felt sick again. The red-haired captain didn’t say much of anything. She only wrinkled her nose at the smell of his vomit in the bucket, which he was ashamed of.

“What an ungrateful little bastard you are,” she hissed at him. “We give you your own room and can, feed and water you, and this is how you repay us? By spitting it back up?”

“N-No, that’s…”

“Then where are you shitting?”

“In the same bucket.”

“At least he’s well-trained.”

“Captain, please, have some compassion for him,” Lafarga sighed. “Yes, we’re to deliver him, but we don’t need to make his life harder than it is.” He approached him carefully and much to Rose’s disgust. “He needs proper food, regardless. Have Dezel make him something.”

“And waste resources on some fool who will be gone in two days?”

Sorey shook his head at Lafarga. He was terribly hungry and sick, but he wasn’t going to be a burden if he could avoid it. He had been trained to withstand harsh conditions, and if this was simply another test, he was prepared to pass it. He steadied himself against the rocking of the ship. Focusing, concentrating, squeezing the nausea back down so he didn’t vomit again, he sat obediently on the bed.

“If it really is only two days, I can…I can make it,” he told Rose.

And for whatever reason, this irked the captain of the Sparrowfeathers. She accosted him, the back of her hand slamming against his cheek so quickly that it took him a moment to register that she had hit him. She hated that he was not affected by her command. Everyone else on the ship loved and feared her, yet this one—the Oracle hailing from Elysia—showed no signs of submission to her. But why did this bother her? And why did it feel unnatural to her to hurt him? And why did those emerald eyes that sparkled even in the dimness of the brig look at her with the same pity Lafarga looked at him with?

“Fine,” she growled. “I’ll have Dezel cook him the best damn meal of his life. We’ll just charge Pendrago quadruple of what they promised. After all, they’re the richest empire of the Thousand Seas. They can spot us a few valuable ingredients.”

Two days later, after being forced to eat Dezel’s gourmet dinner, Sorey found himself sitting in near darkness again still sick. Something familiar tugged at his mind the way a lingering smell pulled a memory from the deepest depths in the brain. Then there were tens of them, hundreds even of celestial or divine presences that were different from those on the Scattered Bones. He wanted to warn Rose, but the presences were rapidly getting closer and stronger until they were electric coursing through him. And only one of them filled him with a yearning that he thought he had forgotten. Clutching his arms, shivering at the way this presence made him feel, Sorey fell to his knees at the door of the brig. It was a wonderful feeling—knowing that Mikleo was so close. But he had to wonder, how on earth did he find him somewhere out in this vast ocean?

“I’ve found you!” he heard Mikleo declare. “And I’ve come back for what is mine!”

“M-Mikleo!” Sorey called out to him from his seaworthy cage.

Rose glared at the water seraph from her ship. The audacity of him coming to challenge her and her crew with their measly smaller one—who did he think he was? It was clear that there was going to be a war on the waters, and if they took too long delivering their cargo, they would start losing money and favor with Rolance. And if they lost the stronghold there, other pirates from far and wide would come to pillage them. They needed the protection of the empire; they could not afford to be impeded by a few lesser ruffians.

“You’re asking for trouble, you know!” Rose threatened him. “A ship full of Seraphim, or a ship full of thief masters? Bring it on, boy!”

But what even the Van Eltia crew forgot was that Nenyp was a battle-savvy koiship. Against their plain pirate ship, it could sink them. Eizen, at the helm and prepared for battle, started the order to charge, only for Mikleo to hold his hand up. It wasn’t necessarily a command to stand down. A low rumbling started as first, followed by tremors deep under the sea. Mikleo didn’t have the power to manipulate the earth; however, to work up the ocean to create a large enough stir for a tidal wave to tower over them, he needed a little help.

“Thanks, Edna!” Mikleo called to her.

“Just shut up,” she bantered back.

Rose, Lafarga, Dezel, and everyone else on the ship couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw the monstrous tidal wave that threatened to flood them out. Dezel glanced down at the water seraph, noticing something quite amusing. He discreetly pointed at him and whispered to Lafarga:

“He can barely hold that wave up.”

“Let’s knock him down while we can.”

The two wind seraphim clapped their hands together, blustering winds kicking up behind them. Both ships were ordered to lower their sails lest they be carted far, far away from their route to Haria. The wind brought with it black clouds holding torrential rain and furious lightning. They hypothesized that if Mikleo was using all his power to hold up the tidal wave, there was no way he could stop the rain from falling onto their ship and piercing through it. Furthermore, hey had a trick up their sleeve. Between them, they made the wind circulate tightly. Faster, faster, faster they spun the wind until they had a home-brewed tornado with razor sharp winds.

Zaveid jumped into action. He was stronger than both of them, but they were still going to be a handful. From their side of the watery battlefield, he mixed his arms around fluidly in the direction opposite of their winds. And while he prepared his own tempest, Rokurou and the other crew members on the Van Eltia prepared to storm the Scattered Bones. Bigger and bigger, the twisting winds grew till they were the same size as Dezel and Lafarga’s.

“On my mark!” Eizen called out. Then he looked over at Edna, who had finished causing an earthquake to give Mikleo his wave.

Zaveid and his opponents pushed their tornadoes into each other, the swirls of wind colliding with goliath force that only made the storm around them grow fiercer. The winds scattered around them, blowing back on everyone and creating a confusion like no other.

“Go!” Eizen commanded his pirates.

Grappling hooks from Nenyp’s side dug into the Scattered Bones, and as it pulled their enemy ship closer, planks joined the two above water. Humans and Seraphim alike stormed the nexus between them as well as each other’s decks. Rokurou made a beeline for Rose.

The two were dagger-masters, stabbing and dancing like leaves on the wind, their attacks mirroring each other in perfect synchronicity. It was a mesmerizing display, and if everyone else hadn’t been so concerned with their own duels, they would have seen it in all its grace. As Rokurou tried his best to catch the wily girl on his blades, he taunted her, “Looks like all those lessons did pay off, Rose!” He nicked her cheek. “But still wet behind the ears!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Rose growled at her. “Now shut up and fight me for real!”

Zaveid had locked himself in battle with Dezel and Lafarga, who had tried to go after the Van Eltia captain. If either captain died, the victors would be allowed to do whatever they pleased. To that end, because they had a priceless ship from Hyland, Eizen could not die. And Nenyp himself made sure as well. He should himself to throw them off-balance while leaving Eizen and Edna undisturbed as they arched sideways together.

“I can’t believe we’re doing this for a damn book,” Edna grumbled.

“It’s something precious to him,” Eizen told her. “Now, ready?”

The two Seraph siblings stomped the floorboards then stood straight up. The ocean floor crackled and snapped as it split apart and rose to create a trench high enough to trap the Sparrowfeathers’ ship. It was then that Mikleo threw down the wave he had been holding since the beginning. The Van Eltia crew scurried back to their ship and braced for impact and aftershocks from the wave. The force of the tons of water bashed the ship into the trench, taking away any chance of fleeing from them. Rokurou was still fighting Rose on her ship, and Nenyp pulled himself closer again to his prey so the Van Eltia crew could fight once more.

“Go, Mikleo,” Eizen told him. “Quickly, before too much water gets in.”

“Not to worry,” Mikleo replied. Focusing his energy to manipulate the water again, he pulled back the tides around the Scattered Bones so it wouldn’t sink. He had to maintain his focus to be able to keep it clear, which was no easy feat. “Will you be alright out here?”

“Have some faith in my men. Now, go!”

Mikleo pulled up a walkway of water from the ocean, freezing it just long enough to be able to walk on it before the salt in the water melted it away. And once he successfully snuck into the interior of the ship, thanks to his friends’ efforts to keep the Sparrowfeathers busy, he began his search for his Celestial Record.

A number of structures inside the ship had been damaged, and a few inches of water had already entered it. He worried that the book would be ruined by the saltwater. No, he had to focus on retrieving it while he could. After all, it had only been a stroke of luck that they happened upon the thieves before they managed to get to Haria, and he partly had to thank Nenyp for that. The interior slowly filled with more water, his concentration on holding back the water outside waning from exhaustion. His head was pounding, his vision tunneling—it was a mistake to use so much power when he wasn’t completely used to it yet. He pressed on.

He kept searching for the Celestial Record. Climbing to the level below the captain’s quarters, he was relieved to find that no water had infiltrated yet. The loot and trinkets and damage all around had been shaken up, but it was easier to find lost items among this wreckage. And so, he kept his eyes peeled. Sure enough, he found it. Worn authentic leather from a prickleboar, gold-cast corners, and gold leafing on the cover; his beloved Celestial Record, given to him by the one he would always love sat in the middle of the passage. Light coming from the barred window in the door shown on it, which was very odd. How was there light? He scrambled to the book. With careful hands, he picked it up, inspected it for damage—only a little damp but otherwise in the condition he had left it—and hugged it. And when he pressed it to his heart, he felt a sudden presence. It called to him.

“This…place…” he whispered.

He turned his head to the door. What was behind it? Why was there light coming from it when there were no windows above and they were stuck in a trench? Someone was calling him, and it was a voice and soul and heartbeat he knew.

He coaxed water to come into the ship where he was, coating the door with it before freezing so cold that a single touch would shatter the door. When he pressed his hand against it, the door disintegrated into dust of a diamond. Suddenly, a warm body, embracing arms, and a putrid smell greeted him.

“Mikleo!” this person wept. “Oh, Gods, you finally found me!” He hugged him tightly. “I’m so happy to see you…!”

Mikleo stood frozen in place. This warm body that matched his forever cool one, these arms that felt like a long-lost home holding him so close that their hearts beat as one. Had the Celestial Record…brought them together? Or was it just luck...again?

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, long before the Thousand Seas had become as populated as they were now, there was a young woman who lived happily with her younger brother. The two were like conjoined twins—join by the heart yet existed in separate bodies. The young woman was strong and independent despite being petite with long hair black as night, but her younger brother was small and feeble, his ash-blond hair falling just above his frail shoulders. They couldn’t live without each other simply because without his sister, the young boy was doomed to live in agony and disease. Transcending the mortality of humans, the two formed the double ouroboros governing the emotions of conceit, greed, selfishness, cowardice, lust, obsession, hatred, and despair that kept the malevolence that tainted the world in check. Together, they were something of a giant eight-headed snake, but the young woman was the leash on their being. The diseased boy was far more powerful than his older sister, but her power over hatred and the subsequent rage that it bred left him without much choice other than to stay with her.

That was until one day while the young woman slept in her chambers. Her chain, clamped permanently around the ankle of her little brother, was the only thing that kept him from running lose to wreak havoc on the world. The boy found a way to break it by using the power of obsession. He had wanted so desperately to be free of his sister. He wanted to leave her side. And above all else, he wanted to walk among those who worshipped him and rule them like the king he was. The world and all of the thousands of seas was his, all his, and his sister couldn’t be allowed to have any of it, but as long as they were connected, he couldn’t do anything. So that was why he broke his leash. He was a cunning one, spending his days spinning the gears in his mind for a way to cast the young woman out of their heavenly realm. And once he was unhitched from her, he could spring the trap.

“Sister Dearest,” he called from his chambers. “Could you come here for a moment?” It was the dead of night. The silvery moon shined brilliantly with all the strength of the golden sun yet was still so cold. And no matter how hard the stars above had tried, they couldn’t outshine the moon. Unable to warn the only one that could keep this ill-minded child from unleashing all hell and sundering the very world he wanted to return to, the stars merely twinkled. “Sister!”

The young woman, as much as she hated to be bothered, loved her brother and wanted to help him every chance she got. She helped him to eat, to bathe, to spy on the humans and seraphim underneath them. Perhaps he wanted to people-watch again. And how terribly wrong she was.

“What is it, Little Love?” she chimed.

“I want to go downstairs,” he replied.

“The mortals and half-mortals are sleeping now, so what could you possibly want to see?”

“My worshippers.”

What happened next was the event that went down into legend. The unhinging of the double ouroboros and his descent, going unnoticed by the humans and seraphim, was the advent of change. This surge of malevolence caught the attention of one other, though. The young woman was cast from her celestial haven deep into the bedrock of the human world, where she lay unconscious for days and where she was found by the Lord of Earth, Eumacia.

“Lord Velvet!” Eumacia cried out when he found her. Large and sturdy and taking the form of strongman dressed in armor made of rock, the Lord of Earth was a hardy individual. While he was often obstinate, he was kind and caring. He was the father of all earth seraphim, and he raised them to shelter the sick and disabled. “Lord Velvet, can you hear me?” He taught them to always lend a helping hand to those who could not defend themselves. “You’re injured…I’ll alert Hyanoa at once. Just rest for now.”

He was the third of the Four Empyreans, closest to Hyanoa, the fourth. By crawling through the bedrock to their temples, he could talk to any of the other three or their children, and all he needed was just one wind seraph to make their way to the Lord of Wind to notify someone higher of the catastrophe that had taken place. That someone was the only one that matched Velvet and her brother.

“Great Lord Maotelus!” Hyanoa called from the clouds above. “This is an emergency! Great Lord Maotelus!”

Maotelus was the honorary name of the Great Lord. Most times, he simply preferred the name Phi. He was even smaller than Velvet’s little brother but just a bit fatter like a healthy baby or small child. Instead of the siblings’ golden eyes, his eyes were the color of spring. Meadows just shy of their bloom, or the light emerald waters of the western sea past the Hyland Waters. They were eyes of hope, framed by his bob-cut hair that faded from the same ash-blond to silver. And if his holiness couldn’t be seen in his face, he had the advantage of his halo-shaped cowlick. Wearing nothing but a modest white robe, he loved to roam the streets of all the cities around the world.

He loved people, and he wished for nothing but to enjoy life alongside them. When they were happy, he was happy. When they were sad, he cried along with them. The Church had decoded some of his history, and in learning that he shared their feelings, they began their use of empaths. By amplifying the emotions perceived by the people, the Church believed that Maotelus would bless them with more prosperity. After all, the happiness of the highest god of the land was more valuable than gold. And it was precisely why Velvet’s little brother decided that to rule as king, he would need to erase those pesky emotions. Dissolve the malevolence, rid everyone of their emotions so that there was no suffering, and he would live in paradise. If he had to, he was prepared to devour Velvet and Maotelus to make it happen.

---------------------------------------

Artorius read the legends over and over again in the great halls of the Abbey’s archive. He knew how Velvet had fallen, how Maotelus got his power, and what the Governor of the Six Evils wanted. He wanted the same seemingly impossible thing as Him. He wanted to rid the world of malevolence, free people from their suffering, and live in an ignorant bliss that would last for eternity. But to do that, he needed the Oracle.

If Maotelus derived power from the emotions people felt, then his counterpart gained power where there were none. Hyland’s Church had empaths, but Rolance’s Abbey had apaths. Melchior and Heldalf had worked together to develop magic that could be trained to those unfit for society so that they leeched emotion from any subject. And who were the scourges of the city to decline? Work for the Abbey and strip people of their emotions, or continue to rot on the streets as rats? It was an offer no smart person would refuse.

But where did the waste products go? Melchior once again came to his aid. He had created special bottles that could contain the emotions, adding that if his spells and artifacts needed more power, he could simply toss them into the vat. Packaging them was simple, too. Once the subject was under duress, as he had described, the apaths would imitate them while slowly reacting less and less.

“The subject will no longer be influencing the apaths,” Melchior had stated upon finalizing the spell. “The apaths will influence the subject until the subject believes that they feel nothing at all. At that point, the subject’s consciousness can be filled with something else—a form of hypnosis you might say.”

At first, Artorius had thought the method to be cruel. Sacrifices, however, had to be made for him to attain his dream. To have the Oracle suffer as the subject—that was just business. Of course, he didn’t want him to feel pain. Then he remembered that that agony was going to be fleeting like a swift breeze. He wouldn’t feel anything for too long, and that was the most important thing: if he couldn’t feel, Maotelus wouldn’t be able to use a majority of his power.

“My liege,” Symonne suddenly said at the entrance of the archive. She hurried before him, kneeling before him before presenting to him a folded piece of paper. “There’s been a report.” She stood up when asked to then read the report aloud:

“‘Communication with the Sparrowfeathers has ceased. The Oracle is nowhere to be found. It can be assumed that they have been apprehended by Hyland forces.’ What is our next course of action?”

Artorius was annoyed. He and Heldalf had put their utmost faith in the Scattered Bones. He was sure that they would never fail, and he had always been right up till now. But Heldalf was different. He was furious that the prize they had sought under Melchior’s suggestion was lost at sea, and they didn’t know how long it would be for a new Oracle to be chosen. This one was the only human to have been raised completely by seraphim in centuries. Without the Oracle, the plan to finally conquer the Hyland waters was now in jeopardy.

But not all hope was lost. Symonne reminded Artorius that they still had two fail-safes; Melchior had prepared for the likely possibility of losing the Oracle, and that was why he had employed Magilou and Lunarre. The two spies were already in position as well.

The witchy maid was still masquerading before Maltran and Eleanor, and Alisha still had no idea who she was on the day she wandered into her bedroom to clean. And by clean, she was there to scrape up as much juicy secret information as she could. Quietly rummaging through the princess’s belongings, she found the piles of love letters from the knight in Rolance. It was positively a gold mine—pages and pages of written words dripping feelings off the page. They denoted her feelings for him, her discomfort with Maltran’s advances—

“Lady Maltran? Ooh, naughty, naughty!” she giggled.

She read on, memorizing every single letter and how to write them. After all, she couldn’t call herself a witchy spy if she didn’t somehow learn to forge other people’s signatures. The information in those letters was all she needed to begin the descent into chaos, and she wouldn’t even need to falsify her writing.

And as if her luck was still serving her, a bird from Rolance came to the window. She caught it, quickly snapping its neck, tossing the body aside, and reading the new message that was tied to its leg.

“‘Dearest Alicia, it doth me such grand hono-ur to speak with you!’ What drivel! This alone can get that dumb captain arrested and executed—he’s always been a pain in the ass,” Magilou sighed.

Her little buddy, who had been searching all the small spaces, turned to her. “We’re not supposed to be attacking our own people,” he rasped.

“Maybe not.” Magilou tucked the letter into her brassiere. “But little ripples make big waves. It won’t matter in this country if word gets out that the Captain of the Platinum Knights has been having a little tête-à-tête with the princess. It will matter if her fellow officials hear about it. And it’s just the thing we need to start this little wildfire.” She finished up her maid duties. “And besides, while they’re busy stringing her up for treason, we can intercept the Oracle. It’s obvious that she sent her forces out to retrieve him. Poor little lovesick puppy.”

Another bird came to the window—a sparrow with a tiny note tied to its leg. This was a message from the Sparrowfeathers, and more precisely from Lunarre. On the note, he had written that there had been a change in plans.

“It figures,” she sighed. It’s their fault for underestimating other pirates.” She stared at the sparrow. “We need to make our move soon.”

A knock sounded at Alisha’s chambers. Eleanor’s muffled voice announced she was going to enter, which prompted Bienfu and Magilou to return everything back to normal. Next and only seconds before the door cracked open with a noisy low-pitched squeak, they perched on the windowsill and leapt out the room when Eleanor entered.

“Huh? She’s not here? I thought I heard her…” she mumbled. “Lady Alisha?”

Even though Magilou and Bienfu had made sure to cover their tracks, they weren’t as well-hidden as they thought. Maltran had caught a glimpse of something fleeing the princess’s chambers from the window, and she had an inkling of who it was. She had been suspicious of the maid since she started working in the castle. Lailah had even warned them of strange characters. She was the only one who was completely aware of this intruder.

Maltran made her way to the shrinechurch to see Lailah that evening. And once she washed her hands and feet, as was custom before entering such holy ground, she briskly sought the fire seraph. Priests tried to stop her only for her to exercise her rank as the right-hand to the princess. It was an urgent matter; no one should be standing in her way. Still, she was an official of the princess and not the Church. She was asked to wait as the priests fetched Lailah, whom brought herself in merely a few seconds before the Blue Valkyrie.

“Lady Maltran!” she huffed. “What brings you?”

“I believe I saw our little birdie in action,” Maltran replied.

“Is that so?” Lailah’s face turned grave. “Whatever happens, please protect Lady Alisha.”

“You don’t have to tell me what to do. Now, I want you to tell me everything about this maid and what you saw that night again.”

Alisha was in her office when Eleanor found her to deliver a report from the Van Eltia. The princess sat stiffly, her heart racing with a pen in her hand and a pile of paper scattered on her desk. She waited for the red-haired girl to tell her the news.

“This is wonderful, milady!” Eleanor happily said. “Eizen has reported that they have the Oracle in their possession!”

“A-Ah, that truly is wonderful!” Alisha smiled at her. “When can we expect them back?”

“He wrote that they will be continuing to Haria for rest and repairs. He is aware that the Rolance fleet will be there to rendezvous with the Sparrowfeathers, so they will try to leave before dawn.”

“Haria?” Alisha’s face changed. “They’re staying in the trade waters? We won’t be able to grant them amnesty if they get into trouble outside of our borders.”

Eleanor mirrored her princess’s dejected expression. “That is true. It seems they had to fight with those other pirates to retrieve the Oracle, so they may have taken more damage than they expected.”

-----------------------------------

It was, however, the Scattered Bones that had received a massive amount of damage. And Mikleo and Sorey stood in the midst of it. Sorey held onto Mikleo with all the gratitude to the gods in the universe. He had been ready to never see him again when he was first taken from Elysia. It was the first time he had ever been so resolved in accepting fate that he couldn’t be happier or luckier to be found by the one he had always loved.

Unfortunately, Mikleo didn’t feel the same quite yet. The one holding him tightly had looked like Sorey albeit thin and looking malnourished. He hadn’t ever expected to find him again, and part of him had wished he hadn’t. He hadn’t prepared what to do after he did. Did he want to kiss him? No, he couldn’t do that—he was to be wedded to Alisha, and he was a pure person set to be an official of the Church. But simply breaking down and crying into his shoulder the tears he had been holding back ever since hardly sufficed. He just absentmindedly wrapped his arms around him, eyes staring straight past him, processing the same question over and over in his head.

“I’m so glad you’re here…!” Sorey hiccupped, overcome with emotion and nausea from the lack of food. He felt weak; Mikleo noticed that as time passed, his dearest was leaning more and more into him until he was in danger of falling. “I’m so glad…”

“Sorey, are you alright? Sorey? Sorey!” Mikleo called to him. Lowering him to the smashed floor, he observed his face. He brushed the hair from his face; it had gotten so long over the years, and it was brittle and coiling presumably from the sea wind. More importantly, his skin was pale save for bright red patches on his arms, neck, and abdomen when his clothes got caught. “What happened?”

“I didn’t eat much…” Sorey said now sounding a bit lightheaded.

“You didn’t eat much, or they didn’t feed you? It doesn’t matter. We won this battle, so let’s get you on Nenyp. I’ll deal with the captain and her crew.”

Mikleo tucked the Celestial Record not his tunic before carefully helping Sorey to lean on him. He wanted to carry him, and if the floor was more stable, he would have tried. How could Rose neglect to take care of him? He was an extremely important person, so how could her crew forget that he needed to eat?

More and more water was seeping through the cracks in the ship. Mikleo saw this as an opportunity to use what he had learned. He waved his hand, the water encircling him in a bubble just as it had reached to their thighs. He hadn’t heard any voices, and he assumed that everyone had been taken by the Van Eltia crew. This meant that escaping the sinking ship via his magic was the best idea.

Sorey was amazed and mystified that he had learned how to manipulate the sea like that. He clung to him tightly despite how sick he was when he realized that he could fall out of the bubble if Mikleo let go of him. And it was at that moment while they were venturing only a little deeper to move through a larger break in the wood that Mikleo felt the same presence that had saved him the day that the Sparrowfeathers had attacked him. It was pushing his bubble gently and slowly to the surface. Any faster and Sorey would have had much more to worry about than just lack of food and potentially scurvy.

They broke the surface of that water a few meters away from the koiship, which was beyond Sorey’s wildest dreams. Here, Mikleo could carry him. He commanded his bubble to carry them just above the surface of the ocean before it popped. Sorey still clung to him until he looked at the water seraph’s feet.

“You’re standing…?” he asked quizzically.

“Yeah, you can learn a lot in eight years,” Mikleo laughed. “I’ll carry you on my back, so don’t worry.”

“Huh? Aren’t I going to be too heavy for you? You were always smaller than me—you’re slightly shorter than me even now, actually.”

“I can still carry you. You’re not well, and I can’t bear to see you push yourself past your limit. Plus, you can’t stand unless I hold you.”

“M-Mikleo…are you really sure?” Sorey asked, all jokes aside. What if he was too heavy and he punched through the water?

Mikleo promised he would be alright. He reached for his face to cradle and pet, only stopping as he remembered that he wasn’t his but Alisha’s betrothed. He knelt for the Oracle to climb onto his back, and once he was centered and balanced, he walked slowly to the ship. Of course, Mikleo could have very well used his water to rush them to the Van Eltia crew, but why would he want to give up this time alone with Sorey?

They didn’t say anything to each other. Mikleo didn’t know where to start. Sorey wasn’t in the right mind to have a conversation being so tired. He just focused on getting back to the ship. Not on Sorey quietly breathing next to his ear. Not on his body pressed against his back. And not on the seat his hands made for him. His only goal was to get him to their ship. That was certainly, most definitely, without a doubt his only goal.

But he had to notice that he was lighter than he remembered. It was clearly because he hadn’t eaten properly. Mikleo was worried for him, and that worry made him want to talk to him to know more of the atrocities committed against him. The quiet snoring behind him, however, told him that now wasn’t the time. Sorey was warm…a little too warm. Was it the sun?

Mikleo picked up the pace, eventually calling on his water to hasten his way to Nenyp where the Van Eltia crew had tied up and sat the remaining members of the Sparrowfeathers: Rose, Dezel, Brad, Lafarga, Eguille, Rosh, and the twins. They all glared at their captors, and when Mikleo leapt up onto the deck—much to Nenyp’s surprise resulting in a shakedown—he carefully set Sorey down. Walking stiffly and quickly, he faced Rose with his staff under her chin. Dezel barked at him to leave her alone. Rose told him to quiet down.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” she then taunted him. “Your little mouse is sick?”

“What the hell did you do to him? Starved him! Do you know who he is?!” Mikleo growled at her. He pulled the staff back. The anger in him chopped the seas and darkened the seas, and Dezel’s desire to protect his captain darkened the skies. “How dare you endanger the Oracle!”

“Mikleo, stand down!” Eizen ordered him. He signaled Zaveid and Rokurou to hold him back from beating Rose to a pulp with the butt end of his staff. His screams and protests echoed over the crashing waves.

Sorey woke up only just long enough to see the two men pushing his first love back from the pirates that had held him captive. His body was heavy, even his voice had some weight that was too heavy to carry, yet he called out to him to calm him down.

Lunarre glanced at the barely conscious Shepherd then to Rose then to Mikleo. What would happen now? Would they go back to Ladylake? Would they continue to Haria? Would they be left for dead in the ocean around them? Two of these options would lead to a terrible outcome, and if Magilou was still in Ladylake…

He couldn’t let these ruffians find her. Not until she had done what she was charged to do. What was that recipe? What was the thing that she had made?

“I-I know a medicine that can help him!” he finally spoke up.

All eyes were on him; Mikleo pushed Zaveid and Rokurou out of the way to march up to him. His amethyst eyes stared into his fox ones. What was the medicine? He couldn’t ask, but Lunarre knew that Mikleo wouldn’t do anything to hurt them if he held that knowledge. He could easily weaponize it and manipulate them.

“I’ll give you the recipe if you take us to Haria,” Lunarre bargained.

“We were planning on continuing there anyway,” Eizen said. “With the Oracle the way he is, he won’t make it. And we’re not getting paid to bring back a dead body.”

“If we make the medicine now, we can alleviate some of the symptoms until we land,” Rokurou said. “We have plenty of ingredients.”

Lunarre told them what was needed: mustard seed, ginseng, and bufo toad testicle—just like Magilou had told him. Zaveid and Eizen shifted their glances to each other because that last ingredient seemed very much not medicinal. But Lunarre swore it was. It was a vitality agent.

“It’s sure to bring back his strength,” he professed.

Rokurou let out a sigh. They had mustard seed and ginseng, but where would they find bufo toad testicle in the middle of the ocean?

“I’m not letting him consume that,” Mikleo said. “Testicle? I’m not letting Sorey defile his insides with that rubbish. I’ll just heal him myself. I will take care of him, not this scum.”

It didn’t matter if Mikleo took care of him or not. Eizen’s crew wasn’t equipped to turn around and go back to Ladylake, and launching Nenyp back into Hyland waters was a terrible idea; the ship was alive. If it could sense the mind of the captain, surely it would feel pain if it was kicked in its supposed ribs. It was better to just remain on course to the waters before the Far South.

Mikleo escorted Sorey to his cabin. Zaveid and Eizen walked a bit on their own to plan the next step. With the water seraph helping their target, they would be able to make it to Haria. Once there, they would have Lunarre help make the medicine. But then what? They would have to stay in Haria for him to recover, which meant they would also need to hold onto the kidnappers. The crew would have to also act as wardens to ensure that the pirates wouldn’t escape. Eizen held his head. Things were going to be hard for a little while.

Chapter Text

The sky had turned a burnt orange color over the ocean. The clouds were grey with gold linings, a sure sign that things would be better now. He had found him again. Granted, he was in poor health, but now they wouldn’t be separated again. At least for the time being.

Mikleo had taken Sorey to his cabin where they could be in each other’s company and to rest until they landed in Haria. The brunet looked sick still despite Mikleo’s efforts to make him feel better, yet he still smiled up at him as he was lowered gently into his cot. Rokurou had brought him some soup to eat from the kitchen; something light and liquid would help his stomach get re-accustomed to having something in it. The water seraph, realizing that he couldn’t just magic away his ailment, considered to conceding to the recipe that Lunarre had given.

While the soup by no means was a cure for Sorey’s illness, he had regained some of his color, and his eyes were shining even brighter. It would still be at least a day’s voyage to Haria—a day of rest for him while the Van Eltia crew dealt with their new captives. Then a thought occurred to Mikleo—Nenyp was a living vessel, so why couldn’t it swim faster to the tropical island?

Alisha hadn’t explained that trying to make a koiship swim faster through the ocean currents than its comfortable speed would likely cause the crew to be thrown overboard before the koiship would attack itself. Because each ship had its own personality, Nenyp would tear himself apart quicker than a shark would kill its prey. Ogram, likewise, was one that let the anxieties and insecurities build up before sinking herself to the bottom of the sea in a fit of unbridled rage. It simply wasn’t something that Eizen wanted to try and find out.

Even though arriving as soon as possible was the goal, Mikleo didn’t mind a slower voyage. He wanted to be with Sorey. The thing that nagged the back of his mind, however, was the class that separated them now. Mikleo was a seraph. Sorey was the Oracle. While Mikleo was higher than a human, it wasn’t by much. But Sorey…Sorey was the purest human and a beacon of light and hope for all humanity. For that reason, Mikleo knew that the love they once shared couldn’t thrive now. Sorey was to marry Alisha. He had to marry her. By marrying her…

“Why do you…?” Mikleo mumbled without realizing that Sorey could hear him while sitting so close to him.

“Why do I what?” Sorey asked him.

Mikleo didn’t answer him, lost in thought and searching through the memories why they had to marry. No, he remembered, it was for some frivolous reason. And it wasn’t the seraphim’s but the humans’ doing for such trivial matters. It was never explicitly stated back then what his purpose as the Oracle was, and he believed that he would never know. Sorey had gone with it, though. He wanted to respect his wishes.

“Mikleo, have you always had such a serious look on your face?” Sorey asked him.

The water seraph realized that he had been thinking aloud albeit quiet enough that the Oracle in his compromised state couldn’t understand much of what he was saying. He needed to stop talking about it; it was inconsiderate to him, and Sorey wasn’t his property. Getting to finally see him again, however, had filled him with so many emotions that he couldn’t begin to parse through them. And with the one he had been searching for so sick despite pretending not to be, it wasn’t the time.

Instead, he pulled out the Celestial Record. The pages had regrettably been ruined by the water, but it was still readable. The cover and gilded gold were okay, giving the pretense that it hadn’t been damaged. If he were to ever put it on display in a museum, it would look like it was still in mint condition. A small victory in lieu of the craziness that had taken place.

“I thought I had seen the Celestial Record outside my cell,” Sorey smiled.

“Yes, I took care of it all these years…well, until when that ruffian stole it from me,” Mikleo sighed. “I’m sorry that it got damaged.”

Sorey shook his head. Perhaps it was a blessing. If Mikleo’s book hadn’t gotten stolen by the very people that had kidnapped him, he wouldn’t have ever been found. Sure, the Celestial Record—the original handwritten copy—had suffered damage, but it was for the chance meeting that they were rewarded.

“That book has seen better days,” Sorey told him gratefully. “I’m just glad that it brought us together again…”

The exhaustion of the excitement from earlier plus the compounding factor of his illness were starting to get to him. His words were slurred, and he started to have trouble holding himself up. Mikleo helped him to lie down and tucked him into his cot. It wasn’t the best accommodation, but he had to make him comfortable until they landed in Haria. Once Sorey was down and resting, he took his leave from his cabin.

“Blast it!” Eizen’s voice came from atop the deck. “Where the hell is Mikleo?!”

Hearing his name, Mikleo dashed up to the deck to find Edna holding a bleeding wound on her arm, Eizen and Zaveid peering over the side of the ship, and Rokurou directing the other shipmates to their positions. He heard them shouting all kind of curses and demands as if something had gone terribly awry. And something definitely had.

Lunarre had jumped ship, falling into the ocean and not coming back up for air. Rose sneered at Eizen who was desperately trying to find him in the water. When he saw Mikleo, he dragged him to the side of the boat and told him:

“We’ve got a runner. Use your water and drag him back up here!”

Everything was happening so fast. Mikleo searched the ocean for Lunarre the fugitive, but it was like he melted into the water himself. There was no trace of him in the murky depths, and Mikleo couldn’t go much deeper than the bottom of the ship. Trying to search deeper made him feel like he would fall into an abyssal trench at the bottom of the ocean where light didn’t reach. If Lunarre was in the water, he would have found him within minutes. In reality, he had completely vanished.

“Aw, how sad!” Rose taunted Eizen. “You lost one of us! Are you going to cry? Well, you’ve got an eyepatch to wipe up your tears!”

“Shut your mouth before I shut it for you,” Eizen snarled at her.

“Touch her and I will kill you,” Dezel growled back at him.

Mikleo looked out at the horizon. Where would Lunarre go when his crew was captured? Where would he go when he was out in the middle of the sea? Something was strange. Why would he abandon his crew?

-------------------------------------------

Loegres was the sister city to Pendrago and a miniature of the Rolance capitol. While much of the architecture was the same, the layout of the city was almost a mirror of its bigger self and far older. But where Pendrago was dark, gloomy, and crowded; Loegres was bright and full of fresh air. The city enjoyed sunshine almost every day, only receiving light showers from Pendrago if the winds brought it dark clouds. People were friendly in Loegres, and Artorius reigned it as their emperor while Heldalf ruled Pendrago. It was here that a certain spy waited for her colleague.

“Impudent fool,” Symonne berated Lunarre. “Why didn’t you at least try to bring the Oracle with you?”

Lunarre was soaked to the bone with his hands still bound together by thick rope. When he had jumped overboard the side of the koiship, he had fallen into the water and far below the bottom of the ship. Of course, he hadn’t stated for long. Using his mysterious power over the dark flame, he propelled himself some distance from Nenyp before coming up for air and pulling himself to stand on the surface of the ocean.

He wasn’t a water seraph. Instead, he had learned how to stand by, once again, using his fires. The pressure and steam the had generated a makeshift way to accomplish the feat. Extra weight would have made him fall through the surface of the already unstable surface of the water, so bringing Sorey along with him was undoubtedly an impossible idea. At the very least, he would have simply been recaptured and hoisted from the mast of the koiship like a piñata. He would probably be treated as such, too. It wasn’t really something he wanted to find out.

Either way, none of that mattered anymore. He escaped from the Van Eltia crew, left behind the Sparrowfeathers, and made it back to Symonne without being caught and dragged back onto the vessel. And he came with the revelation that a certain seraph was a rather big wrench in their plans.

“That thorn in my side has essentially become the Oracle’s bodyguard,” Lunarre hissed. “A damn water seraph from Elysia. He seems rather attached to the Oracle as well.”

Symonne glared at him. Not only had he not brought the Oracle with him but also left him in the company of an apparently vigilant watchdog. Clinching the tip of her primrose thumbnail with her teeth, she questioned him, “If he’s got a constant guard with him, how are we supposed to kidnap him?” Then she relaxed. Lunarre’s kidnapping wasn’t the only ace up their sleeves. “Magilou was able to infiltrate Princess Alisha’s chambers. She has been conversing with the Captain of the Platinum Knights under an alias.”

“Oh-ho! How treasonous of the innocent little princess!” Lunarre cooed.

Symonne’s face stretched into a devious smile because this was their ammunition now. It didn’t matter what Alisha and Sergei talked about—love, war, everything in between—as long as she was caught speaking with the enemy of her state. She was putting Hyland in danger with every letter on every page she sent to him. She had mentioned her insecurities about her people and her status that it would make it easy for the Rolance Empire to conquer the Hyland Kingdom.

How underhanded it would be to weaponize her letters, but how delightfully easy it would be as well. All they had to do was leave the letters out for her people to read, for the officials to analyze, and for the Church to realize that she wasn’t entirely set on marrying the Oracle because her heart had been stolen by someone else behind enemy waves.

There was also the ability to use Magilou more than just as a spy. She had accomplished her mission in Hyland by finding these letters. She was in the perfect position to take up Lunarre’s falling short of his task. The koiships were there for the taking—yes, guarded, but a magician of her caliber would easily be able to steal a koiship and make her way to the southern trade waters to Haria. It would be the best course of action now.

The guards that kept watch over the koiships were only grunts with no real fighting ability. And they were easily fooled by the simplest of tricks. Magilou would have no problems knocking them out. But what if she were to encounter Maltran or Eleanor? Simple! She would send Bienfu as bait to lure them away, knock them out with a couple of tiny explosions, and stow away on a koiship. Every morning, the hangar was opened to let the koiships out for their exercise. During that time, Magilou would need to stay hidden until the ship she would pick—one called Ydka—could be steered far out to see and around the Hyland Kingdom.

“It’s a foolproof plan for the most part,” Symonne giggled. “Humans really think they’re so smart, but I will be the first to say that they really aren’t.”

-------------------------------------------

Their destination was just above the Far South boundary. Haria was small and unassuming, the locals there removed from even the other closest civilization in Yseult. White sands and clear skies, it was an island paradise. And it was the best place to go with a band of pirates and a sick shipmate.

The Van Eltia crew and their captives arrived in Haria at dusk the next day. The sea murmured softly, the waters calm at Mikleo’s request as they disembarked onto the wooden pier. Zaveid and Rokurou tied the hands and shackled the feet of the Sparrowfeathers crew to each other, asking the chief of the island village to take them to a holding cell for the night until morning came. Mikleo, with Eizen’s help, carried Sorey on his back onto land. He was still very sick, but with the recipe that Lunarre had given him, he hoped that he would feel better soon enough.

The chief of the village called for his apothecary to take Sorey and assess how terribly his illness had advanced. Mikleo went with him to a small hut after notifying Edna and Benwick that he would be going to watch over the Oracle.

The first thing to be done was a physical examination. The village doctor looked over Sorey at first for his pale skin that was blotched with reddened rashes. He could barely sit up without help. His hair was brittle and coiling—a sure sign of scurvy. The other definite indicator would be swollen gums and loose or missing teeth, but Mikleo was relieved to know that he hadn’t gotten that sick yet.

“Some food high in the necessary vitamins will help him,” the doctor concluded. “Then he will need a lot of rest. How long will your crew be here?”

Mikleo thought back to that discussion. “It might be for a couple days,” he told him. “We originally came to get supplies and help for him.”

“Might I suggest that you stay for a least a week?”

“I’m sorry, but…we can’t do that.” Mikleo hesitated before continuing. “We need to make it back to Hyland. But one of our captives—one who got away—gave us a recipe for a tonic that can help get better quickly.”

The doctor raised an eyebrow, interested in hearing about this “miracle cure”. Mikleo recounted the three ingredients: mustard seed, ginseng, and bufo toad testicle. The doctor was skeptical at first but went to work making the tonic to ease Mikleo’s mind. Grinding the mustard seed and ginseng together then mincing the bufo testicle, which the water seraph had to wonder why he had that so readily, before mixing it and making not a tonic but a stomach-churning paste that repulsed both men. Mikleo considered just throwing it out of the hut. This was medicine, though…apparently. He had to give it to Sorey or else he wouldn’t get better quick enough.

Mikleo brought the paste to his ailing Oracle. “This…is supposed to…help you…” he said while holding back his gagging. Sorey stared down at it, also looking queasy at the dun-colored paste with flies coming around that sat on a piece of paper in his hand. “You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to.”

“Well, it’s supposed to make me feel better, r-right?” Sorey tried to be optimistic. He took the paste gingerly. He took a breath. Then he lapped up the paste as fast as he could not thinking about how bitter it was or how gritty and slimy the texture was. And when it was all gone, he forced himself to smile confidently at Mikleo. “S-See? Nothing…nothing wrong at all…!”

“Oh, God, he actually ate it,” the doctor mumbled.

“How do you feel?” Mikleo asked him.

“Aside from the bad aftertaste, I think I’m okay!” Sorey laughed.

Perhaps the medicine would work. Mikleo paid the doctor for his time with gold that Eizen had lent him, escorted Sorey out of his hut, and looked around the small island village for Eizen and the others. It was well into the night now. The Sparrowfeathers were held in custody on Nenyp with a few guards from the village keeping an eye on them while the Van Eltia crew gathered provisions. Edna and Zaveid, who had been ordered to manage everyone else while Eizen finished telling the Haria guards where they could and couldn’t go on the ship, stood in the center of the village. Mikleo walked with Sorey, who needed to rest now especially after eating the strange concoction that Lunarre had given them. He was even excited about it because it meant he could sit alone with Sorey and they could catch up for real. He had his doubts about the medicine; there was no way that it would sit well in his stomach. He also needed to get him proper food, but it was often difficult to re-introduce food into a starving person. Maybe the medicine was enough for now.

“So?” Edna uttered upon their arrival to their post. “How did it go?”

“Yeah, did the doctor help?” Zaveid tacked on with a grin.

Mikleo felt sick even just thinking about Sorey taking the medicine with almost no reservation after he had taken it into his hand. Mikeo explained the doctor’s diagnosis and the medicine that Lunarre had given them. At that point, Edna stifled a laugh.

“You really gave him that crap?” she tittered. “Oh boy. Oh boy.”

“What?” Mikleo asked.

“Didn’t you say you wouldn’t let him eat that?” Zaveid asked him. “That you would heal him yourself?”

“It wasn’t that bad,” Sorey tried to downplay. It was awful and disgusting, but weren’t most medicines?

Zaveid rolled his eyes and gave him a specific type of look. He wasn’t going to say anything to the water seraph or the Oracle because, by some stroke of potential luck, maybe nothing would happen. “Anyway, you two should go get some rest,” he pivoted. “Eizen’s set us up with enough rooms at the inn, so just go take one.”

“You don’t need any help?” Mikleo asked.

“Nope! Just go!”

Edna spun the two of them around and, with her umbrella, jabbed them on their way to the inn that was near the shore. The sudden rush to send them to the rooms was strange enough, compounded by Sorey starting to feel nauseous from the medicine he had taken. It was an otherworldly concoction digesting in his stomach. The mustard seed and ginseng weren’t bad, but the toad testicle wasn’t sitting well. His stomach hurt and gurgled, making him wonder if he was going to alleviate himself from vomiting or from intense diarrhea. The world was undulating around him, which then sparked a worry that there was some sort of poison from the toad left in the ingredient.

When the two men arrived at the concierge desk in the inn, Sorey definitely looked far worse than before. The concierge wasted no time in showing them to the abundance of rooms that Eizen had rented for the night. In fact, it was almost half of the building with four crew members to a room.

“Are you perhaps Mikleo and the Oracle?” the concierge asked. “A little girl in your crew requested that you two share a room alone.”

“Um, why?” Mikleo asked.

“She didn’t specify, but judging on your friend’s pallor, I would assume they want to quarantine him. Sea Fever is highly contagious these days, after all. Can’t be too careful.”

“Sea Fever? What is that?”

“A very contagious disease as far as I know,” the concierge replied while shrugging.

Sea Fever was similar to another disease transmitted by an infected tick. It was transferred by a species of rat that thrived on spoiled food in stockpiles on ships. Typically, crews were on top of eating their rations in a timely fashion, but sometimes extended trips at sea and unforeseen circumstances made food go bad faster, especially if sea water got onto it. The rats that were infected with this illness crawl all over the food, leaving their body fluids—any body fluids—in their wake. Cooking contaminated food—spoiled or not—didn’t get rid of the germs on it, and usually all food that had been touched by an infected rat would have to be thrown away.

Mikleo realized that was probably a contributor to the early symptoms of scurvy. If Rose’s food had been contaminated, they threw it overboard. Whatever food had been safe from the contamination was clearly used for the crew members. But if Sorey hadn’t gotten food…or perhaps he did, and it was only the most basic of foods like bread or crackers. He couldn’t argue with the concierge or with Edna’s assumption. He agreed to take the room in mind, which was all the way at the end of the hall on the other side of the building.

The two entered their room, taking a moment to sit on the beds and appreciate the comfort they gave to their rears after having to sleepy on uncomfortable cots or standing up for hours at a time. It was already so late into the evening, the time for dinner having long gone. But after watching Sorey eat the medicine, and after having to taste it; neither of them had an appetite. Mikleo, however, was happy that he had a room removed from everyone else with Sorey. He felt more comfortable talking with him now that they were alone. He wanted to hug him so tightly. He just had to wait for the upset stomach to subside.

“We’re pretty lucky to have this room all to ourselves!” Mikleo finally said. “Sorey, isn’t this this exciting?”

But he didn’t hear anything coming from the Oracle. He turned his head to him. Sorey was curled up on the bed, his back to Mikleo. The water seraph’s eyes softened as he took in his form. He was tired; it was to be expected that he would fall asleep as soon as even seeing the plush bed. Wishing he could lay next to him but knowing that he had to maintain a respectable distance because of his status and his betrothal to Alisha, Mikleo crawled up onto his bed and lay on his side to watch him. He flicked his water onto the candles that lit the room to put them out.

Sleep fell on his eyelids, the room darkening as he slipped away. In the next minute—which was really about an hour later—he heard something strange coming from Sorey’s side of the room. Still, he was too tired to check on him immediately. Yet, he knew in the back of his mind that he ought to.

“A-Ah…” drifted from the lips of the Oracle.

His whole body felt tingly. Pins and needles pricking him over and over and injecting him with an unknown mixture of heat and want. He had never felt this before nor was sure what to do about it. All he knew was that if he didn’t figure out something fast and as quietly as possible, he was going to be tortured for the rest of the night. Sorey remembered listening to Rose and Dezel making passionate love above him just a few nights ago, the way their moans were in time with the banging and the crashing. It was strange, perverted even, to imagine or recall the caterwauling of people he didn’t know yet was sure didn’t care that he knew what they had done.

This wasn’t right for an Oracle, but he had to do something. He focused on the auditory memory of their howling, slowly changing it in his mind so that it sounded like a certain water seraph’s voice and how it would sound if he were to engage in such a reprimandable act. What would it feel like to have him over his body kissing him, smelling his musk, and lapping up his beading sweat? His body twitched at the thought, the yearning in his lower half quivering relentlessly. How desperately he wanted him and only him, but why now? Why when he had loved him so dearly that he couldn’t bring himself to have one carnal thought about him? Why was he tarnishing his image of him now? His heart was picking up the pace, and all he cared to envision in the back of his mind was those beautiful violet eyes and how lewd he would look indulging himself in him.

He stuck his hand up his shirt and his other over his throbbing cock. Gently, he palmed it and squeeze and rubbed as he lost himself in the heady fog of lust. Rolling his balls in his hand, pinching his hardened nipples and arching back to his own touch. But it wasn’t enough. He didn’t know what he was doing. It wasn’t the same as imagining Mikleo in this predicament. He needed someone to help relieve the tension building up in the pit of his belly. He would have to call on him if not to just stand in front of him and look pretty then to touch him as provocatively as possible.

Eventually, the huffs and pants coming from Sorey’s bed egged Mikleo’s curiosity enough to force him to wake up. Glancing over at him, his eyes focusing in the darkness of the room; he saw him trembling. Little chirps erupted from his throat as Sorey tried to keep quiet.

“Sorey, are you alright?” Mikleo asked him.

Sorey let out a tiny surprised gasp. “D-Did I wake you?” he asked, unwilling to turn and look at him. “I-I’m sorry…I tried to stay quiet…”

“Never mind that. What’s wrong?”

Mikleo hopped off his bed to tend to him, but when he approached him and saw how feverish he looked and where his hands were, a feeling of dread overcame him. Had he fallen into an even worse state of illness? Sorey sat up for a moment. He didn’t want to trouble his dearest friend with something so barbaric, but it was getting too uncomfortable.

“M-Mikleo…something’s not right…” he panted.

Mikleo was speechless as his eyes moved down to the outstanding point at Sorey’s crotch. He knew exactly what had happened, and he knew it had been a terrible idea to given into using the medicine. He had even said he wouldn’t let him have it! And now he was suffering in a way he shouldn’t be suffering.

“I don’t know what to do…” Sorey whined now. “This is so embarrassing…”

“I-I could ask Zaveid and Eizen—”

“N-No, you can’t! If anyone were to know that I…I got like this…I don’t even understand why! I had even listened to the Sparrowfeathers captain and her seraph do these things, and it didn’t bother me! So why now?”

“Sorey, don’t worry,” Mikleo suddenly said. Without thinking, he offered to help him. Even though he knew he shouldn’t touch the Oracle especially when he was as compromised as he was now, he wanted to ease his pain. “I…I might be able to help.”

Sorey’s heart skipped a beat, but whether or not it was genuine love for him was left to be discovered. He loved him, but he couldn’t sully his arrangement with Alisha. But what was he going to do with the erection throbbing between his legs?

“Please, Mikleo, make it stop,” Sorey was begging him. “I can even tell you what to do. Just…just help relieve me of this feeling!”

Unsure if this was something he should have been doing or if this was overstepping a boundary that had gone unspoken, Mikleo settled to follow Sorey’s instructions. He just needed to help him come. He didn’t have to do what Eizen and Zaveid had done. No penetration and no undressing. Just do what he saw Eizen and Zaveid did that embarrassing night.

Mikleo climbed onto Sorey’s bed, watching his dearly beloved human lean back against the pillows and invited him closer to him. Sorey’s long hair was still in a ponytail, and to make it more comfortable to lay down, he loosened it just enough to press his head against his pillow. His emerald eyes, entranced by the sight of Mikleo, twinkled by the moonlight that managed to peek into the room. Somehow seeing the water seraph while listening to the rolling waves outside made his heart ache and beat strong. He truly wished he could have been with him instead of Alisha.

Naturally, he wasn’t the only one that want that ending. Mikleo stared down at him—his increasingly heaving chest and the lackadaisical desire evident on his reddened face and lidded eyes. Mikleo wanted so desperately to love him and bury himself in him, but he knew he couldn’t. It was taboo—not the idea of laying with him but with the idea of laying with someone that was the epitome of purity and chastity. Of course, he and Sorey had kissed and hugged each other in the past. Had things never changed, they would have consummated their love then. It was the title of Oracle that threw them into disarray and separated them for eight years. He still loved him, but he couldn’t make the sweet love he wanted to now. He also couldn’t stand to see him suffer like this. He understood that this was akin to what Zaveid and Eizen had done in their cabin. He knew that it wasn’t bad at all. So why did he feel so guilty?

“M-Mikleo…” Sorey panted. “I want you to touch me.”

He just had to touch him. He had to swallow down those feelings, reminding himself that he was simply helping him to relieve himself. Sorey asked for help.

“Where…do you want me to?” Mikleo nervously asked him. Was it nervousness? Or was it an anger that was too far down in the pits of his stomach to be fully expressed? It was unfair how they could spend the life up till the age of seventeen with each other and then be kept apart by someone who has never even met him. “Sorey, please tell me.” He clenched the cloth of his pants.

Sorey sprung up so that his face was close to his—so that his lips only slightly brushed against his. “You can touch me anywhere you want; I just want your hands on me,” he whispered before locking their lips together.

Mikleo didn’t stop him from kissing him. In fact, he wondered if he was allowed to kiss him while placing him under his ministration. Sorey kissed him with growing force, going deeper into him until finally he felt his water seraph push back. Mikleo took that opportunity, unsure when it would arise again, and gorged himself on the love that Sorey was unknowingly showing him. His hand, devoid of the brown leather gloves he usually wore at sea, snaked up his tunic. Sorey’s chest muscles fit perfectly in his hand, and the tender nipples that felt his warm palms were hard and stiff. When his thumb moved over them and gently rubbed them, Sorey’s entire body squirmed. His erection was poking him, and Mikleo couldn’t deny that maybe one was forming for him, too. Until he reminded himself that this was a service and nothing more. He broke their long-withstanding kiss for a moment.

“Why did you stop…?” Sorey asked him on the verge of tears.

“I…” Mikleo started. “I can’t keep kissing you if I want to touch you more.” It was a half-truth, but it still hurt to say.

Mikleo’s hands glided down to Sorey’s abdomen. The muscles developed here were beyond hat he remembered. Even though Sorey had been starved for a few days, he still felt built. And he quite enjoyed Mikleo’s touch, trembling at the sensation and warmth. When those hands made it to his legs, Sorey’s voice was barely audible. He chirped and whined as the touches drove him mad but not enough to reach the climax he needed.

“M-Mik…leo…” he struggled. He couldn’t say anything else with the words stopping midway in his throat.

Mikleo’s heart raced; he was really going to cross the line! Leaning over top of him, he took hold of Sorey’s cock. Of his own volition, he entrapped Sorey’s lips and tongue, conjuring water around his hand, and carefully stroking him. Sorey’s breath hitched after he broke from the kiss. Mikleo nuzzled his head into his neck, stroking his faster. At first, the sounds that Sorey made were reminiscent of someone in pain. He wasn’t sure if to stop, slowing his hand until the Oracle begged him to keep going. He threw his arms around him, moaning and panting in his ear without realizing it. There was no way that he could keep quiet, and Mikleo worried that someone would come in and find them. On top of that, there was also the problem of his rising heat and how much he wanted to come with Sorey. He had t put it out of his mind, but the blood rushing in his own body made it hard to ignore.

Sorey felt the fervor in him, and through whatever lucidity he had, he gripped Mikleo’s crotch through his pants. Just as Mikleo kept working on him, he made sure to reciprocate even if it was clumsy and just a caressing of him. In reality, Sorey thought he could benefit both of them. He knew that he needed to hear Mikleo’s voice before he could spill his essence, and he was sure that Mikleo wanted the same even if he couldn’t admit it for whatever reason. Rubbing and holding him, he worked hard until finally Mikleo’s body sudden completely and suddenly shrunk over him. He let out a moan, a warm liquid wetting Sorey’s hand as he grinded into his hand. He kept moaning, which egged Sorey on. With a smile and bucking his hips, Sorey let out a burst of his seed between them, spilling on their clothes. The bursts kept coming until he was spent. Mikleo took him by the mouth again, kissing him deeply and lovingly, the thought that this was taboo only crossing his mind when their warmth finally cooled after laying next to him.