|by David Lee Antunes
There was tension. Quite the understatement given the situation, but Lazuli kept his calm
A metallic clap down the hall from his quarters brought him out of sleep. The night was
His gaze shot up, meeting the crumpled mass of uniform in the corner of his quarters. The rank medallion glared light through the grime that encrusted it, staring back at him. 'Order', he thought, and after a moment longer he broke his stare and glided up from his bed grabbing his gun and looming out of the door in a smooth motion.
The hallways were dark, the accent lights dimmed to almost darkness save the warm amber glow surrounding their core. But a haze masked their vibrance, smoke filled the air. Strange. None of the ships sensors were triggered, no alarms were tripped.
The crew lay quiet, the lot of them asleep in their quarters as the Dulcimer itself seemed to slumber in the sky. The smell of smokestack grew stronger as he rounded the corner. At the drop off down the hall Delacru caught glance of the tip of an apparition of smoke pluming from down the flight of stairs bearing way to the shuttle dock. His eyes gleamed brightly despite the dim light, reflecting his unbreakable nerves and awareness. His gun raised conversely to his descent down the stairwell.
The lowermost level of the Ship, a place of retreat for quiet and fresh air, was indeed quiet. Though in place of even tolerable air was a stationary plume of lingering smoke tinting the usual clear night sky an ugly grayish brown. The dock was silent save for a gentle wind and nothing moved, or so it seemed. Through the dark haze he caught the erratic yet graceful sweeping of loosely tethered cloth in the wind.
His gun found a target, the cloth attached to a human figure, but who he couldn't make out through the polluted air. What he thought he saw was enough to lower his gun; who he thought he saw was enough. A moment longer and the dark figure began to move, Lazuli taking a slow step forth in response.
Before allowing for any further discernment, the figure lurched away from Lazuli, and fell off the edge of the dock. Lazuli acted, running in shock toward where the figure stood a moment before, choking his gun by the barrel in one hand. There was only a fraction of a second before he reached the edge to find the void of night sky below. He felt tension next to his hand that lay pressed gripping the edge of the dock, and looking to see there was a tethered rope running down the edge. Tensed by weight, his eyes followed it down until swinging into view came a blonde haired girl.
"Evenin' captain. Taking a midnight stroll down the length of the ship, or are you out for owls?" Attica chimed up to him harnessed to the end of the rope, but before he could respond she swung back out of view.
He sighed and as she swung back into view he huffed, "Attica, explain yourself."
She eventually wrenched herself back up the rope and onto the deck, wielding a metal rod which she angled to him stopping short of his face. On the end was a clod of what appeared to be a mangled nest. He controlled his temper, never a fan of anyone putting anything within a foot of his face.
"Owls indeed," she sighed, "Their nests clog up the vents... thus the smoke.. You sleepwalking? Sure aren't saying much."
Not that he ever really did, but something was bothering him. That figure....
He broke his trance, "That's what I over flare the thrusters for on occasion." he replied curtly and turned to head back inside. The remark was very unlike him, he loves owls.
Attica frowned, "Stick your nose in everything don't you. Sure, your ship, whatever." and with that returned a coal cigar to her lips to take a long drag.
She turned and shook the clumps of owls nest off the end of the rod, clanking it on the edge of the dock. Setting it down she turned back to where the captain made his way off the dock and exhaled, another plume of smoke to add to the mass. She followed him inside.
In the hallway, she took another long drag of the cigar, the sound very audible in here compared to outside. Delacru paused in his tracks, the sound of slowburn from the cigar as she puffed, the smell..... he saw a flash of his father. Cigar in mouth, his high rank insignias embellishing his Order uniform.
Lazuli sighed, "Put that nasty thing out. No smoking Bite on my ship." With that he continued on, turning into the commons of the ship.
She sniffed, "There are worse things Captain." she crammed the end of the cigar into the side of the doorway to the commons, "No smoking then..." she said quietly, irritated, almost to herself.
Cramming the mangled cigar butt into her pouch she pulled out a flask and poured a glass full of its clear contents into a shot glass and slid it across the table to where Lazuli now sat.
"Have some moonshine." she said dryly.
"You very well know I don't indulge in such things." he replied though he thoughtlessly reached for the glass anyway. He began gently sliding it back and forth from hand to hand.
"What do you know about me Attica?" he asked. It sounded more like a statement than a question.
"Oh simply hearsay and the like," she smirked, "I know you have given the Order quite the run around for a number of years."
She met the flask with her lips and threw back what had do be more than half of its contents, and leaned over the table towards the captain, "But I don't think you ought to worry about what I know."
"I'm very well aware of your quips with the Order and I'm least worried on that subject. What does concern me are the things I can't forget from my own past." he flicked his nose with his finger, the smell still lingered in the air from earlier. Attica took notice.
"Something about my habits bringing back the desirably forgettable memories? It's the cigars isn't it..." she grinned slowly, "Your father." She gleamed.
He shuffled in his chair, "So you knew him."
"Enough about him. I knew the usual, rank and whatnot, but not any more than the next person. Though anyone could tell you that man was never seen without a cigar decorating his face." Her grin faded, "You ought to try doing what I've always gone back to" she muttered under her breath.
"And what would that be?" he muttered back.
Attica looked at him, weighing the pros and cons of revealing part of her well hidden personal truths.
She sighed aggravated at herself, "Pretending it's all just a bad dream and moving on."
Lazuli stared at the ceiling behind her, though he seemed to be looking into another dimension altogether. Breaking his stare he stood up and grasped a nearby candle.
He began flicking his fingers slowly through the flame, "Some things are better off not kept hidden inside ourselves." he murmured, "Some things should just be burned with the past they reside in."
As he said this he dunked the lit end of the candle into the shot glass and stormed out of the room. The liquid caught fire and flared up inside the glass. Attica watched the flames writhe and lash out of the glass, walking over to where it sat on the metal table. She smirked and capped the shot glass with the palm of her gold splotched hand dousing the flames and absorbing the heat.
"Temper temper, captain."
She followed him, eager to see what would ensue from his quiet outburst. Back in his quarters, he had pulled out a trash bin. Attica, leaning her head in the doorway, hand clasping the frame, watched on as he stuffed his old Order uniform into it. Lighting a match he leaned in to ignite the cloth but stopped himself short of dropping it in. He stared past the small flame at the uniform, and after a long moment he clenched his jaw. Lazuli blew out the match.
"Only thing about burning your past.." she leaned out from behind the side of the door frame and stood in the doorway, "To rid yourself of it is getting rid of you.... Not that I care, or anything..." she sniffed. "Besides, you might be able to use that for a covert disguise and where would you be having turned it to a pile of ash?"
"I can't... even if I wanted to.. These rags are a constant reminder. Call me simple, but they are what drives me most intensely... Though they're also what haunts me." he said.
She slipped from his doorway, disappearing down the hall silently saying to herself, "Don't I know the case... Father..."
He heard her regardless but slid back slowly onto his bed, looking at the textured metal ceiling.
"My father was a good man." he murmured gently before slipping back into sleep.
The morning came in glorious beams of the ethereal visibly pouring through the portholes of his room. The ship was good to him. In more ways that not it was still his old ship he'd grown bonded to, the Isis. The destruction wrought by Mad Dulcimer may have concluded with both vessels in pieces, but both are now one.
Lazuli peered out of the largest of the portholes, softly running his fingers around the lower edge of its frame. There would be no conflict aboard his ship, nothing that would impede or endanger the goal, the reason he "acquired" them in the first place. They didn't know him like they thought they did.. not even Thaddeus. No one was aboard his ship by chance. The captain knows more than he lets on, sees more than admitting to... has plans only he is aware of....
Anything big or small, he would reach point zero with, there are no secrets to him on this ship. 'The cigar'... he saw Attica stuff it in her pouch regardless of its crushed and useless state. His mind mused further.. 'That wasn't "moonshine", it burned differently, smelled ashy.. almost like.....'
He turned to face the open room, eyes resting almost inevitably on the uniform he spared the night before. Cold expression, clenching jaw, he darted after a moments pause across the room to where the rest of his clothes lay. Tying and buttoning, lastly, most importantly, the goggles came over eyes. Not around the neck or atop his head, not today, he needed to be cold today.
It was to no surprise that he found her asleep in the engine room. Attica never one too social, always seemed to find herself most comfortable tucked away in the less favorable parts of the ship. At least less favorable to the other crew, and that was how she liked it. Surely the hum and rhythmic strumming music of the machine's heart sang her to sleep.
Regardless, Lazuli knew it as one of the most probable places to find her asleep outside the security of her quarters and surely enough to his convenience there she was. Curled up in a corner not unlike the shape of a sleeping cat, she lay with her head rested on one arm, loosely gripping her flask. The drone and vibration made the job so simple it was criminal. He reached down and slipped the flask from her hand, and opening it he filled a cup he'd brought from the commons.
Leaving a little less than half, he set the flask back down in between her fingers and thumb and rested the cap barely on the opening. Having acquired what he came for, he paced out, trailing a wrench into his grasp from a nearby shelf on his way out.
Without breaking pace and in one swift motion, he whirled around and chucked the wrench into the room and continued on down the hall disappearing further into the corridors of the ship.
The noise rattled her out of sleep, fuzzy and jarring all at once. She felt her hand lightly hit something solid, accompanied by the light clink of glass on metal. A sudden cold feeling seeped into her side and she shot up from the floor rubbing her eyes.
"Great", she grumbled at finding the puddle of Bite everywhere but inside her flask.
Attica pulled herself off the ground and stretched her shirt to survey the blotch of liquid it had accumulated. Hunching over she swooped up the flask and scratching her temple, stumbled out of the engine room for her first order of business- she needed a refill.
Lazuli heard the shuffling unsteady footsteps find their way down the hall and making a turn, they grew softer as they faded into another room. Good. He took several calm and silent strides to the cracked door to Attica's room and waited until he heard what he wanted to hear.
The creaking of a wooden panel signaled him for his chance, and he slowly peered in. She was digging through one of the many crates that adorned her quarters, but he took note not of which one, but what she was taking out. A jug, clear but filled to the top with what appeared to be water.
He momentarily raised the glass he still held, up to his face to take in the smell of the liquid as he looked on. She shuffled through the mess of equipment and books on one of her tables until her hand found a funnel which she planted into the flask and generously poured the 'moonshine' into until it was full. Corking the jug, he deemed it time to leave. Down the hall, he passed the rest of the quarters as well as the commons. It was time to have a little talk with Thad.
The good doctor grumbled, fumbling with his microscope and fighting with it to get it focused. Absent mindedly he reached for one of the many prodding tools laid out on the table. The sharp noise of glass on his work table interrupted his train of thought; he looked up to find a glass cup had been firmly planted in the path of his reaching arm.
Connected to the cup was Lazuli's own arm not surprisingly connected to a stern faced Lazuli himself. Thad knew something was up.
"Aye Cap, what disease can I settle on ya this day?..... or unsettle... you're unsettling..... what's the look for?"
"I want to know what this is, what it is used for, why it is stockpiled in abundance on my ship, and why Attica can consume so much of it without having to excuse herself every few minutes." He droned lowly.
"What, you mean go number one?" Thad chimed, only to be answered with the cold eyeless stare of the captain.
"Fine, fine, I do catch eye of her sipping more of that than her innards should be able to hold... Either way I'll get to it just after I finish fusing the-"
The captain cut him off, "Thad. I mean now."
Thad sighed, "Right, right, then just let everyone know I'll be late for supper eh?" He said in a halfhearted sarcasm.
"No one is to know. Especially not Attica. You will not hint at it nor will you leave any further research to open eyes. Your door is to remain locked and all materials and equipment are to be secured, do I make myself clear?" The captain had remained a statue the entirety of the conversation, all but his lips.
"Yes, sounds ever so clear captain.. Ever so clear."
He knew when Lazuli was serious. At least more serious than normal one should say. Lazuli released the glass but still stood in his place. Only until Thad reached and took it did he finally turn and withdraw from the room. Thad sat and watched the empty doorway as it slowly creeped shut. As it clicked into place, the latch threw down and the door was locked.
"Hmmh", He sighed a breath of a chuckle and drew the cup up to his nostrils. He took a very small whiff, but pulled it away almost spilling it as he coughed and hacked, the sting and smell of the clear substance still burning his nasal passage and throat.
If anyone could make record time in discerning what the substance was, it was Thad. Delacru gave him to the end of the day to come up with an answer, morning at best. He knew the capable doctor, that even though this man was of another existence altogether, he could take foreign and make it familiar. Most of all, despite his quips and quirky nature, he trusted Thad most of all. It was only a short matter of time now.
"We're nearing some sort of settlement!" Ammadeus shouted from the loudspeakers.
Lazuli peered from the side of the table, down through the enormous porthole that was the floor of the commons. Down into the lower level and past it's identical floor, he gazed as land passed, so far below the ship.
"Establish communications request." He said calmly into his audemitter cuff.
"Will do.... If they're friendly can we still at least flash our guns? A little intimidation wouldn't hurt in getting us a bit more this time." Ammadeus chimed in response.
"If they're friendly you won't be joining us when we make port this time Wolf." Delacru shot back curtly.
"..... I can make them unfriendly real quick." Ammadeus grumbled.
Aggravated that he was answered with silence, he couldn't help himself but start up again.
"Surely I'm not armed to the nines so that I can sit on the Dulcimer all day. I'm not only hungry and more than a little dry on entertainment but I just want to shoot something.... Come to think of it, why is it that we're in possession of what has to be one of the greatest compilations of technological feats up in this here sky.. an unmatched engine system, means of replenishing power without having to touch down, firepower enough to make for a very sparkly landscape.. WHY DO WE NEVER HAVE EATS!?
“Bunch of pot belly's running this ship, never heard of such pigs! On my ship we had food aplenty and never the worry of such shortages!..... Are you going to sit there all mum and quiet? What say you? What smart calmly delivered answer do you have for me this time eh? Let's hear it, indulge me." He hunched over the comm. panel waiting to hear what the captain had to say.
"From my understanding, you were a crew of twigs save the well fed captain. From my understanding you were strictly ill willed pirates hellbent on getting your way." Lazuli's voice came from just a few steps away behind, startling the wits out of Wolfgange who whirled around.
Delacru stepped forward stopping short of penetrating Wolf's comfort space.
"I will have you know that we may be called pirates, and we may act as such in some instances. But we are not ill intentioned. I will have you know that the ground so far below can be made readily available to you in an instant, without us stopping, without us landing. Keep your guns in your pants and your words in your mouth. This is my ship, I will not be contended again. Is that clear Ammadeus." A command, rather than request for clarification.
He stood firm and glared at him deathly for a moment before leaning to access the comm. panel to hail a communications request; though he never broke his predatory like stare on Wolf.
“This is Lazuli Delacru, Captain of Neo Dulcimer, we would like to engage a communications connection with your establishment and quite possibly make port. Hailing request for comm. link, over.”
Silence answered him. For the longest time they stood in wait for some sort of response. Finally static answered them, crackling then clearing. They could hear faint shuffling and whispers on the other end, but it was no more an answer than the static.
There was a sudden pause in the quiet commotion, and ever so softly a voice whispered coldly, “Do it.”
Lazuli slowly pulled away from the comm. panel looking at it gravely, his gaze treading over and out the command deck windows.
“Hit the deck.” He said almost too calmly, but with enough of a hint of sternness to shudder Ammadeus, who then turned his attention to match that of Lazuli’s gaze.
All too quickly he threw himself to the floor, barely enough time to brace himself for he saw a plume of smoke not too far in the distance. Barely enough time as the shot impacted with the ship, throwing it in a violent commotion. Wolfgange peered up from his sheltering arm at his captain, who amidst the sparks and smoke still firmly stood his ground grasping one hand on the console, the other resting at his side. The ship stayed course, though shaken, it remained in place in its sky.
Lazuli slammed his hands at the console, quickly calibrating and adjusting to compensate for distance and borealis variables.
“Stay down.” He said again in the same tone, “Firing Nihilanth.”
For an instant, no sound could be heard. Deafness washed over all the entirety of the crew. A low bass rocked the vessel in all directions, growing deeper then higher until a piercing explosion projected from the ship. An impact could be heard in the distance, but not be seen for the light that came before it. All was blinded by white light. Once again there was silence aboard the Neo Dulcimer.
He could see before his sense of hearing found its way back to him. The ringing was gently interrupted by the faint strumming of droning notes, gradually growing louder as the deafness subsided. Delacru waited until finally the engine's melodic notes came in crystal clarity, as if hearing them for the first time.
He stalled a moment, cherishing the sound of his ship singing to him, telling him it was okay despite the shot it had just taken. His hand found the console with ease once more.
"Crew, by this point you know we are in what is now to be classified as hostile territory. By this point you should be gearing up and or ready; we will be docking shortly, port or no port. We will make our own if we have to. Thad, you are to stay on board, no further conversation on that point as I trust you understand. I expect that you all will be ready on the lower decks before I make my way down there." He glanced down barely from out of the corner of his eye at Wolf who was still on the floor, "That includes you."
Wolf answered him with an unsettling smile in his eyes, looking up at Lazuli from just under his twisted brow. He grinned crookedly and pulled off the floor and was out the door in swift motion. He was off to pick from his arsenal.
Thad grumbled, sniffed, and ran the length of his arm down the underside of his nose. It still burned from having taken just a small sniff of the clear substance. A portion had been set aside in one of his test tubes that until that point was still new and unused. The rest had been put through rigorous tests.
He examined it, mixed it, burned it, even vaporized and solidified it. Nothing. There was only so much more he could do and to say he was irritated at his inability thus far to provide a conclusion on what exactly the substance was, such a thing would be an understatement. It was to his disadvantage that there were limits to his workspace on the Dulcimer, despite the fact that he had a collection of equipment that could only be compared to any other scientists dream. Gautenvalle was as much a longing and a dream as it was his possession and a reality. All the equipment and space he could ever need was his with the only drawback that it was firmly planted thousands of miles away.
He heaved a sigh, hunched over one of his work tables watching a beaker of the substance boiling, chin resting on his arms. He raised his hands up over his head sharply leaning back in his chair as he inflated his cheeks staring at the ceiling. The air puffed and flowed out from his flubbering lips.
Thad stared for the longest time, when his eyes sharpened with a revelation. They flicked to the table on his left, which upon it rested the test tube rack. The good doctor pushed over to the table hovering over the rack, targeting the one filled test tube. Hesitation yielded to him as he plucked the tube of clear liquid, bringing it to eye level.
He quickly raised it in the air to the imaginary companions there with him, squinting in doubt for what he was about to do.
What was deceptively just a small settlement was in reality just the outskirts of a very large and well developed industrial city.
"How's that for playing the curve?" Wolf grunted.
"What do you mean?" Luthiem asked.
"He's referring to the curvature of the surface of the earth and our viewing standpoint in comparison." Exelt answered.
The captain joined them in the lower shuttle dock, racking the primer handle on his bolt rifle. His goggles down, empty eyes focused on the city.
"Whomever they are they have built this place in perfect proportion in each direction. It's an effective deception to anyone ill equipped for facing the firepower they have. They've created a perimeter just far enough out from the inner city to dupe people into thinking they're nothing more than a small hapless settlement."
Attica snorted, "Hapless."
"Why would they though? What are their intentions?" Exelt asked in a curiosity hinted with worry.
"Well that's something we will be asking them ourselves." Delacru answered gravely. Exelt looked deeply at him, the reflection in his goggles. A fire burned in a ring around nothingness. The Nihilanth cut a trench fifty yards in width clean through the settlement, the inner city, and as far as the eye could see. Flames licked the curved ragged edges of the hole.
They had allowed the Dulcimer to drift inward to just the outer rim of the inner city, through the blast hole it had created as some form of twisted red carpet laid before it. Where they stood, the burning tunnel glowed all around them, framing them in its massive smoldering maw. They were ants in comparison.
"Cap when you gonna allow me to carry a hand-held version of that fancy cannon of yours?" Wolf jokingly griped as they all surveyed the power behind the punch of the Nihilanth.
"Let's go." Delacru ignored him and pushed on. "Tell me if you feel a breeze."
They ventured further in, somewhat wary of the fact that they were possibly being watched, but it didn't so much as bother them. Numbers and powers would have to be great to overtake this bunch. The walls of the blast hole resembled a black inverted candle, they were melted and drooped in one direction- away from the Dulcimer. The ground was soft under their feet, cushioned by the uncompacted ashes. Feathers of ash drifted to the earth like slow motion fallen angels. There was no ambient sound other than the smoldering rims of the blast hole. But suddenly Delacru shot a hand up to halt his crew as he spun to take aim. He zeroed in upper right on a portion of the crest of the hole. At first it appeared nothing was there until some charred bits of the crust broke free to fall to the ground. Then a section of the crust's wall itself loosed and fell to the ground. It was half of a charred body.
"Almost only counts...." Luthiem remarked solemnly. Wolf cackled and she glared at him.
He shrugged, "If only that poor joker was half as good! Oh wait!" He cackled and laughed hysterically. Echoes of his childishness rang back at them but he was cut short with the brunt force of a butt stock on the back of his head. He reared back wincing in pain to look up and see Lazuli looking down on him. Attica picked up where he left off and cackled and laughed at him. He hunched over rubbing his head and biting his tongue, trying to instead take in the fresh air gently brushing his face. Slowly he cocked his head to look sideways.
Lazuli burned a fiery hole of a glare back down on him.
Wolf pleaded hiding his head, "No, no, not again, no, I feel a breeze, I'm done laughing, I'll shut up-" Lazuli interrupted him bluntly with the same words, "Shut up."
He made his way next to Wolf and knelt beside him, he inhaled as the breeze of fresh air flitted on his face. He could see the hole.
"Captain I apologize for asking but why not just land inner city somewhere instead of inside this mess?" Exelt queried genuinely.
"Why not land in the epicenter of where everyone won't be?" Wolf answered back quietly.
"Wolf sometimes I begin to wonder why you're on this crew and then I'm promptly reminded every time." Lazuli said.
"I wonder why he's on this crew all the time, and I'm promptly reminded why I wonder why he's on the crew. Tell me again, why is he on the crew?" Attica hissed under her breath.
Lazuli ignored her, "He's right, whoever the inhabitants are of this area they'll have made off as far away from this spot as they can. Wouldn't you? Less trouble for us to deal with getting on ground and inside." With that Lazuli strode to the small six inch hole and proceeded to blast away at it promptly with the bolt rifle. Shots still rang in the air before slightly fading and returning as an echo after he was through and deemed it weak enough. He kicked with his heel and clubbed with the stock of the rifle until there was a comfortable size pathway for them to pass through.
"C'mon" Lazuli turned back to beckon the crew but the count was off, Luthiem wasn't there. He scrunched his brow and whirled back to face the passage.
"C'mon" Lulu beckoned the Captain playfully.
Delacru smirked and shook his head. They entered the passage, and into the inner city.
The breeze had bled through from a long narrow alleyway, closed off at the end by a loosely structured wooden gate. Lulu stood ahead of them already midway through the corridor and facing away, she was a statue. Lazuli came up beside her, the rest of the crew still climbing through the makeshift entrance. He attempted to see what she saw.
"What is it Lu, what do you see?" He asked gently.
He watched for a moment, looking at the cracks of light escaping through the gaps in the wooden gate. For just a glimpse, a brief blink of a moment, he saw one too. It strobed from one end to the other and was gone. She felt the air move next to her and without shifting her gaze to him, shot an arm out to halt the captain from taking another step.
"Just wait dear, no need to, I can see further from here."
She pushed her vision outward, her artificial eyes adjusting their lenses for enhancement and focus. Through the slats of the gate she watched, men and women, people all going about their lives plainly.. Happily, calmly. Not one showing signs of fear or even acknowledgment of any danger to them.
"Occupied......." she trailed off.
"What?" Lazuli turned to her slightly unbelieving.
"This area, it's still occupied. They're all here, they're all still here.. as if nothing ever happened." She replied.
"The truth of it stands, Captain, that the people here might not have even seen the explosion...or the bodies pulled apart in it." Attica's voice broke in directly behind them, her tone was unmistakably scorching as usual. He turned a grimace to her, Luthiem licked her lips at the imagery.
"Watch the sarcasm, we don't need internal quarrels on the field so stop instigating them." The captain turned his attention back to the gate.
"'The field'", Attica huffed mockingly, Lazuli ignored her.
"Think of the weapons they could be harboring if an explosion like this never even phased them." Wolf hinted aloud.
"Surely." Lazuli said almost to himself.
"Would be a waste..... Captain." Attica chimed in, again the salty tone.
"Surely." he said again, she was right.
"Well, let's see this for ourselves then! Everyone follow me!" The captain shouted, marching at the gate. Mid stride he raised his rifle and let off a round at the latch completely destroying it. Not stopping he reached the gate and kicked it open. Five steps out he finally halted raising his gun, unloading four violent bursts into the sky. The air settled and the ringing stopped, the lot of the crew treading from out of the alley to stand behind him. A man passed by them, he turned and waved merrily at the Captain. None of the town had stopped. None of them fled or so much as flinched in fear. Lazuli's mouth began to drift open in unbelief. He watched them all, unwavered from the sudden violent entrance.
He turned to Exelt, "What is this?.. What's going on?"
"Captain... I don't know. I.. I've never seen...."
He didn't wait for her to finish. Delacru zeroed in on a woman at a fruit cart and went to her. She was quietly tending to the inventory, sorting out the bad stock, her back to him. He faced his crew and leaned back to her a bit, raising the muzzle of the rifle right next to the back of her head. Another shot was fed to the sky, but the woman didn't acknowledge a threat much less the deafening strike of the sound inches away from her head. He turned his attention to a man leaning against a large wooden post, aiming he fired. The round burst and splintered the wood just to the side of where the man's head rest against the same post. The man immediately shot a glance at Lazuli pulling his hand from out of his coat. In that instant Lazuli braced himself, readying the next shot on the man himself. Out came the man's hand, though it was empty of anything but a wave. He continued to wave and smiled, complimenting the action with a simple "Hello."
"You have to be joking." Lazuli mumbled to himself in complete disbelief. He dropped the rifle to the ground as his eyes shot from one person to another. They had to be faking. He was going to break them, there had to be a limit. Then he saw it- A hulking mass of a man, bigger than him all around in sheer muscle and height. Bald head gleaming in the sun and a thick black handlebar moustache, no shirt but a leather apron. The strongman glistened from the sweat he was covered in from his labor of offloading large metal beams from a bin. Let's see you keep your head about you.
The Captain took a deep breath and steadfast he strode to the mountain of a man. The crew still watched, either amused, in awe, shock, confusion, or any combination, they stayed spectators. The man's shadow covered Delacru who stood in his path back to the bin for another beam. He smiled gently and excused himself, beginning to ease himself around Delacru. The Captain's hand cocked back closed fisted and jerked forward meeting the squared jaw hard and fast leading through the punch. The strongman's head ripped to the side in motion with Delacru's fist and shuddered as his own hands drifted out to reach for balance. Lazuli clasped his hand as it throbbed and he watched as in slow motion the giant regained composure. He prepared himself for the worst.
His massive form uncurled, reeling out into the peak of his height as he stood to tower over Lazuli. His eyes were fire. The man swooped up one of the cutoffs from the pile of metal beams and brought it down like a guillotine at Lazuli. The Captain dodged fluidly to the right as the metal met the cobblestone floor. Sparks and shards of rock littered the air, the sharp sound of steel on stone interrupted any presence of tranquility. The towering man growled a menacing roar of frustration and rage. They continued, Lazuli dodging every which way to avoid the one fatal swoop it would take to end him in an instant.
The man reeled back and strained his muscles, the veins popping all over as he roared once more, he was preparing to charge. Lazuli braced himself, the man set forth charging at full speed. He was nothing short of an iron train locked onto the Captain. At the last possible second Delacru dodged, bringing his knee into the man's gut in the process. He keeled over as the air was forced from his lungs, Lazuli brought his fists together above his head. In a violent flash he brought them down in an axe-handle on the back of the man's head sending him permanently to the floor. He huffed, dashed to the man's side and kicked the improvised metal club out of his hand. His breath was heavy, looking around the town's residents who, despite the skirmish, still went about their business.
But amidst the crowds barrels emerged, men in uniform appeared training their rifles on the Captain and his crew. One of them picked up Lazuli's discarded rifle and immediately Lazuli raised one hand and removed his pistol with the other. He set it on the ground and motioned for the crew to follow suit. They did so reluctantly. One of them was clearly in charge, as he projected his authority right away.
"Secure him, he has to be restrained until the wave can regain its effect. The rest of you, collect their guns and follow me." He pointed and directed his men, never giving direct eye contact with any of the crew of the Neo Dulcimer. Once again Lazuli nodded to the crew to go peacefully, it would help reach his goal more smoothly in the end. The men jabbed the business ends of their guns at the backs of the crew and captain, prodding them like cattle to go where they wanted. The crew watched as several of the uniforms stayed behind, scooping up the unconscious giant, dragging him away.
The streets were lithe and narrow, save the wide open market. Cobblestone paths wound through rows of huddled wooden shops and houses that bore a strong resemblance to an old world that existed before the age. What he at first mistook for scraps of trash catching the wind, tumbling clumsily down the gutters, were revealed to be petite songbirds springing about the ground. They showed no worry of the residents purposely harming them or even the fear of being trampled, crushed incidentally.
Beautiful artwork and handmade decor adorned much of the scene so that there was barely a large open space left uncovered on any wall. Lush plants draped from overhangs, vibrant vines with budding flowers and moss left no cracks vacant. It was nothing short of an overwhelming wonder. What Lazuli hadn't seen before he surely did now. He was locked in the sense of the mission, his blinders were on and his instinct was king. He looked at each of his crew, their faces somber, even Attica to a slight degree. It almost felt wrong, what he did, though he couldn't shake the thought that there was something sinister masked by a lie in this place. They were fired upon first, theirs was only return fire, but somehow it didn't feel justified. What was it?
He looked once more at the guards who escorted them, they stuck out like a sore thumb. The uniforms were tight and fitted, a muted navy blue with deep red stripes that ran the length of the front, back, and sleeves. Their hair was cropped and their faces stern, they were very contrasting to the townspeople, very aware.
They were nearing a central building that towered over the muddled town. It wasn't extremely monumental, and no excess of space was reserved for it other than a slight funneling of the surrounding buildings outward, opening way for the entrance. It was almost large enough to be a small town square, but still quaint and far from dominating. Lazuli looked up at the spire and his head spun, the light of the sky bled and blurred out everything else in his vision. He shook his head and looked at Attica who stood next to him, she looked back but here gaze was distant, she smiled at him pleasantly and he blacked out.
"-experiencing residual effects of the wave but it will fully wear off shortly. I'm sure you are wondering... well let me explain."
Lazuli's head spun as he came to. The room was quite dim despite the windows lining the curved walls. They peered out over a grid of huddled buildings that made up a small city. This room was the peak of the tower they were brought to, right before his mind had gone blank. The crew stood rather than sat a bit behind him to his right, Attica seemed back to normal. His eyes trailed from her to the guards behind them, to the dark wood walls and small assorted curiosities splayed throughout the room. The decor was not overly ornate but still retained its intrigue. The walls created a large continuous curve, the room overall more than a half circle. In the center behind an ornate cherry wood desk sat a man silhouetted against the light that spilled in from the windows behind him. He lit a cigar and continued.
"As I am most positive you have discovered by now, this is a settlement focused on peace. Violence is in no way tolerated and must be removed if any is introduced. So in response to this, years ago I had developed and emplaced a device to counteract the very instincts and nature of man that can be called most appalling. It is harmless, and does not promote any other purpose other than that which it was designed for. Now before I go on I truly must suppress my itching curiosity and ask whom you all are and what are you doing in my empire?"
He ended bluntly and abruptly. Silence wretched its way in, creating more than a little discomfort to the already confusing state the crew was in. They were all there, looking as off set and disarmed as the next.
"We hailed a peaceful comm. request that was answered with hostility. Hostility that originated from this establishment. What was to be a peaceful meeting was turned into an investigation of sorts due to the nature of your response." Lazuli said with a hint of staleness.
"More like we were gonna raid the place." Wolf shot. A rifle butt immediately met the back of his head and he dropped to the floor in pain. Lazuli spun in his seat to see one of the guards settling back into place behind where he stood behind Wolf.
"Thanks." He nodded to the guard and turned back to continue. "This is the crew of the Neo Dulcimer, and I am the Captain, Lazuli Delacru. We obviously don't want trouble otherwise the streets out there would be strewn with bodies and no building would be left untouched by a hungry fire." He shot a glance to Attica. "I can also take the liberty in saying that yourself and your empire as you like to call it feel the same. We aren't physically restrained and there has been no threat made on your part so let me in turn ask, who are you?"
The man pulled a long drag of the cigar, the embers on the end glowed and grinned in the darkness of his silhouette. He tapped the ashes into a tray and set the cigar to rest halfway in as he rose from his seat. Calmly he strode around to the front of the desk to casually lean against it facing his audience. The crew gasped, Delacru's face went dark. The man's features were unmistakable- pale complexion, darkened eyesockets, unnaturally visible veins... This man was no different than those who pledged their utmost allegiance. He was from high rank of the Order.
Immediately a tension filled the air that was alarmingly absent before. It felt as if a spring, wound to its core, was about to burst violently from its casing. Lazuli could hardly stay seated, he was ready to strike.
"Calm yourselves. I don't belong to the oppressors... not any more. That was years ago," he chuckled "well, more than a little. Allow me, if you will, to explain myself and my empire. I don't know why but I trust you."
Lazuli calmed himself; if this man really wanted to bring them harm he would have made it apparent by now. His eyes had fully adjusted by now and they took in the figure that stood before him. He was dressed in a simple black tailored suit with a red ascot. Adorning the lapels were varying medals of different sizes on one and a gray rose on the other. His hair was blond, short, and military with apparent but not overpowering mutton chops. But perhaps the most instantly noticeable feature was that of his right hand. Up to his elbow it shone and gleamed in the ambient light. The exposed mechanics clicked and small ball joints could be heard sliding around as he moved. His arm was completely mechanical. He raised it to stare into the chrome reflection of his palm.
"I am slightly more than two hundred years old, just about the time the Order really began to take hold and expand."