Character creation session went well. Five players in total and a pretty interesting mix of characters forming the core of the Nimbus’ crew.
We’ve got a cross-dressing Captain (Constantine Sirocco) who rules more through force of personality than force of arms. Somehow he’s managed to piss off a NeoVictorian by the name of Jeremiah Belforet. Don’t know how yet, the player left the whys and whens up to me. Constantine’s younger brother, Xanatos, is the Chief Engineer. With his short temper, I dread to think how long the Nimbus’ poor engine will last under his “tender care.” But the kid is a genius mechanic so he should be able to hammer the dents out. These two PCs already seem to have a catchphrase, “I’ll tell mom!” which I suspect is going to be used to drive each other insane. Following on in the grand tradition of Leela of Futurama fame, our one-eyed Chief Helmsman, Zeke, has decided that depth-perception is for chumps. A born skysailor (or skypirate in less polite company), Zeke’s probably got more experience working on airship’s than the rest of the (PC) crew put together. The Nimbus’ Gunnery Sergeant is Jamie Torrent, a crack shot femme fatale with her own stalker. And last, but by no means least, the Nimbus has probably the only medically trained automaton in existence. Quite how Jonathan Neuffe, an Automaton Autocrat, came to be so well trained/programmed in the medical sciences is a mystery. And like all mysteries, he ‘aint telling. As well as being a doctor, he throws a damn fine right hook. There’ll be no messing about in his sick bay.
Character creation went smoothly enough seeing as we only had one copy of the book. In hindsight, I could have done with printing off more than just two copies of the Character Creation Cheat Sheet. I was pleasantly surprised to find that everyone had actually read the campaign blurb on the sign-up sheet. Normally, getting players to read anything about what sort of characters are and aren’t appropriate for a specific game is a chore so it was a nice change. By the time we got to sorting out Airship Skills, all the various skills were already covered by one person or another in the party so people were free to chose what they wanted; either enhancing a skill they already had or gaining a new skill to act as backup to another character.
Sorting out the schtick was relatively painless. After pointing out that bordello was disallowed (mainly due to the character’s ages) the player’s ran down the list quickly. After a brief discussion, they settled on Mercenaries. Not exactly the most unique choice, but a serviceable one. And to be honest, pretty close to how most “adventurer groups” could be described. I do sense trouble ahead, simply by the number of eyes that lit up when they saw Demolitions on the schtick’s skill list. 🙂
Finally we got to Airship Creation. When given the choice of using a tweaked version of the pre-statted ship in the book or customising their own stock Tigerfish, they immediately jumped on building their own. Zeke’s player took charge at this point, assembling a list of features and weapons grouped into either “neccessary” or “optional”. There was some back and forth, but they eventually settled on a design. The Nimbus is not as heavily armed as the Cordelia having two less cannons, and it only has one grappling hook launcher. It does however have a bow mounted Lighting Gun and extra armour plating. Being a Mercenary ship, they didn’t need to take any special features for their schtick, with the possible exception of a Sick Bay and Weapons Locker. They did pick up a Solid Rocket Booster for those quick bursts of speed during chases. Surprisingly however, they chose not to purchase any cabins so all the crew sleep in hammocks on the gundeck. No fancy cabin for the captain either (to the disappointment of his player). They still have 10ARPs of space which I believe they’re holding on to for any upgrades or additional features they discover they may need once play begins.
There was no time to go through the rules of the game with anyone, and no time to into any great detail about the setting, other then reiterating the campaign setup. There should be time for that in the actual first session.
Next time, The Tribulations of Scabby Jack
Just started running a new game on Tuesdays, Airship Pirates. The game is based on the music of Abney Park (although I have to be honest that it’s not to my tastes).
It’s 2150. The Earth’s recovering from the Great Apocalypse of 1906.
From the steampunk sky-cities of Isla Aether and High Tortguga come the airship pirates. You hoist the Jolly Roger, spin your propellers and take to the skies. Yours is a life of adventure, plunder and infamy.
The American wilderness lies below. Beast-haunted wastelands are criss-crossed by the tracks of freedom-loving Neobedouins. Armoured railroads connect the Emperor’s widely scattered domains.
In the walled, fog-shrouded cities, people huddle in forced Victorian squalor, lorded over by the upper classes. The Emperor’s clockwork policemen patrol the streets and the ultimate threat of the Change Cage hangs over those who would rebel. Rising from the dockyards, the frigates of the Imperial Air Navy patrol the clouds, hunting pirates and threatening the sky cities.
The game is based on an idea presented in the core rulebook. More information can be found on the website I’ve set up for the game.
It is a tradition at Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, that every youth spend two years fending for themselves in the wilderness beyond the community before they are considered adults. Each year, the latest crop of hopefuls are given a wad of cash, command of an airship of their very own and told not to return for another two summers.
A ship, a crew barely ready for shaving and a hold full of rum. What could possibly go wrong?
Leaving the hectic docks behind, Deegan climbed into the sky above Artaxis until the city lay beneath him. Spreading away from the docks and the sprawling lower city, Artaxis rose up on a series of terraces carved in to the northern face of the island’s central mountain. Seventy-five thousand people crowded its streets while above them the skies were filled with ships from every nation bringing in produce and commodities from across the world.
Having lived in the city for five years now, Deegan knew its streets well, his skyboard giving him a view of the city that few of its inhabitants could enjoy. At the same time, the skyboard had turned more than a few heads. As far as he could tell, his board was one of a kind; he’d never seen anything like it. Deegan assumed that was because no one other than him was crazy enough to build and operate such a device. His father, proud of his son’s accomplishment, had said as much on more than one occasion.
After taking a second to enjoy the view, he swooped down towards the second terrace, looking for Black Street. The second terrace was home to a number of merchant districts mixed in with middle class residential streets. It was a much nicer and cleaner place than down in the lower city where Deegan and his family lived.
It didn’t take him long to find it and he set down in a small square a short distance from his destination; his sudden appearance drawing more than a few startled and curious looks which the young boy ignored. Jogging the last dozen or so yards, Deegan couldn’t help but smile. From the Docks to the Second Terrace in under five minutes without using the board’s booster, that had to be a personal best. Handing over the package didn’t take much longer; “Port Authority Messenger service sir, got a package for you … sign here … here’s your package sir, have a nice day.” With the package delivered, Deegan made his way back to the docks to wait for his next job.
His skyboard strapped to the back of his shirt underneath his backpack, Deegan walked through the marketplace, his mind on food. It had been a long day for him, seeing him run ragged scooting back and forth across the city on over a dozen deliveries. He was exhausted and the heat of the summer day had left him parched, his skin red from the harsh sun. In hindsight, skipping breakfast this morning to get to work early had probably been a mistake; he was starving.
He stopped at one of the stalls, attracted by the smell of fresh fruit. “Hey there Little Thief,” the stall owner said as he saw Deegan approach, “anything catch your eye?” Deegan blushed; he hated that nickname even if there was no malice behind its use. He wasn’t a thief; it had all been just a misunderstanding.
Not long after moving to Artaxis, his father had taken him to the market. Deegan, nine-years-old and wide-eyed with amazement at being in such a big city for the first time, had wandered away from his father. He had stopped in front of a fruit-seller’s stand and studied the fruit on offer. There were so many colours, textures and scents; so many varieties of fruit that he had never seen before. Picking up one that had looked particularly tasty; he had glanced around looking for his father. Seeing him just a couple of stalls down, Deegan had started to run over to ask him for the money to buy it. Before he could get more than a couple of steps, his arm was grabbed and he was nearly lifted clear of the floor by the irate trader. “Not so fast you little thief,” the trader growled down at him, “I’ve had enough of you thieving little punks.” Deegan looked down in horror at his hand still holding the fruit and realised what this must look like. He knew what happened to thieves, if they thought he was trying to steal the fruit he’d be thrown in jail if not hanged. Tears streaming down his face, he had loudly protested his innocence. Luckily, his father had heard the commotion and strode over, demanding to know what the man was doing to his son. The trader had eventually been convinced by the boy’s terrified tears and his father’s calm words but ever since that day, the trader had taken to calling him by that nickname.
“Hey Jayden, you still got any kumo fruit in?” Deegan asked scanning the stalls wares.
The trader smiled and reached under the stall. “I always keep one back for you.” He held the succulent fruit just out of Deegan’s reach. “You got money?”
Deegan rolled his eyes and fished out a couple of coins, dropping them into the trader’s hand. “Thanks Jayden,” he said as the trader handed him the kumo and he took a deep bite, savouring the taste of the juices. “See you tomorrow.”
He continued on his way, chewing on the fruit, lost in thought. It wasn’t far to the pub where his father would be waiting for him. It had been a hot day and he was looking forward to the promised drink; he certainly felt that he deserved it. Tomorrow was one of the days that he was at school and if tomorrow was as hot as today, then sitting in that stuffy classroom was going to be torture. At least he wouldn’t be there all day and he’d be free in the afternoon to hang out with his friends or just mess around on his skyboard.
Not paying attention to where he was going, he almost walked into someone standing in his way. “Excuse me,” he started to say but stopped when he looked up and saw the Imperial uniform hidden underneath the man’s cloak. The man looked down at him, one hand on the sword on his belt. He wasn’t alone either; two other similarly attired men were with him. Before Deegan knew what to do, the two other men had positioned themselves behind him. He swallowed nervously and held his hands up. “Umm, guys, if this is about the flag, you can have it back. It was just a stupid prank. No need to get nasty about it, right?”
The Imperial soldiers looked at each other in confusion for a second. “This is that kid from last night?” One of the soldiers said.
“Talk about coincidence” another said.
“Wait up,” Deegan thought to himself, “if they’re not here for … and if I’ve just said … awww crud.”
“Quiet!” The soldier in front of Deegan barked. “Arashi, Vigilant Fletcher would like a word with you.”
He barely contained a sigh of relief. “Sorry guys, I think you got the wrong guy, my name’s …”
“Vigilant Fletcher was specific.” The soldier said firmly, “He said ‘Bring me the boy with unkempt wine-coloured hair under a blue bandana, a red armband on his arm with the number 46 written on it and a strange plank-like object strapped to his back.’” That certainly described him. “He was most insistent.”
“Okay … creepy … but I’ve had a long day at work so I’ll think I’ll give talking to a crazy sorcerer a pass.” Deegan tried move away, but he was surrounded, and from the way they were standing, they weren’t about to let him just walk away. This was bad, really bad. He stuffed the rest of the kumo into his mouth.
“You ‘aint going nowhere ‘cept with us kid.” One of the soldiers behind him said.
“And if I say no?” Deegan said, chewing on the remains on the fruit as fast as he could, the juices dribbling out of the corner of his mouth.
“Then,” the soldier said sneering and unsheathing his sword an inch, “we’ll make you and I can’t guarantee that you won’t get hurt in the process. In fact, I can guarantee that you will.”
Deegan nodded. “Uh huh, are you allergic to kumo fruit?” Confused by the sudden non-sequitur, the soldier could only stammer that he wasn’t. “Good.” Before the soldier could respond, Deegan spat the pulped fruit into the man’s face. He screamed as the kumo’s juices blinded him; the men behind Deegan were too stunned to react as he pushed past their blinded captain and took off running down the narrow street. They recovered quickly and soon began chasing the fleeing boy.
Weaving through the crowded streets whilst being chased by three Imperial soldiers was not how he wanted to spend his evening. Especially since he didn’t have the energy for it. He had no idea who this “Arashi” person was, but the Vigilant had described him with near perfection and he had no intention of finding out what the man wanted with him.
“Stop thief!” The lead soldier yelled as he pushed his way down the street.
“Great,” Deegan muttered through gritted teeth, “a smart soldier, just what I need.” Yelling that while chasing a kid down the street increased the chance that someone might help them catch him. Luckily, most of the merchants knew the local street rats and pickpockets by sight and Deegan wasn’t one of them. However, all it would take is one meddling do-gooder and those soldiers would get him; he also needed to avoid any city guardsmen.
A hand reached out and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt as he ran past an alleyway, pulling him inside. His own momentum took his feet out from under him and he would have fallen to the floor if not for the tight grip on his shirt. “Lemme go!” He yelled, trying to twist out of the grip holding him.
“Quiet!” A voice hissed as he was span round, pressed against a wall and a hand clamped across his mouth. Deegan looked up with wide, panicked eyes, at the person restraining him. It was a boy a couple of years older looking down at him with harsh grey eyes. “If you know what’s good for you you’ll keep still and shut up.” The boy pressed himself against Deegan and glanced towards the street. Shadows seemed to flow like water from where they were situated as Deegan watched, pooling around them both. A tingle ran down his spine, his hairs stood on end; this was magic.
“I think he ducked into this alley,” a voice yelled from the street. The three soldiers charged into the alley heading straight for where Deegan was being held against the wall. Deegan suddenly started struggling with the boy holding him, convinced he was working with the soldiers.
The boy glanced back at him with a pleading look in his eyes. “Do you want to get us both caught?” It took a second for Deegan to realise that the words had been spoken without the boy moving his lips. Somehow, the boy had projected the words directly telepathically into Deegan’s head.
Deegan watched with a growing sense of panic as the soldiers neared them. However, instead of trying to grab them, they ran straight past as if they didn’t see the two boys at all, disappearing around the corner. The boy stepped back, releasing Deegan and letting out a sigh of relief. “That was close.” He said aloud. As he spoke, the shadows receded from around them, returning to their place. “You’re welcome by the way.” Deegan stood against the wall, staring at the boy in front of him, his so-called saviour. The boy’s eyes looked out from under a fringe of black hair, and despite the cocky smirk on his face, they were harsh and cold. There was something about him, something familiar almost as if Deegan knew him somehow even though he knew that they’d never met. It must be magic he thought, something to “help” him trust the strange boy. However, after the run in with the soldier’s he wasn’t about to take anything or anyone on faith right now, especially a strange magic-user who coincidentally shows up to save him from being dragged to an Imperial Vigilant. “You’re younger than I thought you’d be Arashi, and shorter. Come on, we better get going.”
If the boy had wanted to convince Deegan to trust him, then using the name “Arashi” was bad mistake. Deegan took a step toward the boy until they were almost chest-to-chest. “I’m not going anywhere with you or anyone else.” The boy opened his mouth to say something but he was cut off as Deegan glared at him. “And my name is Deegan.” He reached forward and grabbed the boy’s arms, moving too fast for the startled boy to respond. Deegan’s knee shot up and crashed into the boy’s groin causing him to double over and groan in pain.
“Stupid brat,” the boy hissed as he rolled around on the floor, “I’m trying to help you.” However, Deegan had already gone.
Robert leaned back on his chair, sipping at his pint. The cold ale was a welcome relief from the heat. He didn’t envy his son working today, he had the benefit of the tug’s cab for shade, but Deegan would have had no protection from the burning sun. He looked forward to sharing a drink with his son, a drink Deegan would surely need. Robert smiled sadly; perhaps things could have been different if his own father had tried a little father-son bonding, but such basic human interaction was probably beyond that man’s understanding.
His train of thought was interrupted as Deegan burst into the tavern, looking around frantically. Deegan’s face was flushed and dripping with sweat; he’d obviously been running. “Deegan, over here,” Robert called out over the din of the pub, waving him over. At the sound of his voice, Deegan’s head whipped around to face him and for the first time he saw the panicked look in his son’s eyes; something was wrong.
“DadsomeguysareaftermeimperialsoldiersIthinksomeVigilantsentthemexcepttheykeepcallingme…” he said without stopping to breathe before his father cut him off.
“Hey, calm down and take a deep breath,” Robert said, standing up and grabbing Deegan by the shoulders; the boy looked about ready to collapse. “Start from the beginning, what’s wrong?”
Deegan reached across the table, picked up his father’s nearly full pint mug and gulped down the drink thirstily. “These guys, Imperial soldiers, just tried to grab me off the street.”
“They said a Vigilant sent them,” Deegan said, still out of breath. “A Vigilant Fletcher.”
Robert’s grip on his son’s shoulders tightened to an almost painful degree. “What was that name you just said?” He demanded sharply. Deegan repeated the name and Robert closed his eyes, grimacing.
“Dad,” Deegan said, confused by his father’s sudden reaction, “what’s wrong?”
Forcing a smile, Robert relaxed his grip and began propelling Deegan towards the back door. “Nothing, let’s get you home.” Refusing to answer any more questions, Robert hurried through the streets, half dragging Deegan behind him.
Sarah Tanner looked up as the front door opened and her son walked in. “There you are Deegan, dinners almost ready.”
“Yeah, sorry I’m late mum,” the boy said, closing the front door, “lost track of time. Is dad home yet?”
“He’ll be back in a minute,” she said turning back to the stove, “so go get washed up and then come down and set the table.”
The house where he and his parents lived was small and in one of the poorer neighbourhoods of the city. It wasn’t much but it was cosy and after moving around so much when he was younger, it was nice to have a place that was starting to feel like home. Deegan picked up his skyboard and started climbing the ladder into the attic. When they had first moved in, his parents had told him that he was too old to share a room with them anymore. At first, he hadn’t understood where he was supposed to sleep. Apart from the cellar and the attic, there was only the main room, a single bedroom and the pantry, all on the ground floor. Deegan was told that from now on he would be sleeping in the attic. That would be his room, his own personal space.
It had taken a bit of work, but between him and his father, they had managed to make it liveable if not comfortable. A small bed was pushed up against one side underneath the skylight. When he had first seen the window in the roof, his doubts about the attic were banished. The window let in a great deal of light and gave him a great view of the sky. Sleeping under the clouds and the stars, even if it was through a pane of glass, was oddly comforting to him. In the centre of the attic was a worktable covered in junk and tools. He cleared some space on the table and put his skyboard down; after using the boost earlier, he’d need to recharge its power crystals. From the ceiling hung a model of a dragon with a working, articulated skeleton. When the window was open and the breeze blew in, the wings gently flapped as if it was flying. Ever since he was young, Deegan had been fascinated by dragons and together, he and his father had built the model when he was eight. He reached under the worktable and pulled out a small chest. Inside, hidden underneath his clothes, were several tightly folded flags, all of them slightly ripped along one side where they had been torn from their masts. There were flags representing the Succession States, the city-state of Galatea, the Arcadian Commonwealth, the Sundered Kingdoms, even the Sky Marshalls. All of them stolen from a ship. Now he could add an Imperial flag to his collection. He took the stolen flag out from underneath his shirt where he had stowed it and hid it with the rest; he couldn’t wait to show it to the guys tomorrow.
Deegan closed the chest and pushed it back under the worktable. Remembering his mother’s words, he quickly washed his hands and face in the washbowl before heading back downstairs. By now, his father was home, sitting at the table and taking off his boots and the smell of the cooking was filling the room.
Robert Tanner worked at the city’s docks, operating a pilot skiff and helping larger ships into port. Deegan himself also worked at the docks three days a week when he wasn’t at school as a message courier. His father wasn’t happy with him working at the docks; Robert didn’t think it was safe for a boy his age even if they did need the extra money. “Watch out for pressgangs,” he had warned his son on more than one occasion, “Some ships don’t ask before recruiting new crewmembers.” Deegan wasn’t worried though, he had been thinking about joining the crew of a merchant ship for a while now; they were always on the lookout for new cabin boys and rope monkeys. Of course, there was no way his overprotective father would ever let him crew a ship. If he found the recruitment pamphlet for the Sky Marshals he had hidden under his bed, he’d probably throw a fit.
“How was work today? Anything interesting happen?” Robert asked while Deegan began laying out the cutlery and placemats.
“Same as usual dad,” Deegan replied, “ferrying messages and packages across town for sleaze ball captains too lazy or too smart to do it themselves”
“You remember what I told you?” His father asked him as Deegan sat down at the table.
“Never look inside a package or at the contents of a letter,” Deegan said, reciting his father’s words from memory, “in case the guards stop and search you.”
“And why is that?”
“Because if you don’t know you’re carrying something illegal then…” said Deegan.
“…you’re just an innocent delivery boy,” he and his father said together.
“That’s my boy.” Robert said, reaching across the table to ruffle his son’s hair in approval. Sarah walked over carrying the food and setting the stew pot down with some force, she didn’t exactly approve of the lesson her husband was teaching to their son. The conversation moved on to safer topics as dinner progressed.
“Oh hey,” Deegan said at one point, “I saw an Imperial ship coming into port on the way home.”
“Are you sure?” Robert asked. “Artaxis is pretty far from Eldala.”
“Pretty sure,” Deegan said smiling inwardly as he thought about the flag hidden upstairs, “big one too; Dragoon-class I think given the number of crystals, the lack of sails and the size of its big guns.” He decided not to mention that he had got close enough to see that there had been a Vigilant on board; that was an argument he could do without.
“I wish you would put as much effort into your schoolwork as you do watching ships and messing around with that board of yours.” His mother said as she refilled his bowl.
The rest of the evening went quietly. After tweaking the levitation crystals on his board, Deegan decided to have an early night; he had work tomorrow morning. That night, like almost every night before, he again dreamt of flying, of soaring through the clouds.
“Tanner,” the man behind the desk called out over the noise of the room, “you’re up.”
Deegan looked up from the card game. “Coming boss.” He turned back to the table, gulped down the last of his drink, and picked up his winnings. “Gotta go guys,” he said to the four other boys around the table, all of them message runners like him, “catch you later.” Deegan grabbed his board and backpack and trotted over to the desk. “What’s the job boss?”
“Merchant ship out of the Sundered Kingdoms, up by mooring post three,” his boss said shoving a piece of paper into his hand. “Basic courier run, you know the drill Tanner.”
“Gotcha boss, mooring post three.” He pulled on his goggles and headed out the door, making sure that his red armbands were showing. The left one had “Artaxis Port Authority” written on it in black paint, the right had “#46” written on the other. Together, they marked him as a message runner working for the city.
The weather was exceptionally fine with clear visibility and Deegan could see for miles as he stepped on to the balcony of the Port Authority building. In the distance, he could see a number floating platforms that had several ships moored to them. The mooring posts were made of the same rock as the island and drifted in the sky relative to it. Ships that didn’t want to dock with island directly could moor up at the platform; it wasn’t as convenient as docking with the island but it was considerably cheaper. Tying his bandana over his face and making sure that his backpack was securely fastened, he jumped off the balcony and took to the air.
Deegan carefully weaved his way through the crowded airspace above the port, heading for the mooring posts a few miles out. There were ships of almost every design and nationality in the skies around the port. Artaxis was a major trading hub as its neutrality made it a natural junction of several major trading routes. As he flew, he heard a familiar voice call out his name and he slowed down, turning to face the direction the voice had come from. It was his father, standing at the controls of a pilot skiff guiding a large water tanker in to dock. “Keeping you busy are they son?”
“You know it pops,” Deegan said pulling up alongside the skiff.
“Well, work hard and stay safe and maybe we’ll grab a drink in the pub after work,” Robert said leaning on the wheel. “Just don’t tell your mother,” he added, winking conspiratorially.
Deegan waved and continued on his way. As he approached mooring post three, he saw the ship that had signalled for a courier. The ship may have been flying the flag of the Sundered kingdoms, but Deegan doubted that it was nothing but a flag of convenience. Its hull was marred by repair patches and battle damage but at the same time its levitation crystals were in good repair and were ridiculously overpowered for a ship of its size. When he got close, the demeanour and general appearance of the ship’s crew screamed “pirate” to Deegan. With a sinking feeling, he realised that this job was probably going to involve him carrying something illegal. “Looks like it’s time to play the dumb kid again,” Deegan thought to himself as he approached the ship, stopping short of actually landing on the ship’s deck.
“Clear off kid,” one of the heavily armed crewmen yelled at him, “if you know what’s good for you.”
Deegan pushed up his goggles and pulled down his bandana. “Port Authority sent me,” he said to the crewman, “you called for a message runner?”
The crewman grunted. “Hmph, you’ll want to see the captain then.” He motioned for Deegan to land and the boy hopped off his skyboard next to the crewman. “Follow me,” the man said to him, “but don’t touch nothing.”
Deegan was led below deck towards the captain’s cabin at the rear of the ship. As they walked, they passed several crewmembers. They gave the boy glaring glances and suspicious looks, reminding Deegan of his father’s warning regarding certain recruiting practices. “Just try it,” he muttered under his breath, checking that he had his knife tucked into the back of his pants and hidden under his shirt, “I aint gonna get grabbed so easily.”
“Cap,” the crewman said as they entered the rear cabin, “runner’s here for the package.”
Deegan glanced around the cabin before finally looking at the man in front of him. The cabin was rather plainly attired, especially for what he assumed was a ship full of sky pirates. For a start, there were no chests overflowing with gold and jewels, no fine silks and fabrics. The captain himself was wearing rough and hardwearing clothes like the rest of his crew, although his were considerably cleaner.
“You’re the message courier?” The captain asked, his tone making it quite clear that he wasn’t exactly impressed by the boy standing before him. “You’re younger than I expected.”
“Are you sure we should be trusting the package to a kid?” The crewman asked. As he did so, something inside Deegan snapped and he forgot about pretending to be w more than a naive dumb kid.
“Aren’t you a little young,” Deegan said, his voice adopting a fake whining tone, “a little small? How can we trust a kid, how can a mere boy protect our oh so valuable package.” He crossed his arms and raised a defiant eyebrow. “Can it, I’ve heard it all before. Now, you got a package or a message for me to deliver or are we gonna just stand around here and comment on my age and height.”
The captain smiled. “No one said anything about your height. Looks like you have a real complex there, … shorty.” Deegan just grunted and gritted his teeth. “Very well then, let’s get down to business.” He walked over to his desk, unlocked one of the drawers and pulled out something wrapped in cloth and tied with twine. “Okay … erm … “
“Okay Deegan,” the captain said, handing the package and a piece of paper over to the boy, “this needs to be handed over to man waiting at that address. Now, I’m sure that a scrappy young man like you will be able to get it there quickly. But, can we trust you to protect it if you run in to any trouble?”
Deegan took the package and carefully placed it at the bottom of his backpack. “Since it’s illegal to hire a port authority message runner to carry any form of contraband,” he said smiling slyly, “or anything with a value greater than 50 gold pieces, what sort of trouble are we talking about?”
The captain chuckled. “Well, nothing you can’t handle I’m sure. So what do I owe you.”
“Standard rate is 2 coppers per mile. Black Street is on the other side of town, about four miles, so call it eight coppers.” The truth was that Black Street was only three miles away. Deegan, like all the other runners, routinely added a mile to the distance if they thought they could get away with it. Runners only earned a single copper per run, by adding an extra mile and pocketing the extra money, they tripled the money they took home.
The captain reached into his pocket and started counting out the coins. “Here you go; eight copper pieces.” He said handing Deegan the coins. “And here’s two extra for your trouble; I remember how lousy the wages were when I was your age.”
“Gee thanks,” Deegan said, reaching out to take the extra coppers. Before he could take them though, the captain’s hand closed tightly around his when he tried to pick up the coins.
“One thing,” the captain said, “you won’t be sneaking a peek at the package now will you?”
Deegan smirked. “Like I get paid enough to be curious.”
The captain released Deegan’s hand, allowing him to take and pocket the coins. “Good, now scat. I’ve got work to do.” Dismissed, Deegan was led up on to deck, took one last look around the ship and took off on his skyboard.
On the dockside, the Vigilant watched Deegan set off towards the city. “So this is where you’ve been hiding Arashi,” he muttered, “this time you won’t escape.”
A lone boy sat on a rocky ledge looking out at the sky. His feet dangled over the edge with the ground, a mile below, hidden by the dense cloud cover. The sun was approaching the horizon and the waning light of the day painted the clouds black and orange, in the setting sun they looked like rolling flames and smoke.
Leaning back and letting out a deep contented sigh, the boy closed his green eyes and let the warm breeze blow through his dark-red hair, which stuck out haphazardly from underneath his bandana. From here, a couple of hundred feet below the top of the floating island, he couldn’t hear the sounds of the bustling port city up above. Here, it was quiet and peaceful and for a short time, he could forget about the stresses of school and family.
A shadow passed over him as a skyship approached the docks and the boy opened his eyes to watch it. It was 75 feet from bow to stern, single-sailed with dual-levitation crystals, probably a courier or trader from the Succession States or Galatea. The ship wasn’t alone, there were at least half a dozen other skyships in the skies around the island, either arriving or departing. In the distance, he could just make out the silhouette of two more islands drifting serenely amongst the clouds.
Propped up against the cliff wall next to him was his skyboard. A smooth wooden board five feet long and one wide; its surface was painted a dark blue, almost black. Leather straps on the top were used to secure the riders feet to the board and along the sides were a series of levitation crystals mounted in metal brackets embedded into the wood of the board, three on each side. The board had a homemade look about it, its edges were rough and the paintwork chipped in places.
He spent several more minutes watching the sunset and enjoying the feel of the breeze before deciding it was time. Getting to his feet, the boy put on a pair of goggles, tightening the leather strip around the back of his head and positioning the thick glass lenses over his eyes. He untied the bandana and retied it over his face across his nose and mouth; wouldn’t want to swallow a bug now. The boy picked up his skyboard and placed it against his back as if sheathing a sword in a back-scabbard. The leather foot straps undid themselves without his help and fastened around loops on the back of his shirt, securing the board to his back like a rucksack. The boy took one last look around and launched himself into the sky.
The wind whipped at his hair and tore at his clothing as he fell, plummeting towards the clouds below. Behind the bandana, he was grinning. He felt alive, truly alive and free. Out here there was no one telling him what to do, what to say, what to think. There were no teachers trying to cram useless information into his head and no parents reminding him to do his chores. It was only him, the sky, and the rapidly approaching ground.
The boy reached behind him and pulled his skyboard loose, bringing it to his feet. The magic in the straps caused them to loop around his boots, pulling them down on to the board and securing them in place. As soon as the soles of his open-toed boots touched the skyboard, its levitation crystals flared into life. Brilliant blue energy lit up the crystals from within, creating a blue contrail of light as the skyboard accelerated in its dive.
Below him, the boy saw a large skyship rising up from the cloud layer. It was a massive ship, metal hulled with four huge levitation crystals. From up here, he could make out the cannon ports lining its side and the armoured men walking its decks. The ship was a warship from the Eldalan Empire far to the south and as he realised this, his grin changed to a mischievous smirk. The Imperial Navy was touchy about civilians getting close to their ships, especially foreigners. They had a nasty habit of firing on ships that got too close. Still, he thought, they wouldn’t shoot at a fourteen-year-old boy, would they?
Leaning forward, he swooped down towards the warship, flying along its portside. He left behind a glowing corkscrew-shaped contrail from stern to bow as he spiralled along the length of the ship. Men looked up from their work as the boy streaked past. A number of the soldiers pointed weapons at him threateningly, yelling at him to stay clear. Of course, he didn’t listen, assuming that the threats were idle. There was still one thing he wanted to do.
Looping back around, he flew straight for the rear of the ship, weaving between the massive forward guns. At the last second, he darted upwards and over the bridge, reaching out the grab the Imperial Flag flying proudly over the ship. The fabric easily tore in his grip and he whooped in triumph as he escaped with the flag. His whoop quickly became a yelp as a sickly-green bolt of magic ripped through the air just inches from his head. So much for not shooting at a kid! Glancing behind him, the boy saw a man standing on the deck pointing at him with an outstretched hand. Although he was dressed in average-looking tunic and pants, even from this distance the boy could make out the arcane runes tattooed onto his skin poking out from under the man’s clothing; runes that had started to glow again as the man gathered mana for another shot. The man was a Vigilant; Vigilants were bad news. They acted as if they were above the law, and although that was only true inside Eldala, it didn’t stop them from running roughshod over local laws in pursuit of their duties; protecting the Empire of Eldala from enemies both foreign and domestic using any methods they deemed necessary.
Hanging on to the stolen flag, the boy gritted his teeth and sent a mental command to his board. The levitation crystals flared brightly as magical energy began to surge them at a vastly increased rate and the board rocketed upwards, the sudden increase in speed accompanied by a sonic boom. Within seconds, he was hidden in the clouds. The Vigilant watched him escape through narrowed eyes before turning to the other men on deck and shouting orders.
The boy suddenly realised what he had just done and couldn’t help but laugh nervously. He had buzzed an imperial skyship, stolen their flag and angered a very powerful and very dangerous man. Although he had gotten away, he could have been killed. If that had happened, his father would’ve been angry, so angry in fact the old man would probably have killed himself just to give his son a good hiding in the afterlife.
Still grinning and clutching his prize, he swung the board around he began to head back to the island. It was getting late and dinner would be ready soon.
For the second time in less than a day, Trace awoke in the ship’s medbay. This time however, he wasn’t handcuffed to the bed’s side rail and he didn’t have Tsukiko leaning over him, inadvertently giving the teenage boy a clear view down her top. If she had noticed his embarrassed stammering and red-faced nervousness, she had tactfully decided not to comment on it. At least this time he was fully clothed.
He sat up in the bed, wincing at the grenade-like explosion of pain in his head that the movement caused. The bright overhead lights made the pain worse as he squinted. Trace clutched the side of his head and felt the presence of a bump where his head had struck the cockpit window. He cursed himself over his stupidity. Forgetting to fasten the safety harness, how could he have made such a rookie mistake?
Opposite the bed was a large window running the full length of the medbay. Normally it would provide an impressive view of the space outside the ship, but right now all Trace could see through it was a featureless grey void. “I really hope that’s astral space.” Trace said quietly to himself, referring to the medium that ships using a starcaster travelled through, “and not limbo or something.”
His leg, although no longer broken thanks to his earlier healing attempt, was still sore and a little tender. A twinge would shoot up it every time he moved or shifted his weight. There was probably still a hairline fracture in the bone and running around the ship and crawling through maintenance ducts hadn’t helped it any. Concentrating, Trace was able to summon a little bit of his healing energy, the blue glow repairing the last of the injuries he had suffered in the jumper crash and at the hands of the ISPD agent. There was even a little left to soothe the headache.
Trace slid off the bed and moved over to the window, pressing his face up to the glass. He knew they were only skimming across the “surface” of astral space, rather than entering it completely. The starcaster, like nearly all forms of teleportation magic, converted the ship into a mana stream and transmitted it through astral space much like a radio signal. This way they could take advantage of the astral plane’s tenuous connection with time and space to travel vast distances in the material plane, the plane in which the “real world” existed. Although it would seem to take several hours to travel a few dozen light years, to an outside observer on the material plane it would appear instantaneous. Long ago, mages had believed that all teleportation spells and rituals were instantaneous. However, back then they never travelled more than a few tens of thousands of kilometres across the surface of a planet. As the distance travelled increased, the time delay became more pronounced and noticeable; a few minutes for journeys across a solar system, a few hours for interstellar trips.
Outside the ship, Trace could see nothing. It was as if the ship was enclosed by a sphere of uniform light grey. Ambient light filtered in from all directions casting soft diffused shadows and there was no sense of movement. The lack of anything to focus on out there unnerved him.
Spacer legends had it that astral space was full isolated planetoids and the remains of forgotten, dead gods. Some also said that entire worlds that had been thought destroyed by the release of apocalyptic magical weapons during the Dragon War could be found here. There were rumours that the Imperial Navy and some megacorps had developed astral drives that allowed ships to physically cross the barrier between planes and enter astral space. If any of these experimental ships actually existed, no one was talking about them.
He shivered as he recalled some of the stories about astral marauders he’d heard told at the guild when he was younger. Huge beasts, the size of in Imperial Dreadnaught that inhabited astral space and could attack unwary travellers in mid-starcast. Trace laughed nervously and turned away from the window. He was too old to believe in those sorts of stories, only children were scared of phantom monsters that don’t exist, right?
Thinking about the stories he had heard as a child at the guild brought the recent events back to the front of Trace’s mind. He could barely remember his life before he was brought to Jurrika by Dorga; even remembering the faces of his family had become difficult in the last few years. They only seemed to come to him now in nightmares. Ten years of threats, beatings and worse was finally over, he was free. Dorga had never been much of a father and now he was dead, killed by the son he had abused and mistreated.
Trace still wasn’t sure how he felt about that. That Dorga had been an evil man was without question. In a universe where good and evil, order and chaos were definable and quantifiable aspects instead of vague philosophical concepts, that much was clear to him. His death was certainly deserved; he had caused a great deal of suffering. Not just to Trace either; many other people had had their lives destroyed by Dorga’s pursuit for power and wealth. Innocents like Toby and Samantha. Although again he’d had no choice about it, he had taken another life and the words that his “father” had said to him in that dream were ringing in his ears.
His train of thought was interrupted by a rumbling, this time not from the ship but from his own stomach. Trace became acutely aware at just how long it had been since he’d had a proper meal. “I’m not going to get anywhere on an empty stomach,” he said to himself. Pulling himself together and pushing the images of Dorga’s death from his mind, he left the medbay in search of something to eat.
“This is a noble’s ship, there ought to be some decent scram on board somewhere.” If he remembered the layout of the ship correctly, the galley should be just off the midship foyer. The foyer was a chamber located at the centre of the ship with a number of corridors and doors leading off from it. The stairs to the lower and upper decks also connected to it, making it the hub of the ship’s layout. Forward of the foyer was the ship’s forward lounge and the corridor to the rear lead to the crew quarters, the launch bay and the engine room. There were four doors leading out of the foyer. One led to the medbay he had just left and another opened into the storeroom that had been used as makeshift cell to lock him up in earlier. Of the other two, one had the universal sign for a washroom. Through a process of elimination, that meant that the remaining door must lead to the galley.
The galley door was unlocked and it opened onto a room of gleaming metal work-surfaces, lit by soft overhead lights. Trace looked around with a small amount of awe. The state-of-the-art galley was a far cry from the rusty and ancient appliances in the apartment he had shared with Toby and Sarah, and even further from the filthy kitchen at Dorga’s bar. In the corner of the galley was an autochef nestled in its standby alcove; a robotic cook that hung from a track fixed to the galley’s ceiling; it could prepare any dish whose recipe was programmed into its databanks as long as the ingredients were available. At the far end of the galley was a set of metal roller shutters covering a serving alcove that Trace suspected opened on to the forward lounge.
Eagerly, Trace opened one of the cupboards in search of food. His face fell as he saw that it was full of plain white cardboard boxes containing generic brand ration bars. “Aww come on, there’s gotta be better stuff than this.” After a minute of searching he found what he was looking for, opening up the door to the huge walk-in fridge that was home to a veritable grocery store’s worth of fresh food.
Trace’s eyes lit up and he grinned. He’d never seen so much fresh food in one place before, not at such high quality either. “Jackpot”
Korodo found him ten minutes later, sitting on one of the kitchen counters and stuffing his face with fresh fruit and cold cuts of cooked meat. The half-dragon looked at the boy with a raised eyebrow as he walked into the galley and headed towards the fridge. He took a cold bottle of beer from the fridge and closed to the door, leaning against it and twisting the bottle’s cap off. Trace sat opposite him, a chicken drumstick sticking out of his mouth and looking back with suspicious eyes.
“So,” Korodo said, breaking the awkward silence, “I see you’re feeling better.” He gestured at the bloodstains on Trace’s borrowed t-shirt. “You had us worried there for a while.”
“Meh, I’ve had worse,” Trace said around the drumstick in his mouth.
“And it seems you certainly got your appetite back.”
Trace shrugged. “Dorga threw me out on to the streets when I was eight to ‘toughen me up’. Back then, I’d go without food for days at a time while I tried to beg and steal enough to survive. I nearly died of starvation more than once. I guess because of that I don’t like feeling hungry, it brings back bad memories.” Embarrassed at what he had said, he looked away for a second. He didn’t know what had made him admit to that. “How’s everyone else?” He asked anxious to change the subject.
“Thanks to you, the only other thing that got damaged was the ship.”
“Erm, thanks, I think.” Trace blushed, unused to hearing sincere praise or gratitude directed at him. “How bad was the damage?”
“Well, the hull breach in the port cargo bay has been repaired, but the breach in the launch bay can only be patched. The spaceframe in that area was buckled so we’ll need to get to proper dock facilities to repair it. But, that’s the least of our problems. Apparently, the fuel transfer intermixer was destroyed by the missile blast and without it, both the main drives and the combat drives are out of action; we’re down to just our manoeuvring thrusters. Our only spare was in the port cargo bay.”
“Ah,” Trace said, realising what Korodo was getting at, “the one that got breached.”
“So what happens now?”
“Actually,” Korodo said, smiling a little, “I wanted to have a word with you about that. While you were out, we programmed a jump to the Primogen system where we’re going to put in for some repairs.”
Trace scratched his head. “What’s that got to do with me?”
Korodo finished off the rest of his drink before continuing. “When we land, I want you to stay on board. No ‘going exploring,’ no sneaking out or running off.”
“Even after saving their butts,” Trace thought to himself, “he’s still going to treat me like a prisoner.” Trace narrowed his eyes and glared at the half dragon. “And what if I don’t?” He said aloud, taking the drumstick out of his mouth and using it to point at Korodo.
“Simple, you’ll get arrested for illegally crossing into Domain Noros.”
“No disrespect intended Trace, but commoners like you are not allowed to cross Domain borders without proper transit papers. The Primogen system is in Domain Noros; if you leave the ship, they’ll arrest you. You’ll be charged with illegal entry into Domain Noros and if I remember correctly, that’s at least five years hard labour. That’s assuming that those black dragons don’t make up a few charges just for fun. Afterwards, they’ll send you straight back Mazorgrim where you’ll face similar charges for leaving their Domain illegally plus the fallout for that chaos back on Jurrika.” Korodo walked over to Trace and placed a hand on his shoulder, which the boy quickly shrugged off. “I know you don’t have a reason to trust us, but please, don’t go running off just yet.” He stepped away from Trace and turned to leave.
“After everything I’ve done,” said Trace, “why do you care if I get arrested or not?”
Korodo stopped at the door. “Well,” he said, speaking over his shoulder, “I can’t have my new pilot getting himself thrown in prison now, can I?” With his back to Trace, the confused boy couldn’t see the smirk on the half dragons face as he left.
“Well, that was weird,” Trace thought. One minute the noble was threatening to hand him over to the cops, the next he was trying to keep him out of jail. Not to mention the fact he had actually paid him a compliment; he couldn’t figure the guy out. It was also the first time that Korodo had called him by his name since they had met, instead of just calling him “kid” or “elf boy.” Trace laughed and stuck the drumstick back into his mouth. Crossing Domain borders without transit papers was the least of the things they could charge him with; with his rap sheet, especially after fleeing Jurrika and skipping out on certain legal restrictions, he would be lucky if he got less than twenty years. Trace hopped off the counter and went over to the fridge, searching for one of the bottles of beer he had seen. “Wait a minute,” he said, spitting out the drumstick as his eyes widened in sudden realisation, “what did he mean by ‘new pilot’?”
Standing over the body of the guild member, Caldrin wiped the blood off his knife. It’s clear crystal blade briefly assuming a red hue as it absorbed some of the blood of the victim. The second assassination attempt on the noble had failed. Unfortunately, his ploy to convince the guildmaster that the boy had betrayed him and was working with Lord Korodo to bring down the guild had backfired. He had fundamentally misunderstood the connection between Dorga and Trace; the guildmaster had been more concerned with getting personal revenge on the boy for some reason, than on killing him and the noble by simply destroying the ship as the drow had suggested. It seemed that the intelligence on the Jurrika Thieves Guild was not as complete as the ISPD had believed.
Nonetheless, the damage was already done. The assault on the noble’s apartment, the chase and fire fight through the skies of Jurrika City and the battle in orbit around Seastyl, all of it had attracted too much attention. It was time to burn everything and cover their tracks, literally.
The men under his command had stormed the bar the guildmaster had used as a cover for his activities. At the same time, strike teams had assaulted several other known guild locations. Along with a bombing campaign against guild-affiliated business, the assassination attempt would be masked by the apparent wave of violence sweeping across the city. Already the media was portraying it as a coordinated series of strikes by one underworld organisation against another, a dirty “black-war” spilling out onto the city streets. That another criminal syndicate would undoubtedly move in take advantage of the decimated guild would only add to the believability of the cover story.
“Sir,” his assistant said holding a communicator to his ear, “the probe team has returned from tracking the Chimera’s mana stream.”
“They were able to track the noble’s yacht to a position two light years outside this system,” the assistant said, relaying the report from the probe team on the other end of the communicator, “but there was no sign of the ship… There was a mana stream heading galactic east… but it was too faint to get a fix on their starcast destination.”
Caldrin looked around as his men mopped up the last of the guild members. “Set up a domainwide watch alert for the Chimera, Korodo and his staff. Extend it to the neighbouring Domains of Esmer of Osorus, they have to show up eventually. In the meantime, we’ll evacuate the staff from the office and set the demolition charges. When you’ve finished up here, I’ll meet you onboard the Nodachi.”
“Will the patch hold?” Barak asked Bolts as they studied the ship schematics being displayed by the holographic projector embedded into the centre of the table.
“It should last for one atmospheric re-entry,” the soulmech said, “but I wouldn’t want to chance a second. We really need to get that breach properly sealed when we get to Primogen.”
Tsukiko reached into a pocket and pulled out a small computer chip that she slid into a slot on the table. There was a beep as the built in computer read the data from the chip and a window opened up in the holographic display. The window showed a scrolling list of items, some of which flashed in red. “We’re running low on some supplies, mainly because we left port early but that breach in the cargo bay didn’t help. The ones in red are the ones I’m really worried about though.” She looked at the two men. “If we get into any more trouble, we’ll start running out of critical supplies, especially medical supplies.”
As she spoke, the door opened and Korodo walked in, a smile on his face. The half dragon held up three fingers and slowly began to count down. “Three … two … one …”
On one, Trace ran in through the open doorway. The boy looked at Korodo and then at the three adults sitting around the table. “Just what did you mean by ‘new pilot’?” He asked carefully.
Korodo walked over to the table and pretended to inspect the holographic projection. “Well, we need a pilot. Barak and Bolts both have a license and can handle basic manoeuvres, but if we get in to trouble again, we’re going to need more than just someone with a little training and a piece of paper; we’re going to need someone talented at piloting. Until we’re able to get in touch with our allies, you’re the best candidate.”
“Are. You. Insane?” Trace asked, striding over and turning the half-dragon around to face him, “there’s no way that I can be your pilot!”
Tsukiko smiled and leaned forward. “Are you saying that you can’t do it?”
“Yes … no wait, no … argh! I don’t know.”
Korodo placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and looked him in the eye. Unlike last time, Trace was too confused to shrug it off. “I saw the way you threw this ship around during combat; and the way you handled that jumper beforehand. We don’t need a ‘by-the-book’ chauffeur, we need someone one can pull off moves that the manual says this ship shouldn’t be capable of doing. That certainly describes you, doesn’t it?”
“Not having a little piece of paper didn’t stop you earlier,” said Bolts.
Trace sighed and took a deep breath before responding. “That was different; people were trying to kill us. Even if I wanted too, and I’m not saying I do or don’t, I can’t be a pilot for you; I’m only fifteen. I’ve got another year before I can get a provisional license and even then, I’m limited to non-commercial shuttles and orbital transfer pods for two years. If I was caught landing this thing at a starport, you’d just get a fine but I’d get arrested. I’ve been in prison enough times because of someone else that I never want to have to go through that again.”
Korodo looked at him for a few seconds before turning to the others. “Guys, do you mind giving us the room for a few minutes?” Once they were alone, he motioned for the boy to sit down. Trace hesitated, torn between staying to hear the man out or storming off. Then he realised that until they landed at Primogen, he couldn’t just keep avoiding him. The ship was small and there were only so many hiding places. Reluctantly, he sat down.
“I don’t need charity if that’s what you’re thinking,” Trace said, “I can take care of myself.”
The half dragon smiled. “I can see that,” he said before his face fell serious. “How are you doing though? It’s been a rough couple of days.”
Trace looked out of the window opposite; but it wasn’t the featureless grey void of astral space that he was seeing but the moment that Dorga’s shuttle had exploded. Korodo didn’t notice his faraway look, or the shudder that passed through his body. Trace blinked his eyes and shook his head, banishing the image from his mind. “I’m doing fine, why shouldn’t I be?” He forced a cocky smile, hiding his unease as he changed the subject. “Look, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m ungrateful or anything. Like I said before, you guys saved my life and if I’d never met you, I’d probably still be working for Dorga. He’s controlled my life for so long but now I’m finally free. Free to do whatever I want, free to decide what my future will be, everything. I might not know what I wanna do with my life now, but I know that I want to be one in control of it from now on.”
“I can respect that,” Korodo said. “I guess if I was in your position, I’d be hesitant too. Although I meant it when I said we could use you, I don’t want you to do it out of a sense of misplaced obligation.” He got up and leant against the table. “How about this? It’s going to be at least a week or two before we get to our final destination. Depending on how long it takes to get repairs on Primogen that is. If you’ll give us a hand with the piloting until then, I promise that if you still want to go your own way after that, none of us will stop you.”
Trace cocked his head for a couple of seconds, thinking it over. “Kinda like a trial run thing?”
“Precisely,” Korodo said, nodding, “for both of us. In addition, the people we’re going to see might be able to help set you up with a place to stay and a legitimate job. Or transit papers to wherever you want to go if that’s what you want.”
“Okay,” Trace said standing up and walking over to Korodo, “I’ll do it on one condition.”
Trace looked Korodo in the eye as he spoke, his expression deadly serious. “Tell me why the snakeheads want you dead.”
Trace scanned the controls trying to hide how much he was impressed. Rotational control thrusters, multi-vector tactile control sticks, holographic heads-up display, is that an overburn supercharger? Nice. There were a few controls he didn’t recognise though; like the arcane oscillator, his grandfather’s old dropship hadn’t had one of those, neither did any of Dorga’s shuttles. Still, the layout was identical just as he said it would be; he could do this.
Grasping the twin control sticks, Trace felt the ship respond to his command. Compared to a jumpcraft or one of Dorga’s shuttles, the Chimera was a lumbering giant. Looking at the readouts though, he could tell that the Chimera was faster in straight-line flight.
“Stop drooling over the controls and get with it!” Korodo’s voice focused his attention back on Dorga’s shuttles. Remembering how his grandfather had shown him, Trace jabbed at the holographic controls and brought up the ship’s external cameras. A series of windows appeared in the HUD showing the video feeds from the cameras and giving Trace the ability to view what was happening around the ship.
“Where are they?” Korodo said as he cycled through the various sensor systems at his station. “They’re not showing up on the sensors.”
“I know; they’re Guild shuttles, they’ve all got stealth mesh on their outer hulls.” Glancing at the various camera views, he spotted three shuttles. They may be masked on radar, but they couldn’t hide from the visual cameras without major technological and magical assistance. “Got ‘em, seven o’clock high, four o’clock low and six o’clock level. Each of ‘em are armed with twin laser cannons and four externally mounted missiles, radar guided. Top combat speed 22 thousand kph, but they don’t have starcasters. We can outrun them on our main engines, but on combat drives they’re faster and more manoeuvrable than us.” Trace knew they couldn’t switch to their main engines whilst they were still engaged; their manoeuvrability would drop drastically and they would be sitting duck for the shuttles who would have a clear shot at them for a least a minute. If they tried to take evasive action while accelerating, the immense stresses involved in the violent manoeuvres would tear the Chimera apart. “They’ve got no shields, and their polymeric armour plating is weak around the thrusters.”
“And how do you know all that?” Korodo asked, slightly impressed that the boy could rattle off such information so calmly in the middle of combat.
Trace glanced over his shoulder at the half-dragon and smiled. “Heh, you forgotten who I used to work for?”
“Okay, since you’re the expert at this, what do you suggest?”
Trace was thrown for a second, expecting to detect a hint of sarcasm in what Korodo had said; but there wasn’t any. Was that actually a compliment from the noble? “Erm … give me a second. This isn’t like getting away from police jumpers, it ‘aint as if I can dodge between skyscrapers and loose ‘em in the sprawl.” Glancing at the camera feeds, he saw one of the shuttles dart forward, aiming a strafing run at the Chimera’s side.
Korodo nodded and pulled on a headset. “Bolts, what’s the status of the starcaster?”
The soulmech braced himself against an overhead beam as the ship rocked. He was in the small engineering compartment at the rear of the ship. On either side of the cramped room lay the ship’s main engines. Although currently idling, the hum from the giant electromagnetic coils around their particle impulse chambers created a charged atmosphere, the air smelling of ionised oxygen molecules.
“Bolts, what’s the status of the starcaster?” Korodo’s voice crackled over the intercom. The engineer glanced over at the transparent crystal sphere nearly a metre across at the back of the room. Smaller, fist-sized hexagonal crystals orbited it, sparks of magical energy drifting from them and into the central crystal.
Bolts activated his internal transceiver and connected to the ship’s internal communication network. “It’s going to take some time,” he said looking at the holographic readouts encircling the starcaster, “when main power was shut down, the caster dumped its charge. It’ll be a few minutes before the mana levels are restored.”
“Is there any way you can speed it up?” The ship shook as another round of laser fire struck the ship and alarms starting to wail.
“I’ll try,” Bolts said, “even if I have to shovel mana into the caster myself.”
Tsukiko stumbled as the ship rocked, almost dropping the dermal regenerator she had been using. Barak caught her as she stumbled, catching her with his arm. “Careful Suki,” he said playfully, “I’ve got enough battle scars as it is without a new one on my forehead.”
“Pity,” Tsukiko said as she passed the regenerator over the orc’s head wound, knitting the flesh back together, “I like some of those scars.”
A particularly violent jolt shook the ship; the two of them felt the ship shudder as it sustained a direct hit. The deck plates beneath their feet transmitted the vibration of something exploding elsewhere in the ship and alarms started to sound. “Alert, hull breach in port cargo bay. Decompression contained.”
Barak sat up. “Please tell me we didn’t leave Korodo in charge of the ship?” The orc swung his legs of the side of the medical bed. “And don’t give any me any of that ‘you need rest’ doctor-speak.” He said when he saw the look that Tsukiko was giving him as he clipped his sidearm holster to his belt.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Tsukiko said handing him his pistol, “but I need to give you something first.” She reached forward as Barak looked up and kissed him.
“Echo two,” the shuttle pilot said into his headset, “swing around and attack the left flank. Echo three drop back and execute a flip six three in case the Chimera gets past echo two.” Dorga watched the man at work, manoeuvring the various shuttles around in an effort to engage the rapidly evading ship. Grinding his teeth in anger, he recognised the flying style of Chimera’s pilot. Although it appeared wild, chaotic and undisciplined, it was anything but random. He should know; he had watched as the young boy had developed his piloting skills over the years.
Earlier, Dorga had told Trace that the boy had been born to be a thief; that it came to him naturally. However, the guildmaster knew that he had been lying when he had said this. Trace may have been a good thief, but he was a better pilot. It was in his blood; this was what he had been born to do.
As the alarms rang, Trace scanned the video feeds, committing the position and flight path of each shuttle to memory. “Hang on,” he said over his shoulder, “this might get … a little rough.” He jammed the left control stick forward and pulled the right stick all the way back. In response, the starboard engines went into full reverse as the port engine went to full thrust; the Chimera began to swing around. At the same time, Trace rotated the control sticks within their gyroscopic mounts, triggering the rotational control thrusters. The Chimera twisted and turned, rotating in all three dimensions and scattering the three shuttles, its superstructure groaning in protest over the violent stresses.
Korodo gripped tightly onto the armrests of his seat, thrown about by the rapid and wild manoeuvres. The gravity field generated by the starcaster could barely keep up. The half-dragon could only watch as young boy in the pilot’s seat threw his ship through a series of seemingly random manoeuvres. Earlier, he had accused Trace of being reckless and insane. But watching him now, he had to admit that he had been wrong. In the reflection in the glass, Korodo could see the determined expression on the boy’s face, the depth of his concentration visible in the motion of his eyes and the set of his shoulders as he gripped the controls, a bead of sweat forming on his forehead.
Trace’s eyes flicked from the video feeds to the various system readouts to the view outside the cockpit window, all in rapid succession. Taking in all the information and processing it rapidly, he integrated all of it into a series of quick-fire manoeuvres. He wasn’t even consciously aware of what he was doing, barely even aware of the presence of Korodo. Trace was “in the zone,” a place he always went to in these situations, a place where all conscious consideration was replaced by acting on pure instinct and adrenaline. However, this time was different; this time he wasn’t trying to evade police jumpers who just wanted to stop and arrest him. This time people were actively trying to kill. His heart was thundering in his chest.
Jerking on the control sticks, Trace fired the RCS thrusters and halted the Chimera’s movements, its bow pointing directly at one of the guild shuttles. A single tone sounded and a flashing targeting box appeared over the shuttle in the HUD, the ship’s forward cannons had locked on using the visual cameras for targeting.
Trace hesitated; he knew that the shuttle in his sights was the one that Dorga was on, the one containing his father. There was no way he could possibly have known this, each of the shuttles was identical, but it was as if he could feel Dorga’s presence aboard it. His thumbs hovered over the firing switches on the control sticks. With just a push of a button, he could fire the cannons and destroy the shuttle. They were locked on, at this range there was no way that he would miss, no way that the shuttle would survive. All he had to do was push the switch.
“FIRE!” Korodo yelled from behind him, seeing the same targeting information as Trace.
The sweat dribbled from Trace’s brow, his knuckles white from his grip on the sticks. Even after everything that Dorga had done to him, the things that he had forced him to do over the years, the hatred he felt for the man, he hesitated.
Closing his eyes, he remembered the piercing sound of the alarm as the airlock on his family’s colony was breeched; watching from the balcony of the main house where he had been playing as men poured into the grounds of the compound, gunning down everyone they came across; men, women, children, it didn’t seem to make any difference to them. There was an acrid smell of gunfire in the air and the dull thumps of subsonic ammunition designed not to pierce the colony’s dome seemed to be everywhere. There was a crack and a white streak of tracer fire as a spray of gunfire lanced up from the men towards the balcony. Something warm and wet splattered across the side of his face, followed by the thud of something hitting the floor. Turning around he saw his cousin Carric lying on the floor, blood pooling around his bullet-mangled head. Killed instantly by the burst, he hadn’t even had time to scream as the bullets tore through his face, spraying his blood on to Trace; they had been best friends, the same age, sharing the same birthday, they had done everything together. He just stood there, staring at the body in shock, even as the men began storming the house. His mother came onto the balcony, scooping him up and carrying him into the house, holding him tightly. She tried to shield him from seeing the bodies, but there were too many of them. Cut off from garage and small hanger, they were forced to retreat to the bedrooms. She made him hide under his bed, telling him to be quiet and that it would be all right. Although he was scared, he nodded and tried to smile bravely. If she told him that he would be safe and that the bad men wouldn’t find him, then that’s what would happen; she wouldn’t lie to him. There were gunshots from outside his room and he heard voices, his mother and another man. He couldn’t understand what they were saying. They were speaking in the human language Common, but he only spoke Elven, the language of his mother and her family. She was begging with the man, pleading with him. There was a single gunshot; he didn’t hear his mother speak again. The door opened; from underneath the bed he saw his mother’s dead body lying on the other side of the doorway. A man walked into the bedroom and knelt by the side of the bed. The human looked under the bed and saw him cowering in the shadows. His mother’s blood was still on the man’s face, a face he would grow to hate over the next ten years; a gloved and bloody hand reached towards him as the man smiled cruelly.
“What are you waiting for?” Korodo yelled out, his voice breaking Trace out of the flashback. “Fire the cannons!”
Trace’s eyes snapped open and he retightened his grip on the controls. Screaming a wordless cry of rage and long suppressed grief, he jammed his thumbs onto the firing switches and opened fire.
Red warning lights flashed, a shrill alarm filled the shuttle. “Lock on warning!” The pilot yelled, “we’re being targeted!”
Dorga stumbled as the pilot rolled the ship to the side. “Evade, get us out of here!”
The railgun rounds from the Chimera’s forward guns tore into the shuttle, the hyper-accelerated metal slugs vaporising on impact and obliterating the target. Trace didn’t turn away as the shuttle’s power cells detonated, the flames of the explosion reflected in his tear-streaked eyes. Hull fragments scattered away from the explosion, pattering like hailstones on the hull of the Chimera. The other two shuttles peeled away to regroup.
Korodo leaned over and slapped him on the shoulder. “Great shot kid, you got them!”
Trace swallowed. “Yeah … I … I got him, them.” He sniffed and wiped his eyes.
The half-dragon heard the shakiness in the boy’s voice and saw the glisten of moisture on the boy’s arm, where he’d wiped his eyes. It was at that moment that Korodo realised who might have been onboard that shuttle. “Are you okay?” He asked carefully.
There was a pause before Trace responded, his voice still a little unsteady. “I … I’m …” Before he could finish the cockpit door and Barak walked in, stopping when he saw the boy sitting in the pilot’s seat.
“Okay,” the orc said scratching his head, “can someone explain why the kid’s sitting at the controls?”
“There’s still two of them out there,” Trace said quietly, focusing on the video feeds and the controls. The other two shuttles had fallen back but hadn’t left completely. Trace had a feeling that they were going to retreat to missile range and attempt to destroy the Chimera while staying out of range of the ships guns.
Korodo turned around and fixed the orc with a firm look. “Barak, can you take the other station and man the guns.” His eyes were saying “drop the subject and leave the kid to get on with his job.” The orc shrugged and sat down, fastening his safety harness.
Trace sat at the flight controls, staring rigidly forward and ignored the two men behind him as he piloted the ship.
“Bring us around to heading one eight zero mark six,” Barak said diverting weapons control to his station. “Did you hear me kid?” He added when Trace didn’t answer.
“I heard you,” Trace muttered, “and my name’s Trace, not kid.” Cutting the engines, he used the RCS thrusters to swing the ship around before reengaging the engines to reverse their heading. The two surviving shuttles had regrouped and were charging towards them. Another tone sounded, this time accompanied by a warning message.
“Alert, missile lock.”
Both of the shuttles fired their entire missile complement and eight missiles began to streak their way towards the Chimera. The missiles shot away from the two shuttles, scattering in all directions before arcing around to attack the Chimera from multiple directions. “Not good,” Trace said, twisting the control sticks and sending the ship into a barrel roll. Barak set the railguns to rapid-fire mode, targeting the heat blooms caused by the missile’s rocket engines. A barrage of hypervelocity slugs struck out at the missiles as the guns automatically tracked the incoming targets. First one, then two missiles were shredded by the guns. One after another, the missiles were intercepted and destroyed.
As the Chimera was buffeted by the exploding missiles, Trace struggled with the controls trying to keep the ship clear of the detonations. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the flare of rocket exhaust as missile broke through the railgun barrage. “Hang on!” He yelled yanking desperately at the controls in an attempt to twist the ship out of the way but it was too late, the missile was already locked on and struck the rear of the ship. It penetrated the hull punching through the metal and ceramic hull plating into the launch bay before detonating. The blast shook the ship, destroying the small shuttle in the launch bay, rupturing fuel and power lines and triggering secondary explosions.
Alarms screamed and the ship rocked violently. Only their safety harnesses kept Korodo and Barak in their seats as the ship was thrown to the side by the force of the explosion, the extreme g-forces created completely overwhelming the starcaster’s ability to compensate. “Shiv!” cursed the orc when the ship stopped spinning as the RCS thrusters automatically stabilised the ship, “weapons control is out, the combat drives are offline, we’ve got a decompression in the launch bay and the damage control system is down.”
“My board’s down too,” Korodo added, readjusting his headset. “Bolts, Suki, you two okay?” He received affirmatives from both of them, although the engineer had some strong words in regards to Korodo’s flying skills. The half-dragon smiled as Bolts continued his tirade, wondering what the soulmech would say when he found out that Korodo hadn’t been at the controls. “Kid, what about you?” When there was no immediate answer, he turned around in his seat and looked over at Trace.
The boy was slumped over the controls, lying bodily on top of them with his upper body resting at an uncomfortable angle against the cockpit window. His was face covered in blood, streaming from a gash on the side of his head; the hair around the wound matted with blood. On the glass of the cockpit window was a bloody mark where his head had struck it violently. The safety harness, which Trace had forgotten to fasten, dangled uselessly at the side of the seat.
“Suki, get up here now!” Korodo said into his headset as he slapped the release button on his harness. He jumped out of his seat and reached over to Trace, pulling him gently back into his seat. The boy was unconscious and the head wound probably looked worse than it actually was. Still, he was bleeding quite heavily. Korodo tore of the sleeve of his shirt and pressed the material against Trace’s wound in an attempt to stem the bleeding, checking the video feeds. The two remaining shuttles were circling around for another attack run. This time, with the Chimera a sitting duck, it would be a killing blow. “Bolts, we could really do with that starcaster right now!”
“Field strength is at 87 percent,” Bolts said of the internal comms, his voice crackling over the bad connection, “and the mana flow is at six point two gans per second. That’s as good as we’re going to get until I make some repairs.”
“It’ll have to do,” Barak said, “punch it!”
Korodo leaned over the pilot controls, accessing the starcaster controls and programming the jump. There was no time to select a destination, all he could do was programme a blind jump and hope they didn’t emerge inside a planet or sun. Setting the starcaster for a 2 light year jump, he uttered a small prayer to the gods and pressed the jump button.
Genre: Cinematic (Anime-style) Fantasy
Long ago, when the world was still whole, the land and the heavens were wracked by a titanic conflict called the Godswar. A war between the Gods and Titans. In the final stages of the war, as they neared defeat, the Titan’s took revenge on the world they believed had betrayed them. They directed all of their power at the world, all of the hatred and anger, and the world itself was shattered by the force of the magic unleashed. The world broke into a thousand pieces, each drifting through the skies. Scattered across them were the survivors of the Godswar. Slowly, the mortal races began to rebuild under the guidance of the Gods. Two thousand years have passed since then and war once again threatens the world. A prophecy has arisen; five young individuals will join forces to reunite the shattered pieces of the world. But there are those willing to go to war to prevent any change to the status quo.
This is an action adventure style fantasy game, with just a hint of animé or Japanese-style fantasy CRPGs. There’s a mixture of technology and magic present. Alchemical steam turbines, early firearms, clockworks and rifles, cannons, crystal power sources, and intelligent constructs. In some cases, magic will be used to duplicate modern day technology.
All the characters (who are between 14 and 16) have grown up together on a small sky island, having lived on the island for most (if not all) of their lives. The island itself is small and peaceful, far away from the bustling heart of civilisation. There is only a small village on one end of the island and a small cluster of farmhouses (where the character’s live with their families) on the other.
The characters are:
- Kael – a 16 year old Skyboarder
- Daedalus – a 14 year old rookie mage and tinkerer
- Maddie – A 15 year old blacksmith’s daughter
- Kenichi – a 15 year old trainee ranger only a few months away from taking the guild exam
- and Victoria – a 15 year old “bad influence”
Character creation took two weeks due to player absences. This worked to the game’s advantage since we only had one copy of SWEX (and a copy of the old hardback). It meant that we could take time to create the characters and be sure they all fit into the game.
A couple of changes were made to character creation. Because character’s in anime tend to be more powerful than they ought to be, I allowed players to ignore any rank requirement other than Legendary for their free Human edge (its a humans only fantasy setting). All other requirements still stood. We also decided that the Boating skill referred to any skyship or flying vehicle that used wind as a means of lift or propulsion. Piloting referred to powered flight that used mechanics, alchemical steam turbines or straight up magic. Character creation went well. Two of the character’s started off with an Arcane background. Kael’s Skyboard was determined to be a product of “Weird Science” and Daedalus took Sorcery.
One thing was kept from the players and that was that each of the character’s would begin play with a custom Arcane Background called “Exemplar” on top of anything they bought at character creation. The Exemplar edge gave them 2 powers selected by me and 10 power points (which stacked with Daedalus’s sorcery but not with Kael’s Weird Science). Each Exemplar edge was themed towards one of the five elements of the setting.
- Kael – Metal (Wall Walking, Intangibility)
- Daedalus – Water (Analyse Foe, Healing)
- Maddie – Metal (Armour, Warrior’s Gift when using bladed weapons)
- Kenichi – Wood (Entangle, Shapechange)
- Victoria – Fire (Leaping, Quickness)
Any Exemplar power that had a range of touch was changed to Self (with the exception of Healing)
The week between the end of the chargen and the 1st session, I printed of DnD4E style powercards using the Magic Set Editor program (PDF of cards found at http://www.box.net/shared/ra4n6y2i8r). I did a card for each power, each Arcane Background, and a couple of the custom items that player’s requested at chargen (a sunstone and spellstone for Daedalus, and a Krull-style glaive for Kenichi)
Once all that was done, all that was left was to actually run the game. 🙂
Game started off early on a weekend morning and the character’s got to describe their morning routine. Maddie went down in to the village to open her father’s smithy, Kenichi went hunting down in the small woods that ran along the side of the island. Daedalus (who is Kenichi’s cousin) got breakfast. Vicky went off in pursuit of Maddie and Kael went for a morning “run” on his board.
About 11 o’clock they all met up at the smithy for one reason or another. Daedalus looking for some scrap to tinker with, Kael was after a new bracket for one of his board’s lifter crystals, Vicky and Kenichi just to hang. Maddie’s father came down and took over the shop (throwing Vicky out at the same time). They decide to go down to the wooded plateau where Kenichi goes hunting in order to explore some of the old crystal mines. At this point, Daedalus casually mentions that Jenny heard that Kenichi likes Vicky. As in “likes likes.” Oh the teen drama.
At this point, I was asking them to make periodic notice checks whenever they got near the edge of the island. A small craft was “orbiting” the island from within a cloud bank. However, no one seemed able to roll above a three (except of couse for Kenichi’s pet hawk which unfortunately couldn’t speak to tell anyone).
They get to a likely looking cave and light their various light sources and enter. As they explore, they find lots of little crystals left embedded in the walls and ceiling, the mines haven’t totally played out but are still disused. Vicky notices that the wooden supports don’t seem exactly strong just as Daedalus sees a really cool looking crystal in the ceiling. Before he can be stopped he reaches up and yanks on it. The roof rumbles, the supports groan and the cave begins to collapse. AGILITY rolls are made to see who gets out. Everyone but Kael and Daedalus makes it. Maddie gets a raise so I rule that she was able to grab D and pull him out of the way in time. It takes several seconds for anyone to realise that their group of 5 has become 4. Just as K walks THROUGH the collapsed mine entrance coughing and spluttering. Kael had just manifested his first elemental power, Intangibility.
At this point, it should be mentioned that although the PLAYERS knew about their elemental powers, the character’s didn’t. At the start of the session I told them that after two weeks of trying to come up with a way for them to manifest their powers spontaneously, I had given up. It was up to them to figure it out.
After some humourous stone throwing, and skydiving into the ground, he rematerialised. K couldn’t wait to show this new power off at the next Stormjumping competition (an extreme sports version of skyboarding). Realising they were all covered in dirt and dust, they retired to a nearby pool for a bit of swimming. Cue some spirit rolls from the three teenage boys as their female friends got wet and splashed each other in a perfect fanservice moment (Kenichi failed and promptly got a nosebleed).
It was at that someone noticed (finally!) the ship circling the island. It was a few miles off and was generating great gouts of steam. This must mean that it was a Commonwealth ship (Common Knowledge rolls for the win) as they were the only country that uses Alchemical Turbines as a power source. Curious as to what a Commonwealth ship was doing so far from its home territory (and so close to their mortal enemy, the Empire) they decided to try and find out what type of ship it was. Daedalus remembered that there was a ship recognition guide in the school library and so the plan was made, for the first time in history a bunch of teens would break into school on a weekend to do some studying.
This was Vicky’s time to shine, easily picking the lock on the door to the small village school. The book was found easily and they identified the ship as a Kestral Class – Command and Control ship used by the Commonwealth to rely instructions to other ships engaged in fleet actions. An impressive feat of mental arithmetic from Deadalus showed that that the ship was circling the island once per hour and if his calculations were correct, they should be able to see it from the school by now. Grabbing the school’s one and only telescope they climbed up onto the rough and located the ship. It seemed to be signalling something using semaphore and flashing lights. None of the group can understand the signals so they decided to find someone who can. Naturally, this means breaking into the harbourmaster’s house to steal his book on semaphore signals which he obviously has.
As they cross the village, a small tyke runs up to Daedalus and tells him that their mum’s want them all home. Ignoring this they continue to the harbourmaster’s house. While Kael provides a distraction by showing off his Skyboarding in the market square, they break in. A quick search found the book but clumsly Daedalus struck again, knocking over a vase and smashing it in an almighty crash. The group fled the house.
Meanwhile, Daedalus was in the square showing off. On one of his more aerobatic manoeuvres, he spotted several shadowy shapes hidden in the clouds just below the island. Curious, he dived into the cloud narrowly missing crashing into the armoured hull of a skyship. As he frantically dodged out of the way, he peered through an open gun port and saw ranks of men readying their weapons and armour. There were at least 6 Commonwealth warships hidden in the clouds, each with over 50 armoured soldiers preparing for battle. In panic, he rocketed up out of the cloud and streaked through the market square screaming “The Commonwealth is coming!” Behind him, as one, the ships rose up out of the cloud and opened fire on the village.
Seeing the normally over confident Daedalus running away, and with cannon fire exploding around them, the rest of the group decided to “screw this for a game of soldiers” and ran too, jumping onto a horse and cart and fleeing. Sadly, no one had either the Drive or Ride skill so it was a short journey. After narrowly missing plowing through panicked villagers, the cart struck a low wall and flipped over several times, sending the group flying. They each took damage (a single wound), except for Maddie. As she flew through the air, liquid metal engulfed her body creating a protective layer (manifesting the Armour power). D’s leg was broken (although only taking one wound, a severe injury was good flavour for what happened next) with the bone sticking out the side. Clutching the wound, his hands glowed and he manifested the Healing power, completely healing the broken bone. He was able to repeat this feat on the gash to the head that Kenichi had suffered. However, despite repeated attempts he was unable to heal Vicky’s fractured rib. Behind them, one of the ships had landed at the docks and was unloading troops.
Kael, having calmed down, came back at this point and the reunited group heading down onto the wooded plateau where they hoped the tree’s would provide some cover. They plan was to follow the plateau along the side of the island, climbing up at the other end next to the farm compound where they all lived. Unfourtunatly, the cliff path down into the plateau was in full view of one of the attacking ships which opened fire. The cannon balls struck all around them, showering them with rock chips but causing no injuries. However, one of the cannonballs struck the cliff just below the path and just below Kenichi. The explosion threw Kenichi off the path and off the side of the island, he plunged into the clouds. Kael dived off the path after him but lost him in the clouds. Fearing that they had just lost their friend, they were surprised when a hawk flew out of the cloud, landed on the path and turned into Kenichi. He had just manifested the Shapechange power.
They hurried down the path, across the plataeu and climbed back up to the farm compound.
It was deserted, there was no sign of their parents, the horses were gone. A note tacked to the back of the front door told Daedalus to gather his friends and head to the old barn. Look under the straw. Kael found a small leather pouch containing a crystal with a hexagonal cross section and strange runes etched on it. A note said that he might need this and “not to wait for us if we’re not back in time.” They headed to the old barn and looked under the strawpile. They found a trapdoor that led to a curving stone staircase. The staircase opened up into a large chamber beneath the barn, the roof of which was made up of the wooden floorboards of the barn above.
Inside the chamber they found a small skyship, no sails, no steam vents, no gas bag, only a pair of slender crystal turbines on outriders. An imperial design. The nameplate along the side read “HMS Hurricane” and Kael remembered that a ship called the Hurricane had been stolen from the Imperial Fleetyards 14 years ago and never recovered. If he remembered correctly, it was a prototype for a fast courier ship. The front and back loading ramps were down and by the rear one were several bags waiting to be loaded the contained clothing and a few possession. On the ship itself was a few crates of food. Apart from that this ship was empty and unfurnished. There was no sign of their parents. Looking around the chamber they say that machinery was connected to the roof and it looked like it opened or retracted. Along one wall was a heavy metal door. On the bridge of the ship was a hexagonal slot just next to the controls. The crystal that Kael had found looked like a key.
They heard voices above, and the sounds of people moving around. Keeping quiet, they realised that it was Commonwealth soldiers and they were looking for THEM. Kael put the crystal in the slot and the ship started to power up. Displays lit up and one of them reported that an unknown ship was blocking the drydock exit. It asked him if he wanted to use the “Emergency Egress System”. Without hesitation he clicked on yes. The metal door groaned open revealing a darkened tunnel going down at a 45 degree angle. The cradle the ship was resting on started to tilt upwards, lining the ship up with the tunnel. As the crystal turbines reached full power, the clamps were released and the ship began to accelerate down the pitch black tunnel.
Well, it seems to have been a busy month. Uploaded three chapters, each for a different story.
An Unlikely Hero has been a pleasant surprise for me. So far it’s turned out quite well and the latest chapter (Chapter Four) has really advanced the plot. In fact this was the chapter in which I really worked out what the plot was going to be. When I first started writing AUH, all I had was in my head was the image of the main character being brutally killed in the first chapter yet somehow miraculously coming back to life.
Chapter Six has been a long time coming. The last chapter was posted way back in August of last year. I got pretty bad writer’s block at the start of the chapter. I knew that Trace (the main character) was going to save the day, I also knew that there was no way he could take out Dorga and his goons in combat. Unless of course it was in an extended “Home-Alone” style guerilla campaign. In hindsight that would have been kinda cool but would’ve taken ages to write. This chapter also revealed the final bits and pieces of the kid’s backstory and exactly what the relationship between him and Dorga was.
After taking a break to write four chapters of AUH, I returned to RS with The Tattoo. I’m glad to return to this story, as its the longest I’ve every written and there’s still so much I want to write. I really want to finish this some day. This particular chapter pretty much has nothing to do with the plot of the story, so it could be seen as filler. It does however ramp up the tension between Ryan and Boris.
These two almost came to blows in this chapter and only the timely arrival of Daniel prevented a knife fight from breaking out. This chapter also introduced Bucky. A last minuted inclusion, I never intended to introduce a dog but somehow, that section just wrote itself. Bucky is in fact the dog owned by my Mutants and Masterminds character, Jared Sanchez. Ryan’s little joke about the reason behind Bucky’s name is painful in origin, as it was originally the reason why I called my character’s dog Bucky in the M&M game. I pretty much got the same reaction from the GM and other players as Ryan did. As I said, its painful.
Exams are starting this week in programming and computing, as long as I don’t freeze up they should be a cake walk. Maths next week I’m less confident about.