(A/N: This story follows up the events right after "Far Above the Skies".

Chapter 1

It was late night when the Delphinus made it to Crescent Isle. No one aboard did really feel like celebrating just yet, so Vyse settled for just giving the newcomers a quick look around the place and then lodging for the evening. Tomorrow's partying would surely be grand.

While everybody was sleeping comfortable, Esteban tossed and turned in his bed. He should've been worn out, but felt clearly awake. Not being able to get any passage to sleepy-land, he got dressed and snuck out. Aimlessly, he began to wander around. No lights were on anywhere, so no one would get out of their comfy beds to interrupt him.

The leader's words echoed in his thoughts. "Your past isn't immaculate either". It sure wasn't. "Then maybe I'll kill you right here". Those words almost scared him. Murderous and ruthless, they were at least directed to right person. But still, he wouldn't have minded beating her to death, and then the others. His stomach turned at the memory, the skin crawled, and his breath stocked in his throat. He had been filled with anger and hate, had thirsted for blood, wanting nothing more than to kill. The line between human and beast was not thicker than just that.

Was he just the same as them?

No, it was different. He knew what was coming for them, and he knew first-hand what the leader had done. She deserved it. He was the line of defence. Nothing would get to his friends, not on his watch.

Esteban turned and walked up to the lookout, where the flagpole stood. He sat down, his back leaning against the fence. The sky stretched out seemingly forever, blinking stars lit up the dark sky, just like they had done since the dawn of time.

Now, where was he?

The Leader had wanted to kill Esteban's new friends, the three persons who gave his life meaning. It was nothing noble about Esteban's feelings, just pure revenge. Apparently he was more affected by his job than he wanted to believe. Or was he just selfish? For whom had he been ready to become a blood thirsty animal? Did he want to avenge or protect? Exactly what did it mean to be fond of someone? What was the true meaning of friendship?

It was obvious he wouldn't get smarter by being lost in his own thoughts. They had all made it through, and that was enough. At least for the time being.


The Red Fury had just docked at the secret off-away harbour in Nasrad's less desirable parts. Izenhof sent his quartermaster away to deliver the message. Since he himself was the responsible one, his quartermaster would be somewhat safe from any eventual repercussions, and this critical info would sure be worth gold. But if punishment still needed to be dealt out to first best person, well, a few broken ribs would heal in no time. It was all relative, of course, compared to the usual punishment for shown incompetence.

The quartermaster came back, his face white as a sail.

"Captain," he gasped. "Big news. The syndicate… they've…"


"They're gone. Defeated."

Izenhof shove up his hand to make his subordinate stop talking, and looked around to see if anyone had heard anything. No. He made a quick sign, and they went into the ship's interior, safe from all listening ears. This was something he might need to think over before it became public knowledge among his crew.

"So," Izenhof began. "What did you say?"

"That Blue Rogue… Vyse… made it here before us. It seems like they kidnapped the leader, brought her onboard their ship, and then… that's where the views diverge. Some say they killed her, or took her as a prisoner."

"Are there any 'heirs'?"

"No. There was some fight for power, but it turned into a complete backstabbing. They are out of the picture."

A myriad of thoughts moved in his brain. They had been freed from their service. Once again, they were a band of free sailing Black Pirates, not bowing to anybody.

But even so… Izenhof would rather chop off his right hand rather than to admit that…

"A new time is dawning for you," Izenhof said. "I suggest you try and get in touch with the rest of the ships as soon as possible. Tell them to never sell themselves again."

"But… captain, what about…?"

"Jack, I hereby promote you to captain," Izenhof said, not giving his subordinate chance to finish. "You can choose anyone you like of these salts as a new quartermaster, but I advise you to pick Enzino."

"But what will you do? And the others?"

"I'll let them know. Look for me in Valua if you pass by, providing you can outsail the armada."

With those words, the former captain of the Red Fury left the room and the confused captain, headed out on the deck, and left his ship behind, pausing only to retrieve his duffelbag he had prepared for just this.

Was he a coward? A spineless koketa who backed off at the smell of some blood? In some ways, yes. But he had smelled it enough by now. It was not a change of heart, if he even had one. He had been too close to hit the locker, he would not take another chance. Even if the Syndicate had been a constant sword above their necks, they had supplied their privateers well and made sure that the Nasrean fleet stayed away from them. With that support gone, things would be rough. Izenhoif didn't want to be in the line of fire during the struggle which would follow soon.

Izenhof would be satisfied living out his days in some remote place. Perhaps Ezperanza, or the cold scapes of Nerthir? He was not so stupid to leave trails after himself.


"Really?" Fina said, astonished. "Your father was a Black Pirate?"

"Sure enough," Chloe said. "I don't like to bring it up… No, no, that's not what I meant."

Fina, Urala and Chloe stood in the kitchen, preparing the grand feast for the rest of the crew, celebrating their first day on Crescent Isle together. Even though Fina wasn't chef anymore, she couldn't resist giving a culinary helping hand, and had thus squeezed in.

"So how did you get off?" Urala asked

Chloe looked down at the filet she was chopping for the flambéed meat. She cut on automatic, her mind clearly on something else.

"Well, I lived with them for my first fifteen years. My father was the captain, and my mother… I never knew her. I don't know what happened to her, or why they kept us. At least it was cheaper than to pay a maid." She smirked. "I got to do the 'female chores' as they called it."

"Were they…" Urala began. "How did they treat you?"

"Considering they were Black Pirates… Quite well. I have to it hand to my father, he didn't let anyone of them touch me. Maybe I could've been a pirate-queen, but one day I took the occasion and left the ship."

"Just like that?" Fina asked, with the real question left clear.

"More or less. I don't know what they said about that, since I've never seen them again. Anyway, I stowed aboard another ship that lay in the harbour, this was at Sunset Isle, and hoped it would take me to somewhere far from them. As you'd expect, I got discovered, but they let me stay up all the way until Nasrad, there I signed up at a new ship, et cetera et cetera several times across the oceans, and the rest is history."

"Until you met Nicole?" Urala asked.

Chloe's eyes shimmered, and her lips turned quickly upward.

"Yes. At that time, I had been working at a restaurant at Sailor's Island for some time. It felt good to have a stuck place, not flinging around like crazy. But then she came in, and I overheard that she needed a chef. I signed up at once, to my boss's dismay, but since she didn't have to pay my weekly salary, it evened out. Well, is it just me or do we need more loqua for the meat?"

"I'll go get it," Urala said. "It's where it used to be, right, Fina?"

"Oh, yes. In the harbour."

Urala darted away, leaving Fina and Chloe for themselves.

Fina thought over what she had heard Chloe tell about herself. How she had lost her family at such a young age, but still able to talk about it so calmly. Fina knew about a certain other person who had gone through the same, and how that had affected him. Maybe there was more to her than what she said.

"How did it feel living on the drift?" Fina said.

"Okay. There was always something new happening, and I learned a whole lot."

"But then you said that it was nice with some permanence."

"Yes. That was when I realised it. It's not that I was missing having a family, if that's what you were thinking of. I mean, it's hard to miss what you've never had in the first place."

"But you can wish that you've had."

"…Mmm," Chloe nodded. "Yes, like you said. They became like a family. Some nutty siblings, but they're all great. Talking about nutty" Her gaze turned serious. "Rod, is he bothering you a lot?"

"Not at all," Fina said.

At that moment, Urala came back with the loqua. Together, they began to prepare for the flambéing, following a recipe Polly had thought up and then passed to Urala, and Chloe as well. It so happened to be that the place she had worked on before she was picked up by Nicole was Polly's place. The world just got smaller and smaller.

Having prepared for the main course, the trio began with the appetizer. They had settled for 'brushette'; bread fried in oil with mushroom-mash and ham. With the food done, they brought out a plate each to staple it. Just as Urala had made it out of the door, Chloe utmost carefully nudged Fina's shoulder.

"I…" she begun. "I know what you were after back there. But I'm really through with it all, and it doesn't bother me. But thanks for caring."

"I'm just glad to help," Fina smiled.

By the look in her eyes, Fina knew that Chloe had joined her crew as "partner in cooking" and new friend.


"Alright, mr Noble, get it moving!"

Aika and Rodrigo lifted the plank and put it in place. The first wall to the hot spring hut was soon done.

"Good work, you two," Kirala said. "Just nail it in place. I got something else to do."

"If it's slacking, I'll smack you."

"Hey, I'm the engineer, which means I'll make the rules. Ha, I'm just gonna make the wall peeping-tom-safe. So, Rod, you could hand back that drill you borrowed."

"It wouldn't work, I've already tried."

While Kirala went around the wall, Aika and Rodrigo began to beat nails into the boards. Having thirsted for a hot spring for so long, Aika was more than willing to help out. Not only did she want it done as quick as possible, she would also get the first dibs on it.

"Are your silky-fingers worn yet?" Aika grinned.

"You commoner," Rodrigo shot back. "If the Upper City remained, I'd have you sent to the Coliseum."

Rod seemed all in all quite okay. If he hadn't said it earlier, Aika would never have guessed he was from the Upper City. He wasn't all as bad as the other nobles she had met before. Could be that he had a lot to live up to, and to prove for his fellow Blue Rogues that he was as good as anyone else.

Still, Aika couldn't help feeling a pang of worry about Esteban. If he hated the persons from the Upper City… that would actually be understandable. He hadn't made any talk with the ex-noble, or with anyone at all.

"Been there, done that," Aika said. "Even if we cut it close on the way out."

"Just like Nina said. Heh, lucky for me the executioner was on his lazy side that day."

"Fu fu fu, we just took it easy with him. Oh, and talking 'bout slipping out; how did you get out of the capital anyway?"

Rodrigo smiled in avoidance. He let his gaze wander across the horizon.

"Well, like they say; it's a long story."

"I have time to hear it. Besides, now you have no choice, since you made me curious."

"No choice then," Rodrigo smiled. He sat down against the newly built wall. Aika slipped down. "Alright then. I was born as an only child. My parents' pride and joy… or mostly show piece. I should carry the family on, and that's all. I didn't get to see much of them, since I mostly got nannies attending me. We in our city had our difficulties too."

Be that as it may, but Esteban would probably have nailed Rod to the wall if he heard that. During his childhood, his problems were much worse than figuring out which shade of purple that fit with gold.

"So you grow tired of it all and ran away?"

"Yeah, later on. I heard stories and tales of life at sea, pirates and rogues and all. I longed to be out there, live it myself. Call me blue-eyed if you want, but that's how it felt. So, one week before my wedding, which my parents had arranged for me, I stove away."

"Leaving behind a girl? Whoa, it's hard to see you do that."

"The sea is a woman. Just like her land-counterpart she's a little untamed, but she'll do. Well, I left from a ship going from the Lower City. But as soon as we had left Valuan airspace, we were attacked by Black Pirates."

"Welcome to reality."

"Sailing among the skies just sounded more glamorous from what I had heard. I got caught and nearly killed, but when they learned I was from the Upper City, they decided to make a ransom. But before they could set anything up, they got boarded, plundered and scuttled."

"By Nicole, eh?"

"True. But at that time she was just the lookout. I joined them, and I've never looked back."

So Nicole had once been 'just a lookout'? And Nicole, Paco and Nina surely couldn't fix a whole ship by themselves… could they?

"There was never someone you missed from Valua?" Aika asked.

"Never. I don't even know it my parents are alive or dead, I don't really care either. I just didn't know them. They were like strangers to me."

"What about your wife-to-have-been?"

"No. Not her."

"But someone else?"

Rodrigo turned down his gaze, and for a moment, he almost seemed sad. His sunny face had been covered by dark clouds.

"Well," he began to say, slowly. "There was one who…" He seemed to have stuck. Then he shook his head firmly. "Anyway, I see dinner's calling. We better get moving."

Rodrigo stood up and began walking to the living-quarters. Aika followed him. When she caught up with him, she saw he still looked a bit under the weather.

"I'm sorry about that," Aika said, though she didn't know what she had stirred up within him. "I didn't mean to."

"That's okay," Rod replied. "You couldn't have known. I'll tell you later, in exchange for a kiss, but just not now."

It seemed like no one was like they appeared to. There was always something new under every person's surface. Whatever it was for Rodrigo, Aika would find out soon.

Or maybe not, Aika thought, remembering Rod's condition. Hmm, but suppose I tell him I will refrain from slapping him silly with my boomerang? Loopers under his bed? Braiding? Hmmm, decisions, decisions.


The meeting room was set up for a party. Everybody was there. The mood was at its top, happy and merry. The girls had made an incredible job with the food. The bruchette had been a great treat that raised expectations; which the flambéed meat, roasted potato, two types of mouth-watering gravy and all the cider and loqua anyone could want didn't fail to live up to. There was even dancing going on. Rod was a skillful flutist. Kirala and Tairon showed some Yafutoman dance. No matter how bulky and big he was, Tairon moved graciously, while being strong enough to lift Kirala over his head as part of the dance. Aika had gotten a few dances as well, soon checking off almost all men folk. Urala had agreed to lend out Hans. Vyse had asked Nina for a dance, which had made her both nervous and happy beyond all limits. The young engineer made it well, without stepping him on his toes once. From the look on her face, she seemed to be in heaven. Nicole took over the flute from Rod, which gave him an opportunity to finally dance with Fina. Aika had taught her the art of dancing before, and she pulled it off well, except when she had, perhaps accidentally, stepped him on his foot.

Previously, Aika had tried to get Esteban up and dancing, but he insisted that he couldn't dance. Even Chloe got turned down when she wanted a merry round.

Come to think about it, where was he? She swept her gaze around the room, but found it devoid of people named Esteban.

She rose to her feet and exited the room. The sounds of the party were stifled through the door, the cool outside air felt relatively cold. Esteban sat at the table, arms in his lap, eyes at the horizon. Aika walked up to him, and then he turned and looked at her.

"Darn," she said. "I almost had it."

Ever since she had accidentally found out he was easily-startled, she had taken great enjoyment of sneaking up on him. Still, right now he didn't seem to be in a good mood for that.

"We're missing you in there," Aika said and sat down.

"Really?" Esteban said. "I just needed some fresh air."

"That's gotta be quite a lot. You've been gone for a while."

"Alright, alright. I had some thinking to do."

Even on the day when Esteban had signed up, Aika had known that there might be trouble for him. If he had gone all his life being angry and sad of his past, he couldn't let it go in just a few days. But it still wasn't nice to see him down.

"I see," Aika said. "About what?" There wasn't just that time in Valua. He had seemed tensed ever since they got back from Nasrad.

"Stuff. Nothing special," he said quickly, and turned away his eyes.

"Hey, come on now. What is it?"

Esteban clenched his hands into fists and beat them against his kneecaps and swivelled around to Aika, his eyes shooting lightning.

"I said it's nothing!"

Aika flung up from her chair. She had expected a lot, but never in her life this. He had never raised his voice, especially not to her or at least not recently. She felt both amazed and also a bit angry.

"Okay, fine," she said.

And as sudden as his rage had begun, it sizzled and died. His angry gaze melted away, revealing blank eyes guilt.

"I'm sorry," he said, sadly. "I… I didn't mean to."

Aika sat down again. Normally, she might feel a bit snubbed off. She had just wanted to help and what did she get? On the other hand, it was Esteban after all. She just had to take him the way he was.

"So what did you really mean then?" she asked.

"… it's been a rough time for us all, I know that. But for me, everything has just been turned upside down. It's all so new for me still. And with all that has been…" He struck out with his hand in a helpless gesture.

"You don't have to hold it inside anymore, you know. I mean, like you say it's a lot of changes for us all, and we need to talk about it."

"But that's the whole thing, can't you see? I don't want to burden you anymore. You've done so much for me already."

"I see," Aika said reflective still. "So if I felt sad and wanted to talk with you about it, would you think I was bringing you down?"

"Of course not!" he exclaimed, as if merely the thought was revolting. "But… I… I…"

Aika tapped her foot, eyebrows raised slightly as if to say 'Your move'. Esteban seemed to have stuck on his words, as if he realised how stupid they sounded. Then he sighed and smiled.

"Okay, I guess you're right… again."

"Like always," Aika smiled. "Anyway, it's nice of you to be considerate, but don't let it fall back on you. Friends want to help each other with anything that troubles them. Together they are stronger than they could ever be on their own. Simply put, I'm just glad to be there for you."

As much idealistic and pretentious Aika's words may have sounded, they were eternally true. Friends were like angels who pulled each other up when they had lost their wings.

"So why were you so glum?" Aika asked.

"Doesn't matter," Esteban said, and stood up. "I'm already feeling better. So, are we going back in?"

"You can forget about that," she replied. Esteban then looked so confused she had to giggle. "I got a huge load of dessert to serve, and I need your help to carry them."

Together, they took the lift down towards the ground. The sounds of laughter and music could still be heard in the night. It didn't mirror what was on Aika's mind. In there, the echo of Esteban's anger still was heard.

Just like he had said, this was a totally new situation for him. Better or not, it was still different. Maybe he was a master cannoner, but in being social he was the land crab around elite helmsmen.

But still, the first couple of days he had been so harmonic and relieved. It was recently he had begun to tense up. But why? And now when they had beaten the snot out of the syndicate he should have the last boulder off his shoulder. Heck, even when they had thrown a toast for him at the dinner, he seemed far from overjoyed. The whole battle was a piece of the big unmentionable.

That was another problem. For the others, it might seem Esteban was a gob-stuck twerp or a plain mercenary. Even if the latter was true, or had been, neither was good. All she wanted was for him to get happy.

Aika's thought were interrupted by the sound of the 'clack' as the lift hit its destination. They walked to the tavern, retrieved the serving-plates with the pastries Aika had prepared on beforehand and went back to the lift.

Standing on the small lift, balancing the plate, Esteban felt his melancholy creeping back again, like a bug. Aika had meant so well, yet she didn't understand. It was not like he was gonna tell her either.

It was jealousy, pure and simple. Esteban had no illusions about himself. He knew very well that he couldn't compete with the others. Simply holding a normal conversation sometimes felt as impassable as the cliff behind him. Sure, with Aika it went okay, and with Vyse and Fina too. But with the others, that's where the problems started.

Not that he cared much anyway.

Esteban had gone all his life as a loner. The meeting with Vyse and the others had changed everything for him. He didn't realise how lucky he had been. There was just the four of them, but now…

The others came. And they had stolen something he was not willing to share. Not yet. It was very selfish to reason that way, he knew it, but that's how he felt. There was a resource in numbers and additional knowledge and cunning, and sure, they weren't too bad. Except for Rodrigo. How the hell could a wimpy Upper Citizen bastard become a Blue Rogue!? He and his lot had lived upon the suffering of the Lower City; they could've might as well asked even Galcian to sign up if he had survived. And the way he acted toward Fina all the time… Why didn't she simply tell him off!? Did she actually enjoy it? And what did that make her!?

So what should he do about it? Ask Vyse to sign them off? It wasn't even worth the thought. Still, this was the danger with attachment.


"Whoa, watch it!" Aika said. "Were you tripping?"

"Just lost the balance for a second," Esteban said.

Not to mention his sight and grip on himself.


"… and then, all out of nowhere, a huge man-o-war appeared and started to fire at us."

"I've had experience with them too," Vyse said. "But you made it through, obviously?"

The two captains stood on the balcony, sharing stories and a bottle of loqua in between them. The night-air was cold, but Nicole still had her jacket tied around her waist, being fresh from the interior's warmness. Vyse had discarded his red scarf and buttoned open his waistcoat. The loqua kept him warm, but not intoxicated.

"Yeah, but the rest got cold feet. They decided to clock out, going back to the landside." She took a swig of the bottle. "It actually fit me pretty well, you know, because the helmsman… I had my eyes on him, had them for quite a long time, if you know what I'm talking about?"

"I sure do. So what did he say?"

"He settled down with another. Another man."

Vyse coughed, not knowing exactly what to say. Such stuff wasn't his area really. But Nicole solved it by simply carrying on.

"So, I had no other options than becoming captain of the Azaela, and getting my little nieces from Sailor's Island. Rodrigo wanted to stay, as in he had enough spine, and later on we recruited Chloe. It was hard to talk my sister into letting Nina and Paco go. Yes, we're a family of sailors, but not Air Pirates. I've given my word we'll stay out of rough business."

"Have you ever ran into your past friends?"

"No way, no how. I had a lot of fun with them, a lot, but I'm not their 'Wooden Nicole' anymore." She took a deeper swig of the bottle. "I like my crewies, they're like my children. But I'll never forget how it was back in the old days. You know, I'm angry at them for disbanding like that. Being Air Pirates is… I mean, they knew what was in store for them! They knew!"

"Yeah, but a man-o-war is nothing to spit at," Vyse said. "Believe me, I know. Many would get cold feet, but not you. You could've gone back to shore, but you didn't give in. You continued to pursue your dream, and look where it took you."

"You're right. If it weren't for us, Nasrad would still be... we really did it. Thanks for letting us kick back at them!"

Before Vyse knew it, Nicole had grabbed him, and pulled him near into a too-too-close embrace, his head almost buried into her bossom. So close, even breathing would be molesting.

"Oops. Sorry 'bout that, captain," she grinned and released him. "Didn't mean to scare you."

"I'm fine," he said with slightly flushed cheeks, trying not to laugh. "Just warn me in advance."

"Tssk, I thought you were used to this. What with your pretty little girlie friends and all."

"Oh, no. No, no. It's not really like that."

"But almost?"

Well, there was that time when they had returned home to Crescent Isle after being marooned. It was nothing of the ordinary, and it was all Aika's idea. But that Fina joined in was a bit unexpected.


The party was coming to a pleasant end. Many people had dozed off, only to be awakened and head to bed. All in all, Vyse felt tired but content.

Paco at least would have no copper-beating in his head tomorrow, having only indulged in cider. Oh well, young and reckless, just a little bit careless. Both work and party would bind them together.

Aika half-lay in a chair and finished off a leftover chocolate pastry. She ate in tiny nibbles, her eyes half-closed and her lips a bit creamy. Vyse walked up to her. She turned and smiled, just a little bit too widely.

"Have you had fun?" Vyse asked.

"Prefa… perfie," Aika smiled. "Top-stuff. This isn't the last time, that's for sure."

Vyse knew Aika very well, and the delay on the words and the foggy gaze in her eyes told him their clear meaning. He leant closer to her, thankfully she didn't stink loqua. But it smelled.

"You want me to help you down?" he said low, not wanting to embarrass her for any eventual eavesdroppers.

"Thanks, but… sure. It wouldn't be the first accident."

Together they went out to the lift. A yank in the lever later they were on their way down. It had made many turns up and down this evening. Even if it was big enough for two, they really should fix it. As it was now, Aika stood a little too close to the edge, so Vyse reached out and held Aika around her waist.

"Whey, getting a little ahead of yerself, eh?" Aika grinned.

"No, but the way you're staggering, it seems you'll reach the ground way before me."

They should really get a fence or a gunwale around that lift. Like said before, there had been an accident before, or a bull's-eye, depending on how you saw it.

"Naaaaaaah, I'm jus' two sheets to the wind," Aika said, with her cheek rubbing close to Vyse's. "Two big ones, maybe."

Being three sheets to the wind was a sailor way of saying that someone was dingy. In comparison, being four sheets meant the person had conked out.

"Thankies, I can walk the last bit myself."

"Okay. It's one of the two identical houses you see over there. If your feet get wet, you've wobbled out off course into the pool."

"Woooo, that's too compeli… icated."

Maybe it really was. Aika did slur a bit, and she had trouble delivering the words. Then again, it could be because of the late hour. Tiredness made people say the weirdest things. Vyse took Aika under his arm and walked her to the living quarters.

"Oh, what if Nina saw us now," Aika grinned. "She… she… hihihi asked if we were an item."

"Really? And what did you tell her?"

No matter what she said, he would have to take it with a grain of salt, or perhaps a shipload. That giggling loqua-collection next to him would have no restraint on her mouth. Not that she did even when she was sober.

"I just said I surely could find something much better. No. No, no, hey listen. If… I mean if…" She wavered her pointy finger, as if she was looking for words, and tried to punctuate it. "IF things were different you might have a chance. I mean, you would. You know whadda mean, right?"

"Oh dear," Vyse said, as he led Aika up the stairs. "Have you drunk your eyesight away again?"

"Okay, now you're ashkeng fer it. I'd be happy to obli… oble… ah whattheheck."

What Aika did then was just as sudden as unexpected. She swiftly leant over to Vyse, grabbed his shoulders and pressed her lips against his cheek, pretty close to his mouth. A bit firmly, still very soft as lips went.

"Aww, look what you made me do," Aika grinned. "There now, just don't get any ideas now."

"W... Whatever," Vyse said, smirking. "Into your room now and sleep it… that's Fina's door. Yep, that's the one. See you in the morning."


Aika went in to her room, while Vyse went down the stairs, smiling to himself.

He didn't feel too bewildered. Surprised, yes, but that's how she was. You never knew what she'd do next. Not that it was anything bad with that. The sensation of the kiss still lingered, pounding like a wound, but in a nice way. Sweet as it was, hadn't he turned, it would've been on the mouth and he could've probably tasted enough loqua to knock him out.

Vyse walked across the fountain-plaza and reached the lift. It had just descended, carrying Fina and Esteban. They were loaded with used cutlery and plates.

"Thanks for cleaning," Vyse said. "You had a good time?"

"Surely," Fina replied. "I will have to add 'party' to my list of favourite words."

"Better late than never, I guess," Vyse said. "But make room for more. We'll have a siesta tomorrow morning."

"And what do we do after that?" Esteban said.

"We'll see about that," Vyse replied. "But I have something for you to start with at once."


"Take it easy," Vyse smiled.

Fina and Esteban headed to the tavern, while Vyse took the next ride up. There stood Nicole. She greeted her captain with a smile.

"I must congratulate you," she said. "You crew are such party-animals."

"We work hard and play hard," Vyse said. "It's been well deserved. And tomorrow we're back into it all."

"And I thought we had just started. By the way, when can we retrieve the Azaela? I'm dying to try her out after the enchantments."

"We'll make it our next priority."

Nicole took the lift down. Vyse remained at the balcony, his hands rested on the fence, eyes out at the isle. His own base. The feeling never quite dimished. Once he had been a Blue Rogue, now he was the Blue Rogue. The big one. He'd really made a name for himself, and also accomplished several of his dreams.

Things had really changed the last couple of weeks. Life had been quite calm the last six months, at least in comparison to what had happened before. His mind raced over the thought of things to come. Whatever they were, he was ready to face anything.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Many thanks to Marcus (QuantomTroll) for proof-reading.