By Eric "Erico" Lawson

Chapter One: She's Not That Pretty

There are constants in the world of Arcadia. Constants such as, never sail into a storm or else you might find the Arcwhale, Rhaknam. Constants like, the Valuan Empire was made up of a bunch of asshats who believed they could take whatever they wanted. Constants such as the six Moons of Arcadia, who occasionally gouged out Moonstones that rained down onto the floating islands, or dove down through the clouds into the Lower and Deep Skies.

Aika, a young but aspiring Blue Rogue, had another constant she lived by. She could always count on Vyse, son of Dyne, to be there for her. He'd been there seven years ago on a burning Valuan ship to save her from a dagger thrown at her heart. That act of self-sacrifice had given Vyse his now characteristic scar and cemented her bond with the young man as being something more than simple friendship.

Not that she had ever admitted it to him. She still had her standards, and swooning over Vyse? Please.

"Aika, behind you!" Vyse shouted out. He was stuck in a duel with another Valuan trooper, and he still managed to stay aware enough of his surroundings to call out a warning. The pig-tailed redhead whirled about and brought her boomerang up just in time to block a downwards slash from another Valuan who had thought to sneak in an attack while she was distracted.

"Nice try." Aika smirked, and snapped her foot up and out, gouging the miserable Valuan in the soft spot of his gut that his armor didn't cover completely. The fellow let out an urp and stumbled backwards, hunched over with his knife dropped on the deck without a care. Aika let out a yell and snapped her boomerang up into the side of his helmet, blunt side leading, and bashed him to the side where he lay in a crumpled heap. "Thanks for the heads up, Vyse!"

Vyses' own foe was dispatched far more quickly, as the Blue Rogue's dual cutlass dueling style allowed him to deflect, disarm, and then gut-slash his own foe in record time. Aika didn't spare a moments' worth of squeamishness. The Valuans did far worse.

"Come on." Vyse said, slashing his blade in a wide arc away from Aika to clear the edge of blood. When he grinned at her, it sent a surge of electricity through her body she refused to give a name to. "We've still got an admiral to take down."

Aika stared down at the strange girl in the silver headdress and gown, and wondered just who the blonde was. Where she'd come from. Vyse was in the room also, but his mind was elsewhere.

"That Admiral was a right jackass." Vyse growled, using a word that he would have never dared to utter in his father's company, much less his mother's. Aika looked up at him storming around by the door in a tight circle, wondering whether or not to call him on it. It wasn't like he was wrong. Alfonso, as the cowardly fop had identified himself, had hurled his own vice captain off the end of the ship to his death just so he'd have a scapegoat to blame on his own incompetence.

Really, though. Where the hell had the Valuan ship's sentries been? Any half-competent crew could have seen the Blue Rogues coming, even with Captain Dyne's penchant for drifting behind the clouds to hide their approach from far off. Had they been that distracted? No, it had to be Alfonso.

"I'm pretty sure that it'll be a while before you see him in command of another ship." Aika said, trying to calm him down. "If all the Valuans were as incompetent as he was, we wouldn't have to work as hard at keeping ahead of them."

Vyse finally stopped pacing, breathed out hard, and let his usual smirk return as he looked over at her. "Yeah. And the Nasrians would have kicked their asses two decades ago."

Aika waggled her eyebrows and stifled a giggle. Her best friend in the world rolled his shoulders and walked over, standing opposite of her at the girl's bedside. His impish grin faded a little as he looked down at her, and tenderness filled his eyes.

It made Aika's stomach lurch a little, watching him watch her. "I wonder who she is." Vyse mused, and his hand went to trace an edge of the veiled headdress she wore. "I've never seen clothes like hers before."

"Yeah?" Aika said, muting herself after she heard the bite in the word. If Vyse noticed, he didn't seem to care. "I mean, she's probably Nasrian."

"Oh? You've seen Nasrian women before?"

"Geez, Vyse, she's a girl." Aika ground out, reaching across the bed and punching him in the shoulder. Hard. He stumbled back and rubbed at what would likely be a light bruise. "But I thought I'd heard one of the traders mention something about how the women of Nasrad liked to go around in veils one of the times they stopped in to port."

"Okay, okay. It's just, you're always telling these crazy stories about the other lands in Mid-Ocean, you know?" Vyse protested. "Hard to tell what you're making up and what's real."

"Hey!" Aika fumed to hide her blush of embarrassment. "I can't help what I hear. It's not like I've ever been there myself."

"Yeah." And then Vyse got that determined look on his face, and Aika bit her lip. Of course she'd triggered that particular driving force of his...the desire to see everything. "But some day, I will. Some day, I'll sail out and go everywhere."

Aika sighed and reached over, this time nudging him in the other shoulder gently with just a few fingers. "And you know I'll be right there with you, don't you?"

Vyse smiled and nodded. "Uh-huh. Of course you will. Why would I go anywhere without my best friend?"

Aika smiled back. "Yeah. Blue Rogues and best friends forever, right?"


And then the blond girl lying in the bed between them groaned and started to wake up.

Her name was Fina...and that was about all that anybody could get out of her. She flatly refused on telling anyone about where she came from, or why the Valuans were so interested in her. Even her gratitude at being rescued by Captain Dyne and his crew (And Aika and Vyse especially) didn't provide any leverage in that regard. Still, she was a nice enough girl and they made a habit of being welcoming to strangers on Pirate Isle. Especially strangers who had a beef with the tyrannical Valuan Empire.

What Aika didn't get was why Vyse's mother was doting on the girl. Inviting her to dinner? Sure. It was a great place to pump her for more information she'd been less willing to share during Dyne's version of an interrogation. But the girl was so hopeless. It was like she'd never seen a roasted animal before, or fresh fruit, or vegetables. She'd been wide-eyed through all of dinner, constantly bubbling over with questions about 'This is so good! How did you make it?', or 'Oh, that's so tart! What flavoring is this?'

Ungh, and she was so damn polite. The entire time they were eating, she dabbed at her mouth with her napkin with smooth and controlled movements that caused even Vyse, a famously messy eater, to slow down and try to emulate her. All the while, Aika picked at her own food, finding she had less and less of an appetite.

"Oh, you are such a delight, Miss Fina!" Vyse's mother laughed. "And so pretty as well, don't you think so, Vyse?"

She's not that pretty, Aika wanted to snarl. Instead she jammed her fork into the piece of meat she'd just carved off of the slab on her plate and shoved it into her mouth. Across the table, Fina blushed a little and hid her face behind a hand, while Vyse went red from his brow to his collar and squeaked out his reply. "Mom!"

He squeaked. Aika couldn't remember the last time Vyse had ever been anything but in control or ambitious with a side of youthful bravado. He hadn't even squeaked when she caught him peeking into her bedroom while she was brushing out her hair! Ugh, she wanted to reach across the table and slap the stupid out of him. Relax, she tried to tell herself. Vyse's mom was just that warm and welcoming to everyone. She was just being nice to Fina, and doing what all parents did; try to embarrass the hell out of their kids.

"Mother, stop giving them such a hard time." Dyne sighed, although his smile showed how he really felt about it. "Vyse, why don't you take the girls out for a walk? I need to talk to your mother about where Fina's going to be sleeping tonight."

Aika's grip on her fork was so tight that she felt it start to bend a little, and she put it down before putting on her brightest smile. "Yeah, that sounds great, captain! Great dinner, Missus D!" She whirled around the table and hoisted Vyse up by his arm, pulling him close to her side before looking over to Fina. "There's a great view of the sunset on lookout point! Come on, Fina, we'll show you around!"

"Hey, Aika, take it easy…" Vyse muttered. Moons, he could be so dense. Didn't he know why she was so on edge? No. Chances were he was just that clueless. Anything that didn't involve his dream of traveling the world, or putting the hurt on the Valuans, or upholding his reputation as an up and coming Blue Rogue tended to fly right over his head.

Fina seemed just as obtuse to the friction as Vyse had been. She'd set her napkin on her plate, stood, and bowed formally to both the captain and his wife, that strange lacy veil around her hair bobbing by her shoulders. "Thank you for the meal. It was very delicious." Then she turned to Aika and Vyse, and her smile only deepened. "I would love to see more of your home, if you are willing to guide me."

Aika felt something twist in her stomach as Fina's attention turned to them. Not a thread or a hair out of place, not a blemish or a wobble in her stance.

"It's no problem." Vyse quickly answered, tugging his arm free of Aika with a small grunt of effort. He shot her a small glower that sunk the redhead's spirits further, then turned the smile back on and went to the door to open it for the girls. "Blue Rogues always help out those in need. Right, Aika?"

Aika paused for a moment as Fina gracefully walked ahead of her for the opened doorway, and pulled back into her head enough to seriously think on the question.

She remembered how they'd found Fina; unconscious, slung over the shoulder of a Valuan guard, being carted off by that cowardly pig Alfonso like some trophy of conquest. Whatever that jackass had planned for her…

Nobody deserved that.

Aika suppressed her shiver, and allowed a glimmer of guilt to slice through her rising jealousy. "You bet we do." She conceded, following after them. She caught Fina's gaze turning on her briefly as they emerged outside and walked shoulder to shoulder, and the slight nod of thanks made Aika's own smile far less forced than it had been before.

She was just a strange girl from who knew where. Just another charity case for Mr. Blue Rogue incarnate. Just a soft, curvy girl with a guy-killing smile and perfect hair and…

Aika resolved then and there to stay closer to Vyse. As long as Fina was still around.