Notes: A big thanks again to Caseorogue and MxAcey (from AO3) for their help. I can't stress enough to check out their works. There are extremely talented and underappreciated writers here and I feel like it's our job as a small community to lift each other up :) By the way, I take constructive criticisms! I'm not paid for that fic or anything but I genuinely want to improve as a writer and welcome suggestions ^^
As much as Aika loved the hustle and bustle of the underground hideout, she heaved a contented sigh when she felt the rays of the sun on her skin. As she stretched her arms towards the skies and ran her fingers along the braids in her hair, Aika felt the strands had become loose, and as she reached their end noticed one tie barely remained knotted. She grimaced… Well, that had to be taken care of first.
"Vyse, go on ahead. I have to stop by my house for a second."
Her friend stared blankly at her.
"Why? What's wrong?"
Aika couldn't help but smile. Vyse sure was dense sometimes… Still, that was one of his endearing traits.
"I just want to freshen up. Don't worry, I'll catch up with you guys in a few minutes! See you at your house!"
She parted ways with the two, waving at the children playing with the huskra, happily barking with his distinctive "pow!". Next to the windmill was her parents' house… Though it had become only hers since they passed away.
"I'm back, mom, dad…" Aika gave a thoughtful glance at their memorial outside before she went inside. She kicked off her boots and undid her braids, her long orange hair falling to her waist.
She closed her eyes as she threw herself upon the large bed to relax for a spell, letting out the tension of their recent heist. As she usually tossed and turned a lot in her sleep, the size of her bed at home was always welcome, bringing her comfort. Coming back to that house empty a few years back was difficult. After her parents' death, Vyse's parents took her in and she had grown up alongside her best friend like brother and sister. As Aika slowly grew into a woman, Vyse's mother advised her it was time for her to go back and face that house. It had been bittersweet, seeing that place trapped in time, still just as her parents left it. Her mother's favorite cup on the table, her father's guitar in the corner. She had spent a long day alternating between cleaning and crying as time started to move again in that single-room house.
Over time, the place started smelling like the flowers she grew, the firewood in the evenings... and a little spark of gunpowder, Aika smirked as she recalled her recent "scientific'' experiments with her fireplace. The house didn't just carry the memories of her parents, stagnating and heavy; she had opened the windows and allowed the place to become hers, a home she felt good returning to. The remnants of her parents' presence no longer felt hurtful or haunting. They were still a part of her, moving her forward.
Aika smiled, rising to brush her long hair, whistling as she did it. Homes reflected the state and personality of their owners... She wondered what kind of place Fina lived in. She had all the grace and bearing of royalty without coming off as haughty, and she seemed so sheltered...
"Tonight we're making her try Loqua!" Aika grinned, her fingers working through the strands of her hair as she tied them back.
"This is our little village! There's not much to see, but then again that's what allows us to slip under the armada's radar."
Fina listened absentmindedly, her attention focused on everything in her field of view. The green of the scenery, the vibrant colors of the villagers' clothes… The sounds. A melodic chirp she couldn't quite place, the children laughing, the women talking- It was overwhelming, but not in a way that pushed her away. It all felt … so alive.
"This place is beautiful…" She said, voice breathless.
As her green eyes wandered over the scenery, she didn't watch where she was going and so she yelped in surprise as she ended up stumbling over an animal, making the strangest sound she'd ever heard.
"Pow! Pow pow!" A quadruped with lavender and white fur, barely rising above her shins was barking, its thick tail wagging excitedly.
Fina could do nothing but stare blankly as she tried to recall any descriptions of the creatures found in her bestiaries. None came to her mind.
"Quiet, Pow! I told you not to bark at guests before, right?" Vyse scolded.
In reply came more subdued ''pow'' noises, its beady black eyes looking up to them with a hint of sadness. Fina smiled apologetically.
"I, I'm sorry. He just took me by surprise. He's actually really cute…"
The animal's body language felt familiar now that she thought about it. She dropped to her knees, extending her hand carefully. The animal sniffled with curiosity before rubbing its head affectionately against her palm. The soft texture was unlike anything she'd ever felt before.
"I guess on your island, you live with other animals…" she noted.
"Um...yeah. I, I guess. You don't have pets where you come from?"
Fina felt a flush of embarrassment once again.
"W, well, um...no. Not really. Is it that unusual? I'm so sorry… It's just that everything seems so… different here."
"I mean, it's not something you have to apologize for! ...You know, despite sailing with my dad and Aika, there's much of the world I don't know myself. ...A land with no animals, huh." He knelt, scratching behind the huskra's ears, the latter's tail wagging with more vigor.
"VYSE! VYSE! VYSE!'' Three young voices shouted in unison, taking her by surprise again as Vyse found himself surrounded.
"Hey, Jimmy, Alan, Lindsi. Have you kids been good while we were gone?" He hugged back with one arm the little brunette girl who'd sprung on to his shoulders.
"We protected the village!" Jimmy proudly proclaimed, puffing out his chest.
Vyse gave a good-natured laugh, rising from his position as the girl took a step back. Watching him talking with the three children, their big eyes sparkling with admiration, it was obvious Vyse was well-loved among the village. It reminded Fina of how he used to talk to her.
The pale boy in green clothes, Alan, turned toward her with an expression she could only describe as awe.
"You're Vyse's friend they saved? Daddy Boris and Daddy Briggs told me all about it!"
Fina chuckled lightly, her cheeks heating at the word "friend".
"...I owe Vyse and Captain Dyne a lot, yes," she said, smiling back.
"You're so pretty…" Alan murmured.
All three children's eyes were on her, all eager as they asked to play. Fina had expected them to ask for Vyse's attention, but she was at a loss for words when they asked for hers as well.
"Of course! Please play with us! We can play hide and seek!" The boy named Jimmy said. He flashed a wide grin, proudly showcasing his missing tooth.
Somehow, it felt like the whole world now rode on her response.
"S-Sure! We can play" She acquiesced as the thunderous cheer resounded.
They were soon caught up to by Aika, her hair tightly braided.
"Sorry for the wait! I was just fixing my hair; you guys weren't planning on playing without me, right?"
"We wouldn't dream of it!" Vyse replied cheerfully.
For just a moment, Fina decided she could forget her duties.
Vice-Captain Ramirez stood close to the wall, by his Lord's side, waiting and listening. He knew when to listen and when to speak, and in that case, the former was most appropriate.
The soldier delivering the report was speaking with a tremor in his voice, his body still but his delivery heavy with emotion he couldn't quite contain.
"The pirates caught us by surprise and…"
"How did they go unnoticed by the radar? Why didn't you fire back?" the Lord Admiral Galcian spoke, voice calm but tone severe.
His questions were met with silence. The soldier was Lower City-born; any words against his Lord would be like signing his death warrant. They all knew that, but it didn't make Ramirez any less bitter.
"Speak freely, soldier," Lord Galcian said. He smiled reassuringly, though its warmth never reached the frigid gray of his eyes. "You are not answering to Admiral Alfonso, but to me. As long as your words are the truth, you shall be free of accountability."
Lord Galcian was not one to tolerate blunders, no matter what esteemed rank or relations his officers may have had.
"...The Admiral was pursuing a target, the one we've been looking for; he insisted that all attention was kept on her. He… was quite inebriated." The soldier paused for a moment, before continuing in a halting, hesitant whisper, "Admiral Alfonso was not in a state to make sound decisions."
A crew of fifty men for a single unarmed ship. The absurdity of it all only matched the First Admiral Alfonso's incompetence.
"...And what about the Vice-Captain?" Galcian inquired.
"He… He honored the Imperial Armada to the very end, my Lord! There was no foul play. The air pirates… they defeated us in a fair fight." The soldier hung his head low.
Ramirez had known, and so did Lord Galcian. That sniveling coward had lied in his report. According to him, his own Vice-Captain had turned his back on them and allowed the air pirates on board.
A ridiculous tale only spun to impress his simpering Upper City consorts. Even after all these years, Ramirez still felt the dim heat of anger broil in his stomach at the injustice of it all. He clenched his jaw, forcing himself to stare straight ahead.
Regardless of his feelings on Valua as a whole, it was an objective fact that Alfonso's Vice-Captain was far more valuable as a soldier than the pathetic excuse for an Admiral he had answered to. Once again, Alfonso had proved himself to be little more than a liability.
"Thank you, Officer, for your accurate report. You can raise your head."
The soldier met the Lord Admiral's eyes, his fear obvious.
"You are hereby transferred, effective immediately. I believe you have no objections to joining my division?"
The officer heaved a sigh of relief, bowing low. Lord Galcian was a fair commander to any deserving troop.
"Thank you, Lord Galcian! There is no greater honor!"
He was right - there wasn't. Ramirez hoped, for that man's sake, that he would not make Lord Galcian regret his decision. As the man left the room, Galcian got up from his seat, walking toward the large bay window behind the table.
"It is just the two of us now, Ramirez; you may speak your mind as well," his Lord spoke, as his eyes were fixed on the horizon.
Ramirez allowed himself to relax by a margin, but took care to respect the rank between them.
"Admiral Alfonso is only bringing shame to you and everything you stand for. If it were up to me, I would have him removed from your presence."
The smooth cadence of his voice came out in a hiss of venom, his hatred for the man unhidden. Ramirez had a known distaste for the nobility of Upper City. They were so obsessed with their base greed and their reputation that they were blind to everything else. Blind to those they stepped on to achieve their success.
And the Duke of Valdez was simultaneously the embodiment of Upper Valuan standards and the very personification of all their vices.
"Stay calm, Ramirez. Do not waste your energy on him." Galcian wisely advised.
He was right, of course, but the anger inside him still burned. Lord Galcian had handpicked the finest men and women among his highest-ranking officers... except for Alfonso. Despite leading the Armada, Galcian still had the Empress to answer to, and she was the one who insisted on adding Alfonso among their ranks. Frankly, both Galcian and Ramirez saw it for what it was: favoritism toward her relative. Seeing a man such as Alfonso as second in command, whose sole qualification was his birthright, was a hard pill to swallow.
"Calm down and focus Ramirez…" Lord Galcian spoke again, and Ramirez instinctively closed his eyes.
By Galcian's side, he found the closest thing he found to peace. His Lord spoke, quieting everything in him; his anger, and everything else he felt, turning cold. It was a stillness that felt close to being dead.
Having found his way to his Still Place, his thoughts focused on her, his memory of her. Her energy felt like ripples on a water's surface. Gentle, weak… but growing wider and stronger as if she was calling out to him.
The Lord Admiral placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Tell me... What are you seeing?" He gripped Ramirez's shoulder as if to return him to reality, but not harshly enough to break his focus. He was more like an anchor, there to keep him from drifting away.
"I am sensing her clearly, Lord Galcian…" He felt a twist in his heart, but quickly buried it.
"We shall depart now then. Guide me, Ramirez…"
The day had gone by in the blink of an eye, the children were spent after the games but smiling. Lindsi and Jimmy waved as they left to go to their respective families while a sleepy Alan was carried back by one of his fathers.
The sky was coloring itself an orange hue as the sun was beginning to set. Looking at it, Vyse had an idea.
"Hey Fina, there's something I'd like to show you."
Pirate Isle was composed of a formation of floating islands, connected by ladders and bridges. High above was what they called Lookout Island. As the name implied it was where they kept watch for any visitors and potential attacks, and on afternoons such as these, it was a great spot for relaxing.
Vyse had climbed first and reached out to help Fina up as she followed behind. She was visibly exhausted from the long climb and had stopped in the middle of the way to catch her breath; Aika took it upon herself to give her a boost on the rest of the way.
"T-Thank you… It certainly is high… Your houses look so small from here" Fina noted with awe in her voice.
She took Vyse's hand and finally climbed onto Lookout Island.
"You can say that again… Moons, climbing up here takes forever." Came Aika's voice, lifting herself up from the ladder.
She smiled regardless.
"The view is so worth it though!"
Vyse let go of Fina's hand as they approached the bench. Her eyes were focused on the reddening skies, wide as she took in the scenery. The sun was sinking slowly as another hectic day ended, its golden rays still tinting the island. No matter how many times he witnessed this spectacle, Vyse never tired of it.
He and Aika sat down but Fina stayed on her feet as if she had forgotten her tiredness as she watched the sky.
"It's so beautiful…" Fina whispered.
He smiled, his gaze fixed on the horizon.
"I love it up here, it's so peaceful."
He'd often used that place as his own personal hideout when he needed time alone. Being there with Aika and Fina now, it felt like he could be open and speak the words that seemed buried inside him for a while.
"When I'm up here, I often wonder what lies beyond the sky...Beyond the sunset…"
Whatever was out there was calling to him, and meeting Fina, someone from beyond Mid Ocean, he realized now how little he had seen.
"Some say there're monsters. Others say there's a maelstrom that either blows ships away or pulls them in and...they're never seen again. And there are others that just say...it's impossible…"
Vyse always hated that word.
"I want to know what's out there... Besides, I don't like giving up on anything without giving it my best shot. "
He glanced at Aika, noticing she was watching him, her eyes reflecting the sunlight. The fire in her gaze told him everything he needed to know. It encouraged him to speak up, looking back to the horizon.
"Someday, I'll be the captain of my own ship. I'll go beyond that sunset, and I'll see what's out there." He spoke, making that promise to himself.
"Wow… I bet if you could go beyond the sunset, the sky would look even more beautiful." Aika murmured.
A gust of wind blew by as a brief silence settled over them. As if by some unseen cue, Vyse and Aika were suddenly on their feet, their gaze drawing Fina's up to the sky, where blue streaks of light began to cut through the heavens. Vyse zoomed in with his glass eyepatch, seeing one such light land on the island northwest from their hometown.
"That was…" Fina breathed.
"A moonstone falling!" Vyse nodded with a smirk.
The moons blessed the world with occasional moonstones raining down. They were their sources of energy for their ships, equipment, and so much more. Seeing them falling was far from being a rare occurrence, but the natural consequence of their world being more sky than earth, the moonstones ended up sinking below the clouds, lost to them forever.
"You… You know what moonstones are, right?" Vyse asked.
"O-Oh yes, it was just my first time seeing one falling."
Aika nudged Vyse's arms, grinning.
"Hey Vyse, know what that means? That moonstone looked big, and it's waiting for us!"
Vyse smiled back. Aika was never one to miss an opportunity to go on treasure hunts.
"Tomorrow, we're checking this out!" He approved.
"That's what I like to hear!"
Below them came a voice calling to them.
"Vyse, Aika, Fina! It's time for dinner!" Vyse's mother called.
"Ooooh! Great timing! I love your mom's cooking so much." His best friend's tone was enthusiastic, but she marked a pause, looking at Fina with concern. "Are you going to be okay climbing down, Fina?" Aika inquired.
"Of course, thank you for your hospitality…" The girl bowed.
"Hey, don't mention it! Come on, the food's better while it's hot!'' Vyse ran to the ladder, letting himself slide down with the edges.
Thanks to his little stunt, he reached his house early, his mouth already salivating.
"Wait…" In all his years in Pirate Isle, he had come to expect the staple foods, namely sky sardis and pickled turnips. However, the aroma was unmistakable.
"Valuan beef stew?!" He exclaimed, opening the door.
"Hello, Vyse." His mom smiled, but she looked at him, expectantly.
Vyse's expression grew sheepish. Blue Rogue though he may be, he still needed to mind his manners.
"Ah!...Hi mom. It smells so good, is it really beef stew?"
"The recent raid brought us some interesting ingredients, yes."
Vyse hurried at his mother's side, setting the table, just as Aika came in.
"You're a daredevil, you know that? What happened to 'Ladies first'?" She pouted, Fina following behind and bowing to his mother.
"Um… I didn't forget about it! Proof, I'm helping out my mom right here!" He huffed.
Aika nudged him and muttered low enough so only he could hear.
"Now, now… Play nice, we have a guest here."Vyse's mother said, setting the steaming hot pot in the middle of the table, smiling warmly at their new friend.
"Thank you so much… I… I hope I'm not intruding'' Fina said meekly.
"Nonsense! It's been so long since we've had a guest, please, have a seat."
As Vyse finished his task, he looked around noticing someone wasn't with them.
"Dad is pretty late… What a surprise!"
He smirked, but it was short-lived as Dyne poked his head inside.
"You got a lot of nerve saying that to your Captain."
Vyse was about to retort that they were not on the Albatross anymore, but wisely held his tongue. His mother gasped as she saw the fancy rose bouquet Dyne had brought her.
"I do hope you'll forgive me," Dyne whispered, embracing his wife.
"I'll let it slide" She smiled against his lips.
Looking at them still blushing and in love like newly-weds was beautiful to see and somewhat bittersweet. Vyse reflexively looked away from his parents - only to end up locking eyes with Aika. Before he could wonder why she was looking his way, she broke the gaze, sitting down at the table.
He couldn't shake the feeling that something was somehow off.
"...So, Vyse? Are you going to eat before we finish the stew?" Aika said, just teasing him like always.
Thankful to direct his attention to the meal, Vyse joined them. The rest of dinner went by without incident, the conversation eventually veering toward Shrine Island. Dyne had allowed Vyse and Aika to borrow one of the Albatross's dinghies for their excursions.
After a much-needed night of rest, Vyse woke up with the sun and Aika's voice calling up to him outside: They were ready to go.
Aika greeted both Vyse and Fina as they joined her outside Captain Dyne's house. Pirate Isle was still quiet, except for the few early risers. Despite their hometown being asleep, Aika's voice carried the same as usual.
"Good morning! Did you sleep well, Fina?"
"Oh yes, thank you so much." The girl's soft voice made Aika realize how loud she was in comparison, her own tone lowering to match hers.
"I'm glad! I wish you could come with us, but Shrine Island is pretty dangerous."
...And Fina didn't look like the kind of girl who could do much in a fight, but Aika kept that part to herself.
"...And pretty haunted." Vyse teased, earning himself a well-deserved lovetap.
She knew he was joking...Probably, but Aika shivered at the thought regardless.
" Very funny!"
"Ow! Alright, sorry...Guess I deserved that. We'll be going. Make yourself at home in the meantime, Fina!"
"Aren't you forgetting something?" Vyse's mother called him.
Vyse looked positively clueless.
"Um, what? A goodbye kiss?" He ventured.
"Pfff...Really cute." Aika laughed as he blushed.
"You know I'm never against it, but this is what I meant." Vyse's mother handed both rogues a bag with supplies, including healing crystals.
Aika smiled, feeling a surge of affection for her once again. She was always looking out for the two of them.
"Awww thank you!"
"Thanks, mom…Wait, that's…"
Aika blinked, noticing something else in her own package as well.
Both had received a refined purple moonstone. These were pretty rare!
"That's your share of the loot." Dyne said, joining the conversation.
"Slot this into your weapon and it will give them the properties of ice."
Well, that explained why the moonstone felt cold to the touch.
With their preparations done, they said their goodbyes and headed to the dinghy, Vyse taking his place at the wheel. Looking at him feeling right at home there, Aika couldn't help but smile again.
"Everything okay?" He asked, noticing her staring.
''Oh… It's nothing." Aika shook her head.
It was nothing important anyway.
She leaned against the rail watching a school of sky fish pass them by, peacefully swimming into the clouds. For how big Mid Ocean was, it sure felt empty… Only a few islands scattered here and there. At least here they were free, under no Imperial rule, although it didn't prevent them from seeing Valuan vessels patrolling. In their small boat they risked nothing; they could pass for simple fishermen.
As her gaze wandered, she looked down at the Vortex spinning endlessly below. To Aika, it looked like the mouth of Deep Sky itself… Seeing Shrine Island floating alone in Mid Sky, right above what the common Arcadian thought was the gate to oblivion, felt more than just a little ominous.
"Don't tell me you're getting cold feet!" Vyse teased.
"You're lucky you're steering the ship right now, you know that?"
Aika's eyes returned to the approaching Shrine Island.
"It just feels so mysterious, you know? No one has really been there. It's an old ruin but… That's all we really know about it."
Shrine Island was smaller than their hometown, oval in shape. In the middle of a lake, no doubt made by years of accumulated rainwater, towered the island's namesake. It was covered with moss and dirt, but in the rising sun, some silvery highlights shone through. They couldn't quite tell if the place was made out of rock or metal or something else in-between.
"The tower looks more impressive up-close!" Vyse commented, his neck craning to look up to the summit of the central tower.
Aika, however, was more interested in the gaping hole in the temple's wall; the water from the lake was flooding inside, her hopes for an easy prize immediately dampened.
"Nooooooooooo! At this rate, the whole of the temple is probably filled with water! You know I can't swim, Vyse!" She wailed, her voice reverberating on the walls.
"I know, I know but we can't have come here to give up so soon! Let's at least have a look around, maybe there's a safe way to go in." Vyse spoke in a hushed tone in response.
Aika heaved a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down, following her best friend across the bridge. Water was all around them, calm and reflecting the upper sky like a mirror. As beautiful and peaceful as it was, she felt a knot in her stomach, picking up the pace and practically running into Vyse's back.
"Easy there!" He looked ready to poke fun at her but something in her expression must have made him change his mind.
"Hey… Don't worry, I won't let anything happen to you."
She gulped, feeling her face heat up.
"Yeah… I know." She muttered.
They crossed the bridge, Aika relaxing as she stepped away from the water. Approaching the door, lacking any kinds of levers, switch, or doorknob, Aika wondered how they would even get in there.
"There has to be-" Vyse barely finished speaking before the door opened.
"Did… Did the door mistake that as 'Open Sesame?' ...What did you do?"
''Nothing! ...Maybe a ghost opened it for us" Vyse smirked.
Aika was just about ready to go back across the bridge and let Vyse handle this.
"I'm just kidding! It's probably just old technology. ...Woah, I can see the moonstone shining from here!"
Aika returned immediately. Vyse sure knew the magic words… And he was right, she could see the silver light shining bright… deep underwater. The place was indeed flooded.
"Now what? Are you planning to dive and bring it back?" Aika muttered bitterly.
Their treasure was so close, yet so far…
"Aika, do you see that door underwater? If we can open it from outside, we could drain the place."
"The water from the lake is still flowing in though…"
At least there was still a walkable passageway, and the water had reached its maximum level, so they didn't risk drowning.
The more they explored Shrine Island, the stranger the place became. Doors opening on their own, white flames lighting up as they walked by (and even more bizarre, said flames didn't even feel hot to the touch) and a strange apparatus managed to lower the whole inside of the shrine, the gaping hole made by the fallen moonstone ending up covered up by the lowered wall.
As soon as the place stopped its descent, they felt free to move again.
"You know what I find even creepier?" Aika eventually spoke up.
"Aside from everything we've already seen?" Vyse commented, glancing as another flame lit up, a floating ring spinning around it, just like every other.
"Yeah… It's just, I have a big feeling of deja vu." Aika pondered as she looked at the strange glowing letters on the spinning ring.
It didn't look like their own alphabet, and yet, it felt strangely familiar. Vyse blinked in confusion.
"You've… Never been here before though, right?"
"Of course not! That's why it's bothering me!" She sighed. "…Let's just keep going."
After much walking and searching, and dealing with the occasional attacks of creatures, Vyse and Aika found a door unflooded leading to outside, the sun visibly up now, proving they had spent quite a while inside. They wound up below the island itself on a pathway that seemed to be made of glass, the Vortex awaiting them if they made any wrong moves.
"Whoever built that sure lived dangerously…" Aika wasn't particularly scared of heights, but making a catwalk out in the open sky was still a bit much…
Vyse pressed his foot down harder, visibly putting his full weight on the glass.
"We should be fine. That thing obviously lasted for years, but…" His voice trailed off as he stared at the patterns on the glass.
"Ah, nothing. Let's get moving, we have the place to drain!"
As they kept progressing forward, they formed a line, the pathway not allowing them to walk side by side.
Eventually, their feet felt hard ground as they moved to the island's center, but space felt more limited than ever. In some parts of the island, the ground's edge had eroded away, the path ending up unstable. They formed a line, then ended up placing themselves against the wall, side-stepping.
Aika held her breath, following Vyse's cue. She couldn't even close her eyes, if she missed a step or sneezed, there'd be nothing to help her.
Thankfully the rest of the path didn't suffer the same damage, even allowing the two to walk next to each other.
"You know, we could just have taken the dinghy and moved under the island… If your parents saw the stunt we pulled, they'd both chew us out"
"That's why we're going to keep quiet about it… I admit I didn't think this one through" Vyse said sheepishly.
After what felt like forever they finally reached an immense door.
"So um...How do we go about this?" Aika tried waving an arm, but the door remained shut.
She sighed and looked back at her friend, his own eyes widening in realization. They had gone this far and already risked their lives several times… What was one more stunt going to do? Aika took a deep breath, and stepped forward.
This time she would be the one testing her reflexes, just like Vyse had done with the War Beast in the Valuan Ship. The door cracked open and she saw the water trickling through… And froze.
The next thing she knew, she was on her back, gazing up at her friend's face. His mouth opened to speak, but all she could hear was the rushing of a lake's worth of water pouring out of the open doorway.
"Vyse… I…" She breathed, realizing what had transpired once the noise subsided.
"Thank the Moons…" He sighed, his smile soft.
"I guess now wasn't the time to practice my reflexes… Thank you Vyse… For saving me again."
Just like that time, he had pulled her out of the well when they were little, shivering and coughing; he had saved her life. And it wasn't the only time either. The crescent-shaped scar underneath his left eye was another reminder.
"So… I get to look cool in your eyes again?" He grinned.
"Of course, silly… Though that won't save you from the teasing" She smiled back, and then she realized their position, the smile turning slightly impish.
"Are you going to stay like this all day? What would your mom say if she saw us?"
Vyse's expression was blank at first, before he blushed as the implication dawned on him, immediately stepping away.
"Sorry! Here… "
Aika reached out for his outstretched hand, getting back on her feet.
By the time it happened, the water had been fully drained.
Aika let go of her friend's hand in panic.
"What about the moonstone?!"
Thankfully it was still there, waiting for them. It was still wedged in the ground, in the crater it had dug up.
"You see the size of that thing? It's like a cannonball!" He exclaimed excitedly.
Aika was just about to rush in when she noticed something in the corner of her eyes. What seemed like a pile of rubble started shaking. Aika's eyes widened in shock, a scream escaping her.
"Those rocks, they're moving?!"
The pieces assembled, forming an eerily humanoid shape. And the noise it produced… It made Aika's ears ring as the silver stones on the sentinel-like creature shone, scattering painful rays of light as it seemed to search the room, until its "gaze" stopped on them.
"Uh oh… Whatever it just did, it noticed us!" Vyse readied his cutlasses as Aika grabbed the boomerang on her belt.
The body of the creature seemed to be made of the same material as the whole tower… It wouldn't bleed or get hurt like them.
"You have a plan?" Aika muttered before the sentinel raised its fist.
Thankfully they had the advantage of speed over it but there wasn't much room to move. Outside the room waited the void and inside there was rubble, and the ground was leveled, making for poor footing.
"Shh…" Aika bit her tongue on the incoming curse as she nearly tripped.
There came that noise again. The sentinel really couldn't see them, strictly speaking, its searchlight doing the job of detecting them.
She heard the clash of Vyse's cutlasses against the stone, each of his moves well executed but ultimately ineffective.
"I guess my "Cutlass Fury" only works on organic enemies" He said bitterly.
"You're still calling it, that?"
...Now wasn't the time for friendly banter though. Vyse was in trouble and barely avoiding the sentinel's hits, fatigue catching up to him.
Aika's eyes darted around the room for something-Anything! The place was rife with humidity and cold; fire magic wouldn't be effective.
Her eyes lit up.
But ice would… And there was still a remaining puddle of water near the crashed moonstone.
"Vyse! Get over here!"
She needed him to attract the sentinel to where she wanted it. The red-haired girl switched out the former moonstone on her boomerang, its hue changing from green to a cold purple.
She focused her thoughts on the water, picturing it turning to ice as she channeled her magic.
Far away as the purple moon may be, she could feel its energy rushing back to her as the sentinel stepped heavily toward her, raising its elongated cannon arm.
Aika opened her eyes again, staring down the black void of its cannon.
"Moons...Give me strength!" She had uttered the chant quietly, but the effect was anything but that.
The water of the puddle surged up into an ice pillar, rushing through the cannon arm as it was about to fire. The charged-up shot backfired, destroying the sentinel's arm and most importantly, what served as its "eyes".
It seemed the reaction also destroyed whatever served as the sentinel's core. The "stones" of its body toppled upon each other and fell back onto the ground, never to move again.
Aika felt a flush of heat in her cheeks at the compliment, but more powerful than anything was the relief of surviving the ordeal.
"Looks like we'll be safe now…"
Aika returned her gaze to the shining silver moonstone.
"It's so beautiful… Treasure hunting is definitely my favorite part of being an air pirate! I can't wait to see everyone's face!"
She got up and bumped fists and hands with her best friend in their "secret handshake", a tradition for their successful heists.
All that was left to do was to carry back their prize, and to enjoy their hero's welcome upon their return.