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Author Topic: Tradewinds (Original Fiction)  (Read 26359 times)

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August 04, 2011, 03:42:42 AM
This is the first part of a novel I've been working on for several years-- technically, since I was in high school-- but this is the third incarnation of it, rewritten from scratch. Over the course of this endeavor, it's evolved into more of an online serial tale.

"Tradewinds" is the operative title I originally gave the series, inspired by all the stories my friends and I made up together when when we were kids, fleshed-out and adapted into a more coherent narrative, and the name just sort of stuck. The story itself is an adventure that stands with one foot firmly planted in both science fiction and fantasy. Set in another dimension, these first few parts telling the intertwining tale of several characters, and the beginning of their epic journey.

Feel free to comment, critique or discuss the story here, and I will continue to post new chapters. Hope you enjoy the ride!


Summary: In the tropical islands of another dimension, the tale begins, of ancient martial arts and hi-tech weapons, forgotten secrets and those who seek them, the intertwined adventures of several characters, following a journey to haunted places and lost realms…
Genres: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction Rating: Teen - Mature / PG-13 - R
Warnings: Adult Language, Drugs, Major Character Death, Minor Character Death, Violence

TABLE OF CONTENTS:
01- THE ISLANDS
02- PARADISE
03- SHIPWRECKED
04- TRANZ-D
05- THE FLATHEAD EXPERIMENT
06- FALLING...
07- AWAY FROM HOME
08- CENTRALICT
09- "THE BUILDING IS HUNGRY!"
10- REFLECTION
11- HONOR AMONG THIEVES
12- KEEP ONE EYE OPEN
13- DERELICT
14- NO WAY OUT
15- AGAINST THE ODDS
16- CASTAWAYS
17- UNDERNEATH
18- SKELETON CREW
19- DEAD RECKONING
20- INTO THE WOODS
21- UNREAL ESTATE


OTHER WORKS
THE BOOK OF HONDO:
http://www.equestriaforums.com/index.php/topic,9240.0.html
THE ROAD TRIP & OTHER SHORT STORIES:
http://www.equestriaforums.com/index.php/topic,2700.0.html
FiM PONY WINAMP THEMES:
http://www.equestriaforums.com/index.php/topic,1270.0.html
NON-PONY AMPS:
http://www.equestriaforums.com/index.php/topic,1323.0.html
AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION ON DREAMS:
http://www.equestriaforums.com/index.php/topic,934.0.html
THE SPOOKY DOOR '11 PODCAST (10 episodes) :
http://www.equestriaforums.com/index.php/topic,2456.0.html


MY DEVIANTART PAGE:
https://shadesmaclean.deviantart.com/

And thus the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as one boy's life is blown way off course…
« Last Edit: October 26, 2017, 12:25:56 AM by shadesmaclean »
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 04, 2011, 03:45:55 AM
Reply #1
by Scott S (aka shadesmaclean / neko-sennin / Scoot the Ko'An)

The Island was a lost treasure.

A rare gem, indeed, an emerald star that took no part in any constellation, gleaming all alone in its own corner of an endless sky men called the Ocean. Many miles out of anyone’s way, it was a pristine place, unseen by human eyes and untouched by human hands. So it seemed destined to remain for the Ages.

Or at least until today.

For as the sun slowly rose from its nightly swim, as the eternal waves emerged from untold depths, to the faint chorus of life echoing through the morning mist in the jungle beyond the beach, the light of dawn shone on a young man who lay sprawled out on the sand.

Barely more than a boy, really, but tall for his age. His light brown, almost blond, hair was damp and caked with the same ancient sand as his ragged clothes. If not for the breath of life he still had in him, he would be hard to discern from the rest of the half-buried junk strewn across that stretch of beach.

Now these things were the only lingering hint of last night’s storm.

A moan every bit as ragged as his appearance escaped him as he lifted his head and tried to prop himself up on one arm. But try was all he could do, for he was exhausted so soon after his ordeal at sea. He got only a brief, bleary glimpse of the beach before his head crashed back into the sand.

Sand that his hands, for all anyone knew, may have been the first to ever claw their fingers through, and whose eyes may well have been the first to ever behold. He would do no more of either again for some time.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 04, 2011, 03:51:18 AM
Reply #2
“THE ISLANDS”
The two young combatants stood face to face, staves held in traditional fighting stances.

For their age, their looks of intense concentration might otherwise have seemed comical if not for the fact that they were balancing on a small boat. The boat drifted in the middle of a pond, one of several to be found on their island home. Beyond the small clearing, light jungle and deciduous forest dominated the inland landscape, giving way to larger trees in the high lands.

Two other kids watched this spectacle, though its two chief participants remained oblivious to them.

The boy, barely eleven but tall for his age, and still blissfully unaware of any unexpected sea voyages in his future, twitched an eyebrow to shift his black headband, which bore the symbol of his family in white. Clad in the traditional loose-fitting pants and open robe that were common dress in this realm, he stood on the bench near the bow of the small boat in bare feet, his wiry-muscled feet shifting back and forth to keep his balance.

A triangular silver medallion, a gift from his father, swayed gently back and forth with his movements, catching glints of sunlight as he balanced precariously on the wobbly vessel.

“You should have waited for the others, Max…” challenged his opponent, the equally young girl balancing on the other seat to stern. Cleo was shorter than Max, but no less formidable. She had grown bored with mere practice, and wanted to have a little fun. In spite of the green headband she wore (marked with her family’s symbol, as was the custom in these islands), a short sweep of dark blonde hair slipped and hung over her left eye— ordinarily her look, except in training— as she continued, “Now you must face me!”

She laughed melodramatically, as only children truly can, then swung her staff at him.

“Ha!” Max countered her attack, shifting his feet to keep his balance. So Cleo was bored— he was game. “You’re not that tough!”

Their staves clashed several more times, each successfully countered— though labored— as they had been taught. The boat tilted gently back and forth with each move. They were both exercising a new vocabulary of combos Max’s parents had taught them, but were pretending it was a real fight.

“Bold words, coming from just one man,” Cleo shot back with her usual bravado. Most Outlanders would have classified her as something of a tomboy, not understanding that the local culture in the Islands had no concept of gender roles beyond mother and father; for here anyone did anything, including the fighting arts.

She swung low at Max.

Who managed not only to jump over her attack— a move he could have done on solid ground— but to land on the boat rather than in the drink. It was a lucky move, a bit advanced for their age, a move that amazed them all, including Max.

A fact he tried to keep to himself as he told her, “You’ll have to do better than that to defeat me!”

He brought his staff down on Cleo, but she raised hers to block it.

“Ha!” she laughed, “even Carlton could catch that move!”

“I heard that…” Carlton muttered, still standing unnoticed with his friend, Lance. Carlton was a year younger than his friends, and not up to their level in the athletic department. Truth be told, he was a little below par even for his own age when it came to such things, and though his ears were often singed with such commentary, he never let it get in the way of their friendship.

He and the other watcher, Lance, had just come back from helping Max’s parents, and his own father, Ron, who was their third teacher, put away the training equipment to find that Max and Cleo had grown bored just woodenly throwing blocks and attacks at each other, and were all-out sparring. They attacked each other swiftly, and from varying angles, doing a dance they had been learning since they were old enough to walk. By now they were pushing each other to the limits of their fledgling skills, and no longer had enough time or breath to waste on snappy comebacks, which Lance thought was for the best, as Ron always said they talked too much.

For a game, it was getting kind of intense.

Then Max struck the end of Cleo’s staff, a little below her hand as she was shifting her grip, and flipping it out of her hands.

“Oops…” Cleo said sheepishly as she watched her weapon arc through the air and hit the water with a short splash. When she turned her attention back to Max, she found his staff pointed at her chest.

Oops is right, Cleo,” said Max. He laughed in his good-natured manner, pleased at having mastered this new technique. “I practiced that move just for you.”

“Same here, Max…” Cleo smiled wickedly. She leaned hard to port, then starboard, using her leverage at the wider, more stable end of the boat to maintain her own balance. “Enjoy your swim!”

“Whoa!” cried Max as he fell overboard, caught off-guard by Cleo’s strange counterattack, landing in the pond with a high-reaching splash. He came up a moment later, coughing and sputtering.

“Yeah! Cleo!” Lance called out, giving himself away. It was odd enough to see Max disarm her for a change, but her counter was unlike anything he had ever seen before.

“That does it!” cried Max as he stood up in the waist-deep water, for the first time noticing his friends. Yet in spite of his embarrassment, or perhaps because of it, he couldn’t help laughing as he grabbed the side of the boat, pushing it over and declaring, “You’re goin’ down!”

“Hey!” cried Cleo as she lost her balance, for even being at the wider end of the boat offered no advantage this time, landing on the other side from Max.

“What was that for?” she demanded as she surfaced, retrieving her staff and shaking her dripping hair out of her eyes.

“For being the dirtiest…” Max began, trying to keep a straight face as he reached out for his own staff, “most underhanded fighter I’ve ever seen!”

Underhanded, yes, but as any of their teachers would have pointed out to them, clever and resourceful as well.

“And proud of it!”

“Cleo!” Max reached out and splashed her. By now, though, he couldn’t help laughing again. As sudden and embarrassing as this turnaround had been, it was all in good fun, and he could still see the humor in it. “I beat you fair and square!”

“Yeah right!” Cleo splashed Max back.

In seconds, they were both splashing each other wildly. Lance and Carlton were also laughing as they watched this strange new stage of the battle. Eventually, Max and Cleo stopped splashing, laughing too hard to keep up the fight, and waded ashore.

“That was pretty cool,” Cleo told Max as she wrung out the front of her drenched tunic.

Cool was one of those words a lot of Outlanders brought with them, and it had really caught on with the last couple generations here. The language of the Ancestors was still taught— and spoken as a private, “insider” tongue in the presence of Outlanders, and to this day was only taught to those who lived in the Islands— though everyday speech was a very flexible tongue, able to assimilate almost any word or phrase. Max’s mother and father, and his uncle, who were among the few to ever leave the Islands and find their way back, often said that it was the common tongue of much of the outside world. Their elders were often quick to remind others that the Ancestors originally came here from another place, and brought this rather widely spoken language with them.

“Who won that anyway?” Max asked. He took off his short robe and twisted it, wringing it out as much as he could. He then shook his head and swept his hair back, retying his headband.

How do you win?” Lance wondered aloud. Though not quite as tall as Max, he was almost a year older, and a natural athlete. For all their own innate talent, the only way Max and Cleo kept up with him was by training really hard.

Lance’s father was the captain of a fishing boat called the Horizon, and Cleo’s father, Ian, was his first mate. He was an average fighter, but possibly the best living, able-bodied sailor in all the Islands. He and Nora knew their son was a natural, gifted athlete, and were honored to let Max’s parents teach him, but Ron often added with a smile to let him handle the finer points of seafaring. For they of course hoped he would also captain a ship of his own one day.

“I don’t know.” Cleo smoothed out the lower half of her tunic, having wrung it out as much as she could. “Hey! We should do that again some time!”

“How about tomorrow?” One reason why Cleo and Lance were Max’s best friends was simply because they were always looking for whimsical new games to play.

“No…” Cleo thought for a moment. “If you do stuff all the time, then it gets boring.”

“How about right now?” Lance challenged. He loved a good challenge, and this game looked like fun.

“Why don’t you challenge Max?” asked Carlton. “At least he won’t dunk you!”

“Keep talking,” Lance laughed, confidence shining in every syllable, “and I’ll challenge you.”

Carlton shut up.

He was one of those whose name was an oddity in the Islands, for Carlton’s family had an unusual naming tradition, going back generations. One of his ancestors acquired a big book of names from many places, and Carlton’s mother, just like her mother before her, had named her child without repeating any of the names that were already crossed out.

“Let’s go, Lance,” said Cleo. She was still fired up, and after all, the worst that could happen to her was that she’d get wet again.

Though he doubted it would get them in any trouble, Carlton still hoped none of the grown-ups came by during their little exhibition match. It wouldn’t be the first time Cleo’s devil-may-care attitude had gotten them in trouble. Of course, it was not as if Lance or Max suffered any lack of adventurous spirit, either.

While Carlton worried about these things, Cleo waded back out to the boat, Lance striding in right behind her. Max and Carlton settled in to watch. This was going to be a good show; while Max and Cleo were about evenly matched, Lance would provide her with an even greater challenge.

“Max!” Lance called out, “Would you give us a hand?”

Fetching the staves, Max took off his robe— not wanting it to get all wet again— and waded back out and held the boat steady. He remembered that he and Cleo had already been on the boat when they started their game, so this was a fair method. Now Lance’s clothes were as wet as Cleo’s. He handed each of them a staff, then headed back to shore to watch.

It was time to let the games begin.

“Now…” Lance said, with his usual mixture of determination and enthusiasm, “we’ll see who gets dunked this time!”

“Are we going to fight,” Cleo demanded, with that bold, reckless smile both he and Max always envied her, “or are you just going to talk me to death?”

“Good one,” Max laughed. More than anything though, he had always coveted her flare for bold comebacks, as well as her casual intensity.

Just as Cleo was always trying for Lance’s breezy confidence. And, for all his natural skill, Lance secretly wished for Max’s uncanny instincts. Yet, of course, at their age, being bold and fearless still comes rather easy.

Cleo followed her bold words with an equally brazen move. But Lance was good, easily ahead of her or Max in his training. He could block her strikes with ease, but wasn’t as accustomed to balancing on the boat.

That helped level the playing field.

At one point, Lance not only jumped over her first low swing, but even managed to jump her backswing.

“That’s no ordinary piece of work.” She smiled, remembering that one from one of Max’s father’s stories. “He’s good.”

“How dare you speak of me in the third person!” cried Lance in a comic burst of outrage. He wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but it sounded cool. It was the sort of thing their teachers often said when they were sparring. Most likely, it was one of those grownup things, or one of their parents’ many insider jokes.

The match went on for a good couple minutes, Lance clearly holding his own against Cleo. She already had her warm-up against Max, but getting off to a cold start hadn’t seemed to slow Lance down any.

Though she wasn’t consciously aware of it, Cleo’s fighting instincts had begun to push toward ending this quickly; although warmed up from her bout with Max, she had also burnt up a good deal of her energy going all-out against him. The downside of youthful energy— as she was now discovering against a fresh opponent— being that it came in bursts but held little stamina.

The clash of staves continued for another moment before Cleo knocked the staff out his grip with a circular sweep of her own. It was a move she was getting pretty handy with, the main reason why Max had put so much practice into his own disarming techniques of late.

“Ha!”

“No way…” Cleo’s little trick had definitely taken the wind out of Lance’s sails as he stared at the staff now pointed at him. She had improved since the last time he had sparred with her. He now knew that he had tried to get too fancy, and had clearly underestimated her.

Their teachers— all of them, not just self-defense— would have been well pleased to see them starting to use what they had learned as second nature, beginning to understand it. And of course, to know themselves a little better for it.

Cleo twirled her staff, snapping it back to her side, and bowed to him, visibly proud of having prevailed not once, but twice, against daunting odds. Her bow was just a slight bend of the back and nod of the head, nothing elaborate. Like her friends, she had been told that in other lands, those who took their eyes off their opponents could be in for a world of hurt.

Yet perhaps she was celebrating a little too soon.

“Lance!” Max called out as he retrieved his lost staff and chucked it back to him, “It’s not over yet!”

What!?” Cleo screeched indignantly.

But Max was going to get his dunking. Just not the way he thought. For as Lance reached out for his staff, he lost his balance and fell in.

For her part, Cleo broke out laughing, poetically vindicated for Max’s interference.

Even Lance was laughing. For their ages, he was just too good to make any mistakes with.

Still laughing, Cleo sat down in the boat, telling Lance, “I beat you fair and square. Now you have to push me ashore!”

Deciding it was a fair rule, Lance set his staff inside the boat and pushed her back to shore, saying, “If I had caught that staff, I could have defeated you.”

As Cleo climbed out of the boat, she appeared to stumble, knocking an unsuspecting Lance off his feet. His fighting skills might be a bit more advanced than hers, but Cleo was still the undisputed master of the practical joke.

“Like you did the first time?” she intoned with that dervish smile of hers. She then set about mooring the boat to a post at the edge of the pond.

Still Lance would not let her have the last laugh so easily, scissoring his feet and tripping her while her back was turned. She hit the ground laughing as he rolled to his feet.

“Little help?” Cleo giggled, holding out her hand.

And Lance fell for it. Even as he reached down to help her, she pulled him down.

“Gotcha again!” she laughed.

“Okay, okay…” Lance muttered as he got up, “you win.”

“You should have seen the look on your face!” was Cleo’s response. That was what really did it for her. Then, in a voice that was just a little too over the top to be taken seriously, “Besides, you should never turn your back on the enemy! Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“With friends like you…” and Lance smiled as he said it, “who needs enemies?”

That day all four of them seemed to be on a roll, it was just one laugh after another.

“You know,” said Carlton, “that really isn’t in good sport.”

“Shut up, Carlton,” the others said, almost in unison.

“Well, it wasn’t,” he muttered.

They then turned and started down one of the island’s many paths.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 05, 2011, 02:53:43 AM
Reply #3
II
“So now what?” Max asked as they headed back toward the island shore.

“I know,” said Lance, “let’s go down to the beach!”

“Yeah!” Carlton perked up at that idea. He had had enough of martial arts for one day.

“Sure,” said Cleo, “loser’s pick.” She had bested Lance— something that didn’t happen very often— now she was going to rub it in for a while. And she figured, why not, she was already soaked, and it occurred to her that even the boys would have to fetch some dry clothes when they got home.

“Yeah, but look at the sun.” Max pointed out to sea. His mom always said time flies when you’re having fun, and now it was already late afternoon.

“Guess we should go home for dinner,” said Carlton.

“Yeah! I’m starving!” added Lance.

For now that Carlton mentioned it, it dawned on all four of them that they were famished. That, and their parents would be expecting them home soon anyway, now that their training was over. As they parted ways, Max continuing on the main trail, his friends setting off on one of its many tributaries, they looked very much like a group of kids in some other land might look on their way home from school.

The trails were an ancient part of the islands where both of them lived, of the Layoshan chain. Of the four Islands— Layosha, Makando, Shindoji, and Kinsasha— Layosha was the largest, and had the most of these pristine areas.

As Max hit one final leg of the trail, he came to the place Layosha was best known for among those occasional Outlanders who visited the Islands. To many of them, it was known as The Wreck of the Wandering Spirit, still others wryly referred to it as Dry-Dock Beach, one poetic soul even wrote of it as Stone Falls. Its original name, though, was Shipwreck Bay.

And it was definitely a sight to behold, no matter where one came from.

Practical and strangely beautiful, a surreal work of art, and a tribute to the Ancestors’ ingenuity. As well as to a total accident. Towering above the inlet’s mostly encircled beach, a small mountain rose, the gateway to Layosha’s highlands, its feet stretching into both sides of the bay.

The mountain ascended in roughly terraced sections, and a short distance above the base of the mountain was the accident.

When she first set sail, in time out of mind, she was over five hundred feet long and quite seaworthy. But how she had come to rest on the mountainside, her rusty rudder facing the sea was the stuff of legends. The Wandering Spirit was said to be the very vessel in which the Ancestors first arrived in Layosha some thousand years ago. Though exactly how long ago was subject to debate, for time drifted in and out with the tide, and was difficult to reckon in this realm.

Dotting the seaward face of the mountain, as if by example, were a couple dozen other ships of varying sizes and designs, the largest of which was more than sixty feet in length. Though many an Outlander marveled at this spectacle, the ships were moved with powerful construction engines of unknown design. The Layoshans had two such machines, rare examples of large-scale Outlander technology, which in its particular case consumed too much energy to be used with any frequency, for it took years to recharge. Only ships whose hulls were badly damaged, no longer seaworthy but whose cabins were still structurally intact, were ever chosen to be moved up there and anchored as dwellings, their rear decks also facing the Ocean.

Much of Layoshan architecture was built around wrecked ships, if for no other reason than that it made readily available building material. Intermingled among these castaway houses were growths of trees and other foliage, giving it the look of a waterfall of green carrying ships back to the sea. Ground Zero of this Shipwreck Architecture phenomenon was here at the main port, but it had long since spread to the other islands.

As if following the Wandering Spirit’s example.

Guarded by stone watch towers on each side of the inlet, the narrow strip of beach broadened before the great wreck, branching to a driftwood walkway leading to stone steps above one way, and to a line of docks the other way. Much like their landlocked counterparts above, these ships also served as homes, as well as part of the modest Layoshan fleet. Around the mountain’s base lay the entrance to the rest of the island, for the rest of Layosha’s shore was backed by steep rocky cliffs, making Shipwreck Bay by far the most accessible area from the sea.

On the deck of the great ship, all that remained of the Wandering Spirit (as it was called in the legends), broken into three pieces by whatever mysterious catastrophe it was that had landed her there, stood two figures. Max looked up past the base, which was used mostly for storage, to the midsection, which had broken into two pieces, its deck levels split but bridged by short stairways.

In the late afternoon sun, this place looked like many an Outlander’s dream of a tropical paradise. Although a little on the surreal side. To Max and his friends, though, this was just home.

Max looked up and watched his friends working their way among the paths and steps running between the naturally staggered and terraced levels. There were also wooden and stone walkways, and pulleys mounted to the salvaged masts of ships, even a few scattered driftwood shacks— which only served to make the ships look even more out of their element— and even a few caves set into the mountain face.

But Max was more interested in the pair standing on the deck of the Wandering Spirit as he climbed the steps. He knew he would find his parents here.

Robert and Alida looked out on the Ocean, as they often did at times like this. What made their gaze intriguing to everyone else in the Islands was that they had actually seen places beyond that seemingly endless sea.

Tall, rugged, and built to last— and last he had, passing through many dangers to be among a handful of people to ever return from that Ocean— Robert stood with his energy blade held before him. This weapon, a product of unknown Outlander technology, had been in the family for generations, and he was still as fascinated with it as he had been as a boy. As he thought, most likely of his adventures and of all the places he’d been, his grey eyes fixed on the radiant green energy blade with his usual martial admiration. The intensity of his thoughts had for the time being carried him far away from his home.

Many considered him to the most skilled warrior in all of the Islands; his training was much sought after by those who wished to sharpen their own skills. Alida was said to be as sharp as he was, but she was less inclined to fighting, though the two of them sometimes sparred with each other for amusement down by the beach. To some, it would be a strange sight to see grown adults playing openly.

But in the Islands, freestyle recreation was a national pastime.

As she looked out at that same horizon, she ran a hand through his shoulder-length brown hair, held back as hers was by a black headband bearing the same symbol as their son’s, signifying their family line. Whose roots, in his case, had dug the depth of generations.

Alida, on the other hand, was not born in the Islands, but had long since been accepted here, mostly because she loved this place so much. Hers was a wisdom beyond her years, born of all her travels, even before she met Robert, and her strong and outgoing personality had made her both respected and well liked in Layosha.

Max’s mother was somewhat shorter than her husband, lithe, with the almost-blonde hair her son had surely inherited from her. In her eyes burned the quiet fire, the spark of brilliance Robert had fallen in love with from the day they met, and he often said that those who didn’t believe in love at first sight had obviously never experienced it.

That was years ago, in a time and place he could only tell his fellow Islanders about. It had been a long journey, but she was still at his side when he and his brother made their way home. By tradition, Outlanders were allowed to marry in, but it was not something that happened more than once or twice a generation.

By that tradition, Max, son of Alida, was counted to be as full-blooded as the next child, and no issues were ever made about the matter. In another of the Ancestors’ quirky strokes of wisdom, family lines were reckoned by the mother, not the father; under most circumstances, the husband would take on the wife’s family symbol, but since she did not come from the Islands, she had instead adopted Robert’s. This matrilineal system was strange to most Outlanders, but it had worked for the Layoshans since the days of the Ancestors.

As Max reached the deck level, he just quietly admired his father’s blade. When he was a little older, he too would get to try his hand with energy weapons. Such weapons were hard to come by on the Ocean, and so only those who proved highly skilled in their use were allowed to wield them.

Alida looked at Robert, then took a quick glance at the bay spread before them. She had known Robert long enough to know that his mind’s eye was looking right through that shimmering blade, seeing past the line of ships in the harbor, a couple of which they had brought back themselves in Robert’s triumphant homecoming, out to where the Ocean met the sky and beyond. His mind was a million miles away, possibly in any of a long list of places they had been years ago.

She whispered in his ear, “Psst! Where’d you go?”

Robert’s eyes returned to the here and now as he switched off the laser sword. The shimmering green energy blade vanished in a flicker of light as he sheathed it. Unlike most of Layosha’s small arsenal of energy weapons, he never worried about running out of power with this one. Though the technology was even above Alida’s head, it was what was known in the outside world as a “pulse weapon” and recharged when not in use, drawing ionic energy from the magnetic fields in its environment.

After pausing long enough to do this, he told her, “I was just thinking about that time on Centralict Island when we got caught in the rainstorm.”

“And we ran into that strange building…” It was not one of her favorite memories.

“That turned out to be one hell of maze,” Robert laughed. Of course, it was easy to laugh now, but at the time they had been in considerable danger; they just hadn’t known how much at first.

“That place could really get to you after a while.” Alida shuddered visibly; she had nightmares for a long time after about shimmering tentacles every now and then. And after they managed to escape that bizarre place, she remembered the writing on the wall in the alley next to it. The building is hungry! Like a joke that wasn’t very funny. “I don’t know how your brother got through it on his own.”

“Angus is a hard man, and very formidable.” He slid an arm around her shoulders as they watched the ships together. He smiled, and it would be obvious to anyone who saw him where Max got it from. “You know, I was afraid I was going to lose you in there.”

“Who would build such a terrible place?” she wondered, and not for the first time over the years. Of course, she had sometimes wondered if places like that were built, exactly. It was almost as if there was something dark and hungry woven into the fabric that otherwise pleasant island, and perhaps the people there were just used to it. Though how people got used to things like that was something she hoped never to understand.

From the way he talked about such things, she suspected Robert harbored some similar theories.

“You could spend a lifetime exploring the mysteries out there…” Robert made a sweeping gesture at the Ocean. Many of those islands had their own haunted places, and secrets that kept adventurous souls wandering all their lives. “After all, it was the call of the unknown that brought me out there in the first place…”

To Alida, this was just a confirmation of what she already believed: Robert was getting restless.

It had been more than four years since the Bandit died in the worst storm in anyone’s memory, and it seemed that he had been thinking more and more about his past adventures these days. Robert’s father’s real name had been Reno (another victim of Carlton’s Family Name Book), but after a most fruitful fishing trip many years ago he had returned, not with a net full of fish, but with a supply ship from the Triangle State in tow, which had earned him the nickname The Bandit. Though he modestly claimed the ship was derelict when he found it, few stopped to contemplate the mystery, instead focusing on the more important of two accomplishments. After all, it was not just because he had managed to spirit away a cargo ship (obviously part of some convoy), but because the Triangle State Authority never found out who did it, probably chalked it up to pirates, most likely the Cyexian clans who controlled the islands in the seas beyond Kinsasha.

Speaking of which… She turned to her husband, saying, “Shouldn’t you be getting ready for your trip to Kinsasha tomorrow?”

She didn’t really want him speaking so wistfully of adventure and haunted places and far-off lands right now, especially in front of their son. She wasn’t really afraid of Robert or Max actually running off; though restless, Robert knew return from that mysterious Ocean was no mean feat. Still she knew how he and Angus got their start.

“Oh, right.” Robert finally noticed his son standing behind him and decided that perhaps he had been a little too distracted these days. But the Ocean still called out to him at times with a sweet siren’s voice, singing of adventure and mystery, and he knew it also called out to young Max. The boy had spoken more than once of dreams of adventures with his Dad, and as far as he was concerned there was no harm in dreams. And surely it must also call out to Alida sometimes; after all, it was from beyond that horizon that she had once come…

Thinking about tomorrow’s journey made him realize anew just how much responsibility the Elders had been putting on him these days, and the trust that it implied. In his day, Reno had been one of the Elders, and it was something of a given that either his son or Alida would join them someday. If not for time and grade, as it was traditionally called, one of them would likely already be an Elder, they consulted the two of them often enough. Especially about matters pertaining to Outlanders.

Setting these thoughts aside, he told Max, “Come on, son, let’s get ready to eat. You’ve got a busy day ahead of you.”

“Okay, Dad.” Max just couldn’t wait to go to Kinsasha; of all the Islands, it was the one he had been to only a few times, and any sea trip was a boundless source of excitement to him. He turned and headed back to the trail leading to the ship his family lived in, having no idea just how busy tomorrow would be.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 06, 2011, 03:05:39 AM
Reply #4
III
Max’s busy day started early, but it was a glorious, Outlander’s Paradise day, giving not the slightest hint of the storm that would blow all of their lives off course before nightfall.

They took Angus’ ship, a two-masted schooner which was once, very aptly, called the Windfall when they first stumbled upon it, but Robert’s brother had renamed The Edge. And had outfitted to match. This was quite fitting, for Angus was the Chief of Security, as his brother often called him. Though there was no such title to be had in the Islands, out in the field it was what his job boiled down to, being on the lookout for trouble.

Short of being approached by a massive force, a very rare occurrence in Layoshan history, there was little trouble to worry about in the three larger islands, the latter two of which they passed on the way to their destination. Near the edge of Layoshan waters, the island of Kinsasha, on the other hand, had imported trouble generations ago, and the most recent inhabitants of the island found themselves still paying duties for it from time to time. For several times in its long history, the disputed island of Kinsasha had been occupied by the Cyexian clans from the islands beyond the Layoshan Chain.

No one really knew from whence the Cyexians came. According to legend, the original Cyexians came from some distant land beyond the Ocean, a once-mighty empire, that sought to be once again. Though much of this lore was lost, even among the clans of these islands. Several of the leaders of each of the feuding clans claimed to be a direct descendent of the Empress of old. It was rumored that groups of them had gotten lost all over the world, and Robert and his fellow travelers could confirm this theory, having encountered Cyexian tribes in other realms. Still, each clan was fiercely loyal to its own leader, and so the half-dozen or so of them remained, empresses of junk and pirates and scavengers.

At some point lost to history, they came to land in the island chains out beyond Kinsasha, and had been at odds with the Layoshans ever since. There had been no open war between them in over four generations— with the rise of the infamous Triangle State Authority, which was closer to them than to Layosha, these days they had their hands full protecting their own borders— but every now and then they would try to sneak into Kinsasha to steal from the supply caches.

Yet those caches were not all that lay buried there.

For the source of the most heated conflict had to do with where Max and his friends now wandered. A long time ago, the Cyexians had gained a settlement on Kinsasha, which a loose coalition of clans then tried to use as a foothold against their Layoshan neighbors, and even after they were driven out, their dead remained interred in three graveyards. The leaders of those clans hadn’t shut up about it since, and all of the clans took their turn using it as justification for trying to steal from the island. Every so often, the Layoshan Elders would offer to let them remove the bodies— once or twice even offered to throw in the tombstones, as well— but their indignant refusals only served to confirm what the Elders already suspected: it wasn’t just the bodies they wanted, but the very land they were buried on. As long as Cyexian graves were to be found on Kinsasha, the clan leaders would lay claim to the rest of the island as prime real estate.

Angus and his crew were in no hurry, stopping to pick up supplies on Makando and Shindoji. They reached their destination just in time for lunch, so while Angus ran a little errand, Robert, Max, Ron, Lance, Ian, Cleo, and the rest of the crew ate. After lunch, Robert and the others went to check on the supply caches; as the remote outpost of the Islands, such checks were something of a necessity with such troublesome neighbors.

That left Max and company an entire afternoon to play and explore an island none of them got to visit more than a handful of times. So they played hide-and-seek in the coastal village, then ran races through forests of trees whose very branches seemed droop in mourning of the dead who were still causing grief generations later. Which of course led to where they were now.

“Whoa…” Cleo breathed, “there are real Cyexians buried here…”

Naturally, this had been one of her ideas. Not that Max or Lance had made any strong objections.

“This place is really eerie…” Max looked around in the shadow of the great drooping trees, listening to the rustling noises that seemed to be coming from all directions at once. The sky even seemed to get a little darker, though none of them took note of the clouds swiftly moving in.

This was the first time any of them had been to one of the graveyards before, and none of them had any trouble seeing why these places were largely left alone.

Beyond the limp foliage hanging over them, they could see an upright slab of dark stone that was bigger than any two of them put together. As they stepped through the veil of trees, they could make out more of the large stone blocks dotting the clearing. After so many years, most of them leaned at odd angles, but all of them bore the mark of one Cyexian clan or another.

“Yeah, I wonder what one looks like if you dug it up…” Lance, like his friends, had never seen a human corpse before; as the people of the Islands buried their dead at sea, the idea of a graveyard was a foreign concept among Layoshans. He was glad Carlton hadn’t come along on this trip. Twice before, they had set out for this largely shunned place, and both times he had threatened to tell. Besides, if Carlton had come, he would just be begging to go back home now.

The stillness among those silent stone sentinels was almost spooky, and a long moment passed before anyone spoke.

“Let’s go check that one.” Cleo pointed to a most unusual grave at the far end of the clearing. Unlike the others, this massive stone was laid between two of the twining roots of an enormous, hoary tree on the embankment above.

Before Max or Lance could utter a word of hushed agreement, the stillness was broken by the sound of nearly a dozen strangers approaching the graveyard. At first, the three of them weren’t quite sure what they were seeing. But even before it clicked, their instincts, those of children, still unhindered by adult rationalizing and training, had already told them to have a bad feeling about it.

As a rule, the Cyexian burial grounds were left alone out of simple respect for the dead; though it had been brought up many times, the Elders had wisely chosen not to provoke the clans. The small band that now approached the graveyard bearing power rifles and shovels, though, had come to challenge that wisdom. Clad in what looked like a mixed bag of wardrobes, for these newcomers were more accustomed to stealing what they needed than making it themselves, and there was something about their wary and unfamiliar approach that immediately struck the three of them as out of place.

Max barely stifled a yelp as he realized who they had to be, little noticing as Cleo and Lance did likewise. At first he thought he was seeing the ghosts of those buried there, but now he was sure that the figures he saw were flesh and blood. From all the descriptions he had heard all his life, the half dozen or so women, and several shovel- and pickaxe-bearing men, could only be Cyexians.

He nearly cried out again when Lance grabbed his shoulder, and the three of them quietly retreated deeper into the woods, out of sight and hopefully out of earshot.

“Now what?” Lance hissed. If those Cyexians were doing what he thought they were doing, then it looked like he might get to see a Cyexian corpse yet. Only now he just wasn’t quite as excited about it as he was a couple minutes ago.

“We’ve gotta tell Angus and the others,” said Cleo. Eleven of them she had marked, at least that she could see. The three of them were downwind of the graverobbers, but she was still afraid of being overheard. “Let’s go. If we’re not careful, they’ll catch us here.”

“Right.” Lance very nearly lost his wits upon understanding their situation; though he may be older, he was glad she was bolder.

“Wait.”

The two of them turned to see Max peering through a gap in the foliage.

“Max, what are you doing?” Cleo demanded. “We can’t fight them.”

“I know,” Max replied, “but one of us should stay back and watch, see what they’re up to. You go tell my dad and Angus.”

“Max!” Lance hissed.

“What if you get caught?” Max asked. “If you do, I can still run and get help. Maybe I can help Dad if I know what they’re doing.”

“Fine.” Cleo could also see the reluctant agreement on Lance’s face as the two of them turned to sneak away. “Don’t do anything, Max. Promise me.”

“I promise,” Max told her. “I’ll only watch.”

Cleo took one last look over her shoulder, seeing him as she would always remember him after that day, his reckless, devil-may-care smile and Be Right Back wave a mockery of eternity itself, then took off with Lance.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 07, 2011, 09:29:34 AM
Reply #5
IV
Max crept a little closer, still keeping the hanging branches between himself and the Cyexians. After watching Cleo and Lance vanish behind a curtain of branches, there had been a moment of doubt and he had felt an inexplicable urge to run after them. But he held his ground, determined to stay and help.

Though he had no idea how.

As Max watched, the party of Cyexians split up and began looking among the graves. When the leader’s voice came to him, loud and clear from his downwind position, he again had second thoughts about hanging around this creepy place.

“Check out those ones,” she ordered, in a cold, harsh tone that sounded to Max like the owner of that voice might do something violent and unpredictable at any moment, “see if there are any strange inscriptions.”

When Max got his first clear look at the woman who went with that voice, he felt a sinking feeling that seemed to go straight to his gut. To him it was like seeing something out of a legend. In this case, one of his father’s stories, a specter of his past.

She was of average height and sparely built, one whose strength was clearly built on a foundation of extremes. Her black hair was spiked in a style alien to Max, her face cold and determined; in her eyes, even at this distance, he could sense her calculating mind, as well as the disturbing restlessness that lurked behind it. She bore the scars of dozens of battles, and proudly let them show across her arms and unfemininely square shoulders.

Upon seeing her, Max knew he was in a lot more trouble than he had thought, for even though he had never seen her before Max knew it was Slash.

The most infamous of the clan leaders, hers was the most spoken name among the Elders when the subject turned to trouble. The fact that she had come here in person was a testament to her boldness. She was rumored to be mad even among the other clans, yet no one dared tell her that to her face; for all her scars, she remained undefeated save for one battle.

“What are you waiting for, fool?” she demanded. “Get going.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” said the woman Slash had spoken to, clearly uncomfortable, though whether at being in a graveyard or being in enemy territory— perhaps a little of both— was hard to tell.

Of all the clan leaders of recent memory, Slash made the most adamant claim to the old imperial bloodline. The woman got right to work examining the group of tombstones, for regardless of Slash’s ancestry, one thing was known about her blood: it ran ice cold.

Her callous ruthlessness and capriciousness were the stuff of drinking songs in the surrounding islands. Even the other ringleaders were a little afraid of her. For that matter, her own people were terrified of her; she seemed to have eyes in the back of her head, and though she had been challenged more times than anyone had a right to survive, more than any living leader, she was still standing, the head of the pack.

Which was more than one could say for those foolish enough to challenge her authority.

And Slash’s mood that evening seemed to be as swift and turbulent as the storm she could feel blowing in from the mysterious reaches of the Ocean. On one hand, she saw how the storm worked to her advantage; if there was any digging to be done on this expedition, the storm would help cover their tracks. On the other, she felt great unease about the secrecy of her visit. If compromised, it could set back her plans for years, or, even worse, tip off the Elders— worse still, their meddlesome errand-boy, Robert— to her agenda.

Though she dared not send out scouts when they were so few in number. Those Layoshan fools wanted nothing to do with her graveyards, but snooping around the rest of the island might just get someone’s attention. No point in wasting her advantage since her enemies’ attention was currently focused on those supply caches— small fish compared to what she sought. After all, the last time a Cyexian ever walked this ground was before she was even born.

So instead she carried on her brooding, feeling that something was almost certainly amiss.

As the others spread out and began examining graves, Slash was drawn to the same foreboding grave that so intrigued Cleo only minutes before. But unlike her, Slash knew exactly who was interred beneath the bank there, as only a few did, for she had heard of this site. More than a mere footnote in Cyexian (and Layoshan) history, here rested the very woman she was named after.

As she stood before this stark monument to her namesake, the clouds thundered in the distance, and as if on cue, it began to rain. The winds were changing, and she could smell blood. At long last, to finally be standing here…

“Slash!” called one of them, “I think I found something!”

“Could you possibly make any more noise?” she asked, turning away from her ancestor’s grave. Though the wind was picking up, and that last roll of thunder was even closer, she still wished to keep things quiet for now.

“Sorry,” came the audibly subdued reply.

“There’s a village only a short distance from here. Remember?” Slash turned and went to examine the grave. “Just keep your damn mouth shut for now. Once the storm really gets going, no one will be able to hear us anymore.”

By now she had reached the tombstone her lieutenant pointed out. And she gave the boss plenty of space, staying out of arm’s reach as Slash searched among the inscriptions for whatever it was she sought. Slash stood there for a long moment as the wind and rain slowly picked up, and the hanging branches rippled around the clearing as the waves were surely doing on the beach by now.

The storm was no longer just a rumbling menace hovering off the shore; trouble had landed on the island of Kinsasha once again, and its timing was terrible as ever.

“So, is it there?” asked one of the others, who, like her comrades, wished Slash would give them a better idea of what they were looking for. But of course knew better than to ask. Slash didn’t even trust her highest lieutenants with some secrets.

Slash was about to give that a cold negative when three figures emerged from the waving masses of branches nearby. One held at gunpoint.

“Your Highness!” called one of the two Cyexians, “Look what we found!”
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 08, 2011, 02:13:31 AM
Reply #6
Take 2, they're small:

V
“I don’t like the looks of those clouds,” said Ian as they stood at the entrance to the tunnels where the main supply cache was kept. “We should call it a day.”

“I think you’re right,” Robert replied. He had seen how much the sky had changed in the last hour or so, and he knew that on the Ocean, the worst storms tended to blow in hard and fast, often with little warning. He had sent Ron to go check on the children a little while ago, but he had not yet returned. “We should go check on the ships and help the village prepare. This storm looks really—”

“Dad!”

Ian looked over to see his daughter sprint out into the clearing, Lance hot on her heels. Robert and Angus saw them as well, the former immediately dismayed by the absence of his son.

Cleo ran right into her father, shouting, “Cyexians! In the graveyard!” then, almost as an afterthought, “Dad! Come on! Max is still back there!”

For she was now filled with dread certainty that he was in terrible danger.

“What!?” Ian and Robert blurted in almost perfect unison. Then Ian immediately demanded, “This isn’t a joke, is it, Cleo?”

Though both of them could already tell, as only parents seemed to, that this was not another one of her practical jokes.

“Where?” Robert asked.

“In the graveyard!” Cleo replied, still breathless. “The one with the tree! Max stayed back to watch them, but now I think he’s in trouble! We’ve gotta hurry!”

“Slow down, Cleo,” said Ian, gently grabbing both of his daughter’s shoulders to calm her. “Is Max in trouble?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I don’t like this,” said Lance. He admired his friend’s courage, but now felt like a jerk for letting him stay behind alone. “I should have stayed with him… Where’s my dad?”

“He was out looking for you,” Angus said crossly. Many people would never have pegged him for Robert’s brother; the two of them were as different as night and day. Lanky but deceptively strong, with lean, angular features and long, raven-black hair, he was indeed the hard man his brother described him as. It was his cunning and no-nonsense attitude that made him so well suited to watching Layosha’s borderwaters, and it was that same mindset now kicking in with trouble looming ahead on the coming storm. “Now that leaves three of us. How many were there?”

“Eleven. That I saw.” Cleo could barely contain herself, she was both excited but afraid for Max. “What do we do?”

“You,” said Robert, “are getting out of here. Ian, take them to the comm station. Things may get ugly.”

“But we wanna help,” said Lance. And meant it.

“No, you’re still too young,” said Ian. “Come on, Cleo. Robert and Angus can take care of themselves. If I see Ron, I’ll tell him to go warn the village.”

“Angus,” Robert told his brother, “go tell the others, just in case. While you’re at it, see if you can organize a search party.” He also feared for his son, and it was all he could do to focus on the here and now. Though he and Alida had talked about such things, the tangible danger Max might be in now rendered their discussions moot and tritely academic. “And try to keep it quiet. I don’t want them to know we’re coming.”

“Right.” Angus handed his brother his own power rifle, then turned and headed for the village.

Robert now stood alone, power rifle in each hand. The storm gathering, both within and without. To keep his mind from going over and over Max’s possible predicaments, he tried to think about the old days. In spite of the dangers, he found part of himself still loved the thrill of a good challenge. But he reminded himself that in order to prevail, a warrior must remain focused on the battle at hand, so he instead occupied his mind by turning it to strategy.

In all his rushing thoughts, it never occurred to him that he may have just seen his old friends for the last time.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 08, 2011, 02:14:28 AM
Reply #7
VI
“No…” Max breathed in silent horror. Though by now the storm would have been enough to cover for him if he had spoken it aloud. He was about to leave, having decided that hanging around here really wasn’t such a great idea, especially when he could barely hear them now anyway.

But then the two Cyexian scouts came out of the trees with their captive.

Ron had started back to the village to check on Lance and the kids. But something, perhaps memories of his own childhood explorations, steered him toward this old cemetery. The one with the creepy-looking tree on the bank. Now he was led into that very place at gunpoint.

Instead of finding their children, he had found trouble. Just moments before it found him.

“Why, hello, captain Ron,” said Slash, grinning a tight, wolfish grin. Her violet eyes— a trait unique to Cyexian women— practically glowed with malice and satisfaction. After all, she was certain they were being watched, and she was relieved that whatever was going to happen finally had. “It has been a long time.”

“So, you remember.”

“I never forget a face.” Slash’s voice remained distantly pleasant, but underneath it lurked quiet menace. “You’re a friend of Robert’s, aren’t you?”

Ron answered with silence.

And knew exactly what he was going to get for it even before Slash kicked him. He tried to block, but one of the others rifle-butted him in the back. Even as he tried to get up, two of them grabbed him, pinning him as Slash made a second kick.

This one connected.

“Help!” cried Ron, though he doubted anyone would hear him over the growing storm.

Slash punched him right in the gut. His diaphragm locked up, and so did his voice. He fell limp in the Cyexians’ arms with a barely audible groan.

“That’s better, don’t you think?” she demanded. Still she felt something was amiss, and she was determined to not underestimate Robert as she had years ago. “Now tell me, does anyone else know we’re here?”

“Why the hell should I tell you?” Ron squeaked. Though outwardly bold, behind the mask of defiance he was still confused, trying frantically to figure out how this otherwise beautiful day had turned life-or-death in the space of a few minutes. Still, he tried not to let her see how afraid he really was, tried not to give her the satisfaction, for he knew she was going to kill him anyway.

“I suppose you’re right,” Slash said absently, “but we could have made your end a little quicker had you answered my question.”

Still Ron was silent.

“Take an attitude with me, will you…” she hissed, and then nailed him with a hard right. “Make it slow!”

With that, one of her lieutenants started right in on him, beating him with both fists and knees.

“When we’re done, Ron,” Slash told him, now cool and casual again, “you’ll have the undeserved honor of being buried with my ancestors.”

It was not the way she wanted it, but as long as they remained undiscovered, she would allow no evidence of their little expedition.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 09, 2011, 02:18:43 AM
Reply #8
VII
Once he was sure his brother was out of sight, Angus drew his power pistol and doubled back, following him.

Ian could just as easily contact the village himself. After all, there was a long-established verbal code for subtly communicating emergencies like this. That, and he had his own dark suspicions about who might be paying them a visit, and felt it would be a bad idea for Robert to face her revenge all on his own.

To say nothing of wanting to know what could be important enough to draw her to such an obscure location. So far into enemy territory, and clearly not on a whim. What secrets lay buried in that cemetery that could be worth the risk, perhaps something left over from the last war…

Secrets were his business, even before he returned to the Islands, and he had his own unanswered questions about the final battles of that conflict. Though it all went down long before he was born, back when their grandparents were still children. The last time in the Islands’ history when the name of Slash was cause for concern. Things that probably should be left alone but couldn’t be anymore.

As he set out, his mind drifted back to their last confrontation with Slash years ago, and even as he hoped to learn something strategically useful, he also wondered if this would prove to be an opportunity to rectify what he believed to be his brother’s single greatest mistake.

As far as he was concerned, the fewer who knew at this point, the better. If the village was warned now, this confrontation could very well end in a hostage situation, the last thing any of them needed. This called for stealth and cunning.

Both of which were his middle names.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 09, 2011, 02:19:30 AM
Reply #9
VIII
Max watched all of this in silent horror, wondering where his father and Uncle Angus could possibly be.

At first he couldn’t bear to watch, but felt great shame in turning away as he remembered what his mother had told him about facing life head-on. He would honor Ron’s bravery. Though scared to death of Slash, he was alarmed to find his rage burning against her; he looked down to see his hands clenched into shaking fists.

A steadily growing part of him wanted to help, and though his outrage was beginning to outweigh his fear, still he held back. He kept telling himself that Dad and the others would come soon and rescue Ron. He quietly reminded himself of the promise he made to Cleo.

But in his heart he began to wonder if he had done exactly what Mom had always told him not to, and made a promise he couldn’t keep.

He could see only one way to honor Ron’s courage. For with every blow they dealt him, a fire inside Max burned brighter. Never had he felt anything like it. He could feel the man’s pain, and the sheer wrongness of what he was watching awakened a righteous outrage that threatened to consume him.

Still Max watched, until he could watch no more.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 10, 2011, 02:42:12 AM
Reply #10
IX
By now, the Cyexians had beaten Ron to the point that he could no longer stand up. Still they propped him up and continued pummeling him. Slash stepped back in to pound on him. She was in a bad mood now, and she was going to take it out on her prisoner.

She cocked back her foot—

And was bowled over by a high kick in the back. Even as she rolled away, she could see her opponent slam into one of the others holding Ron with another leaping kick, but couldn’t quite believe what she was seeing. She watched, stunned, as the other Cyexian dropped Ron and reached around for the boy who had attacked her partner.

Something had snapped inside of Max, and in his rage he couldn’t watch this anymore. Now he fought furiously, leaping over Ron’s sprawled form with a low, sweeping kick that floored Ron’s other tormentor. Slash’s crew finally regained their initiative, and Max turned, dodging the first attacker and kicking her aside.

He turned and blocked another attack—

Angered at having been blindsided by one who was little more than a child, Slash caught his arm in a vice-grip, knocking him off his feet with a swift kick of her own.

“Ron!” cried Max as he struggled to his feet.

But the other Cyexians were on him before he could get up, pinning him just as they had done to Ron.

“Dad! Help!” Max called out, struggling to break free, and thinking surely his father must be close at hand now. “Dad—”

And Slash silenced him, too, just as she had Ron. All of the fight went out of him with the air in his lungs. Now it was all he could do just to breathe. His knees buckled, then gave out, and the Cyexians were left holding him up for a moment, an almost exact repeat of what had happened to Ron.

One of the Cyexians swung at Max, but Slash caught her wrist at the last moment.

“Stay your hand!” she ordered sternly, having mastered herself again with uncanny swiftness. “Don’t touch him!”

In spite of his pain, Max lifted his head in unabashed surprise.

While the others waited for Slash to say “He’s mine!” or something to that effect, she instead told them, “Pick up that fool Ron. He may yet be of use to us.”

She turned to Max as one of her minions pinned his arms behind him, tapping Max’s headband and saying, “I know that symbol. So, you’re his little brat…”

Though his feet barely touched the ground, Max found that not all of the fight had been knocked out of him with his wind. He struggled, but weakly, for he still hadn’t regained his strength after getting the wind knocked out of him. But even as he stared defiantly at her, he began to understand what she had in mind.

I can’t give up! Max thought desperately, fearing he was running out of time. I’ve gotta do something…
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 10, 2011, 02:43:18 AM
Reply #11
X
Robert could now see the loose cluster of figures in the middle of the cemetery. He saw that some of the Cyexians were wearing dark green uniforms, and he sensed they were military outfits, but from what realm was anybody’s guess. He figured Slash’s crew must have stolen them from some ship or another. He took in these details even as he caught a glimpse of Max’s last couple moves before he, too, was captured.

That’s my boy… he thought, but his moment of fatherly pride was short-lived, as he was torn between his son’s commendable spirit, and his entirely too impulsive approach. He raised one of his power rifles, aiming it at the leader, for even at a distance he was filled with a terrible certainty of who it was. If he wanted his son and Ron to live, he knew he could not afford to let her make the rules.

After all these years, he doubted she would just let bygones be bygones, yet now he truly feared that he had perhaps made a mistake in sparing her life all those years ago. That perhaps his brother was right, and he should have made an exception for her, since she could hit so close to home. Now she had a chance to seek revenge against him, and even drag Max into her vendetta while she was at it.

You made a big mistake taking my son… he thought darkly. He was afraid for Max, but also beside himself with rage. He aimed the other rifle at the Cyexian pinning Max.

He was about to make his move when one of the captives broke free.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 11, 2011, 03:37:01 AM
Reply #12
XI
“Prepare to continue the operation,” Slash ordered. “Get out some rope for the boy. This young fool has given us exactly what we need!”

“No… Max…” Ron moaned.

“Oh. He’s awake,” Slash remarked. “This guy really can take a beating, now, can’t he?”

The others agreed heartily.

“You know, little man,” she told Ron, “if you had enough strength left to hold a shovel, I was going to make you dig your own grave. But since you can’t even stand up anymore, I guess I may as well finish you…”

So, while one of the others prepared a rope to bind Max, two Cyexians continued to pin Ron as Slash beat up on him, making him a human punching bag for her frustration.

Seeing he was out of time, Max used the one move he could think of. He threw his head back as hard as he could, hearing his captor’s nose crack. She lost her grip on him with a slurred curse, and Max hit the ground running, not wanting to see what they would do to him if they caught him again.

“After him!” Slash shouted, kicking Ron aside. “Don’t let that damn brat get away!”

Max ran even harder now, having forgotten the pain in his chest. Several energy beams streaked past him through the pouring rain, and he hoped frantically they were stun shots. Though swift of foot, he now understood how little good it would do him, and he feared they would hit him at any second.

But in his haste to make cover, he slipped in the mud, landing flat on his face.

“Dammit! Hold your fire!” cried Slash. “Do you want the whole island to know we’re here?”

As Max scrambled to his feet, he found himself staring at one of the tombstones, its foreign runes cast in sharp relief in a flicker of lightning. He could hear footfalls behind him, and he was now certain he had lost his one chance at escape. Even as he gained his feet, he could sense the first onrushing Cyexian almost upon him.

“You’re not so tough now, are you, little man—”

But even as Max braced to wrench free of the hand on his shoulder, the hand let go, accompanied by a cry of surprise and pain as Robert plowed right through her.

Robert hauled out one power rifle and smacked the next attacker, bringing the butt around and bashing the one after that. He then whipped out Angus’ rifle in his other hand and charged Slash’s party.

With a roar of frustration, Slash dropped all pretense of stealth, firing her disrupter pistol at him. Though smaller than a power rifle, the heavy pistol was even more powerful.

The other Cyexians followed her lead and opened fire, but in the darkness and driving rain, Robert was zigzagging too quickly, confounding their aim, both rifles blazing. He cut down three of them before one of their beams finally hit his right rifle, which he simply threw aside and kept going.

Meanwhile, Ron had been saving his strength, hoping against hope for a chance like this, and now he stumbled away from his foes in an attempt to get out of Robert’s way. He was quite sure he was useless for now anyway.

As Robert leapt into the midst of his foes, rifle-butting one of them, Slash put away her disrupter and drew her laser sword.

Max watched in rapt awe as his father shouldered his power rifle and dodged an attack at the same time. Under other circumstances, Max would have been overwhelmed with excitement to behold a sight right out of one of his parents’ tales, but what he felt now was unabashed hope and adoration. As the neon green of Robert’s energy blade flashed into existence, Max watched the four remaining Cyexians scatter from his father’s arcing slashes.

All save Slash, who stepped in and blocked his attack with her own pale blue blade, the only one to hold her ground against Layosha’s most infamous warrior.

Four of the others drew back, rallying around their leader and forming a loose circle around Robert.

“I should have known…” Robert hissed, his contempt thinly veiled.

“And here I thought you’d gone soft in these peaceful times, Robert.” Slash had waited years to settle the score with the only adversary who had ever defeated her. And made the mistake of leaving her alive. “Well neither have I! I’ve waited a long time for this. It’s payback time!”

Without warning she backed off, just as two of her crew attacked Robert, attempting to jump him from behind. He dodged both of them, slashing one in the back. The other jumped in from the side, and he caught her with a swift kick.

“Fine. I’ll kill you myself!” Slash jumped back in. She had been hoping her fighters would soften him up, but after seeing that Robert hadn’t slowed down at all, she knew she would have to take him on herself.

Max and Ron stood off to the side, all but forgotten. Even the five Cyexians who were still standing took pause. Friend and foe alike watched the two warriors square off, bathed in the shimmering, blue-green light of their energy blades.

“Just look at him go…” Ron breathed as their duel began in earnest. Even though he was now witnessing the very reason he sought out his old friend to train his son, “Should’ve known he still had it in him…”

He wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth, swaying on his feet but still able to stand.

“We’ve gotta help…” said Max, reaching for one of the disrupter pistols now strewn on the ground.

“Stay out of it, Max,” Ron told him, “That’s Robert’s fight!”

“But—”

“You’ll only get in the way. But be on your guard. I don’t trust those other Cyex—”

Before Ron could finish, a laser blast cut down one of the aforementioned Cyexians.

All eyes turned to the source of this interference. Or at least tried to. But the attack seemed to have come from nowhere; the shooter was clearly concealing himself in the trees. Another beam lanced out of the darkness, pegging another of Slash’s crew in the arm from a different direction than the first.

After another tense moment, a stark figure with a power pistol strode into the cemetery. He had chosen to hang back at first, but kept moving to confound them, for in his cunning, he knew stray shots could hit their mark as easily as well-aimed ones in these conditions.

“Angus, my brother!” Robert called, more surprised to see him than anyone else.

“Damn you, Robert…” Slash hissed, now beside herself with rage. Her long-awaited revenge interrupted by this new adversary. To say nothing of her whole plan, compromised by a child. “Damn you all to hell!”

She drew her disrupter pistol and fired an arcing round of energy bolts at them. As Robert hit the deck, deflecting one shot with his laser blade, Ron shoved Max to the ground. Slash and her remaining crew, on the other hand, fled for the cover of the trees.

“Quickly!” Robert ordered. “To the ship! We must find out what they were up to!”

“But the storm!” cried Angus.

“We at least need to catch one of them alive, find out what they’re doing here,” said Robert. This was not the supply cache the Cyexians were traditionally supposed to be trying to rob, he wanted to know what was going on here. Slash could be dangerously unpredictable, yet he knew she was not one to set foot in enemy territory on a whim, let alone such a bizarre and seemingly pointless expedition as this. “If they get out of sight, or if storm gets any worse, we’ll turn back. Ron, can you still make it?”

“I think so,” Ron told him. He had pulled himself together somewhat, and now he wanted to take the fight back to Slash. “I think I can make do with the ship’s medkit.”

“Good.” This was going to be rough; of anyone he knew, Robert couldn’t have asked for a better man at the helm. “Let’s get going.”

Max turned to follow them.

“No, son.”

Robert’s words stopped Max in his tracks.

“This is no task for a boy,” Angus said flatly.

“But Dad…”

“No.” Robert’s word was final. “I nearly lost you tonight, and I’ll not risk losing you again. It’s too dangerous, Max.”

“He’s right, Max,” Ron added. “Your father cares about you very much, and only wants you to be safe. You’ve done your part already. Go to the comm tower on the hill, and let Ian know what’s happening.”

“I’m very proud of you, Max,” his father told him. “Don’t worry about me, son, we’ll be back before you know it.”

“Enough of this small talk!” Angus turned in pursuit of the fleeing Cyexians. “If you want to catch them, then move it!”

“Go back, Max,” Robert warned as they headed out after Slash. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, my son…”

He then turned and joined the others.

Max stood there watching, weighing his father’s words. Now that the ordeal was over, a certain amount of fear had crept back into him as he realized how easily he could have been killed. At the same time, he had a very bad feeling about his father. After all, there were only three of them, and one of them was injured.

Just as they passed out of sight, Max made his decision.

Perhaps things may have gone differently if Max had stayed behind, for there would be much speculation among the Islanders for years to come about the events of that fateful night. Now no one would ever know. Lance and Cleo and Ian would sit in the comm station, under the roots of the antenna “tree” waiting for some word of what happened, as The Edge sailed off into the same mystery that had shrouded her when Angus first set foot on her decks, for the derelict ghost ship to seek new waters to haunt.

Perhaps more aptly named than Angus could ever have imagined.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 12, 2011, 02:10:46 AM
Reply #13
XII
As the Islanders were a people of the sea, it took but a minute to unmoor The Edge and fire up her engines.

Ron manned the helm, trying to guide the ship and apply bandages at the same time. Angus held one of the gattling-gun style quadra-barrel laser cannons, as did Robert. All three of them scanned the sea in different directions, seeking even the slightest hint of a ship to guide them.

“Where the hell did they go?” Angus demanded.

“Ron, bring us about to port,” Robert ordered. He too had seen the retreating Cyexian ship, which he strongly suspected of previously hiding up the shore from the main harbor, before it vanished into the sheets of rain, and he didn’t like the feel of this. There was something oddly familiar about the way the ship had looked, like something he had seen before somewhere in his travels…

“Dad! Straight ahead!” cried a voice from the starboard side of the deck.

Max had looked out at sea a moment ago and saw something. Something the likes of which he had never seen before. It looked like a stout pole sticking out of the water, but then it had sunk back into the waves.

“Max! What are you doing here!?” Robert gasped, horror written across his face as he tried to figure out how his son managed to stow away while they were launching. So preoccupied with the enemy now that his son was safe, it never once occurred to him that he might disobey him after such a harrowing experience. “I thought I told you to go…”

He trailed off abruptly, his father-son lecture forgotten as he now saw what they were up against. For he had seen what Max had seen, and unlike his son, knew all too well what it was.

A periscope.

“So that’s what she’s got…” Angus gasped. At least it explained how they had vanished so easily, even in this choppy weather. He had heard Slash had some new secret weapon, that they were capturing more passing ships out there than usual, and he suspected they were about to find out how.

“Ron!” Robert wasted no time in making up his mind. With his son on board, this had become far more dangerous than he was willing to risk. “Call the comm station! Tell them Slash’s got a sub!”

“We’re being jammed!” cried Ron. No matter which way he tuned their radio, he couldn’t get through to the comm tower.

“Either it’s the storm,” mused Angus, “or else…”

“It’s a trap!” cried Robert, beating his brother to the punch. And concluding, belatedly, that perhaps they had been too hasty in their pursuit. A submarine could weather this storm better than they could. “Turn back! Ron, turn back!”

“Dad! Out there!” cried Max.

All eyes focused on where Max was pointing.

Rising out of the water, gliding alongside The Edge was something the like of which neither Robert nor his brother had seen since their wandering days.

It was at least twice as long as The Edge, and so dark it looked black in the storm. The deck was mostly flat, but about midlength there was a tower armed with a pair of quadra-barrel swivel cannons. Whatever circular emblem this vessel’s hull used to bear had been painted over with Slash’s clan’s sigil, a flaming skull and a pair of crossed swords. Yet there still remained U-553 in blocky characters.

Only moments after the tower cleared the raging waves, several figures emerged to man the guns. As it fully emerged from the troubled waters, the deck hatch also opened, and more of Slash’s crew climbed out, pelting The Edge with a volley of cover fire. As the Cyexians spread out across the deck, and the crew on the conning tower fired a boarding cable that harpooned The Edge’s foremast, all Robert could do was snap off several shots before diving for cover.

Ron brought the ship to a halt to avoid collision with Slash’s reckless maneuver.

Max, for now unseen, ducked back through the cabin door, watching. In his hands he gripped one of the disrupter pistols from the cemetery. The heavy-barreled weapon, barely small enough to rightly be called a pistol, was about the size of a submachine gun, with a heavy hand grip around the barrel, which was notoriously hot in a firefight. Aside from a little target practice, he had never used an energy weapon, and the disrupter felt very heavy in his hand.

He watched as the Cyexians took short lengths of cable and slid down the rope to the deck of The Edge. Two crew members on the conning tower armed and fired the water-tight quadra-barrels stowed there.

But Angus was quicker, popping back up at his post and setting his own gattling-gun barrels in motion, destroying the gun emplacements there and blasting one of the sub’s two periscopes.

Furious, Slash fired several shots at Angus, damaging the cannon, and nicking him in the shoulder.

Seeing his brother’s plight, Robert got back up and charged into the midst of his foes. The Cyexians were still getting their bearings, allowing him to actually kick one of them overboard. This situation had gone from bad to worse in the space of a few minutes, and now all he could do was try to repel this boarding party before Slash could gain a foothold; if he could have foreseen her having anything like this, he would never have considered giving chase.

Now he feared it might be all he could do to try to get his son and crew out of this alive.

To that end, he jumped at the mast where the boarding cable had hooked, slicing it with his laser sword. In the process, he ended up cutting down the mast itself. Under such choppy conditions, it was the best he could do jumping on the slippery deck.

To his credit, the mast actually fell on one of the Cyexian boarders, crushing both her and a section of the deck railing. But as Robert jumped back down to face Slash, Angus tried to regain his feet, grimacing— though whether it was more at the damage Slash had done to him, or the damage his brother had done to his ship to keep more of her crew from boarding, even he was not quite sure.

Deciding that what was done was done, he leaned around the cabin and opened fire on the Cyexians on the submarine deck. To his advantage, they were already having trouble keeping their feet in the growing storm. Though fired wildly, his salvo still sent most of them diving overboard, leaving them with problems of their own.

But Angus soon found himself with his own difficulties to contend with when a couple Cyexians managed to sneak up on him, attacking from behind.

“You’ve made an ass of me for the last time, Robert!” Slash declared coldly, firing up her laser sword. “We settle this right here, right now!”

“Once and for all…” Robert agreed darkly. “Let’s end this! I should have known you’d come back to haunt me if I let you live.”

As the two enemies of old began their fateful battle, the rest of their respective crews began one of their own.

A couple of Cyexian boarders broke away from the small group attacking Robert, seeking to take the helm. But injured though he was, Ron was not about to let them have it without putting up a decent fight. He sidestepped and kicked the gun out of the first Cyexian’s hand and shoved her back out of the cabin, but before he could lock the door another one leaned in with her power pistol drawn.

“We’re taking this ship!” declared the Cyexian pirate, seeing there was no way for Ron to draw his own weapon in time.

She trained her gun on him— and was shot in the back. As she fell to the deck with a confused groan, Ron saw Max behind her, disrupter pistol gripped in both hands.

“I…” Max lowered the gun, realizing now that he had acted solely on instinct. “Is… she…”

“No,” Ron told him, seeing that the blast had left no burn. “Looks like you set that thing on stun, Max.” Reflexively, just as he had Robert had always drilled into the boy in training. “…What are you doing here? Do you want to get killed?”

“But… I wanna help…”

“Stay close, Max,” Ron said, and to himself, I’m going to bring him back to Layosha in one piece, Robert, even if it’s the last thing I do… He pushed past Max and stepped back out onto the deck.

Only to see that this storm had still more trouble to offer.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 13, 2011, 02:30:43 AM
Reply #14
XIII
Just when it looked as if the crew of The Edge might stand a fighting chance at repulsing Slash’s boarding party, there came a new ship, this one also bearing Slash’s clan symbol. Named Damn the Torpedoes, in true Cyexian fashion, she was accompanied by five smaller craft.

“Not now!” cried Robert. His only guess was that this one must have been hovering just beyond the shore, obviously Slash’s backup.

By now, most of Slash’s crew had either been thrown overboard or were too badly wounded to continue the fight, but now they would be receiving some reinforcements, and the weary defenders would be faced with fresh adversaries.

“You lose, Robert!” Slash told him. “Now I will have my revenge!”

As she resumed her attack on Robert with renewed vigor, the crew of Damn the Torpedoes threw out a line to the stranded Cyexian crew, angling toward Kinsasha. The smaller craft began taking on some of the drifters as they circled The Edge and U-553, the ship Slash hadn’t gotten around to renaming yet. Fortunately for Robert and his crew, the increasingly choppy waves made it too dangerous to move in between the two storm-tossed vessels.

“What’s she up to now?” muttered Ron. At least weather conditions were keeping any further boarding parties at bay. On the downside, though, it was becoming increasingly dangerous for The Edge’s helm to remain unmanned. He shouted to upper deck, where Robert and Slash were locked in mortal combat, “Hey! Can’t we call a truce? This storm is getting worse!”

“Go to hell!” Slash told him, not even bothering to turn her attention away from Robert. All the plans of hers this one man had interfered with, all the years, all the humiliation, all that Robert had cost her burned in her brain, and she was going to kill him this time, no matter what it took.

Determined to keep Max safe, Ron aimed his power pistol at her, saying, “I said—”

As Max watched in stunned horror, not even noticing the two Cyexians sneaking up behind himself, a high-powered laser beam from one of the smaller craft pierced right through Ron, knocking him over the deck railing with a strangled cry, into the waiting arms of Davy Jones.

Ron!!” cried Max, forgetting his foes in a singular moment of terror. “No… Ron…”

Max’s disrupter clanked to the deck as the first of the Cyexians charged him. She knocked him to the deck and made a grab for the disrupter, but Max sprang to his feet in a rage and kicked it out of her reach. He then turned to fend off the other pirate.

As his son fought for his life on the lower deck, Robert attacked Slash with all of his might. The sound of his old friend’s final scream echoed in his ears, and his mind, and he was going to make her pay.

They had no right…

It was difficult to keep their footing on the constantly shifting deck, but the two warriors fought on. As they clashed energy blades, Slash lost her balance on the slippery deck, and Robert took full advantage of it. He slid his blade down the full length of hers, cutting right through the hilt of her laser sword. The pale blue fire of the blade vanished in a shimmering flicker of light.

Slash swore under her breath as she dodged the rest of Robert’s swing. In the absence of resistance, Robert lost his own balance, his blade gouging deep into the deck. As she tossed her now useless weapon aside, Slash rolled toward Robert, kicking his laser sword under the hilt, knocking the energy blade out of his rain-soaked hand even as he raised it for another attack.

Robert’s laser sword fizzled out as he lost his grip on it, arcing through the air and clanking to the lower deck. As another wave hit the ship, it went rolling and spinning across the deck, right toward the railing section that had been smashed by the fallen mast. Seeing it out of the corner of his eye, Max dodged his attackers and made a dive for it, sliding across the wet deck, just barely grabbing it before the Ocean could claim it, adding it to its untold store of lost treasures.

Max scrambled to his feet, activating the laser blade and brandishing it at the Cyexians, its radiant green blade holding them at bay.

One thing that so far worked in The Edge crew’s favor was that the storm made it impossible for the boat raiders to get in a decent shot for fear of just as easily hitting their own crew members, so their volleys had subsided. Yet as the Cyexian numbers onboard dwindled, it would only make their remaining enemies stand out more.

As the boats continued to circle The Edge and U-553 menacingly, for it was all they could really do at this point, the battle on the upper deck raged on.

Robert had kicked Slash off of him, and as she struggled to her feet, she drew her disrupter pistol. But as quick as she was on the draw, Robert didn’t give her a chance to finish, kicking it out of her hand before she could firm her grip. Slash struck back with a brutal barrage of punches and kicks.

Robert still had his power rifle strapped to his back, but he could see she wasn’t going to give him a chance to unsling it. He continued to dodge her attacks, looking for a chance to use his last weapon.

Meanwhile, the two Cyexians on the lower deck had decided they didn’t like the odds of challenging Max and his laser sword unarmed, both of them retreating in different directions to elude him. And hopefully rearm themselves. As one of them saw fit to abandon ship, seeing no more stray weapons lying around on the ever-shifting deck, Max instead turned his attention back to his father.

And again, that sense of dread premonition returned to him as he saw Robert’s predicament.

For while Max was busy warding off pirates, Slash had managed to get Robert from behind. Grabbed his power rifle, twisting it around so that the strap was looped around his neck. She planted her knee against his back and started hauling on the rifle, strangling him.

“Dad!” cried Max.

He stepped forward, trying to figure out what to do, then stopped in his tracks as an energy beam streaked past him. With only Slash left above, the crew of the small boats had finally decided to risk firing on The Edge once more.

Max hit the deck before he even knew what he was doing. All that flashed through his mind at that moment was an instant replay of the death of Ron. It dawned on him in that one last second of his childhood invincibility that Ron’s fate could just as easily be his own.

“Max!” gargled Robert, still struggling for some kind of leverage against Slash. Though the fact that Slash caught him while trying to unsling the rifle resulted in one hand between his neck and the strap, and his other caught between the strap and the rifle itself, he knew this move was only delaying the inevitable. His next words were barely more than a choked whisper of desperation. “Help… me…”

“If you can still talk,” Slash hissed, “then I’m not choking you enough!” She leaned back farther, telling him, “Your little brat can’t save you from me…”

She paused, savoring every syllable, every moment of her revenge, totally unheeding of the dangers of the storm, then told him, “After all, he’s next.”

As laser beams raged overhead, slowly picking apart the cabin, Max watched his father struggle. He knew he had to help, but his hands and feet refused to obey him. As the body count of the past couple hours began to catch up with him, he was paralyzed by the thought of challenging Slash on his own now that he had seen death for the first time.

“Looks like your son is nothing but a little coward!” Slash remarked. “Now die!” she cried as she further tightened her grip.

Slash’s words brought Max out of his terrified daze. “Dad… no…” Again, Ron’s untimely end. Only now he pictured his father taking the fall, and this brought out an outrage even deeper than what he had felt for Ron, rage that outweighed his fear and despair. “Slash!”

But as Max regained his nerve, his father teetered on the brink of losing consciousness. Somehow, he had yanked his other hand out from against the strap that bit into his neck with increasing ferocity. Slash had too much leverage, and there was no way to reach behind him. Yet, just when he thought he had no way out, he found one.

Wondering why he hadn’t thought of it before, he fumbled with the quick-release pin on the shoulder strap, feeling his fingers turn to lead just when he needed them most. Just when he thought he was too late, he managed to pull it loose, and the strap immediately went slack.

Straining to see through the grey dots that threatened to overwhelm his sight, he threw the strap over his neck. As Slash lost her balance, he jabbed an elbow back as hard as he could, knocking the wind out of her. With the last of his immediate strength, he threw her over his shoulder. Robert fell to his knees to catch his breath as Slash rolled across the deck, and the rifle slid off onto the lower deck.

As Max was still trying to make his way to the upper deck, the remaining Cyexian raider grabbed Robert’s lost power rifle before it could be washed overboard. She moved quickly to get a better shot before Robert could get back up. And before her companions on the boats could come around for another pass.

Robert coughed and gasped as he struggled to regain his strength, but was grateful for the reprieve. He must have put the hurt on old Slash if she wasn’t getting up yet. Of course, he also knew she might well be playing dead to get him to drop his guard.

As Robert and Slash tried to get their second wind, the remaining pirate had made her way to the edge of the deck, where she now had Robert in her sights. She put her finger on the trigger—

To realize belatedly that she had forgotten about Max, who jumped in with a fierce yell and sliced the barrel off her rifle with Robert’s laser sword. Even as she cursed herself for forgetting the boy, trying to get out of that deadly energy blade’s reach, Max kicked her right over the deck railing. Then he hit the deck before the pirates on the boats could start up another barrage.

As Robert watched his son’s move against this unexpected threat, deciding that if they lived through this he would have to tell Max how proud he was, as well as how disappointed in his disobedience, Slash scrambled to her feet in a rage, determined to keep Robert from regaining the offensive, and there was no more time to think of congratulating his son.

Max looked up at where Robert and Slash had resumed their weary battle. Never had he witnessed such brilliant moves and radical skill, not in any of the sparring sessions he had ever seen. Nor had he ever seen his father look both so fiercely determined and yet so totally fatigued at the same time. As inexperienced as he was, even he could tell this was the final bout. End-game.

“Come on, Dad…”

Max stood there clenching his fists, lost in indecision. He wanted to help, but was afraid to interfere, that he might accidentally give Slash the upper hand. With his father’s laser sword, and the power to influence the outcome of this terrible battle, in his hand, Max crouched there, wishing he knew what to do.

As Max watched on, rendered helpless by his lapse of initiative, his father fought on, both weary foes trying hard not to show how much this fierce combat had taken out of them. Robert wanted to ask for his laser sword, but he knew it was too risky. That, and he didn’t dare leave his son unarmed in such company.

It was Slash’s next kick that took the fight completely out of Max’s hands.

Exhausted, Robert staggered back, grabbing a line from The Edge’s remaining mast for support. He swung out, then back, kicking off the mast in a stroke of inspiration. Slash stopped in mid charge, making a vain effort to dodge him as Robert swung back on the line, plowing right through her feet-first and launching her flying off the deck.

Robert swung out over the water, hanging on for dear life. As Max lit up at this spectacular, swashbuckling move, his awe and joy turned to shock and horror in a moment that would be forever etched in his memory. For just as Robert reached the end of his swing, a stray laser beam cut through the line, sending him flailing into the storm-tossed sea.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 14, 2011, 02:31:01 AM
Reply #15
XIV
“Daaddd!!” cried Max.

His father seemed to fall forever in that moment; it seemed he would never hit the water. He could hear Robert’s horrified cry over the storm. Falling…

His splash was accompanied by a jolt that knocked Max off his feet. And just in time to avoid another round from the boats. As Max caught a glimpse of several more flashes of eldritch light under the water, followed instantly by another shockwave, he finally figured it out.

Horrified at how easily the submarine had slipped beneath the churning waves when he wasn’t looking, he no longer had any clue to its exact position. And with Slash no longer aboard, the crew of U-553 now opened fire on The Edge.

It didn’t take a tactical genius to see that the Cyexians had decided to sink The Edge. Or that she wouldn’t be able to withstand that much punishment for long. Max crawled over to the ruined deck railing, thankful that the submerged U-553 had maneuvered around somewhere to the other side of the ship. As another blast rocked the now sinking ship, Max hung onto the laser sword for dear life and jumped overboard.

The thrashing waves immediately threatened to overwhelm him as he struggled away from the doomed vessel, not wanting to go down with it. He tried to focus on staying afloat, and on trying to find Robert. He knew that if he could find his father, everything would be okay.

So focused was Max on looking out to sea, that he was almost run over by one of the small vessels as it pulled right up to him. He looked up to see a Cyexian leaning over him, her hand out-stretched.

“Need a…” was as far as she got, trailing off as she finally recognized who she was trying to rescue.

Max wasted no time. He grabbed her hand, kicking off the boat’s hull and hauling her overboard. He sprang up out of the water as high as he could, throwing one leg aboard just ahead of the other.

At this point, the pilot finally turned and saw what was happening. But even as she drew her power pistol, she knew she was too late, for Max now carried the power pistol that her partner had set aside for the rescue attempt. And Max fired. Wounded, the pilot lost her balance, and Max shoved her overboard, leaving the other pirate to help her unconscious comrade as he left both of them in his wake.

Max watched as U-553 surfaced near its mostly sunken quarry, a predator alien to these waters. The sub hovered before The Edge, her stern tipping slowly up into the rain-driven sky, and Max was certain that in that moment he beheld U-553’s true nature, and that of those who built her. Though the term wolfpack was unfamiliar to him, for a moment he envisioned it anyway, at least in concept.

Max was jolted out of this unsettling reverie when he spotted a familiar figure splashing frantically up ahead. As he cut the engine, he heard his father call out to him.

“Max!”

“Dad! Hold on! I’m coming!”

“No! Max, you have to get out of here!”

“But Dad!”

“Go! Now!”

Rather than argue further, Max restarted the engine. Yet before he could make his way over to his father, though, one of the other boats started firing on him. All it took for the other two to follow suit was for Max to hit the accelerator, and the chase was on. Instead of being able to swoop by and save him, all Max got was one last glance at his father over his shoulder as he was forced to swerve away from the enemies’ line of fire.

The last thing he would see was his father swept under by the wake of his own pursuers, and whether or not he ever surfaced again would be subject to speculation and hope.

For now, Max labored to keep the boat under control in the storm-tossed sea while Cyexian pirates took pot-shots at him. The chase taking him farther and farther from where he wanted to be. He almost lost control when a laser blast fried his radio antenna.

“No witnesses!” cried his pursuers, for that had been Slash’s standing order for anyone who stumbled across this secret operation. Or U-553, for that matter. Having seen their secret weapon, the boy must die.

Yet as they raced deeper out into open sea, the worse the storm became. On one hand, this made it harder and harder for Max to stay at the helm. On the other, though, it was making it practically impossible for the pirates to target him.

“Hold up!” commanded the group leader on the comm line. “We have to turn back!”

“But what about the kid?” demanded another. “Slash said no witnesses!”

“There’s no way he can survive that storm,” said the leader. “He’s as good as dead out there. And so are we if we stay out in this shit.”

It was a point well taken.

As the Cyexians turned back, following U-553’s ghost-frequency signal beacon, Max fled still deeper into the endless reaches of the Ocean, all hope of rescue lost.

“Dad…” Max whispered, wondering if he would ever see him again, for now giving little heed to the grueling ordeal ahead of him.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 14, 2011, 02:33:43 AM
Reply #16
-Early scenes: April, 1995
-"Notebook" draft: December 18, 2001 – March 09, 2002
-Word processed draft: December 19 – 22, 2002
-additional revisions: May 17, 2006; April, 2008
-word count: 17,765

I hope you enjoyed the ride. I know there was some concern about the short chapters near the middle, but with such brief scenes, there was little I could do without "stretching" and making things seem tacked-on, which would have seriously disrupted the flow. Of course, this story is only an introduction, and there is much more to come.

COMING SOON: Part 2
Wherein Max makes a new friend, and begins to adjust to his new life, even as he tries to pick up the pieces…
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 15, 2011, 05:45:49 AM
Reply #17
“PARADISE”
Max felt something warm, wet and abrasive rub across his face.

He vaguely remembered having a dream about waking up on a beach… After being chased out at sea after… what had to be the worst nightmare of his life…

After a moment he became aware of the fact that he was lying on sun-warmed sand. He wondered why he was so tired… Of course, it made perfect sense to be exhausted after such a rigorous ordeal… He knew he must have tossed and turned all night to be this worn out…

Then he felt that strange sensation on his face again, tugging his senses still further into the here and now.

“What’s going on…” he muttered. He dug his fingers through the sand, finding that he still barely had enough strength to make a fist.

Experimentally, he opened his eyes.

He cried out in alarm and confusion as he looked up into the feline face staring down at him. Max rolled away with a yelp. For its part, the creature leaped away in the opposite direction.

Max pulled himself together, as quickly as one could be expected to after waking up in a place right out of a dream. He had to close his eyes for a moment to ward off the dizziness and headache that assaulted his eyes, making him see spots. After all, he was still very sore and stiff; he now knew that he was moving too quickly just yet. As he opened his eyes again and became more aware of his surroundings, it didn’t take him long to figure out their one stark implication: that had been no dream.

Max immediately focused on the creature before him, a cat of some variety. It sat over a foot tall, with short white-and-black fur of curiously symmetrical pattern, even on both sides. The cat, a cub of some feline variety that reminded him of a statue back in Layosha, sat and stared warily at Max. In those greenish-yellow eyes, disproportionately large on its young face, Max saw his own reflection for a second.

Though the cub had been startled by Max’s sudden reaction, it had already begun to recover its feline composure, and its look was now one of cautious curiosity.

Max looked back at the cub, wondering where the little guy came from. As an old piece of advice flashed through his thoughts, Max looked around sharply, to make sure they were all alone. He had been warned that mother animals seldom let their young out of sight…

But he didn’t see any angry mother whatever-it-was charging out of the bushes anywhere, still he decided to keep his guard up anyway. He had been told that cats of any stripe were creatures of stealth, and he didn’t care to find out the hard way. If this one was just a cub, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know how big its mother might be.

Max slowly reached over for his bag, which he had been clinging to for a good while when he was still unconscious, realizing once again how much his ordeal at sea had weakened him. He kept on moving slowly, making no sudden moves, and the cub began to regain its initiative, moving haltingly forward, keeping a close eye on Max as he reached into his bag and took out his father’s laser sword. There the cub hesitated just beyond arm’s reach of Max.

“What’re you lookin’ at?”

The cub cocked his head curiously at Max’s remark.

Max activated the weapon, bringing its shimmering, neon-green blade into radiant existence. Good. It still worked. He held his father’s blade before him, fascinated; he thought of all the times he had seen it, had wanted to wield it… and now it was his.

Yet his exultation was brief, for a moment later he remembered how it came to be in his possession, and his fleeting sense of triumph at this small victory, of not losing this irreplaceable family heirloom, instead soured into something bordering on shame.

He paused, seeing the cub staring into the blade, mesmerized. But not afraid.

Interesting…

Tiger. The word popped into his head. Though different in pattern, the cub resembled the creature the statue was named after.

Max sat there for a long moment, gathering his strength and his thoughts while letting the sun warm him. He was still wrung-out, his body ached all over. After he was back on his feet, he decided, he would have to see what else made it ashore with him.

In the meantime, his mind wandered back to the statue…

…Max stared up at the enormous cat that sat before him on an equally enormous pedestal that was almost as tall as he was.

At the age of six, there were still a lot of things that were taller than him. The grey-green statue towering over him was one of them. It was huge, even next to grownups, and Cleo had even told him Uncle Angus said it was
life-size. Its regal feline countenance, its entire form, was slashed with a deep-carved relief of stripes.

Engraved on the pedestal was a single word:
TYGER.

Though a few such things were supposedly waiting for them when they first arrived, the Ancestors had built many of Layosha’s most impressive monuments in time out of mind. Beyond Shipwreck Bay, in the shadow of the mountain, there was a clearing with ancient statues scattered about it. All of the statues were highly stylized depictions of various creatures, angular and simplified, but of only slightly exaggerated proportion. Legend had it that one of the original Ancestors was a master sculptor.

On Makando, there were several tall, very stylized stone heads that some said were even older than the Ancestors; there were even rumors of these statues being found on Cyexian islands, and possibly even in the Triangle State.

Guarding the entrance of the clearing on one side was a pair of lions; two turtles guarded another entrance, and a pair of very angular gargoyles guarded the third. Among others, there was an eagle perched on one block, an owl with big round eyes on another; a couple creatures labeled
Coyote, forever howling at the moon, at least according to Mom; a mass of tentacles, that many sailors told tales of, marked Devilfish; a horse; carved of dark grey stone, a small biped reptile which the Ancestors called a Raptor; a strange one marked Gryphon, which no traveler had ever claimed to have seen before; a coiled-up cobra, and some other small statuary. The largest of the statues, standing nearly twenty feet tall, was a rather more intricate and imposing reptile the artist called a Dragon.

And, of course, the Tyger.

“Dad, what’s that thing?” he asked.

“Well, Max,” said Robert, smiling as he looked the statue over, perhaps the only person in all the Islands (aside from his wife and possibly his brother) who had ever seen a real one before, “that’s a tiger. But whoever carved this spelled it strangely. That should be an
i instead of a y.”

“Oh.” Max was still learning his letters. And pushing really hard to be able to read Layosha’s small treasury of books for himself. “Have you ever seen one before?”

“Well, of course, son,” Robert laughed, still amazed at times by his son’s insatiable curiosity. He paused for a moment, remembering. “…I was in this place, a sanctuary, where these people were keeping a whole bunch of animals. If I remember right, they were protecting them from hunters. They had tigers there, and other really big cats.”

Then the important question. “Dad, how big is a tiger?”

“They’re… well, they’re about as big as that statue.” Though he was fairly sure that not all of the statues here were as proportionately scaled. For a moment, he had been taken aback by Max’s abrupt change of subject. Then again, he was glad to get away from where he now realized his last line of conversation was heading. Though Robert was very honest with his son, he also believed that children should let go of their innocence slowly, reluctantly. After all, it was not something that could be returned. He had seen for himself what growing up too fast had done to others.

“Why aren’t there any tigers here?”

“I don’t know.” Robert had no real explanation for that. “They probably wouldn’t like it here. We don’t have anything for them to eat, and I’m told they need lots of room to roam…”


…To roam. How far had he drifted?

Where am I? How big is this place?

Just when Max thought he couldn’t possibly feel any more alone, with that last thought he did. Completely alone. Wishing for his father only made it worse. Because he wasn’t there.

Between loneliness, pain and fatigue, it was all he could do to fight back the tears. As he sat there, trying hard to pull himself together, the cub slowly approached him. Max looked down at the feline face peering up at him, and he understood somehow that he had found a kindred spirit.

Or rather, one had somehow found him.

He tentatively reached out and patted the big cat on the head. And was surprised, yet somehow not surprised— as if he had done this before in a dream or something— when the cub walked up and brushed past his leg. As the cat sat down next to him, Max openly petted him.

Somehow he knew— once again, he was surprised yet somehow knew better— that petting the cat would make him feel better. At least now he no longer felt so alone. The cat started purring, and in that carefree, contented sound, he rediscovered the bliss of living in the moment.

He sat on the beach for a while, petting the big kitten, before he got up again. This time he was a little steadier on his feet than he had been last time. But he hadn’t eaten in nearly a day and was weak with hunger.

The past day was a bleary dream of sun and sea and exposure. Had slept briefly at some unrecalled point after the storm subsided. But of The Edge, or even Damn the Torpedoes or U-553, there was no sign. Not even his other pursuers were to be seen. Only miles and miles of Ocean in all directions making a mockery of every speck of dry land he had ever set foot on. Fearing he might very well die out there without ever seeing even a passing ship, he already started rationing out the small vessel’s limited food and water against the ravages of the elements.

So now, as he staggered across the sand, cub tagging along behind him, he reached into his bag and opened a waterproof ration pack. Remembering his survival training, he decided, in spite of his overwhelming hunger, to eat only half. During his fun little sea adventure, bookended between storms, he had learned that Triangle State military survival rations were not very appetizing. If nothing else, he had no idea if there was any more food to be found here.

Wherever he was.

As Max sat down and munched thoughtfully, he looked down and noticed that he had the little creature’s undivided attention. The cub just sat there, staring up at him with big, round pleading eyes, somehow managing to look so innocent and dejected that Max nearly laughed in spite of himself.

“You hungry, little guy?” Max found himself wondering when last the cub had eaten. He looked pretty scrawny. Hoping he wasn’t making a grave mistake, he gave the cub the other half of his ration bar. And the cub wolfed it right down, then looked back up at Max with an expression that was unmistakable: More?

This time Max did laugh, patting the cub, and said, “Nope. That’s all. We’ve gotta save the rest for later.”

The cub just looked up at him with this laughably quizzical expression that made Max bust out again.

So, Uncle Angus was right. A person (or cat) that was hungry enough would eat anything. That thought made him wonder for a moment how the sinister Triangle State Authority’s supplies had fallen into Cyexian hands. Then again, the Cyexians were pirates. Of course, he had heard even worse things about the Authority.

Even about slavery.

Yet little was known about the Triangle State. Because it held all the surrounding islands under military occupation, Layosha, though distant, beyond Cyexian waters, kept a low profile. With nothing of interest to them, it was doubtful the TSA would ever take an interest in the Islands, but Max’s people had no desire to fight a war without dire cause. Though the Layoshans would fight to the last defending their home and go to their graves, rather than live as anyone’s slaves, as they had held their ground against the Cyexians for countless generations. All the same, all the Islanders really wanted was to go about their lives in peace, and they already had enough trouble with the Cyexians. So Layosha chose to be little more than seafaring legend. A destination scoffed at by most and considered to be a myth.

Another of the Ocean’s phantom ports of call.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 16, 2011, 03:44:16 AM
Reply #18
II
After taking stock of his supplies— a few days’ worth of rations, a half-empty canteen of fresh water, a power pistol and two extra power clips, a flashlight and a spark-lighter— Max set out to explore the rest of the island. The little cub tagged along, sniffing curiously at this and that, but never straying far from Max’s path. If there was anyone else on this island, he wanted to know who they were.

And whether or not they were friendly.

He took it slow since he still hadn’t quite regained his land-legs.

Only a few steps, and he was startled by a flash of light, which he quickly realized was sunlight reflecting on something half-buried in the sand. As he stumbled closer, he nearly fell down in surprise upon seeing that it was his silver medallion. After a moment, he did fall down and sat there for a long moment, amazed that he even still had it. When he lost his grip and fell overboard during last night’s storm, he had hung on to it for dear life, but also lost his grip on it when a particularly large wave nearly drowned him just in sight of land.

He thought he’d lost it forever. Reattaching its chain, he hauled himself to his feet and struck out again.

He hadn’t traveled much farther before he came around a bend and stumbled upon more wreckage. Near the next curve in the beach were the remains of the small boat— barely seaworthy and never meant for long-range transport— that had brought him here. Just looking at the battered vessel reminded him of his wild ride; the chase and the storms had indeed been no dream.

He could tell at a glance that without a complete overhaul— including tools, parts, not to mention skills, that he did not possess— it wouldn’t be going anywhere ever again. But he dug through what was left of the boat anyway. The cub poked around, too, curiosity written all over his young feline face.

Underneath the pilot’s seat (or at least where the pilot’s seat used to be) was a storage compartment. Max read the manufacturing label stamped on the side of the compartment: Manufactured in --------ngle Sta----y Tri-Tech, a Division of C-----------stries. He couldn’t read portions, as they were blasted with carbon scarring. The name, what he could read of it, meant nothing to him.

He could only wonder how it had fallen into the hands of Cyexian pirates.

The cargo compartment itself was busted open, probably dashed against the nearby rocks on impact, and junk was strewn all over the sand near it. He immediately picked out a disrupter pistol (which was larger and heavier than his power pistol, even having an insulated handgrip along its heavy barrel, just like the one he had used the other night), another power clip, a small pan, some line and fishing hooks, an inflatable life raft (still in its tube), a spork and a survival knife, a frayed length of rope, a cracked mirror, and some clothes. He imagined all of these things might come in handy later, so he stuffed it all into his shoulder bag.

After standing there for a moment, reliving more of his wild ride than he cared to, he set out again, the mysterious cub at his side.

At first it was slow going, as he was still very sore and stiff. But the longer he was on his feet, the better he felt as his body loosened up. After about an hour or so, he was strolling along at a leisurely pace.

The whole way, he stuck to the beach. He remembered Robert explaining how, by walking around the shore of an island, one could get an idea of how big it was. And Max had paid rapt attention, wanting to know as much as he could so he could make his Dad proud when he finally got to go on that adventure he was always so certain they were going to have. As long as you’re on an island, his father had said, you’re never lost. No matter which way you go, you’ll always find the Ocean.

Thanks, Dad… he thought quietly, I just wish you could be here to see me…

Shoving such thoughts aside, he continued along the beach, refusing to move inland until he had some idea of how big this island was. Keeping in mind that he was in unfamiliar territory, that there was no telling who or what he might encounter. He had heard of uninhabited islands in the Ocean, but even though there weren’t any signs of habitation where he washed up, he had decided not to let his guard down.

There was the distinct possibility that he had ended up in Cyexian territory, or even the Triangle State. Either would be bad news; the Cyexians would almost certainly use him as a hostage to make demands on the Elders, and there was no way of knowing what the TSA might decide to do with him. Beyond those realms, it would be harder and harder to find his way back to the Islands.

But what would he say if he went back?

He started walking faster, trying to outrun the waves of grief and shame and guilt that were fast gaining on him. Part of him was still certain this was all a bad dream. That he would wake up any second now, and Mom would come and tell him everything was okay… But what would she think if she knew?

Freezing up might have been perfectly natural, under the circumstances, but it still didn’t feel like much of an excuse.

Meanwhile, the cub continued to romp gleefully around, apparently happy just to have some company.

With great effort, Max pushed his feelings back, telling himself they would be of no use to him right now. He needed to concentrate, focus on what was happening right now. His very survival depended on it. If there was anyone out there, he wanted to find them, not the other way around.

To take his mind off those painful thoughts, he decided to run through everything he knew about the Cyexians and the Triangle State Authority.

Somewhere beyond the disputed Island of Kinsasha was the edge of Cyexian waters. There were eight feuding clans, but the number of islands they controlled wasn’t really known for sure, rumored to be about a dozen. He knew they were a matriarchal society; his parents and Uncle Angus had told of Cyexian lands where men were slaves, and Mom had always laughed and said that sounded like a fun place to visit, as well as places where the matriarchy was more ancient tradition than current practice. Due to martial necessity, the clans here gave men certain allowances, but made it abundantly clear who was the boss. The Cyexians of these waters were pirates and scavengers, while the Layoshans, though known to dig through derelicts and ghost ships— and bring them back to the Islands, if possible— were more into salvage and trading for outside goods with the visitors they got every now and then.

The Triangle State, on the other hand, was something of an enigma. No one, not even his father (though he and Angus had once been held in the brig of one of their ships), had been there in the last forty or fifty years. Controlled— governed with an iron fist, from what he had been told— by the Triangle State Authority, what any Outlanders who had been there described as a sinister cabal of local despots who called themselves the Board of Directors, their domain was said to be three islands. And everything in between.

With so little useful intelligence— and a lot of creepy rumors— the TSA was a shadow that lurked quietly among Max’s speculations.

Occasionally, he chided himself for not paying enough attention to what was going on around him. But it was hard to keep his guard up when there was nothing going on, and the cub’s carefree meandering was equally disarming. The farther he went, the more he felt like the last person in the world.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 17, 2011, 02:03:25 AM
Reply #19
III
By mid afternoon, he had left the beach, finding himself following a rocky shoreline bank that began at the end of the sand. It rose steadily upward for some distance before it leveled off and started working its way back down again. At its height, it was high enough to be rightly called a cliff.

Having still not fully regained his strength, Max stopped near the top for a breather. Feeling better, he chowed down another half of a ration bar, and of course gave the cat a few bites. He was still surprised at how hungry he was, and it took an act of willpower to put the other bars back in his bag to save for later.

Deciding to rest a little longer, he dug out the clothes in the pack, remembering something. The clothing was a military uniform bearing foreign insignias whose significance was unknown to him. The two symbols that stood out to him most were a patch that read U-553, and a round one that bore a sign that looked like a bent-up X. That same bizarre symbol was indelibly marked on the bag, as well.

Max was sure that the uniform and the bag, at least, had come from that mysterious submarine Slash now controlled. He remembered that one of the sub’s insignias had been painted over with Slash’s clan’s emblem, and he wondered where this U-553 had drifted in from. There had been something about that sub, and something about this symbol, that just gave him a bad feeling.

Though there was nothing he could do about the symbol on the bag, he ripped the insignias off the uniform. He was in unfamiliar territory, and decided it would be best not to hold any visible allegiances (especially not hinting loyalties of unknown implication) here until he knew who else was about. While on the matter of concealing affiliations, he also flipped over his headband, hiding his family sigil.

Max spent a little while longer playing tug-of-war with the cub before he chewed the strange patch in half. He was amused at how playful this little creature was. Marveling at how easily amused the cat was, Max kicked a bunch of dirt over the patches. The more he looked at them, the less he liked them anyway.

After about an hour or so up there, Max and his little friend found their way back out onto the beach again. It was rocky at first, but it quickly gave way to sandy shores once more. By now he was becoming more and more confident that he was soon going to come back to the place where he first started. Though the shoreline was very wavy most of the way, he was fairly sure they had almost come full circle.

But as the hours wore on, and the sun began to set, Max’s confidence began to waver. It would soon be dark and he still hadn’t found his way back to where he came from. More and more, he wondered just how big this island was. After all, according to most tales, deserted islands were supposed to be fairly small.

He stopped, just gazing out to sea as the sun set behind him. Deciding to set out again at dawn, Max prepared to spend the night here. And if he didn’t get all the way around the island tomorrow, he would decide then whether or not to turn back.

Lying down in the warm sand, well back from the tide, he settled in for the night.

Though, exhausted as he was, it would be a while before he finally fell asleep. He was still lost in unfamiliar territory, he still had no idea what he was going to do, and he still felt the events of the last few days ringing in his ears. He was tired, but he was also both excited and afraid.

The cub, who at first had kept his aloof, feline distance, finally came over. And, seeming to sense the boy’s misery, curled up right next to him.

Max had searched all day and held it at bay. But now, as he faced the darkness alone, it all came flooding back into his head. The whole nightmare. All alone, even with the cat curled up at his side, he finally broke down.

The cub looked at Max with a mixture of curiosity and concern, as a cascade of tears streamed down the boy’s face as his heart cracked all over again.

“No… Dad…” he sobbed, his voice little more than a choked whisper.

Later, he wouldn’t remember exactly when he finished crying himself to sleep.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 18, 2011, 03:09:42 AM
Reply #20
IV
Max was up with the sun the next morning, the cub balled up next to his head like a furry pillow. His feline friend was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to go. Though more than willing to stick around for a couple minutes while Max split a ration bar with him. They weren’t all that great, but as Mom always said, it was better than a kick in the pants.

Then they were off once again. And it was easier going this time; though he was a still a little sore, yesterday’s exercise and last night’s rest had done Max a world of good. This morning he was fired up and ready for anything.

He hoped.

He walked around a couple more bends in the beach, and what he saw puzzled him for a moment. For it was the very spot where he first washed up; he recognized the large rock thrusting out of the sand near the water from the morning before. His long journey was abruptly at an end.

“Already?…”

The cub looked up at him, just as puzzled, seeming almost to chide Max for leading him in circles.

For his part, Max plunked down on the sand and stared ahead, dumbfounded, at the morning sky. This most recent development completely canceled out his inner debate about whether or not to turn back. All I had to do was just walk a little farther…

And then what?

Now he knew for sure that he was on an island, though there had been little doubt in his mind to begin with. He even had a vague idea of its size now. That just left the question of what to do next. He had been so focused on the present that he had given little thought to the future.

Now was the time to think ahead.

Though he still wasn’t one-hundred-percent sure of it, he was beginning to suspect that there was no one else on the island. Nowhere along the way had he encountered even the slightest sign of habitation. No boats or docks, no buildings or ruins, no campfires, no tracks or trails. Nothing.

It seemed as if no one else had ever been here before.

A real desert isle…

The thought thrilled Max— and scared him. He found himself living in one of his father’s adventures, but he was all on his own. He had only two or three days worth of rations left, and less than a third of a canteen of water— though he at least knew a solution to that problem, if he had enough junk parts to work with. He had no shelter, and only a handful of supplies.

And no one to turn to but himself.

It still took him by surprise to have to think in these terms. This place seemed to empty without any docks, any buildings, and not even a single ship hovering off the shore. Not just here, but everywhere he went.

As Max came and stood before the wreckage of the boat once more, he knew he was on his own. The shadow of fear rose up inside him once again, threatening to break him down as it had the night before. He knew he had to do something.

All he could think of was to explore further inland. As long as he could keep thinking and keep doing, he could keep from falling apart. He simply told himself that it would be good to find out more about the island.

He knew he had no choice. He had to know what was in there.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 18, 2011, 03:10:36 AM
Reply #21
V
Now Max turned his attention to the jungle that encompassed most of the island. Though the island was nowhere near as big as Layosha, the primeval forest still loomed large and intimidating. The thing that bothered him most about this alien scenery was the familiarity of it— all the same kinds of trees and underbrush, yet nothing looked at all like any place he had ever been in his life.

As if his old home had somehow been rearranged.

In the spirit of his old friend Cleo, he gave his new little friend his best devil-may-care shrug and hefted the grip of his laser sword as he entered the wall of trees that guarded the edge of the beach.

Cautiously at first, but with increasing confidence in his solitude, Max ventured forth into the jungle, the little cub bounding happily beside him. A part of him kept trying to pick out the old trails of the Islands— and was repeatedly disappointed to turn up nothing but a few vague trails that at most might belong to small animals. The like of which could only be found with any frequency in the deeper parts of the Islands, especially Makando, with its swampland and large uninhabited areas.

Thus attempts at navigating by past landmarks only made a mockery of his ordinarily reliable sense of direction. Once he was in deep enough that he could no longer hear the crashing of the waves on shore as easily, the fear of getting lost haunted him once again, and he had to remind himself that he was on an island. That as long as he picked a direction and stuck with it, he would always find his way back to the beach. All the same, though, the trees were denser here than in most parts of the Islands, and he couldn’t see very far ahead of him most of the time.

Which brought him back to worrying about potential enemies. Yet, just as he had while traversing the shore, he again found no signs of habitation. No buildings, no camp signs, no sense of any human being having ever set foot in this place before him. The cub also seemed relaxed, prowling in and out of the underbrush as if his explorations were just some big game.

When he stumbled over an exposed tree root, his canteen fell out of his shoulder bag. Picking it up as he got back on his feet, he heard the few swigs’ worth of fresh water sloshing around inside, and began to wonder if he instead should have taken the time to try to rig up something to distill sea water to replenish his supply before heading inland. He mulled it over in his head for a moment, and was about to turn back, when he noticed a faint sound of water splashing somewhere up ahead.

After a short while, he came upon a fresh-water pool with a narrow cascade of a waterfall splashing down a short cliff higher up the mountain that seemed to be near the center of the island. He could almost see the top of the mountain from here, and he wondered if he could see the rest of the island from up there, like on the mountain lookout above Shipwreck Bay.

Max stopped at the edge of the pond near the waterfall and gratefully refilled his canteen with fresh flowing water while the cub drank deeply of a small pool near him. He was greatly relieved to know that at least that problem had been solved. Now he could use water more liberally on the climb.

Once they were up higher, the terrain became much more rocky, the dark, jagged stone edges softened by the scattered footholds of green that persisted all the way up the narrow mountain. There were places where he had to struggle from one hand- or foothold to the next, and since he was still sore and stiff, he had to stop and rest several times. The cub, meanwhile, was a true feline, an expert climber, and bounded effortlessly from point to point while Max struggled. Max took inspiration from his new companion, and began to imitate him as best he could.

As the sun climbed, so did they.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 19, 2011, 03:55:23 AM
Reply #22
VI
It was an exhausting endeavor, but they finally reached the top. Max hauled himself up the final leg in the midafternoon sun. And as he looked out, he saw the view from up here and decided it had been more than worth the effort.

For a while they sat and munched on food rations while gazing out at the Ocean. They had both worked up quite an appetite.

Max didn’t have much left in the way of rations, so he knew he would have to devote the next couple days to finding more food. Back when he was down at the pond, he had wondered if a birds-eye view of the island might help. Now he wasn’t so sure.

Yet for the time being he was content to pet the cat and peer down on different parts of the island.

Near the jagged tip of the mountain, there stood a large tree, its branches almost seeming to touch the sky from where he stood. Now that he had a chance to catch his breath, he decided to climb the tree and check out the view from there. An outcropping boulder gave him easy access to the lower branches, and from there it was a breeze getting the rest of the way up. He and Lance and Cleo had dared each other to climb tougher trees back home.

Thinking about them here felt so strange in this deserted place. The knowledge that somewhere back in the Islands, his friends were surely worried sick about him made him feel almost embarrassed to still be alive, yet unable to let them know. Even recalling the one time Carlton ever took the dare— and subsequently got stuck up in the tree and couldn’t get down without Ian’s help, somehow failed to yield a laugh, like it always had before.

Having climbed as high as he could, he looked out from this lofty perch, seeing even more of the island than he could from any of the other vantage points. The only thing he had ever seen like it was the Crow’s Nest back in Layosha. At the pinnacle of Shipwreck Bay the Islanders’ placed the mast of an old ship, and anyone who climbed up there could see all the way to the islands of Makando and Shindoji with a telescope from that lofty height. In much the same fashion, the view here was almost dizzying, and took some time to get used to.

Once he did, though, he sat up there for a long while, letting the wind caress his face while he simply thought about nothing before finally climbing back down.

Max stretched out against a slanted rock, and the cub flopped next to him. As he lay on the sun-warmed stone, he was again amazed by how simply blissful it was to sit and pet a cat. He was just nodding off when the cub rolled over and he spotted it out of the corner of his eye.

It wasn’t a natural marking, that he could tell right away, even though it was black like the rest of the cub’s fur pattern. At first he rubbed the cat’s tummy, listening to him purr. Curious, he sat up slightly, still petting the cub.

A closer look revealed it to be a series of numbers and letters tattooed down the length of his belly. As the cub peered up curiously at him, he read the numbers: E-86489-2. And below that: BANDIT.

“Bandit, huh?” Max looked down at the cub, who immediately perked up at the mere mention of that word. “Guess that’s your name, isn’t it, little guy? Bandit… Just like Grampa!”

He said it again, and the cub’s ears perked up once more.

“That’s your name, alright,” Max laughed. He had been at a total loss for what to call his new friend, but had grown tired of thinking of him as the cub. “You’re Bandit, yes you are!”

He spoke in a higher, chirpier voice, realizing after a moment that he was imitating an Outlander who once passed through Layosha with his cat when he was little. Bandit looked up at him as he spoke, and seemed to smile as Max petted him again.

The cat was yet a cub, though, and soon fell asleep, taking a nap next to Max. Who had greatly underestimated how drained he was, and quickly dozed off, too.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 20, 2011, 02:30:24 AM
Reply #23
VII
Max blinked his eyes, completely unsure of how long he’d slept, to see that it was late afternoon, going on evening, and dark clouds now gathered over their perch.

He was sure it would start raining before he could climb down. Once wet, the rocks would be slippery, and dangerous to climb. It would slow him down until nightfall, when it would be even more risky to climb in the dark.

“Looks like we’re stuck up here, little guy…”

Bandit glanced up at him knowingly.

So as the clouds gathered in the thundering sky, Max and Bandit sat under one of the two trees that grew near the top. Soon it began to rain, and the wind started picking up. But the two of them curled up in the junction of two great roots, and its broad spread of branches sheltered them from all but a few drops of rain. A minor nuisance Max easily remedied with the extra clothes in his shoulder bag.

As he sat there with his arm around Bandit, he couldn’t help thinking how amazed his friends would be to meet such a big cat. How much fun they would all have together, playing out in the forest and on the beach… It cut him deeply to even contemplate the dawning notion that he might very well never see any of them again.

And that, ironically enough, that same cute little cub was his only comfort here.

The whole course of events seemed a mockery of his childhood dreams. All the excitement he always felt listening to either of his parents telling stories about all the places they traveled to over the years. Even the ones about being stranded at sea, or out in the wilderness.

Only now, as he was marooned in the same basic situation, did the implications begin to sink in. The genuine risks, the lack of supplies and equipment. What it truly meant to have no one but yourself to fall back on. The thought that he couldn’t count on anyone to bail him out of this ordeal chilled him in a way the falling rain never could.

The shower lasted several hours, but Max and his new friend weathered the storm in comfort under the tree. By the time the rain stopped, the sun had all but set. It would be long past dark by the time the rocks were anywhere near dry enough to climb safely.

Max stood up once more and gazed out to sea in indecision, watching the sky grow still darker. Wondering where in that endless purple expanse his father might be. The curtain of clouds parted to show an impressive view of the stars.

Wondered for a long moment what he would do if he did see a ship approaching. Could he trust them? Would he be throwing away his only chance of escaping this island if he avoided them? They were questions he desperately needed to answer for himself, preferably before circumstances could ever force such a choice on him.

After a time, he went back and lay in the wet grass with the overgrown kitten balled up at his side. When he got cold, Max pulled the oversize coat out of his bag and wrapped himself up in it, retreating to the dry spot under the tree. Bandit grumbled at first, but followed him anyway. Max let him split half a ration bar with him before curling back up, and all was forgiven.

He felt the confusion of sleeping the last four nights in four different places he had never been before. Even the stars here were unfamiliar. In the same way as the almost-familiar forest.

Eventually, though, on his little perch at the top of his new world, he sank slowly into sleep.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.

August 20, 2011, 02:31:39 AM
Reply #24
VIII
“Dad!…” Max woke up in a cold sweat, panic written all over his face. Snapping upright, he looked around frantically, his eyes adjusting to dim silver moonlight with uncanny quickness.

The images of those last few moments were etched in his mind’s eye, that final scream echoing through his head. It was as if he had just heard it only a second ago. He saw Bandit had jumped back, and was now staring at him, at first alarmed, then curious.

The nightmare still repeated itself even as his breathing began to calm. He felt alone and scared, feelings to which found he was becoming more accustomed than he had ever wanted to be.

“Dad… forgive me…”

Slowly, Max stood up, walking over to the edge of the cliff before him. He peered down at the narrow, shimmering strip of waterfall spilling below him. His gaze drifted up and out to the crashing waves that he could hear only faintly, perhaps just in his own mind, from on high. Past the shattered, shimmering reflection of the moon, to where the Ocean met the sky.

“Daddy!!…”

Max held nothing back as he screamed, falling to his knees. For somewhere beyond that horizon, dead or alive, was his father. And even from up here, that distance seemed endless.

“No… you can’t be…” he whispered.

He wiped his eyes as he rose slowly to his feet. The hot pain in his chest again threatened to stifle him, but after a moment he began to master himself. The pain seemed to draw from a well with no bottom, and seeing this, Max chose to accept the one hope his conscience could still compromise with.

“I know you’re still alive…” he said, his voice one of quiet, quivering determination. “You have to be. I swear…” Max clutched the silver triangle dangling under his shirt, a gift from the very one for whom he now made his vow, “Wherever you are… I will find you, father. Someday…”

He looked down to see that Bandit had walked up to him, looking up at him with big, unjudging eyes. Max ran his hand across the cub’s head, choosing for now to accept the cat’s irrelevant absolution, and walked wearily back to his resting place. Drained, but not quite running on empty (after all, the well was bottomless), he tried to hold back the tears as he wrapped his arms around Bandit.

He was glad to have company, and it seemed that his little friend was also comforted by his presence. Max wondered how long Bandit had been alone before he came along…

Before he knew it, he was asleep again.
-Standing backwards, Scoot.