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Lunar Cycle -- Chapter 2 CHAPTER TWO:
From One to the Next
They gathered in the meeting room stituated above the whaft, the party below nearly forgotten. Domingo was obviously worn out from his voyage, but he refused to rest or eat until he could share his tale with Vyse and company. The black-haired adventurer stood at the long meeting table, leaning over some maps there with Vyse standing beside him.

"I think I'm ready to start, Cap'n." He flickered his eyes up to the door just as Centime entered the room. "Oh good, Cap'n Centime. You'll want to hear this too."

"Indeed," Centime said, pulling up a chair to sit next to Fina. "somehow I knew something exciting would happen at this place once I recieved the party invite."

Vyse was turning the gold scarab over and over in his hands, frowning a bit ruefully. "And this is all you could get?"

"Sadly, yeah. I had some treasures sorted, but that's the only one I had on me when the rift drifted in." He shrugged. "I'm just as disappointed as you are, but I know I was lucky to get out of there with my ship in one piece. Despite the gear and treasure I left behind, making it away alive doesn't leave me with any huge regrets."

"Mr. Domingo, would you mind explaining your rift problems in detail?" Centime inquired. "I'm beginning to think this is related to something else."

Domingo nodded. "Yeah, sure. Just as long as you share your little "something else" when I'm done here." He stood and leaned over a large detailed map of the world that was spread out on the table. "Here's a map of Arcadia from about three or four months ago after Soltis sank back into Deep Sky, a duplicate of the one Vyse made. As you can see, even small islands, major reef stones and of course sky rifts are all drawn in and even labled. Not only that, but things are fairly to scale." He glanced across the table at Vyse, who was also leaning over the map. "Tell me, how wide is a sky rift?"

"It all depends, really. Some of the minor ones beneath the Silver moon are only a half a mile across, and easily passable for a larger ship. But then again, there are some bigger ones like this one," Vyse pointed to the large rift that ran east of Rolana. "...the one you told me about, is between three leagues and eleven miles across. Depending on the time of the years, location along the rift and other things like that are what cause it to vary."

"Er...yeah. Thanks for the science lesson." Domingo rubbed at his neck.

"Well you DID ask..." Vyse said a bit defensively. "And why did you ask, anyway? How thick was the East-Nasr Rift when it snuck up on you?"

Domingo calmly began to unroll another smaller map. "At least eight leagues."

Vyse quickly looked up at the treasure hunter incredulously. "What?! That's almost thirty miles!"

"Why would a sky rift be so big?" Aika asked. "I mean, I know they change but there's no reason one should get that big."

"I'm not sure..." Domingo laid out his map, and pointed to it. "This is a rough map I made, after the rift snuck in. It's probably not one-hundred percent to scale, but it's hard flying near a rift in such a small ship. As you can see, the rift has pretty much swallowed up the eastern part of Nasr here....but no harm done. Nobody lives out there anyway."

Vyse set the scarab down on the table. "Not anymore....but they did. I wonder if this is why Rolana was just....deserted at one point. Maybe the rift has a tendancy to do that from time to time."

Fina picked up the scarab and looked at it almost sadly. "A civilization and all its wonders driven away by a rift? That's sort of sad..."

"Sad, but probably true, miss." Centime stood to look at the map better. "Hm, I see. Well I can honestly say that this could prove to be a problem..."

" treasure for us." Aika pouted.

"Well, not exactly that...I'm speaking about how it effects the entire world." He looked at Vyse. "Mr. Vyse, would you say that South Ocean is totally impassable, seeing that you've gone through it several times?"

The pirate looked up from Domingo's map. "Impassable? Of course not. If I can do it, anybody can do it. Besides, it was sort of calmer after the whole Soltis incident."

"I doubt even you could do it now, Mr. Vyse. My ship had to come here via North Ocean and then over Valua. It was simply too...intimidating. You see, instead of the almost stationary twisters that are dotted across South Ocean, there are massive storms covering almost the whole sea; instead of just flinging a ship off course, these tornadoes rip a ship to shreds. I took one look at those storms and decided I didn't want to risk my ship or my crew. And I also ask you...haven't you noticed that we've been getting more thunderstorms recently?"

"For the past few months we've been sailing near Nasr and Valua." He looked at his female companions, both of which nodded in agreement with what Vyse was saying. "We all figured that it was just a cycle of the Yellow moon to create strong thunderstorms."

Centime shook his head. "Why then would there be strong storms where I live, under the Green moon? The Yellow moon can't cause them on practically the other side of the world, can it? It's all very strange to me, and while I think the storms, South Ocean and even this rift problem are all connected, I can't see of any way how they would in fact be related."

Aika nudged Vyse. "Hey, why don't we take a little trip to investigate this? I know the perfect place to go."

"I'm way ahead of you, Aika. I think I'd like to talk to Ilchymis about this, since he seems to know everything and anything. Besides, he'd probably like to look at this scarab that Domingo found."

The adventurer shrugged. "Eh, keep's not like I have use for one little bit of treasure anyway." He stood. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm damn hungry."

* * *

The next day, preperations were made and supplies loaded onto to the Belleza. Vyse refused any sort of crew, saying it was a trip "just for fun", and the ship could be manned well enough with only three people.

"It's not like we're going to war with anybody, so nobody needs to man the guns. As for the engine, I know how to take care of it if something goes wrong, and so does Fina." He sternly looked at Hans, who had already grown taller than his captain. "Don't give me puppy-dog eyes, you're not going."

Hans sighed. "Aye, cap'n. Whatever you say."

"Besides, you have to stay here and help your father. I'm technically leaving him in charge, but he'll need a lot of help in managing things."

The young man's eyes brightened. "Really? You'd let me do that?"

Vyse laughed. "I remember when I sounded like you....and yeah. I know you're a bright, responsible guy, Hans. Just don't blow the place up while I'm gone. And don't let Centime do anything funny with the Delphinus' engines either...I know what that look in his eye means."

Hans grinned and saluted. "Aye've got it. Good luck on your trip."

Vyse turned and walked to where Aika was waiting, and headed up the gangplank with her to the Belleza's deck. "I think we're ready now."

The female air pirate smiled. "Do you know what you just did for Hans? I've never seen him grin this big, not since you signed him up for our crew."

He vaulted over the rail and onto the deck. "Yeah, but he's a good kid. I trust him."

Aika leapt and landed next to him. "He's a lot like somebody I know a few years ago..."

"Really? Hm, I guess you're right...I was a bit like that, wasn't I?" He laughed. "No wonder I drove my dad nuts."

The two of them walked into the bridge, Vyse taking his position near the wheel. "All right, start the engines. I'm anxious to be off."

Fina looked up from the gauges she was watching as the engine whirred to life. "But, aren't you always anxious to be off?"

"No comment," murmured Aika.

Slowly, the medium-sized ship pulled out of the port and into the open sky. The Belleza wasn't an extravagant ship, but it wasn't simple either. It was built as a gift to Vyse from his father on his eighteenth birthday with the comment that "real rogues have wooden ships". While his father was impressed with the Delphinus, he obviously didn't think it suited his son or the family business. Hence, a near-replica of the Albatross was built, with some modifications. Vyse's ship itself was a bit wider, and it only had two main masts instead of three. The cabins below were designed for longer trips, and the hold was smaller to make room for a conference room, a kitchen and a dining room. It was designed to be Vyse's ship and to suit Vyse's needs, no matter what they may be. The ship lacked a name when it was presented, however; Dyne left the naming up to his son. The young blue rogue immediately declared the ship to be named "Belleza" after the late admiral for the Valuan empire, as a mean of memorium and respect.

Aika leaned against the wall, arms crossed, and looked out the window at the open sky. "Looks like it'll be rough sailing if we're not careful."

Fina glanced up from the map she was consulting, and looked at the front of stormclouds to the southwest. "Those are probably out near Nasrad. I think if we're careful and keep a course close to Valua or even north over Valua, we'll avoid them."

"What would be the point of sailing into the storms over Valua in order to avoid some thunderstorms elsewhere?" Aika shook her head, and looked at the purple-tinged clouds. "It seems stupid to me...we should just go to the south and keep our normal course through the South Dannel Strait."

"Thunderstorms over the desert are always more severe than the ones caused by the yellow moon." Vyse said mildly. "The ones over Valua are usually all noise and lightning, and not too much rain. The ones that sweep over Nasr tend to be a bit scarier, and can have some very nasty air currents to them that you'd have to be nuts to sail through."

"But you are nuts, Vyse."

"Despite that, Fina's right; we should avoid the storms to the south. I don't mind going north over Valua, even if it's a bit unscenic." He gave the wheel a spin and started the ship on a west-northwest course.

The trip went somewhat uneventfully. They hit some thunderstorms over Valua, as usual, but nothing overly threatening. Lightning generally didn't hit mostly wooden ships like the Belleza, so while there was quite a light show on either side of the medium-sized craft there were no problems. They dropped anchor for the night a bit south of the Maw of Tartas, and then continued westward along the mountains that made up the spine of the continent. It was fairly early in the evening of the second day when they finally saw the lights of the entryway. Where the once-proud Grand Fortress stood was an open concrete strait, lined with blinking lights and patrolled by the occasional customs ship. Various merchant ships from Mid-Ocean, Valua and Nasr flew through the massive passageway, unmolested by the customs ships for the most part. While the apperance of the entryway was nothing like the Grand Fortress once was, its overwhelming size still made it somewhat intimidating.

"I remember when I dreaded seeing that entrance...although it was the Fortress back then." Vyse commented.

Aika peered at the massive mixture of concrete and bedrock. "Yeah, but at least now Enrique decided to make it a more friendly front door than the Grand Fortress was. He obviously doesn't want to make the city of Valua as stand-offish as it was."

The Belleza had started to slowly pull into the man-made canyon when a Valuan vessel started straight towards them.

"Customs?" Fina wondered.

"Probably, now that people go in and out of there all the time. They probably want to check our papers and all that garbage." He grunted. "A world of fun."

"Vyse, I don't think that's a customs ship, judging by the banner. That's the banner of Enrique's family." She squinted.

"Do you need glasses or something, Aika?" Vyse jeered. "You seem to squint a lot lately."

"Shut up Vyse, my eyes are fine." She stopped squinting. "They're signaling us to stop, and to let them pull up next to us."

"They'd better not try to board us." Fina said. "Nasty situations seem to happen whenever we get boarded."

Vyse brought the ship to a halt partway through the long passageway, and the larger imperial ship pulled up alongside. The three pirates went up on deck to meet whomever it was in a somewhat irritated fashion. The party on the other deck was an important-looking man flanked by two imperial guards.

The man flashed a pleasant smile and bowed in respect. "Captain Vyse, welcome."

"Hello." He didn't even bother asking how this man knew who he was; most people knew him by sight now, if not by his flag. "Can I ask why we were stopped?"

"Of course, Captain. My name is Chandler, and I'm the first admiral of the Armada. Emperor Enrique sent me out to escort you in."

"You knew we were coming?" the silvite asked.

Chandler smiled pleasantly again. "Yes, Miss Fina. We still have ships patrolling the skies of our territory, and a few spotted your ship. We sent word to the Emperor because we knew you were friends of his. Naturally, he sent us to greet you."

Vyse gave a lopsided smirk. "Heh, just like Enrique. Well, lead the way, Chandler."

They were escorted through the rest of the entryway and into the open area that housed the city of Valua. The recent moonstone rains had nearly destroyed the entire city, but the citizens seemed almost undaunted. Both Lower City and Upper City were slowly rebuilding, in a sense.

"Would you look at that," Aika leaned forward , almost pressing her face against the window of the bridge's cabin. "It looks like they're building Upper and Lower City intermixed."

Vyse zoomed in with his skyseer patch. "Hey, you're right. There seems to be some sort of middle ground there. I can see the people building the houses...they seem pretty decent, but not overly expensive. Except for that large" He adjusted the patch to see normally. "I'll bet Moegi had some part in that. If anybody, she wouldn't want to see a major class seperation like that. I'll bet Lower City is signifigantly getting cleaned up and renovated from what I saw in that...middle...area."

"Middle City?" Fina suggested.

"That's probably what it is." the redheaded pirate said. "I'll want to check it out later, if we can."

"What can it hurt?" Vyse continued to follow Chandler's ship to the newly-built port between Upper City and "Middle City". A large bridge spanned between the area next to the port and where the palace used to be. The rubble of the old palace had been removed, and now some sort of park lit by electric lamps stood in its place. Some sort of tents were being erected there, along with various decorations in red, black and gold--the colors of the Valuan empire's crest.

"Festive," Aika commented. "but what is it for?"

"I have a feeling we'll find out. That's Enrique standing there on the dock next to Chandler." Vyse brought the Belleza up into the designated port that Chandler's ship pointed out to him, and let the engines shut down. As soon as the ship slowed to a halt, several dock workers started tying her down to prevent her from drifting away. Vyse turned to his two female companions. "Well, shall we?"

Enrique seemed different somehow, even in the few months since the pirates had seen him. His normally pleasant facial expression still was pleasant, but it wasn't forced like it used to be. The look of happiness on his face was genuine, as was the joy shining in his blue eyes. Moegi too seemed to share a similar expression.

"Married people..." Aika murmured as they stepped onto the dock. Her companions chortled under their breath as they walked up to the Emperor and Empress.

"Something amusing?" Enrique asked, his greeting forgotten.

"Nah, nothing at all." Vyse said as he warmly shook his friend's hand. "How have you been Enrique?"

"Happy, yet busy." the Emperor answered truthfully. "While I admit that married life suits me, the stress of rebuilding an empire weighs heavily upon me and Moegi. I knew it would be a lot of work, but I never could've imagined that it would have been this much."

Fina scanned the skyline of the city with her green eyes. "Yes, but look at all you've accomplished. It's amazing that Valua has recovered from the Rains so quickly. Not to mention that, but the people here seem...happier."

"It's because they have a sense of purpose now." Enrique said, motioning them to walk. "Before, the citizens of Upper City sat around in clubs and casinos, at snobby parties...and for what? To flaunt their money? To show off their family lineage? I decided that was just plain disgusting, so I ordered each to donate money to help rebuild our city. Some really hated it, but had to comply." he said with a dark smirk.

"Let's just say Enrique didn't make many friends in Upper City after he became Emperor." Moegi said, adding to the story. "They didn't like the fact that he also favored the poor living in Lower City, and how he decided to make them spend their money to fund the reconstruction of what they thought should stay as miserable hovels."

"Some people are just plain disgusting." Aika said hotly. "I can't stand people like that."

"I can't either." the Emperor replied. "However some people seemed to fall between the lines...they lived in Upper City, but hated the way many people there thought. They wanted to help their fellow Valuans....and I thought they should be rewarded somehow. So that's why Middle City was born."

"Heh, you were right, Fina..." Vyse smirked. He then saw Enrique and Moegi's expressions. "When we were pulling into port, Fina commented that it seemed like you were building a "Middle City"."

"We are." Moegi smiled. "Some people had decent money, but still couldn't afford to live in Upper City. Others had money, but seriously disliked the Upper City attitude. For these people, we created a seperate class of sorts, and a seperate section of the city. Middle City is a place where people are more or less equal, and don't make judgements based on income or bloodlines. It's also a lot safer to live in than Lower City."

"It's also where we built the new palace." Enrique indicated the large building at the end of the avenue that they were walking down, through Middle City. "I didn't want to entirely seperate myself from the people like the older palace did, but at the same time I didn't want to favor the rich class or risk living in Lower City. So I placed it in the middle of Middle City, which is pretty much at the central point between all of the Capital. The construction of most of the city and the palace is pretty much complete, so tomorrow is a festival day to celebrate."

"That would explain the decorations, huh?" the young captain glanced at the banners and lanterns that were being strung from various houses and storefronts. "If there's a festival, then we have to definately stick around for it."

"Actually Vyse, you're not only invited to the festival, but the three of you are invited to a banquet at the palace. A party of sorts thrown in celebration for us stuffed peacocks...or more like for those who donated their money to help rebuild Valua."

"" The expression on his face hovered somewhere between chagrin and excitement.

"Yes." said Moegi. "A formal banquet, with guests from all over the world."

"Formal?" Vyse's expression was starting to slide more towards chagrin.

Enrique laughed. "Well of course it's formal. There'll be music, food, dancing...all sorts of entertainment."

"Dancing..." Chagrin was shifting into distaste.

"Doesn't it sound wonderful, Vyse?" Fina said brightly, grabbing onto his arm. "I've never been to a formal party before....I'm sure it's quite a bit of fun."

Aika slapped him on the back happily. "Yeah, she's right. We'll have a great time, even if we have to dress up."

Vyse sighed ruefully. "Well if you two seem so excited about it, I guess I can't say no, can I?"

The leaders of Valua continued to lead the pirates down the main avenue of Middle City, for the most part ignoring Vyse's sullen expression. Neither of them exactly thought he'd be excited about a formal party, so neither could blame him for his reaction. Aika idly chattered on with Chandler, who was part of their escort.

"I'm the First Admiral, yes, but there are still others." Chandler was saying. "There aren't six anymore though. There are only three so far, which is more than enough for a country that isn't on the offensive anymore."

"Then what is it you admirals do?" Aika inquired. "You guys obviously aren't at war anymore, and I know you aren't out to conquer the world either."

The admiral gave a pleasant smile. "Well, my job is to oversee most of the happenings near the capital that Enrique or Moegi can't handle. For instance, tracking you three down was something I had to take care of. I also maintain security, but more so within the city than anyplace else. Valua now has a complete police force, something that the Lower City people are grateful for. As for my comrades...the other two admirals, well..." He pointed at a building under construction. "That there will be a library. The reconstruction effort along with the relief troops sent to aid those who suffered from the moonstone rains is lead by the Second Admiral, Lady Maria."

"Lady Maria?" Aika stopped looking at the library and turned to look up at Chandler. "Is she nobility?"

"Yes, she's actually a distant cousin of the late Alfonso. However, she distanced herself from that part of her family about ten years ago, when their actions disgusted her beyond belief. She's one of the few in Upper City that would rather use their money for something worthwhile, instead of spending it on lavish clothes or the like. Maria is one of the larger contributers towards building Middle City; Emperor Enrique was so impressed with her efforts, that he bestowed the title of Second Admiral upon her."

Enrique smiled. "Well, that and the fact that her grades were outstanding at the acadamy. She's only a few scant years older than I am, but her understanding of the world, of people and of economics is decades beyond any of us."

"Who's the Third Admiral?" Vyse asked, too interested in the conversation to sulk.

"Proffessor Remaro." Chandler replied. "He's well past middle age, but he was the best candidate for the job. He's very world-worthy, an anthropologist and sociologist that's studied in various parts of Nasr and Ixa'Taka. He also has a keen eye for mechanics and technology, so he's the head of the technology department. He just recently came back from Yafutoma last month, so he's doing his best to expand Valua's horizons and bring in new fresh ideas from other lands."

"And some people from other lands too." Moegi added. "At my prompting, he brought back some engineers and their families from Yafutoma. It's a bit nice to see some more of my people around here, and to see some of their technology put to work."

"I want a few more "admirals" though." The emperor shrugged a bit sheepishly. "It sounds selfish, and I don't want to seem like my mother....but then again, the title no longer means the same thing it did before. I have one particular candidate in mind for fourth, and that's Ilchymis the doctor. He has a clinic open in Lower City though, and he says he needs time to consider it. I invited him to the ball tomorrow as a guest of honor, and to hear how he stands on the matter. I think that his addition to our team would be stellar, though; he's one of the brightest people I've ever met, not to mention of one of the kindest."

"I know what you mean." the young captain gave his lopsided grin. "He was in my crew for only half a year, but I really valued the time he was with us. And everybody took to him too, he was a real people person. I'm also hoping to speak to him about something..." Vyse stopped as they walked up the grounds of a fairly large house. "Why we stopping here?"

Enrique chuckled. "Vyse, this is where you three are staying."

Fina's eyes widened a bit as she looked at the opulant building. "We're"

"Well of course you are." Moegi giggled. "Nothing but the best for our friends. You can wait here until the ball tomorrow evening. I'll send some tailors to fit you with proper dress."

"Goodie." The rueful expression slid over Vyse's scarred face again. He grunted when Aika elbowed him a bit harshly in the ribs. "Er, what else is there for us to do while we wait? You said Ilchymis is gonna be at that party tomorrow, right?"

"Right. You'll have plenty of opportunity to speak to him then. Until that time, you're free to take a look at Middle City. I also took the liberty of stocking the library in the house. I remember how Vyse practically devoured every last book I brought along with me when you ahem, "kidnapped" me and the Delphinus."

"You're acting like it's a bad thing," Vyse said with a grin.

"For a man with no formal education, you sure read a lot. In any case, the library is at your disposal." Enrique's face went grim. "Oh, and one last thing before we go on our way. I have some sad news to give to you."

Vyse's grin faded. "What's that?"

"Drachma was here a week ago. While he was here, he passed away."

Aika put her hand to her mouth in shock. "Cap'n Drachma's...gone? How?"

"I only know a few of the details." Enrique fixed his eyes on something in the distance, his expression unchanging. "He was fishing nearby in Mid-Ocean when his whole right side went numb. He panicked a bit, and came here to Valua to see what was wrong. He was admitted to a clinic, and Ilchymis himself examined him. Apparently, Drachma had a stroke...and another one was eminent. He had a second one three days later, and passed away."

Fina's eyes teared up. "Poor Drachma...and we didn't even get to see him befored he died."

Vyse put an arm around her shoulders, and looked at Enrique. "What did you do with his body?"

"I gave him a sea burial, as I thought was fit. We would have asked you to the funeral, but we couldn't get ahold of you."

The scarred blue rogue nodded. "That's all right, he was buried like a sailor, and that's what counts. He would've wanted that. What about the Little Jack?"

"It's enshrined at the Memorial Harbor in Upper City, where we have certain ships of honor docked. Many people came to see it too...I'm sure Drachma would have been pleased." He sighed. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Please don't let it dampen your spirits while you're here, we both know Drachma wouldn't want you to be upset." He smiled at Fina. "So please don't cry."

"I-I'm sorry...I'm always so emotional." She wiped at her eyes and shrugged Vyse's arm off her shoulders. "I'm all right now. Shall we go inside, Aika?"

"Yeah." Aika said quietly, and the two went into the house without further comment.

Vyse watched them go. "I know the two of them really liked Drachma, and respected him. I hope this party of yours will brighten their spirits, because I'm lousy and cheering them up at times."

Moegi gave a small smile. "Vyse, I think you're the one person in the world that can cheer them up best. Shall we go Enrique, Chandler?"

Enrique gave a small nod. "I'll see you tomorrow, Vyse." He then turned, and walked away with his wife and the First Admiral. Vyse stood and watched them walk away for a bit, then sighed and headed into the house.

* * *

Not even an hour later, a tailor and her assistants arrived at the pirate's guest house, with bolts of cloth, measuring tape, and businesslike expressions. They immediately whisked past Aika when she opened the door, even before the female pirate could say anything.

"Um, hi there." She said as the line of people filed into the front hall of the building. Most of them didn't pay her heed, but one looked at her in particular, a short and stout woman of middle years with a red face.

"Oh looks as if I have my work cut out for me." she said, looking Aika up and down. "A redhead that wears yellow, tsk. And look at those braids...where in the world did you come up with that hairdo?"

Aika turned a bit red in the face. "I like yellow, and I don't care what people think. And I have my braids like this because it a) keeps my hair out of my face and b) annoys a lot of people. You don't think I go around like a scarecrow constantly, do you?"

The fat woman gave a full-bodied laugh. "My, such a hothead. I didn't mean to offend you dear. Where are your two friends? I need to look you all over."

"Uh, Vyse is upstairs and Fina is in the sitting's through that door there. I'll go get Vyse."

The woman put her hands to her ruddy cheeks, and seemed to turn a shade redder. "Vyse? The legendary blue rogue Vyse? Oh be still my heart, I get to work on him?"

Aika rolled her eyes and started up the stairs. "Oh please, you're not yet another one of those women that get all giddy about him, are you?"

"Well you probably don't know it dear, but many women dream of men like Vyse."

"Uh-huh, sure they do. VYYYSE!! THE TAILORS ARE HEEEERE!"

"Aargg..." came a voice from up the stairs. Vyse walked around the corner, holding a book in one hand and wriggling a finger in his ear with the other. "You didn't have to yell so loud...I think they heard you in Horteka."

"That's him?" the portly tailor blinked. "I always thought he'd be....taller."

"Disappointing, isn't he?" Aika smirked up the stairs at Vyse.

"Now wait a minute, what were you telling them, Aika?" He stomped down the stairs, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Don't listen to anything my friend says, she has the tendancy to exaggerate things."

Aika's face grew dangerous, but she didn't say anything.

"Well so this is Vyse. Very nice to meet you Captain Vyse, my name is Rita." She gave something that was a cross between a bow and a curtsey.

"Nice to meet you. You already met my friend, Aika. Oh, and the girl who just came through the doorway is our friend, Fina."

Fina had shuffled into the room, a cup of tea in her hands. "Aika, I heard you yelling something about tailors?"

"Oh my..mymymymy..." Rita bustled over to the Silvite, looking her over. "How delightful! A perfect hourglass figure."

Fina blushed, not sure to be offended or flattered. "Um...?"

"Look at that pale skin...and large lovely green eyes. And with that pale blonde'd look best in blue. Do you like blue?"

"Why yes, it's my favorite color."

Rita clasped her hands in front of her happily. "Wonderful, dear! I know the perfect look for you....I can whip up some drawings really quick."

"Thank you very much, that would be very nice." She smiled.

"And such a beautiful smile too. I had no idea that a group of pirates could be such beautiful people. Especially you." She headed over to Vyse. "You might not be very tall, but you're definately a looker."

"Uh, thanks?" Vyse obviously didn't know how to take Rita's compliments either.

"Such an eye color, too. You rarely see somebody with amber eyes, especially in Valua. And what long eyelashes..."

"Don't flatter him too much, Rita; it'll all go to his head." Aika put her hands on her hips. "Right Fina?"

Fina sipped her tea and giggled. "Vyse is normally modest, until you start complimenting his looks. Then all his common sense goes out the window."

"Oh great, now the two of you are ganging up on me again." he sighed. "You guys act as if I spend my days in front of a mirror."

Aika grinned. "It's so fun to tease him. Well Rita, whenever you're ready to start."

"Oh yes, right away. Let's go into that room over there and shut the door...we have work to do." She eyed Vyse carefully. "And no peeking, young man."

"You've gotten the wrong impression about me. I'm a gentleman, I won't peek in on my friends. Besides, I'd rather go back to the library where it's quiet. I'll be there if you need me." He turned and headed back up the stairs.

"I'll send for you in a little while, Mr. Vyse." She turned to Aika and Fina with a sly wink. "What a cute little rear end on him too..."

Vyse visably flinched at that comment, but continued up the stairs, trying to maintain some of his dignity. He still slammed the library door after he had gotten upstairs, though.

Aika laughed. "Oh, I LIKE her, Fina."

The two young women were shown various drawings that Rita deftly drew up, along with various bolts of fabric. As soon as they had chosen what they wanted, the portly seamstress got to work measuring them, and shouting orders to her assistants.

"I never knew that so much went into making fine clothing..." Fina commented as she stood in her undergarments while Rita measured her waist.

"Oh, plenty does, dear." Rita seemed to call all young women "dear". "It's something some take for granted, but I don't mind as much. At least I don't take it for's something I really enjoy." She measured the Silvite's shoulders. "I admit when I saw what you two ladies were wearing, I shuddered. Sailor's clothing was never to my taste."

"It's functional, not pretty. We don't really care about our looks half the time. It's just Vyse with us anyway."

"Yes, and Vyse doesn't seem to be interested in our looks." Fina said as Rita measured her arms. She then frowned. "You know, he COULD compliment us once in a while."

"It's not his nature." Aika was lounging on the sofa of the sitting room, drinking a cup of tea. "I've known Vyse ever since he was five, and he never seems to compliment his female friends. Not that he really knows a lot about women anyway. He's a real dork at times."

Rita took on a pained expression. "You're ruining my perception of him, dear. How am I going to tell stories about him to my girlfriends when you keep making him seem like a stick in the mud?"

"We're just setting the facts straight about our friend, that's all." She sipped her tea and jiggled her foot. "Everybody wants to rig up Vyse like he's some romantic hero, or a giant that breathes fire or whatever....but he's nothing more than a normal guy. A normal guy that seemed to always be caught up in the middle of something major. I think Vyse acted as anybody would, really."

"Do you mean stubborn and somewhat insane at times?" Fina started getting dressed, her measurements done.

"Okay, I admit his actions are sometimes...unorthadox. There were plenty of sitatuations that I definately would of turned tail and fled from, but I couldn't do that. You know me, I have to stick by him." The female pirate smirked.

Rita looked up from her measurment notes. "Oh, are you two together? I thought he wasn't taken."

Aika wrinkled her nose. "Me? And Vyse?" She laughed. "No, it's not like that. Things are strictly plutonic, although I'm sure plenty of rumors pop up. We've been best friends ever since we were small, and that's how it's always gonna be." She smiled, albeit a bit bitterly.

The dressmaker nodded. "I see. Then I won't assume anything...I can see now that you three are friends and nothing more." She gathered up her papers and tape measure. "Well, I'm off to measure your friend. I hope he doesn't get funny about it....he seems to be pretty touchy for a living legend."

"Touchy is a very polite way of putting it." Fina was mostly dressed, and was pulling her boots back on. "But I wouldn't worry, Rita. Even if he doesn't want to get dressed up, he'll do it anyway. He shouldn't get "funny"."

However, "funny" was just the start of it. At first Vyse seemed somewhat irritated about being pulled away from his book, but he didn't exactly comment. He refused to strip down like his female counterparts did, and the most Rita could get him to do was remove his blue coat, belt, scarf and boots. Things seemed to be going very well, until a yelp was heard from upstairs. Aika and Fina exchanged a look, then both dashed up the stairs to see what had caused Vyse to yipe like a puppy.

They practically ran into him as they rounded the corner to where his bedroom would be. His face was fairly red, and his teeth were locked into some sort of grimace.

"Are you okay, Vyse?" Fina asked.

The scarred pirate spluttered angrily and pointed a shaking finger at Rita, who was bustling down the hall after him. "Th...that woman! She grabbed me!!"

"Mr. Vyse! Please come back, I'm not finished!" Rita hurried to some degree up to the three pirates, panting a bit from chasing the blue rogue around.

Aika looked at Rita, then at Vyse. "Oh please...don't flatter yourself. Why would she grab you?"

He took a somewhat defensive position behind the two of them, still red in the face. "I don't know why, she just did! She grabbed my groin and then tried to convince me that it's her job!!"

Rita took on a pained expression. "Mr. Vyse...I didn't grab you...I had to measure your inseam. Please don't exaggerate like that....I'm not trying to get fresh."

He shook an angry finger at her. "Yeah right....first you get all gooshy about my looks, then make a comment about my butt to my friends, then try to get me to take my clothes off, and then you grope me! I don't know what's customary here in Valua, but from where I come from you don't feel people up because you feel like it!" He snarled. "Stop laughing at me!"

Aika was practically rolling on the floor, tears rolling down her face, while Fina was laughing so hard she had some sort of snort going. Rita, however, stood there wringing her hands with an apologetic look on her face.

"Mr. Vyse...I really didn't mean to there. Look, I just have to measure your shoulders and neck, and I'm all set. Can't I at least finish?"

Aika stood up, holding onto Vyse for support. "Yeah, Mr. a sport. It was an accident...things happen." She covered her mouth and tried unsuccessfully to stop the laughter from coming.

He crossed his arms. "Why should I?"

Fina had stopped laughing to some degree. "Because it's only fair....we stood there for a long time, and we had to get undressed. At least she's letting you wear your shirt and pants....and she really does seem sincere. I'm sure it was an accident." She giggled. "Your ears are all look funny."

"Please don't pick on me now," he said in a pained voice. "...I'm really not in the best of moods." He sighed and rubbed at the back of his neck. "But my mood isn't gonna improve either. I might as well let Rita finish her job. I don't want to hold her up here, it's getting late." Vyse turned to the portly woman with an apologetic expression on his face. "Sorry if I got a bit upstartish....I really shouldn't complain and should just let you do your job."

Rita smiled pleasantly. "It's all right, Mr. Vyse. I can understand why you got edgy....but I'm just doing my job. Can we finish now?"

"Sure." His ears turned a bit red again. "But groping this time."