Synopsis: A fast-paced story about a youngster who loses everything and everyone he holds dear. Through the only family that still remains with him, his uncle, he gets to choose to dedicate his focus and attention to blacksmithing rather than to fall into depression and street life...
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1: Gisele (The Baby Sky Reaver of Rachel’s she got as a reward)
2: Molly Park (Chan-hee; Rachel’s poor Mother)
3: Rachel Park
Recap: Cahira got a baby Dragon Turtle! And that’s not all—a flippin’ Dreadnought! We met some copy of a real pirate legend from another world, and he gave Cahira some tips on her way to become a true Queen of the Pirates!
The problem … She’s broke, and these new crewmates she bought and ships require a LOT of money … ugh … always a problem! We’re making strides, though!
I want to thank my patrons for continuing to support me:
MadGod, Iobe I, Owen, Alex I, Ianitos, KingWoh, Ryan Devine, Braincase, and my other Patrons!
Gisele gently touched down on the side of Cahira’s railing, metallic-like wings softening to fold around her body; her focus darted between the individuals around the deck as they spoke in rapid and confusing phrases. She tried really hard to memorize the key identifiers her master used for the creatures around her, but the names were difficult.
Her master, Rachel, had just returned from the jungle after breaking the illusions that were cast upon them. Scarlet seemed to demand so much attention from her, but Gisele did her best not to be jealous. Still, it was difficult not to see the small slices of time Rachel spent with everyone but her since the Sky Reaver’s summoning. Scarlet’s strange shadow ability certainly did blow her powers out of the sky after witnessing the black-haired girl dance through the air, cutting down the loud bats with ease.
Gisele was all but ignored. In short, her life was challenging and only getting worse by the hour.
Her concerned purple eyes turned to Alexa, shame clouding little Sky Reaver’s mind; she’d failed her master by succumbing to the illusion. No, her master had to save her, which horrified her. It was heartbreaking; she’d followed the orders of a fake Rachel, yet it was that fake master that made her feel so needed at the time. The Flying Screamers had returned, and Rachel called upon her aid.
Only to find out, it was all just a trick, and she’d fallen for it like one of those screamers that fell into Scarlet’s liquid traps. She was embarrassed, she was angry, and she wanted to be of use, but her master seemed to think she was utterly useless.
Rachel gave her a dismissive wave that pricked her chest while preparing to enter a dangerous underground area; her master’s vision wasn’t even on her. “Look after someone that needs it; I’ll be back later.”
There her master went … again, jumping into danger, and she was left to guard someone else. What else did she expect, though; how many failures did she have under her beak? She’d barely been able to kill two of the Flying Screamers and failed to guard Alexa. On the other hand, even the excited beast girl had two more Flying Screamers under her thin, flightless wing.
An itch appeared on her right wing, so she reached her left claw around to scratch at it. Expertly finding the spot between the sharp barbs on her feathers, she smacked her long bony tail against the side of the rail with pent-up agitation.
Who should I look after? This must be a test … who is the weakest of the flock?
Her gaze shifted back, a grimace crossing her features once spotting the aggravating prime candidate; Galatea was staring up at her.
“Where did Mom go?” The utterly defenseless aquatic piece of fat inquired.
Gisele understood humans once she’d been bonded to Rachel, and the annoyance they called a ‘seal’ wasn’t difficult to figure out. “She’s gone with my master.”
Galatea gave her a big-eyed stare. “… When will she be back?”
A groan rumbled through Gisele’s throat. “I don’t know … soon, I hope.”
Gisele was reaching a new low in depression; this dumb animal was probably the creature she had to protect … most likely from itself; it was by far the weakest thing on the boat. Honestly, Gisele couldn’t understand how the little thing got so much love from everyone … only Alexa seemed to like Gisele, and she’d failed to even protect her master’s sister.
The little Sky Reaver’s tail twitched again, slapping against the rails once more, her frustration building while glaring at the seal’s fracturing expression. “Are you going to cry for her again?”
“… Umm, you told me not to,” Galatea mumbled, whiskers quivering as she tried to hold back her cries. “You’re not going to eat me? I’m just … I’m so sad.”
It was such a stupid question that it made Gisele want to cry. The creature was supposed to be older than her by quite a bit, yet it wined, had to be cleaned up after, and was utterly useless in a fight. No, actually, it was detrimental to even be around since it had to be saved, and yet … here she was, protecting the hunk of meat.
“I can’t eat you … I have to protect you.”
Galatea’s whiskers twitched as she sniffed, bobbing up and down. “You’re … you’re my friend! Oh, oh, so we can go play!”
Gisele’s shoulders slumped as the seal began inching her way to the side of the deck. Her gaze shifted to her master’s party, but they seemed to be busy with each other; Rachel’s safety was what seemed an emotional topic after some of the things they’d heard from Alexa, and they were preoccupied with calming the nerves of her master’s mother.
She was sure there wouldn’t be further instruction from Alexa, the only other human that her master gave permission to order her around. Her master’s mother and brother were taking all her attention.
Her focus returned to the slow-moving seal, releasing an internal sigh. “You know I can’t swim, right?”
Galatea’s progress halted, her tone utterly mystified as the creature flopped to its belly, rolling around to stare at her upside down. “Eh? Everyone can swim!”
Sharp, thorny feathers ruffling a little, Gisele’s glare intensified at the dense piece of meat. “Not Sky Reavers … can you fly?”
The seal giggled. “No, that’s silly; not everyone can fly!”
“And not everyone can swim…” She huffed, tail cracking against the wood again.
“Really? Oh, I didn’t know that … uh…” She spun around to the edge again, gazing off the side of the boat from the open ramp area. “We can play near land!”
“There could be monsters.”
Galatea giggled innocently. “That’s why you’re here! You’re like my mom; you’ll protect me while I play.”
The seal took her silence as acceptance and rolled off the side without a second thought, forcing another internal sigh out of the baby Sky Reaver. Gisele smoothly flipped to the opposite side to watch the chunk of lard belly-flop into the clear, nighttime sea.
Her master’s friends were too occupied to notice, and the splash was surprisingly mellow compared to what the Sky Reaver expected, considering how the bat creatures made a lot of noise when entering. There were fish and other creatures in the water, but nothing so far that seemed to be a threat to the animal.
Hopping off her perch, Gisele took into the air to follow it; the seal was playfully zipping around the water while slowly working her way toward the shore. Suddenly, she took off to the right, chasing a small, brightly colored orange fish.
Right … we can play on the shore. How do I get stronger, so I don’t have to watch baby Dead-Weight?
She followed after the seal, ready to give her an earful when she finally made it to the shore. Gisele hesitantly lowered herself to the water, eyes narrowing as the pink fish darted onto the beach and flopped back into the huffing and puffing piece of meat’s mouth. That wasn’t normal.
Gisele quietly lowered herself to the shore as Galatea cheered. “Did … did you see, Gisele; did you … did you see? Oh, no…” Her mouth darted to the side as a wave threatened to pull her catch into the ocean. “Mmhmhhghgmh!” She mumbled, inching her way further onto the beach to feast.
The Sky Reaver hopped after her, eyes scanning the dead shoreline; there weren’t any tracks of life except for the blatant trail the seal made, but her instances were telling her something was off.
“Did you see?” Galatea repeated. “I’m so good at playing! Wanna share?” She asked with a bright tone.
Galatea and Gisele jumped as an amused male voice appeared out of nowhere in front of them. Hopping to the right while preparing her tail and jagged feathers for an attack, she appraised the newcomer.
A furry creature nearly half the size of Gisele with orange, pink, and white tie-dyed explosions across his wooly frame stood behind them. He had surprisingly similar ears to her master, except they were folded down and shorter.
He looked utterly defenseless; even Galatea could probably roll over the fuzzy thing and finish it off, but its colorful, intense swirling eyes made the bird hop back. There was something deceptive about this creature, much less the fact it had just popped out of nowhere. “W-What are you?”
Galatea’s mouth tightened around her fish. “Mmegrmmrrrgm!”
The creature chuckled, small arms rising to his closed mouth. “No, no, no, I’m not here to take your fish. You can call me Rabbit, cause I’m a Rabbit! Oh, yes, yes, Moongmor works, too!”
Rabbit took a few slow steps, circling while his unsettling eyes stared at them; Galatea was utterly incapable of even following those slow actions, but Gisele wouldn’t let him leave her sight, ready to attack.
“A lot of interesting things have been happening in your master’s Realm recently, but Scarlet … Scarlet’s really caught my eyes. To think a creature such as that exists is … frightening, hoho. Rachel is so cute, too.”
Gisele’s sharp feathers ruffled a bit more; again, Scarlet took her stage, but she couldn’t let that statement pass. “Master is fierce, like a lightning strike! She’s not cute…”
The seal was doing her best to follow Moongmor’s movements, which seemed to be taking much of her energy. Rabbit paused with the ocean in the backdrop. “Oh, yes, yes! That’s part of her charm. I want to see more of that cuteness, but … there’s a problem,” Moongmor mumbled, head tilting to the side.
“Gmrmr,” Galatea swallowed the fish in her watery mouth whole, “are you our friend? Are you going to play with us?”
Rabbit’s head tilted to the opposite side, swirling eyes darting to their left. “Mmh … the seal’s cute. Maybe I will, but someone’s playing dirty … that’s no fun. Killing the Warden isn’t nice … oh, fascinating … who could this be?” Gisele didn’t understand his babble, but the thumping of his left foot drew her eyes.
What’s up with this crazy thing?
Although not her original plan, the boat was far beyond their sight at this point; she needed to get Galatea back safely. She couldn’t fail another mission. Gisele flashed her tail threateningly. “… What do you want? Are you going to trick or attack us?”
A wave of danger overpowered every instinct within the baby Sky Reaver, freezing every fiber in her being; radiant flashes of white light exploded around them as Rabbit’s intense gaze darted around, following something. “Oh, my, my; I’ve stepped in it now!”
Flickering orange flames roared to life around the creature, irises glowing brighter with the pink aura collected across the fire, and he began dancing about in a blur, vocal tone and excitement increasing as if he were in some kind of heated dance with an invisible partner.
“Oh, lovely! You’ve got a fetish for fine art … I get the feeling we’re in deep here. Who might you be? Troubled waters, but they’re only thigh-highs…”
A humming vibration blocked out the sound of the waves, and both Gisele and Galatea floated into the air with Moongmor; blazing cold energy engulfed them, and all she could see was Rabbit’s flips, slides, and side to side dashes. Speaking to the air with a strange tempo that rose and fell with his movements, the rabbit twirled around small spheres of green, gray, and purple, locked in unseen combat.
“… Oh, she goes right for my heart … here she comes, a’knocking with those stockings and those clever moves. I see you flaunting, see you taunting, it’s so sickening … I can’t resist the way you flirt; I should be dead, but my heartbeat’s quickening, now-wow. Oh, don’t you slow; less is more, this is just an excuse to make you shake your little derrière, yeah!”
Gisele’s beak dropped open as Moongmor’s leg exploded into light, and then it was back, twisting him over the color-infused air in a spiral before sliding to a new position. Portals of various hues showed multiple angles of each person in her master’s party. Time seemed to be twisted in a manner to slow Rabbit’s movements so she could see every detail.
“That ratio; a perfect score! Maybe you can help me get what I want; arch your back, now, curve your little spine, and tell me that you’re mine; it’s all about the game and what you flaunt when you know you’re not teasing me!”
He chuckled, jumping on Galatea as she twisted in the air, completely lost with where they were or what was happening. They’d stepped into some crazed nightmare because the floating trees, spinning sand designs, and energy beams flashing across her vision couldn’t be real, yet Rabbit just kept humming along with his little song.
“Oh, my, my, you’re an absolute terror for Absolute Territory! You’re so hotly contested, here’s a tip: Lie down baby, that’s it, baby, take control; you’re so enticing, mesmerizing, I don’t know how to react; double-take, yeah, I’m shaking, and you know it shows!”
The flames across his chest snuffed out, fur turning white before the fire exploded, larger than before, “You’re gonna steal my very soul; more manslaughter than the third impact, YEAH! This kind of girl just can’t be beat … oh, keep whispering in my ear … yeah, I know there’s no pleasing you! C’mon, shake, shake, more, more; a girl’s status is measured by her denier!
“I see you struttin’ in that pleat; you’re an absolute terrible, absolute terror for Absolute Territory with a checkered pattern on that skirt. You’re my kind of girl that flips the beat! Oh, my, my, it’s all about this taunting, ever closing game, come a little closer; I should be dead, but my heart beats too fast, yeah, and she whispers in my ear: take off that fur!”
Moonmor came to a sudden halt, one large foot held in the air as the strange lights, portals, and impossible happenings around them came to a stop. His lifted foot shifted to beat at his folded down ear with a fascinated hum. “Oh, is that all you wanted to do? What a fun game; such random playful mannerisms that girl has! So many with a peeping fetish, too,” he giggled.
Finally able to move and speak again as they were lowered to the ground, Gisele choked out a gasp; there was no possible way they could survive attacking this insane creature.
“Wh-What are you … we want to go!” Gisele croaked.
Galatea was now rolling around on the sand. “I’m spinning! I’m spinning! Where am I?”
Rabbit started hopping left and right, seemingly still caught up in the thrill of his battle with the invisible attacker. “Oh, we can’t leave yet; you just won’t do for my lovely Rachel!”
Gisele’s claws tightened against the sand, feathers, and tail falling; she might just be killed for being inadequate to the random Rabbit’s standards. “I … won’t do?” The worst part was she couldn’t deny it; she’d failed everything so far. “… What do you want with my master?” She asked, at least hoping to discover what would become of Rachel.
He shook his head, appearing in front of her without warning to lift her up a bit, pressing on her back and upper chest to adjust her posture. “No, no, no, my little Sky Reaver! We just need to make a few adjustments to that progression route you’re on; what good is a Storm Reaver that will only block out my little Hare’s beautiful moonlight? So puff up that chest because we need to make you a Lunar Reaver!”
“W-What? You want to help me … be more useful to my master?”
Moongmor was utterly immune to her sharp barbs, guiding her limp wings open, poking, and probing her body with what seemed instant teleportation. “Oh, oh, some fun things this branching seed can do! It originated with Rachel, so … we can make some adjustments. Ho, ho, this will be a bit harder than I thought; how lovely!”
Galatea appeared to finally stop spinning, itching over to them with a thrilled expression. “That was so much fun. I want to help my mom, too!”
He did a backward spiral, landing on one foot before doing an aerial cartwheel. “You’re so cute, Galatea, and we’ll get you on track for super cuteness, Gisele! Why do I like Rachel?”
Landing on one extended claw, Rabbit gave them a crazed smile while balancing. “She’s cute! There’s some fluffy outfits I want to see her wear; mmh, some amazing clothing lines in that one, but how to get it to her? Ah, it works with that hopping stocking girl’s manipulations; my, my, what an exhilarating performance! Come, come!”
Gisele’s ruffled feathers wouldn’t relax as she tried to follow, but it was difficult to fly when she was this agitated. He was going to help her overcome this horrible losing streak she’d been on, yet it could also be a trap. Then again, why would he need to trick her? Moongmor had already shown himself much stronger than her. Could it be to humiliate her more? That would be horrible. If she could get stronger, though … she had to take the risk!
A groan and sigh left her beak as Galatea squealed with joy; fire birthed underneath her, and she could now swim through the air. She was kind of dumb, allowing herself to be kidnapped. Gisele had no choice; she had to follow.
Rabbit wrapped them in colorful flames while humming and dancing, even when they entered the water; he generated some kind of fiery globe that allowed the two to breathe.
He led them off the sandy shore shelf and into the depths of what appeared to be an endless void, but the further they progressed down the sloping abyss, Gisele noticed dozens upon dozens of powerful-looking monsters that rushed at their radiant globe. Every horror that neared caught ablaze, transforming into treasure before floating down to them, but Moongmor ignored all of it, continuing his teleportation dance through the darkness.
Gisele slowly grew more used to the creature’s antics and found the impossible power of the silly thing comforting. It was the first time someone had offered to help her, even if only for her master’s sake, which was just how she’d have it.
“Umm, Rabbit?” Gisele mumbled, eyeing Galatea as she mirrored his dance moves as best her bulky form would allow, humming his odd tune.
“Mhm, mhm?!” He asked, using the larger chests, golden chairs and elegant ship decorations that fell around them as short platforms for his performance. “Oh, my heartbeat jumps with every new twist I find she made to the Quest; such a girl is an absolute terror for Absolute Territory!”
“Right … uh, you don’t want to hurt Rachel?”
“Who would hurt such a flirt? That mind of hers is so cute! Nope, we’re just plucking and farming the loot table for the proper items; gotta get things set up for my stunning little Hare when they reach the final trial.”
A shiver ran down Moongmor’s fur before spiking a little with his slower twirls. “I just gotta see how your master will show off that beguiling accouterment; my, my … oh, she’s such a tease, measuring my intransigence to such a charming and risqué design … she’ll steal my poor soul! It’s just too much for my little heart; I must see it!”
Again, utter nonsense to Gisele. “Okay … eh, so what are you going to do to my master?”
The force moving Gisele and Galatea stopped as Rabbit appeared in front of her, swirling eyes inches from her beak. “Watch! Listen! Scope! Spy! Dance unseen with her rise because she’ll come back! I’m back in heaven,” he moaned, doing aerial cartwheels around the edge of the flaming bubble, “such enthralling girls can’t avoid flaunting their charms! I must take part!”
Galatea laughed. “This is so much fun; I can fly! Look, look, Rabbit; I’m spinning!”
“Spin, spin, spin!” Moongmor laughed, flipping in the air with her.
“Woooh! Oh, more fish; it’s a big one, Rabbit! I want it!”
Gisele squawked as she was just tugged along with the pair, racing up to the monstrous plated beast with twelve massive bladed fins, green plates of armor, and twenty reaching heads, jaws filled with nasty-looking teeth. The sight terrified the Sky Reaver, and the flames pushing a pulsating excitement into her breast didn’t help the confusion running through her mind.
“Here we go, Galatea!” Moongmor cheered, launching into a kick with Galatea rocketing at the sea creature to deliver an orange fire infused headbutt.
“Head Smash!” Galatea laughed.
The creature’s many heads froze before turning into orange smoke as the thing tried to swallow them whole; Galatea and Rabbit smashed into its body, sending a wave of pulsating energy that instantly vaporized the horrifying beast.
“Victory!” Moongmor roared, dancing with Galatea.
“We get food? We get food?!”
Rabbit did a flip before pointing up at the items the corpse revealed, floating down to them. “The best!”
Gisele was emotionally spent, but the excitement forced upon her body wouldn’t leave with the flames surrounding them in the dark ocean depths. “… What … are we doing?” She cried. None of this made sense to her flustered brain. Why was this stupidly powerful fluffy creature tugging them around, killing random terrifying monsters?
Her beak dropped open, muscles going numb as he pointed at the things entering his protective shell. “Two hyper-speed EXP boosts and Tree expansion accessories; oh, and did I mention this one will help you evolve, Galatea!”
“Yay!” The seal cheered, black eyes sparkling at seeing the delicious-looking multi-colored fish hovering toward her; without a second thought, she gulped it down. “Mmmmmhhmhhh! It’s so good! Oh, oh, what’s evolve? Can I eat it?”
Rabbit winked at them, hopping up and down again in mid-air. “It’ll make you cuter!”
“Woooh! I’m cuter; Mom will be so happy!”
Gisele stared at the shimmering leg accessory that hovered down to her. “I’ll … be useful to Master?”
“Mhm, mhm!” Moongmor replied, vanishing from her sight, and before she could even try to think about testing it out, the items were around her ankle and Galatea’s neck.
It felt like something large was growing inside her as a small glow coated her fur.
“You’ll be a Lunar Reaver in a few days!”
Gisele’s chest burned; if it were possible, tears would be falling from her sunken eyes. “Master is a Lunar Hare … I’ll be like … like Master?”
“Mhm! Hehe. We just had to manipulate the loot table in the right places; victory x2!”
Galatea bobbed up and down. “Oh, oh, what about me? My evolve thing! Will I be like Mom?!”
Rabbit chuckled, hands rising to his mouth. “No, no, silly cute seal! You’ll be transformed into a Sky Dancer, a seal that can fly and use the Air Element!”
“Did you hear? Did you hear, Gisele?! Seals can fly! Oh, wait, Gisele!! You’re swimming! You’re a Swimming Reaver!!”
“Heh … right, uh…”
Gisele was going to ask more questions, but Moongmor gave a start. “We gotta go! So much to do, so little time with that cute Hare’s mind!”
Before Gisele could thank Rabbit, they were tugged into a sharp dive at an impossible speed before stopping in front of a large wall of wooden triangle blocks with glowing symbols. Every blue mark turned green, sliding apart to allow them in while keeping out the ocean.
They entered a dark space and flew to a large creature; a ship rested on its back as it wistfully floated around the dark, endless room.
“You two have fun here and wait for your masters! Oh, gotta drop some food; work to do, work to do! Oh, my, my, my Hare is so lovely!” He cooed before vanishing into thin air.
“… Thank you…” Gisele whispered, staring down at her feathered thin figure, still glowing. She lifted her foot to study the item, slowly converting her anatomy.
He was right … I would have been harmful to Rachel if I became a Storm Reaver.
“I get to help, Master,” she cried with joy, body quivering with excitement.
What will she think when she sees me? Oh, no, what if she doesn’t like it?!
Her anxious thoughts vanished as Galatea inched toward the edge of the deck. “I can fly! I can fly! Sky Dancer Seal Galatea!”
“N-No, no, no, Galatea,” Gisele stammered in panic, fluttering over to stop the hunk of lard from falling to her death. “He said days … a few days, Galatea!”
“Ho, ho, but I am Sky Dancer Seal Galatea! I can fly and swim at the same time!”
Gisele swiftly dropped in front of the utterly confident seal, 100% convinced she could jump off the side of a ship and take to the skies. “Galatea! No!”
“B-But I can!” She urged, giving her a big-eyed stare. “I beat up a big fish; I protected you! I’m a Sky Dancer; I’m strong!”
“Okay … okay, but in a few days,” Gisele pleaded. “Save it for … uh, a surprise!”
“Oh! Yeah, Mom will be so happy; she’ll hug me, and pet me, and feed me yummy fish!”
“Yeah, yeah … so let’s save it for later.”
Galatea bobbed up and down, nuzzling her, “You’re so smart, Gisele!”
The Sky Reaver released a soft sigh as the baby seal began humming the rabbit’s crazy funky song.
* * *
Molly let her husband guide her into what appeared to be the ship’s kitchen after Rachel had basically kicked her out of the important conversation, and even Elena was being allowed to join. She had no doubt her daughter was discussing what really happened inside that maze and had purposefully excluded her.
Angry, hurt, scared, she couldn’t help the turbulent emotions pulsating in her breast. Sam squeezed her hand while shutting the door behind them, but Molly knew her daughter could still hear her with those big ears.
Her husband’s calm voice and concerned gaze only incited her. “Chan-hee … talk to me.”
Tight lips unsealing, the rolling angst erupted in a Korean tirade; Rachel and Nam would be the only people on the boat that would understand her shouts and Sam’s responses.
“Why are you so stubborn?! You keep putting herself in danger, and Scarlet gets dragged along with you; you’re reckless, and never tell me the truth, and hurt yourself! This isn’t some sports match! How many times have you almost died in the past two weeks? How many?”
“I know, I know…” Sam soothed.
Molly retracted her hand, storming to the wall to hug herself against it. “No, no … you’re just … she was always headstrong and competitive, but this is just too much! You saw what Scarlet looked like before she put on that ridiculous outfit Rachel gave her; how much harm did she take, and Maria even had to heal her because she wasn’t being honest … why can’t she be honest with me?” Molly cried, nose burning as tears touched her eyes.
Sam stood close by, hands clasped at his front, probably waiting for her to calm down a bit before moving in, but she didn’t want him to hold her; she wanted him to talk some sense into their daughter.
“We … I thought she was dead … days … days without so much as a word from the government about where she was or hearing her voice, and then we learned she was fighting terrorists just several miles away from home! She didn’t call to let us know she was alright, or … or … just silence, and all I could do was bake food in the hopes she’d walk through the front door!
“It’s stupid, she’s stupid, you’re stupid! Why can’t you see how dangerous all of this is? You’re a nineteen-year-old girl that hasn’t even finished college or had a boyfriend … you’ve got so much to live for, Rachel!”
“I know…” Sam whispered.
“Then why don’t you tell her? She’s just … just going out there, letting the government use her and throw her away! Then some random hussy shows up with a boat, and we’re in some … whatever place this is, and in a war zone! Why are we here?” She yelled.
Molly’s fingernails sliding across her scalp, running her hand through her black hair. “What is so—so important that she forces me to live with the fact I…” Her throat caught. “I may need to identify her body in the next few weeks … days? I can’t … I can’t do that again, Gwon!”
Her husband moved in, wrapping his arms around her trembling body, her anger turning to despair, and they slowly shifted to the floor. His firm grip usually comforted her, but she felt so cold and scared.
“What do I do … how can I keep our little girl alive?” Molly sobbed.
“… I’m scared, too…” Sam whispered, and Molly could hear it in his voice. “Everything’s changing … so fast, and I’m just trying to keep up with it all.”
Molly sniffed, throat closing up for a moment. “What … what can I do? Gwon … what do we do? Scarlet’s so innocent and broken … she’s finally opening up to me, but … Rachel keeps taking her into dangerous places. Nam’s suppressing so much pain … Alexa’s being drawn into it all … I feel like we’re breaking apart … everything’s leading toward…”
He pressed his cheek against the back of her head, combing her hair while holding her from behind. “Rachel’s changed … and I’m trying to understand it. I know it’s hard…”
“But she hasn’t changed all that much,” Molly’s teeth locked for a moment, fingers tightening around his arms. “She’s just as headstrong and focused as she always was … it’s just … the world’s changing … and she’s changing with it, but it’s not right.
“It’s … just not right. She’s not a soldier, so why is she acting like one? She’s never wanted to be in the army … Rachel was supposed to be a lawyer. Safe, in Miami … now … where will we be in a week?” She swallowed, sniffing back her tears again. “Why do I feel like I’m being pushed away? Rachel wouldn’t do that to me. Right? Why is she shutting me out, and … and she’s getting Alexa into it … Scarlet to do it…”
“… You’re her mother,” Sam whispered, grip tightening around her chest, “she loves you, and she doesn’t want you to worry.”
“Ha … doesn’t want me to worry?” Molly scoffed, nose burning again. “Have you been paying attention? When have I not been worried since we heard groups were hunting down people that changed? She told us herself … there are terrorists after her … she’s a target, Gwon, and yet here she is … risking her life for what … a boat?”
When he didn’t respond, she shifted a little. “Gwon?”
“… Chan-hee … I don’t see Rachel being a lawyer anymore. She hasn’t mentioned it once since returning.”
Hearing the words leave his lips was like a blow against her face. “No, but … if she doesn’t…” It hadn’t all connected in her mind yet; if Rachel wasn’t going down that career path, which would she take? Until now, her actions had been clear, but the fear wouldn’t allow Molly to link the outcome. “You can’t mean…”
A hot puff of air tickled her ear as Sam shifted her around to the corner of the wall next to them, holding her hands. There were tears in his own red-stained eyes but a sad smile on his lips. “I don’t like it … but Rachel is an adult now…”
“Just barely, and she still lives at home,” Molly mumbled, fingers quivering as Sam continued.
“… She’s going to choose to do something that she loves, regardless of what you or I believe she should be doing, and I don’t like where this is heading either. Our daughter is reckless, at times, stubborn, as you mentioned, and sometimes very temperamental when something isn’t going how she likes.”
Molly’s mind flashed back to Alexa and Rachel’s strained relationship when their daughter-in-law had first come to live with them. The shouting matches and snarky comments about their conflicting interests, but something had changed in Alexa, too, since The Oscillation and her encounter at the Police Station with Nam.
The cold, lifeless image of her little niece lying on a morgue’s table suddenly stabbed her heart, mind pulling her back to the loud horn, cracking glass, and the airbag’s violent blow across her chest and face, paralyzing her brain. The very thought of Rachel, Nam, Alexa, or Scarlet lying in that place caused a panicked quake to pass through her bones.
“Gwon … Gwon, I just don’t want to … I can’t see another…”
He reached forward, pulling her down to press his burning forehead against hers. “I know,” he reached up to put pressure on his nose, sniffing back his emotions. “Things have calmed down for now … let’s get ourselves put together and talk to them. We can get everything in the open.”
Molly’s chest fluttered, and she lurched forward, closing her arms around her husband’s body while forcing him to the ground and rolling him on top of her; she wanted to be covered, shielded, protected from the terrifying thoughts and memories prodding her heart.
The hardwood floor put pressure on her back, but Sam’s hot body on top of her was the only thing keeping her from breaking down. “… What if she … is there nothing I can do to keep our family safe?”
She knew Sam couldn’t answer her, but the question wouldn’t be suppressed. There had to be some way she could ensure her family’s safety; she was the matriarch, the person that was supposed to protect her children from the horrible world, but all she felt for the past two weeks was a terrifying powerless realization that everything she cared about was being ripped out of her hands.
“I just … I just got another daughter … one that needs protecting … a shelter from the awful things that were done to her. I heard Nam scream four days ago … nightmares when he killed those men and women that attacked them. Alexa’s conflicted and doesn’t know how to help him while Rachel … Rachel’s bringing all of this back … what can I do? What can I do? My family is suffering…”
Sam’s chest pressed against her as he took a deep breath, and he kissed her ear. “I love you. We’ll get through this.”
“How … I’m so scared.”
“… chance, and
Let’s talk to them. Rachel knows how much we care about her … she’s probably scared to talk to us about it. She’s been avoiding it as much as we have.”
“She’s nineteen, Gwon … she should be worried about school and boys breaking her heart … not monsters and terrorists. How did this happen? Life isn’t supposed to be like this … Soo-geun, too … our family is breaking apart. How do I keep us together?”
“We’ll talk to them.”
“… Tell me we’ll be fine…”
“Everything will work out, Chan-hee … we’ll make it through this.”
She tightened her grip around his back, allowing time and her husband’s comforting embrace to calm the storm clouding her mind.
After several minutes, Molly let him know she was ready to get up; he’d been holding himself up a little to not put too much pressure on her. They scooted to the wall, holding hands, and she started playing with his gold wedding band. Her face was puffy and flushed, but she ignored the wet stains, focusing on the ring.
“I love you…”
He smiled, leaning over to kiss her on the head. “I love you, too.”
Her thoughts momentarily returned to their wedding ceremony; the arranged wedding had a somewhat bitter taste in her mouth at first, but she’d given it a chance, and never regretted it after. They’d gone through several rough financial spots that their kids weren’t aware of, but Gwon had never once let her down; there had been several significant disagreements, yet disappointment was not something that passed between them in their many years of marriage.
“We’ll talk to them?”
Molly nodded. “… Do you really think Rachel likes all the danger?”
“… Honestly,” he released a low sigh, fingers shifting around to intertwine with her’s. “I think she does.”
The heat that touched her nose again forced a sharp breath before slowly easing it out, thighs tightening together. “So … she’s not going to stop?”
He slowly shook his head against her’s. “I don’t think so.”
Trying to clear her thick throat, Molly’s left hand moved to stroke the back of Sam’s. “Will talking even help then?”
“I believe it will.”
“Why?” She whispered, beginning to feel hopeless.
“… Letting our family know how much we care about them, and how concerned we are about their safety.”
Molly unwound her fingers to lean in and hug her husband, pressing her ear against his chest while listening to his heartbeat; she didn’t want to talk anymore, just be held, and Sam complied.
Twenty minutes passed, allowing her to regain control of her emotions, and she got up, her back, chest, and butt burning a bit from the awkward positions she’d been in. She pulled Sam up, guiding him to a bathing area to clean up, struggling with what she might say to the four when they got a chance.
She smiled up at Sam with loving eyes as he fussed over her, helping to clear away her make-up; she hadn’t broken down so much for over ten years, since the car crash.
After that, they went into what appeared to be a big bedroom; at some point, the strange bird with the long bone tail started observing them, but Molly ignored it, thoughts stuck on the issues she had with her daughter’s actions. Sam and her sat on a bolted down couch, pondering the events over the past two weeks.
It came at a bit of a shock when Rachel walked in to awkwardly inform them that they were coming up to land, and they needed to get off for the pirate woman to upgrade her ship or something.
Molly gave her a forced smile. “Thanks … uh, yeah, we’ll be right up.”
“Thanks, Sung,” Sam replied. “… We love you.”
“Yeah … love you too, Mom, Dad…”
Rachel swiftly exited, the strong pink glow surrounding her long white hair fading as it vanished behind the wooden door.
… She doesn’t know how to approach us, either … I’m so useless…
A long sigh left her lips as she got up, pulling Sam with her. “Umm … do you think?”
“Yeah, when we get a chance,” Sam replied, giving her an encouraging smile. “I’ll ask.”
Molly pulled on his neck down to kiss his sweet lips, feeling a weight drop off her shoulders. “Thanks, Gwon.”
Returning the gesture, his hand reached up to pull her hair back, fingers tickling her skin. “Always.”
His firm grip against the back of her neck helped to calm her racing heart, and he guided her out by the hand, closing the cabin door behind them.
Everyone was present on the deck, and the tall African American man appeared to have everyone’s attention. Once Clay saw them, he motioned for the two to join. “Mr. and Ms. Park, I believe you’ll wish to hear this.”
A little confused, Molly’s grip tightened around Sam’s hand.
Sam’s expression fell a bit at the invitation. “Is there more trouble?”
Clay shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that. Actually … I believe it’s about time I explain to you everything that should have been disclosed to your family more than a week ago.”
“Okay…” Molly mumbled, glancing between Rachel and him, but her daughter was a brick wall, giving no indication as to what was on her mind. On the other hand, Scarlet’s worried expression was much easier to read.
Alexa’s piped up from Nam’s side. “Oh, wait, are you talking about that thing Rachel talked about? The thing we needed permission to know about?”
Clay nodded. “That and more. We can get Cahira up to speed when she returns.”
“Aye, don’t worry about mi feels,” the oddly spoken woman chuckled, giving him a wave, “I be off ta spend mi riches!”
It was hard for Molly to follow the woman sometimes with her swift and unusual way of talking; she certainly wasn’t conservative with her choice in clothing, either. Of course, Scarlet’s crazy outfit brought a frown to her lips, too, and apparently, it was supposed to be for Rachel. She couldn’t imagine her daughter wearing something like that in a million years; it was hard enough to get the girl in a dress.
Rachel led them further into town, seemingly avoiding their gaze, but instinctively, Molly knew she was likely panicking a little. The twitch of her ears and stiff tail had begun to be a tell that she’d picked up on.
The dirty town they’d entered had rough-looking men, women, and even children working the docks. Ships were coming in and out of the area with the bustling streets. They had entered some kind of 1700s trading hub. Outfits ranged from extravagant to potato sacks, and the tallest buildings only seemed four-stories with a wood and thatch design.
Yet, magical iridescent globes brightened the nighttime bustle, proving they were still in some kind of otherworldly plane. She scooted closer to Sam while watching a few fish-like creatures enter the market. Several other non-human figures could be seen talking to the locals, purchasing supplies, or breaking into fights that no one appeared concerned with.
Their group did catch several eyes, but no one approached; weapons were commonplace, which had Anthony and Ohan’s out to intimidate anyone seeking a fight.
Molly barely caught Rachel’s words while leaning over to whisper to Clay. “Before that, we need money; Scarlet could use some clothes. There’s an arm-wrestling competition happening a few streets over.”
“That’d be nice,” Scarlet chuckled nearby, and Alexa smirked, giving the girl a critical eye while brushing back her blonde locks.
“I don’t know … I think you look pretty cute in that.”
Molly’s lips tightened, directing a glare at the outfit.
Cute? Do you really think that’s cute … it’s so revealing … there aren’t even any shoulders, sleeves … forget that, most of her back is exposed, for god’s sake. Her breasts should just pop out while she moves … but magic. The shorts barely hide her butt when she bends over, and what’s up with those puffy accessories and carrot choker … it’s like someone’s making a joke out of Rachel’s change.
They made it to the area, and she was a little surprised as Selvaria joined Rachel in the competition, using the dress Scarlet was wearing as an entry bet; apparently, the design must be fairly popular among the crowd because it was accepted.
Molly felt a little bad about wanting them to lose the first bet; at least the risqué article would be less of a distraction for her.
The two girls went to the center of the large circle, facing the two champions they had to both beat to claim the prize; Selvaria gave her baby seal to Scarlet to hold, which was when she noticed the cute collar around the animal’s neck for the first time.
A sigh followed, Molly running her free hand through her black locks; she didn’t feel like herself lately, but it was hard not to be negative. Still, she added a smile to her face and tried to cheer on her daughter. It wasn’t right to let her fears or outfit tastes turn her against Rachel.
“Do your best, honey!”
The others gave their own cheers, and on the bright side, winning meant getting her darling Scarlet out of those clothes.
Silence overshadowed the crowd as the table broke when both parties started, and they were forced to move to a stone fountain; apparently, their opponents weren’t pushovers. The large men had hands more than twice the size of the two girls.
The brick fractured at their elbows as it started, and their team won with a resounding crack with the back of the men’s hands breaking a piece of the fountain. Chuckles and impressed whistles followed before a throng surrounded the girls, looking to gain their favor.
Selvaria couldn’t handle the number of random men and creatures asking for her to follow them back to the bar to share a drink; it was more than apparent what they really wanted, and she took her seal before retreating to the sea. Molly was a little taken aback by the sudden explosion of requests the girls got, and the Leviathan was already gone by the time the group whipped the crowd in line.
Women, men, creatures, it didn’t matter; everyone started getting handsy with the newcomers, but a few twisted arms, bodies tossed into the nearby fountain, and KOs gained the town occupants’ laughter and respect.
Molly sat in stunned confusion while the whirlwind raged around her; she’d never seen a massive street brawl take place in real life, and the townsfolk were going after each other as much as them.
Sam guided her to a clear location with Nam and Alexa, their son’s energy figures surrounding them, but in the end, Rachel came smiling over while tossing a large bag full of money in her right hand.
She … really looks happy.
“Are you okay, Mom, Dad?”
“Yeah … are you sure this was okay?” Sam asked. “There aren’t any authorities that will come arrest us for being in a street fight?”
Anthony chuckled, walking beside Rachel while glancing back at the several dozen knocked out or stunned men and women around them; a few people were helping their buddies with cheers at their group.
“Aye, was a good brawl, mi fishies!”
“Aye!” Shouted several others with laughter.
Alexa’s eyes were wide with wonder. “Wow … that was intense.”
Molly didn’t understand it.
We were just having a peaceful arm-wrestling contest … how did it turn into a fight? What kind of world is this?
Sam guided her back to what appeared to be the cleanest tavern in town, which wasn’t saying much compared to Miami standards; she saw large rat-like creatures in the street outside with scorpion tails, but no one seemed to care!
They all filed into a back room, a serving girl with three pink eyes and a very wide mouth directed them to; on her exit, she noticed the woman only had four nail-like fingers.
… How long do we need to stay here?
She was mystified once studying the heptagram-shaped table that was lopsided with various sized chairs around it; one was built for a baby, but the top of the table loomed 5 feet above it. Whoever sat there would have had to be very thin and have an absurdly tall body or neck.
Finding suitable places, Clay began the conversation. “Okay, the President will be revealing some of this during his address … which might have already happened by this point, depending on when we return.”
The information he shared next chilled Molly’s soul.
There were these gateways they called Crystals that brought monsters like the creatures they’d been fighting. In exchange for a governmental shield, Rachel and her new friends accepted a top-secret mission to explore one and learned how to shut them down. However, if the information they came back with was true, then this was only the beginning, and dozens of more had already been cataloged or were in the process of being dealt with at the moment.
The worst bit of news was that currently, only those that had changed during The Oscillation could reliably handle these types of invasions. A new program was being instituted with government oversight; people could form groups after being evaluated for competence, and restrictions would be put into place to screen the capable level they’d be allowed to handle.
Rachel would likely be in a group that had no bar; they’d proven themselves so far to be near the peak that they could handle the most dangerous missions, which had to be done, or they would only become more difficult, and eventually, could end all humanity.
It sounded fake … fiction, but she was experiencing something similar, a Legend’s Quest. This trip was supposed to help build their ability to handle those sorts of challenging encounters. Now they had to worry not only about these Crystal invasions but both foreign and domestic threats from within their own world, such as Cuba, that had recently been taken over by a hostile Demihuman force.
In short, her nightmare had become a reality.
Once he finished, Sam asked for them to leave so they could talk to his family, including Scarlet. Rachel waved everyone off, saying she’d keep an ear out for them.
Zoe had asked several questions, white hands holding Felix’s for comfort upon learning everything; she was worried about what might have happened to her family. She thanked Rachel and left with the boy, talking about the possibilities.
Maria and Elena went with them; the Beastkin girl appeared starstruck by the tale Clay spun around Molly’s daughter.
Clay and Reed left to explore the island.
Selvaria and her pet had already taken off, hiding in the sea.
Cahira was already absent at some hidden cove, and Ohan thanked them before leaving to reflect in private. Anthony was the last to leave, giving Rachel an encouraging grin while shutting the door behind him.
Rachel wore a shockingly sad smile, ears falling back while staring at her mother. “… Well … that’s it, Mom, Dad. The world literally is in danger; you all are, and we are in a position to help prevent it.”
Molly was still numb to the news, trying to process it all, but thankfully Sam bought her time.
“Is … there no other option? You know we both love you, and we never want to see you get hurt … but you could die doing this.”
Tingles shot down Molly’s spine at her husband’s words, and she gripped his hand underneath the table. “… We … we wouldn’t even know,” she whispered in disbelief. “You could just … disappear without a trace. I’d never know what happened to you.”
Scarlet looked very uncomfortable, playing with the front of her dress while glancing between them. Nam and Alexa were both silent, and the blonde appeared to be conflicted still, lips pulled in as she held Nam’s hand.
Rachel slowly nodded. “Yes … I know, Mom … it’s not fair to you.”
“It’s not,” she cried, blinking and wiping her glistening eyes. “I … I can’t have anything happen to you … to you or Scarlet, or Nam, or Alexa … we’re a family. I … I need you all to be safe, and this … all of this will…” Her trembling lips snapped shut, not even wanting to say it as if speaking it would curse her.
“Sung,” Sam whispered, voice cracking a bit, which caused Rachel’s ear to twitch, “do you have to go through with this?”
“No,” Molly muttered, shaking her head. “No, no, she doesn’t have to … what are you saying, Gwon?”
Rachel took a deep breath, taking a moment to wipe a tear from her own eye. “Mom … I’m sorry, but … I really want to go down this path; I know it hurts…” She whispered, taking a shuddering breath.
“Gah … why does Emotional Detachment have to be on cooldown. Umm,” she swallowed, lip quivering, “when I changed … there was this … this thing inside me … like a beast waiting to be let loose, and … and I just can’t put it back in the cage. Muay Thai helped me before, but … it’s not enough … not now. I don’t want to see you cry, Mom…”
“Please,” Molly pleaded. “I can’t have another daughter die,” she quaked. “How … how can you promise me you won’t die … that you’ll come back to me when every time you go into one of those things … could … could be the last time I ever see you again … see Scarlet again?”
Tears were now falling down everyone’s cheek as Molly opened her bleeding heart. “I couldn’t live … I couldn’t … not again … not after everything. Sung … you’re my daughter … I can’t lose you, but … but … what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening to my family?”
“Mom … I won’t die, okay? I won’t, I promise … I have to keep my promises, okay? I won’t die,” she mumbled, getting up and walking around the table to hug her.
Molly latched onto her, taking her daughter to the ground while crying into her chest; her skin was on fire, nose stuffed and red, desperately clinging to Rachel as if she’d disappear. “Don’t leave me … please … don’t leave me…”
Rachel’s throat caught with emotion. “Mom … I’m sorry, Mom … I’m sorry…”
Scarlet came around to join them, voice thick as her icy skin pressed against them. “I’ll protect her … we’ll protect each other. We’ll come back … I promise … don’t cry…”
The three of them laid on the ground for a while, but eventually, Molly had to accept it, and it broke her heart. She wasn’t okay with it; there wasn’t a time she would be, but she had to accept it. Rachel was going to enter life and death situations on a weekly, if not daily, routine. At least she knew her daughter loved her and would do everything within her power to make it back home for a feast that Molly would prepare for her.
It took much longer this time to reign herself in, but eventually, she pulled away and made her peace, returning to Sam’s embrace after he hugged Rachel and Scarlet.
“I can’t be alright with two of my daughters doing something like this,” Molly’s voice was faint, “but … my child, my little girl … just come home … and Scarlet … there will always … always be a place for you at my table … return to me.”
Bloody tears fell down Scarlet’s cheeks as she moved to wrap her arms around the crying pair. “I will … we both will…”
“Mom…” Rachel whispered, joining them with Alexa and Nam. “… just don’t lose faith in us.”
Sam wrapped his arms around them all, kissing Rachel’s forehead. “… We love you so much. We’ll never abandon you.”
* * *
The rest of the trip was a blur to Rachel; the feeling and tone of her parent’s warm embrace and strong emotional voices still burned her ears, and they didn’t even have time to get Scarlet new clothes with the money they’d won, spending the rest of their time in the same room, opening up and telling stories to just be together for a little longer. Her mother’s voice was like a heartbroken angel, crying over her.
Gisele, her little Sky Reaver, had been present for the whole thing, and if she didn’t know any better, there had been tears in the bird’s own eyes during parts of the day. The action made her think a little differently about the odd creature that she’d randomly obtained; perhaps she had been too dismissive of her pet. There was evident emotion and intelligence within her that Rachel had to recognize.
When Cahira finally returned to port after her drunken escapades, Rachel had Scarlet guide her family back while getting the others on their own island adventures.
It was as if a mill around her neck had been loosened, and yet a new pressure was compressing her heart. Rachel made a promise to herself; today would be the last time she made her mother cry like that again.
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