Chrono Shift Chapter 18
Time of the Dreamwatch
El Nido Archipelago
"Ahh. I love fishin'," Korcha sighed to no one in particular as he listened to the waves of the calm El Nido Sea slosh up against the rudder of his sailboat. The sun had just reached high noon a few moments ago, following a morning of ducking in and out of the occasional fluffy cloud in the sky. Korcha adjusted the sails slightly so that they would shade him from the sun's heat, and then sat back to enjoy the weather and allow the waves to push him further away from land. He was already at least ten miles off the coast of Guldove, and planned to let his ship drift with the water for at least another few hours. It might seem boring to some, but to Korcha, it allowed him the freedom of being away from home, and the ability to simply sit back and admire nature.
Korcha set the depth on his fishing line deeper, put an extra sinker on the bottom of his bobber, and a forced the barb of his hook through the body of a rather lively minnow. He then stood up, held the pole backwards over his shoulder, and cast the line far out as far as he could. Then, Korcha laid back down and closed his eyes, resting the pole in his hand without a care in the world. He thought about getting a little shuteye. If a fish came along, the tug of its bite would surely wake him, and if the fish was small, the worst that could happen would be some lost bait. "This is the life..." he smirked. "Now, if only I could catch somethin'."
Right before Korcha could seriously consider dozing off, however, he noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye. Immediately being snapped to attention, he forced himself out of his napping position and turned his head sideways to get a better look. Yes, indeed there was something out of the ordinary occurring, the likes of which the fisherman had never seen before. The air in the sky had somehow changed, but only in a relatively small area about ten feet away from his boat, and about ten feet above the water level. Going against his better judgment, Korcha peered over the side of his watercraft to get a better look. It appeared almost as if a hole had been ripped in the sky, and on the other side was some tunnel of swirling blue lights.
"AAAAAAAAAGGGHHH!!!" howled a distant voice, which rapidly grew louder as it drew nearer. Then, all of a sudden, a rather large object tumbled downward from the hole in the sky, instantly colliding with the water and displacing huge amounts of the sea. The massive splash soaked Korcha from head to toe, and his sails had absorbed a large quantity of liquid as well. He would probably have to get rid of the inch-deep water now lining the bottom of his boat with a bucket. Korcha, understandably upset, wiped the saltwater off of his face with disgust.
After a few seconds of muttering curses, Korcha saw the object that had fell from the hole in the sky emerge from beneath the ocean. It turned out to be a teenage boy of about seventeen. Korcha wasted no time taking out his fury on the boy. "Hey! Whaddya doin'!?" he demanded.
The teenager, carrying a silver head of hair and sporting very odd clothes, quickly spat out the seawater that had filled his mouth. Then, in an overly sarcastic manner, he said, "Well, I'm pleased to meet you, too. My name's Augur. I hope we can become the best of friends!" After Korcha shot him a fierce look, the teen added, "Well, are you gonna invite me onto your boat, or are you gonna let me drown?"
Korcha gave him a second angry glance before saying, "Yeah, whatever. Get yer arse up here." Augur immediately swam over to the side of the ship, and pulled himself in using his arms. He stood up, took a deep breath, and shook some of the water out of his hair.
Damnit, Gaspar! Augur thought. You had to put me in a time gate that would drop me in the middle of the freakin' ocean. Then, he looked over to the young fisherman, wearing very few clothes compared to himself, and showing off the orangish, spiked hair on his otherwise bald head. "Thanks," Augur said, still attempting to dry himself off. "What's your name?"
"Korcha," he answered. "Now, can I ask ya whatcha were doin' when ya came fallin' out of the sky?"
"It's a... long story," Augur replied. No sooner than he had finished the sentence, two screams were heard behind the two. Korcha and Augur turned around to see a couple of white streaks plunge into the sea after plummeting out of the same hole in the sky Augur had come from. When they hit the water, they created large splashes nearly identical to the earlier spatter that had drenched Korcha's sailboat. Korcha himself was once again soaked from the upsurge of water, and the puddle at the bottom of his ship was now deeper.
"Aw, damnit!" Korcha moaned, obviously quite frustrated. "Not again!"
Two figures poked their heads out of the water off to the side of the ship. Augur knelt down to face them. "Seraph. Candor. What took you guys so long?"
Seraph expelled the salty contents of the sea from her mouth. "Shut up and help me into the boat, Augur!"
Augur hesitated and looked over at Korcha. "Well... I don't know..." Augur deviously teased. "What do you think, Korcha? It's your boat. Should we let them on?"
Korcha shrugged, "Hey, they're both better lookin' than you!"
After the guys enjoyed a short chuckle that neither of the girls found amusing, Seraph and Candor were pulled into Korcha's ship. "My boat's only designed for three people," he warned, "So we're gonna be sittin' in pretty tight quarters on the way back."
Korcha knew that by now, his mother would be upset that he had been gone for so long. As he pulled the small sailboat into Guldove's docks and fastened the ropes to the wooden posts, he hopped onto the wooden piers that made up most of the outdoor levels of the village. He turned back to his newly found acquaintances, nervous about jumping over the eighteen inch gap between the boat and the harbor. "C'mon! Ya can't stay on that boat all day!" he insisted. Augur shrugged his shoulders, and took a running step forward to land on the quayside next to Korcha. The ship bounced up and down in the calm water from the force of him jumping off the unstable watercraft. Seeing that Augur had made the jump intact, Seraph and Candor quickly did the same.
Seraph decided to express her gratitude to the fisherman. "Thanks for rescuing us out there, Korcha. If you hadn't been there, I don't know what we would've done."
"Hmph. It was nothing," Korcha modestly disclosed. "So anyway, where you guys from? I mean, I figure ya ain't from 'round here."
Augur grinned. "What gave you that idea? Was it the clothes, or the fact that we just fell out of a hole in the sky?"
Korcha almost laughed at the remark, but managed to stifle his chuckle before the others would notice. "The clothes, actually. It's hot here all the time, so nobody with any sense in 'em would wear such warm stuff around here. Though now thatcha mention it, what's the deal with that thing you guys fell outta?"
"It's quite a long story. We'll tell you about it later," Candor gave the now uniform response.
"Alright, then," Korcha replied. "I'll take ya back to my place. My ma should take care of ya real good, and after ya get somethin' to eat, you can tell me the story."
Korcha's guests enjoyed the scenery while they walked towards his home. Guldove had been build into the side of some kind of cliff, with the stores and buildings sticking out of the side and rising high into the air. A good percentage of the town resided on the seaside harbor, which extended out over the waters for anywhere from ten to forty feet. The whole place seemed peaceful, with the only sounds coming from light chatter among the occasional resident, the seagulls constantly buzzing overhead, and the gentle rolling of the waves underneath the wooden planks of the massive dock.
The inhabitants of this strange town had quite a taste for decoration. Colored towels hung from every imaginable corner, doorways and windows were littered with small figurines and different clothes, and there seemed to be an excessive use of paint in many areas. Flags were hung from poles sticking out of the piers, and the architecture of the buildings was remarkably bizarre, to say the very least. Still, it looked like a fairly comfortable place to call home, and the presence of the sea would offer the populace a good diversion from their everyday lives, should the need to relax ever arise. Augur, despite himself, couldn't help but think that these humans were the descendants of the Earthbounds. In 13,000 years, they still hadn't come anywhere close to matching the technology Zeal had.
The thing that the former Zealians couldn't keep their mind off of was the heat. Back in Zeal, the continent floated thousands of feet in the air, and it was difficult to reach high temperatures at that altitude. In the day, the temperatures were typically moderate and it was fine to walk around outside, but a person deciding to camp outside for the night would no doubt die of hypothermia. Down on the continent, it was much worse. The constant blizzards meant that any time the temperature poked above zero, it was considered sun tanning weather. But here in Guldove, and probably most of El Nido, the heat was just plain sweltering. Augur's typical attire, a quilted half robe, half shirt that was common among the men in Enhasa, had been literally drenched in his own sweat during the relatively short boat ride back from where Korcha had picked them up. His face glistened from the moisture, and his hair had been thoroughly soaked. Sure, he had fallen in the water when he first arrived, but Augur could tell the difference from the saltwater and his own perspiration.
Climbing up a ladder, Augur inconspicuously pointed out something strange to Candor. There was a humanoid figure wearing brownish slacks and an equally brown undershirt, but its body was completely green, and the creature had the head of a bug, complete with large black eyes and big antennae. "What the hell is that thing?" he whispered to his former teacher.
Candor shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe one of those... oh, what are they called? Demi-humans?"
"Could be..." Augur confessed. "I know we heard that they lived here in El Nido from someone."
Shrugging off the thoughts, the three followed Korcha over a bridge and past some small shops until they came to a rather large house - although "house" wasn't necessarily the best word for the structure. It was broad on the bottom, and even broader as it extended below the current boardwalk for another story. Towards the top, it became pointed more like a tent. Korcha led them past around the almost circular outside of the building until they came to an opening, which he walked into. Candor stepped in right behind him.
"Ma! I'm home!" Korcha yelled impolitely.
"Korcha! Where ya been! Ya were s'posed to be home... Oh?" Korcha's mother stopped when she saw the line of strangers piling into her house one at a time. "What's this, Korcha? Did ya meet some new friends?"
"Er, um... well yeah! Friends..." Korcha sputtered.
"Well, welcome! I'm Macha, feel free to make yerselves at home! Don'tcha be shy, now!" Macha proclaimed.
Candor took a step towards Korcha's mother and extended her hand. "Pleased to meet you, Macha. I'm Candor."
Macha's face lit up. "Oh my, ya got such great manners! Korcha, ya could learn a thing or two from her!" Korcha blushed, and stormed up a ladder leading upstairs, presumably to his room.
Seraph became the second one to reach out and shake Macha's hand, saying, "Hi, I'm Seraph. That's Augur over there," she pointed over her shoulder to the young man. Augur raised his hand and waved to Korcha's mother, who appeared quite robust and obviously had been eating well.
"You folks don't look like yer from around here," Macha noticed. "What brings ya to Guldove?"
Augur was the one who answered. "It's a story for another time, really. It ends with your son saving us after we had some trouble out at sea, and bringing us back here."
Macha smiled, clearly enjoying the company she was receiving. "Well, how 'bout ya tell me the whole thing over dinner! I'm choppin' up some fresh El Nido fish, I got some rare spices from Marbule, and I'll even spoil m'self a little and give ya some of the Dragoon's Glory. It's the finest thing ya tasted! Too bad it'll take me a couple hours to get everything ready for ya."
"That's perfectly fine with us, right guys?" Candor asked. The others nodded in response.
"I hate to be a bother like this," Augur said. "But we really had no idea how warm it would be when we came here, and the clothes we have on are a tad bit worn, and..."
"Oh, yer lookin' for fresh clothes to change into? No problem!" Macha assured. "My son's got some old stuff he never wears that you'll be able to slip right into. As for the girls, well, I'm a little too tubby to have anything that's fit for two pretty young ladies like yerselves. My daughter Mel might have some stuff. She's younger than the both of ya, so they might be a little small, but it should make due. Her room's down below if ya wanna check it out."
"Hey, thanks," Augur replied hesitantly. Seeing the tight, partially revealing clothing that Korcha had worn, he wasn't sure if he would be comfortable in his outfits. Too say the least, he might be embarrassed. Of course, for the girls to wear something that was a couple sizes too small wouldn't be too pleasing for them, either. Regardless, Augur hurried upstairs to try and coax Korcha out of some old clothes. Fortunately, he found something that appeared to be a little closer to normal in his closet. At least, it was somewhat normal for the strange new culture he had now become a part of. He discarded his traditional Zealian robes in favor of a pair of tan shorts that stopped around his kneecaps, and a loose fitting blue shirt which left his muscular arms and part of his chest exposed. Afterward, he descended the ladder, leaving a somewhat annoyed Korcha behind.
He entered the room below and immediately heard a bit of a giggle escape from Seraph's mouth. Augur shrugged it off and jumped onto the floor, where he proceeded to ask Candor, "How do I look?"
Candor took a few seconds to answer. "You look... comfortable," she reluctantly answered. A moment later, she added, "You look like someone from El Nido." This comment at least made him feel a little better about his appearance.
"We'll see how ridiculous you guys look after you get done," Augur sneered. "I bet it's worse than me."
Almost as if accepting Augur's challenge, Seraph muttered a quiet, "We'll see," before descending down the ladder to the room below. Candor decided to follow her.
Mel wan not in her room when the two girls entered. They decided to check around the area for a brief moment, because they did feel somewhat like intruders, but they could find no sign of her. Deciding that since she wasn't around, and that since Macha had given them permission, Candor and Seraph browsed the room until they came upon an old closet in the corner of the room filled with clothing.
It became instantly evident that all of Mel's apparel would be a little tight fitting on the two, but if they could find some garments that would a little on the loose side for Mel, they could probably get away with wearing it. Candor found what she was looking for in the form of a reddish dress that went quite well with her blondish hair. Expectedly, it clung tightly against her stomach and pinched her chest, but she could survive in the outfit. Her biggest complaint was that the skirt part of the garb, while perfect for a younger girl like Mel, didn't even drop down to mid-thigh on Candor. She was showing a lot more leg than she was used to, or comfortable with.
Seraph, a few inches shorter than Candor, finally decided on a pair of smallish blue shorts and a white tank top with thin shoulder straps. She quickly stripped down and tossed her old robes off towards the wall before sliding the top over her head and struggling to squeeze her upper torso into the fabric. She spent a few moments fidgeting and adjusting until she was moderately satisfied with the appearance. Her navel was showing, something that girls in Zeal never did, but she had already seen women dressed similarly in Guldove, so she accepted the situation. Seraph was forced to fight with the uncomfortably tight shorts next. They were the biggest pair she could find, but nonetheless, pulling them up to her waist required quite a bit of squirming.
Seraph and Candor mutually felt a little bit naked in their newfound attire, but realized that there was nothing that could be done about it. Besides, the thinner fabrics and lack of layers would make things much more comfortably under the El Nido sun, and such clothing was customary in Guldove, so they would both be much happier with their choices once they became used to the inhibitions.
Augur watched from upstairs as the two ascended the ladder to model their new clothes. He immediately raised a keen eye to their appearance, taking his time to look over his partners. Not bad at all, he thought. Candor was damn near thirty eight already, and she still had great legs, among other assets. Seraph, however, was what nearly made Augur fall out of his chair. He had never seen near as much skin on her before. As she climbed up onto the floor from the level below, Augur gave his full attention to Seraph. The skintight shirt was obviously too small, because the thin white fabric stretched more than it had been designed for. The tank top firmly hugged Seraph's every curve, and the straps barely hanging off her shoulders had been stretched to the limit. When she attempted to straighten herself up a little, Augur noticed the top halves of two tantalizing breasts bouncing with each movement she made.
Seraph, of course, noticed Augur nearly drooling over her, and took a quick look down at her body. She gasped quite loudly when she realized how she appeared, and her mouth hung open for longer than was normal. Seraph quickly raised her arms up and wrapped them around her chest, attempting to conceal herself from Augur. "Jerk..." she whispered silently to herself, before turning around to face away from the boy. "I look like such a tramp," Seraph muttered under her breath, the tone of her voice showing that she obviously felt hurt.
Augur noticed Seraph's obvious efforts to cover herself up, and even though he realized he had been the cause of it, he made no move to make amends. He felt guilty, sure, but the damage had been done, and he figured the best thing to do was wait around until she began to feel better about herself. In the meantime, he diverted his attention to Candor, wearing her sleek new reddish dress. Candor somehow caught his eye, and her cheeks instantly began to flush, until they matched the color of her new outfit.
All the while, Macha was seemingly oblivious to the whole situation, loudly singing some catchy song while chopping up some vegetables and tossing them into an iron cooking pot which held several large fish. The fish looked quite different from any that could be found in Zeal, as the meat was whiter and a bit less fatty looking, not to mention that the animals themselves were quite obviously bigger.
"Dinner'll be ready real soon," Macha assured. Then, in a thunderous voice, yelled, "KORCHA!!!" to her son upstairs.
"WHAT!!!" came the response from above.
"Can ya find out where yer sister is? Tell her we'll be eatin' soon!"
"Ugh," Korcha grumbled with disgust as he jumped down the ladder. He muttered something indistinct, before storming out the doorway. "Mel, where the hell are ya!?" he screamed as soon as he left the house.
Once Korcha was out of the way, Macha turned to her guests. "Sit down. Now that we've got us some peace 'n' quiet, ya can tell me why ya decided to come to our quiet little sea town."
Augur and Candor pulled up chairs to the table immediately, and Seraph eventually sat next to Candor, after some reluctance. She appeared to still have a bit of a grudge against Augur from when she had caught him gawking at her. Once they were all together, Augur leaned over and whispered, "What do we tell her? We can't say what we're really doing here..."
"Leave it to me, I'll take care of it," Candor promised. Then, raising her voice so that Macha could hear, she began, "Well, as you can probably tell, we come from a place very far away. In fact, I would wager that you've never even heard of it..."
Guldove was a terrific resort, Candor reluctantly admitted, and the people were definitely more charismatic than the majority of dimwits back in Zeal. There was something about the way the sea mist hung in the air and the sunlight reflected off the surface of the water that charmingly captivated her. In short, her two day stay on the island village had caused her to become increasingly fond of El Nido. Candor's blissful acceptance had never been easily won over, and at first she had looked upon this most foreign of territories with excessive skepticism, but somewhere between the friendly greetings and spectacular drink specials, she had grown to love this place.
Currently, she was leaning against a counter and nearly falling off a bar stool in a cozy little pub maintained by a chef with an overly large stomach. Orcha, while overtly outspoken, was a very fine bartender, and the two had engaged in several engrossing conversations over the past two nights. The restaurant was a quiet one, popular but never too busy to enjoy. Candor liked that. The atmosphere of the place, as well as the alcohol in her system, allowed her to loosen up considerably.
"Hey, Orcha!" she loudly called. "Why don't you hit me up with another one of those, uh, chilled-fruity-icy thingies?"
"Comin' right at ya!" Orcha smiled. A moment later, a drinking glass with a bowl-shaped top came sliding down the countertop, grinding to a halt just in front of her hand. Candor immediately perched her lips on the straw and sucked some of the cool slush into her mouth.
"I could drink these things all night!" she declared. It was quite obvious to anyone nearby that she had exceeded her limit for the night, as her wooziness reflected her current state of mind.
Orcha decided to bring up another random topic with his new best customer. "So Candor, where ya headed to after yer done here? I mean, when ya check outta Macha's place an' all."
Candor flashed him a smile and brushed some fallen strands of hair from her face. "Why, you thinking about asking me to stay with ya?" she joked, not realizing she was slowly integrating the local slang into her own speech. When Orcha made no response, Candor said, "Me and my buddies, we're looking for this-thing. It's real weird and stuff. It's like an island lagoon or something, and over there is supposed to be some kinda supernatural-thing."
"Hmm..." Orcha thought while tossing a fish into a frying pan behind him. He really missed having Tia around to waitress for him. It was a shame she had suddenly become so ill like that. Turning his attention back to Candor after shaking some spices onto the sizzling mean, he advised, "I ain't quite sure what yer looking for, but if ya got a question about weird stuff, like ya say this is, then ya should go ask Steena."
"Who's Steena?" Candor inquired.
"Our Shaman. She knows about all sorts of crap that we common folk never bother to deal with. She'll probably be able to help ya out."
"Hey, thanks Pal," Candor grinned. "I'll go check it out. But first, I'm gonna need just one more of those freezy-fruit-smoothie things. God, they're better than sex!" she exclaimed flagrantly, without a care as to who heard her. Orcha was beginning to consider cutting the woman off; the only thing keeping her forehead from falling onto the bar countertop was her arm, which she used to brace prop her chin upwards and brace her body so she wouldn't fall over. Candor wouldn't remember more than fragments of her night at the tavern; that much was obvious. Orcha realized he might be forced to drag her to the hayloft above the bar if she passed out or became to drunk to make her way home, a point which probably had already been breached.
The creeks coming from the springs in the mattress of the bed seemed deafening. Mel had been jumping up and down on the top bunk for at least a half hour, never becoming tired of the childish game nor showing the interest for any other activity. Augur had just been sitting across the room, watching the girl jump repeatedly without a purpose.
"So what's up with you and that other girl?" Mel asked deviously. "Is she your girrrrrlfriend?"
"Um, well, kinda," Augur answered the young lady with the short brownish pigtails. "We have this... thing... going on between us. What that thing is, I'm not exactly sure."
"Oooohh!" Mel teased Augur, still bouncing on the mattress. "Do you guys kiss?"
"Ha! I wish!" Augur replied. "Until recently, I've been way too busy to pursue her, and the day we arrived here, I did something to make her mad at me. She hasn't forgiven me yet."
"So what'dja do?" the young girl questioned.
Augur got the feeling that Mel didn't really care about his answers; that she was just concentrated on her bed jumping skills and not bothering to listen to his answers. "I don't think it's important for you to know what I did to upset her. You're a little too young to understand."
Mel stopped jumping on the bed, finally growing bored with the activity and opting to sit on the top bunk with her legs dangling over the edge instead. It seemed that Augur's comment about her being young had caused the girl to develop an irritation towards him. "Tell me!" She demanded. Then, in an uncharacteristic display of interest from the nosey brat, Mel added, "If you don't tell me what you did wrong, then how can I tell you how to make it up to her?" When Augur gave her a strange, skeptical look, she snarled, "I know what I'm talking about, Stupid! She's a girl, and I'm a girl. Who better to give you advice?"
"Oh, all right..." Augur sighed. If she wanted to know this bad, Augur would let her know. "Seraph caught me gawking at her... mangos... and now she's totally pissed off and won't talk to me."
Mel giggled furiously over Augur's choice of words. She used her hand to cover her mouth and stifle the laughter slightly as her face became red with embarrassment, even though there was no logical reason for her to be embarrassed. Finally, after an eternity of loud, girlish cackling, Korcha's sister calmed herself. Then, deciding to be moderately serious for the first time since Augur had met her, Mel looked across the room at the teenage boy and spoke, "Tell her you're sorry for being a loser, say that everything's your fault, and make up something about her being beautiful, like she's a flower or something. That's what Ma always tells Brother to do when he's mean to me. I see right through it now, but it worked on my when I was younger."
A devilish grin gradually spread Augur's face. "Thanks, Mel. I'll try that. Do you have any idea where Seraph is?"
"She went down to the port with Brother. He said he wanted to show her something. Don't worry, Korcha doesn't know the first thing about girls." Mel assured. Augur hoped she was right, because the thought of having Seraph become emotionally attached to that freak nearly made him vomit his most recent El Nido supper.
The smaller, red moon wasn't visible on this night, but the white moon cast its glow across the nearly silent trickle of waves below the piers of Guldove. The bobber attached to the fishing line sat upon the moon's reflection on the sea's unseasonably calm waters. Following the nearly invisible line back to its source revealed a fairly expensive pole, and clutching the opposite end of that pole amateurishly was Seraph. Her feet dangled over the edge of the dock, kicking at the wind beneath her. Directly behind Seraph, Korcha stood up straight, observing the young lady with his hands at his waist, and gazing out into the starlit night.
"I'm not getting any bites, Korcha," a soft, angelic voice shattered the near perfect silence of the evening.
Korcha walked over to the edge of the dock and nervously sat down next to Seraph. "That happens sometimes. Maybe the fish just don't wanna bite. Watch yer bobber a little closer."
Seraph leaned over the edge of the pier slightly. "What am I supposed to be seeing?" Without warning, the bobber began jerking up and down, almost dropping beneath the water level.
"Right there! Ya got somethin' on!" Korcha exclaimed.
Seraph, excited by the news, began to panic. "Omigod! What do I do!?"
"Tug the pole a little bit," Korcha hastily answered. "Try to set the hook in his mouth. Start reelin' it in real slow, but not too slow."
Seraph, understandably jumpy, grew tense as she tried to follow all of Korcha's multiple instructions. After a brief struggle, however, the fishing line came out of the water, a small perch dangling on the hook. "I caught it!!" She screamed gleefully. "I caught a fish!"
Korcha smirked. "Har Har. It's just a baby, 'bout the size of a fig. Throw it back." Then, realizing he probably insulted this attractive young girl, he immediately began searching for a way to recover.
By this time, however, Augur had made his way down to the docks, and had begun to listen in on the conversation the two were having. "I don't believe this!" he declared to himself. "Korcha's really trying to steal my girl!" Then, reflecting on what he had just seen for a second, he grew angrier. "That's it... The kid's just looking to get his ass kicked!"
Augur continued to watch the two. He noticed that Korcha, sitting right beside Seraph, had placed his hand on the wooden plank of the pier directly behind the girl. Augur knew the reasons behind this. It would allow Korcha to almost effortlessly rest his arm around Seraph's shoulders when he built up the courage to make a move. It was a tactic Augur himself had used on girls many times in the past, and he wasn't about to let some poorly dressed hobo to pull it on his girl.
Realizing he had been silent for too long, Augur walked out towards the two, and shouted under a false pretense of friendliness, "Hey, what's up, guys?" Korcha's head swung around, his face turning slightly pink while he snatched his arm away from Seraph. Seraph also turned around.
"Augur! Korcha's teaching me to fish!" She screamed, jumping to her feet and running to great her friend, a gesture which allowed Augur to calm down slightly. "I even caught something!"
"Really? That's great!" Augur said, pretending to care, and doing a good job of it. "Hey, listen, Korcha... Would you mind giving me a few minutes alone with Seraph? I've got to talk to her about something."
Korcha was noticeably pissed off, and the sight of this made Augur grin. Finally, the fisherman agreed, and stormed off, yelling, "Yah, sure, whatever. Lemme know when ya need me," on his way out.
Augur waited until he was sure Korcha was gone, and that he was truly alone with Seraph before beginning to talk. This led Seraph to become slightly impatient, and before Augur began to talk, Seraph asked, "What's going on, Augur?"
"I just wanted to talk to you because, well... I uh, well..." he hesitated. "I wanted to apologize to you."
Seraph conveyed an expression of slight surprise. "About what?"
"Well, I've noticed that you've been kinda upset with me over the last couple days we've spent in El Nido, and I thought back to what I did. I realize I've been acting like a bit of a jerk lately." Augur chose his words carefully so as not to incriminate himself, at least not about any specific event.
"I haven't been upset with you," Seraph blatantly lied, although she had managed to get over her anger at him from the day they arrived. It was now just water under the bridge to her, but hearing Augur actually own up to something came to her as a little touching.
"Yeah, well, anyway, I wanted to make it up with you, and I just wanted to spend a little time alone with you, since we haven't gotten to do any of that sort of thing lately," Augur disclosed. Slyly, he moved his arm over towards Seraph, and slowly grazed the skin on the back side of her hand with his fingertips. "You know, Seraph, you really are something special. You're like a beautiful flower," Augur said, taking the suggestion Mel had given him quite literally.
Seraph's eyes widened a little bit from Augur's comments, and the corners of her mouth broaden slightly. "Augur," she sighed, a hint of embarrassment hanging off the word.
Augur took this as a good sign, and decided to use the situation to his advantage. "I'm serious, Seraph. Right now, alone with you, well, it's just been so long since we've been together like this. And I haven't felt the way I do right now since the last time we were alone like this." Augur took a brief pause, noticing that his charm appeared to be working on the girl. Quickly changing the subject, so that he didn't come on too strong, he added, "Look out at the ocean tonight, Seraph. Isn't it beautiful?"
"Yeah, it is..." she admitted.
"The stars seem so much brighter down here in El Nido than they ever did in Zeal. The water's clearer... the reflection of the moon shines across the surface so much better... the surface of the sea is like glass..." Augur observed. He carefully slid his hand upwards along Seraph's arm until it reached her shoulder, bare except for the thin strap of the tank top.
"I never knew you were much of a nature guy, Augur," Seraph revealed, now appearing very comfortable.
"Yeah," he replied, "but something about the world tonight just seems so... peaceful. You know, the way the moon is lighting up the sky, glimmering on the water's surface. The way it makes your hair shine, and the way it makes your soft skin glow..." Augur looked directly into Seraph's big blue eyes, twinkling from the white radiance coming from the sky above. Seraph took a couple deep breaths, sighing heavily.
"Seraph, let me hold you." Augur proposed. "Let me kiss your soft lips. It's been so long..." Seraph made no move to resist the offer, and lurched forward slightly, standing on the tips of her toes so her face was level with Augur's. An instant later, their mouths were locked together, their moist lips sliding along each other. Augur did not hesitate to wrap his arms around the young woman's shoulders, holding her closer to his body, and pressing the palms of his hands firmly against the cloth resting on the middle of her back. Seraph melted in his arms, tilting her head back and her chin upwards, and submitting to her urges. She breathlessly gasped, inhaling deeply, with her lips still fastened to Augur. He filled the space inside her mouth with his tongue, licking at the insides of her cheeks and slipping it along the topside of her own. Seraph was surprised at first, but let her instincts take over, and was soon coiling her own tongue around Augur's, and probing deep into his mouth as well.
Augur grunted deeply. Seraph inhaled heavily through her nose, filling her lungs with the air and allowing a small squeal to escape her larynx. Her heart rate increased, and her breathing intensified, her chest swelling with each gasp. She placed her hands on the upper part of Augur's back, desperately attempting to cling to the muscles underneath his clothing and working her arms upward until they were clinging onto the hair behind his head, locking Augur in the embrace.
Augur decided to move further, slowly guiding his hands downward along Seraph's back until they reached the small of it. Continuing his journey, he grazed the skin between the bottom of her tank top and the elastic of her borrowed shorts. The hands dropped an additional few inches, resting against the sides of her womanly hips. All the while, he managed to keep his concentration focused upon the lustful kiss, and Seraph had yet to make any objection to Augur's aggressive movements.
Augur moved his palms, following the soft cotton backwards past the seams of Seraph's shorts until he loosely held her round bottom. The girl squealed from the unexpected touching, lurching her body forward slightly and causing her heart to skip a few beats. Augur removed his lips from Seraph's quickly, allowing him to kiss the corners of her mouth softly. The slow, wet kisses eventually moved their way down her neck, whilst he simultaneously massaged the muscles of her upper thighs and stroked the soft skin just below her tight shorts.
Augur moved his mouth over to Seraph's shoulder, nibbling at the thin white strap of her tank top. Seraph's breathing was incredibly heavy at this point, and her head was tilted back towards the sky as she let Augur work his hands around her body. Still, something inside her felt guilty about the way she was handling this.
"Augur, stop..." she rasped, the words somewhat contradictory to the tone of voice that came with her plea.
"Why?" Augur casually asked, making no effort to cease his actions, affirmed by another kiss planted along the girls shoulder.
"It just... This doesn't feel right..." Her back arched and her chest heaved forward as she said the words.
Augur pulled back, although his hands still rested on Seraph's side, and he looked her in the eye. "What's wrong, Seraph?"
"I... I don't know, Augur. I just... I feel like this is going to fast..." Seraph could tell that Augur felt rejected, and her choice was admittedly tearing herself up inside, as well. There was a part of her that simply wanted to give in to him under the moonlight, and allow him to have his way with her. But at the same time, there was another part of her that told her to stop what she was doing and back off. In the end, Seraph wasn't sure what she exactly wanted, but the traditional values instilled by her mother somehow won out.
"You don't like it?" Augur asked, now slowly drifting away from her.
"It's not that, I..." Seraph paused, her voice quivering and her emotions beginning to take control of her. "I'm not quite ready for this, Augur. Not yet. I... I'm sorry, Augur, but I can't do this right now."
"Okay," Augur replied, his tone conveying disappointment. "I understand." The long silence that ensued was unbearable. Finally, after the two stared at each other for close to a minute without saying a word, without knowing what the other was thinking, Augur suggested, "You look like you're tired, Seraph. Come on, I'll walk you back up to Macha's place."
Seraph didn't say a word; she didn't have to. All she did was allow a smile to form on her lips, and Augur wrapped an arm around her shoulder in response. The two walked out of the chilly breeze together, leaving the recent events behind them.
In the shadows behind a building, Korcha angrily kicked at the wooden boards composing the docks.
The next morning, Seraph, Mel, Macha, and Augur all sat together at a crude but sturdy dinner table, eating a breakfast of sausage and organic vegetables with a variety of spices. Korcha was nowhere to be found, but he was more than likely still sleeping. Augur had just finished thanking Macha for the delicious food when a noisy clatter erupted from just outside the seaside tower. A few seconds later, Candor stormed through the door, her eyes tightly squinted and her hair in a great mess. She didn't look particularly cheerful.
"Candor!" Augur shouted. "Where ya been?"
Candor gave him an irritated glance. "Believe me, I'd let you know if I remembered." Then browsing around the kitchen, she turned to Macha. "What kind of headache medicine do you guys have in El Nido? Oh, and how about mouthwash? I've got a foul taste I've got to get rid of."
"So you got hammered at the bar, huh?" Augur guessed.
"Shut up, Augur!" she harshly snapped. Then, storming out of the room, she declared to no one in particular, "I'm going to lay down for a while."
When she was gone, everyone at the table looked at each other strangely. They were all equally surprised. "That was certainly unexpected." Seraph noted. No one really bothered talking about the incident, however, and opted to simply let the episode slide though the cracks. Besides, Macha's cooking was way too good to not enjoy. So, the four resumed their cheerful discussions and finished their meal.
When it was over, everyone went their own separate ways. Seraph went down to Mel's room, and spent a good deal of time being entertained by the antics of the younger girl, and Augur decided to spend some time walking around the docks of Guldove during the hours before noon and enjoy the warm weather. Macha remained in the kitchen, a place she seemed to never leave, and was undoubtedly already making plans for the lunchtime meal. Korcha did eventually get up, and went for a quick boat ride off the coast.
Everyone met back at the house sometime in the early afternoon. Mel and Seraph were the first to sit down at the table for the food, and Augur eventually stumbled in after kicking back at a local café. Candor made her way out as well, recovering quite well from the hangover, although she admitted that she still felt like a cloud hung over her head. Korcha entered the room last, glaring crossly at Augur. Both of the adolescent boys felt the tensions between them tearing away in their stomachs.
Regardless, the next meal came and went without incident. Seraph and Candor helped clear the table and clean the dishes, and then went outside to join Augur at the pier. Korcha was hanging around in the same general area as well, but he was avoiding Augur the best he could. When Augur finally spotted the girls, they were cordially greeted. He walked up to Seraph and wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her tightly for a brief moment before looking over to Candor. He gave her a friendly hug as well.
"Hey guys, what's up?" he said.
Seraph allowed herself to grin slightly. "Not much."
Candor saw Augur glance out to sea quickly. "Man, everyday here is gorgeous," he commented.
"Hey Augur, there's something I want to ask you about," Candor began. "Sure, this is a great place and all, but when do we go out looking for a path to that alternate dimension?"
"Hmm. I suppose you're right," Augur admitted. "We are overdue here, aren't we?"
Seraph turned to him, "Do you have any idea about where to go?"
Augur nodded apprehensively. "Apparently there's a gate between the two alternate realities in the... Hydro Marshes, I think they were called. And another one at some Apasse Beach. I don't know, maybe we should ask Korcha about this."
"Where is he?" Seraph asked. "I'll go get him."
Augur motioned past his shoulder. "Over there." Seraph spotted him immediately, and quickly scampered off. Then, returning to Candor, he said, "Appparently, to open the wormholes, we need to use some sort of special amulet. So, without the amulet, we're given the option of finding some secret island lagoon known as the Bend of Time."
"So we need a navigator," Candor stated.
From behind them, a grumpy, stern voice emerged. "They're called the Hydra Marshes, not Hydro!" Korcha corrected. "And it's Opassa Beech, not Apasse."
Augur swiveled around. "Pleased to see you too, Korcha. Do you know how we can get there?"
"Sure do, and I can take ya there for the right price." He announced.
"What about an island lagoon? Do you know where one might be?" Candor asked. Korcha shook his head to that question. "I guess we'd better go see the shaman, then."
"Whaddya need to go see Steena for?" Korcha asked.
Seraph looked over to Candor. "Yeah, what do we need to see this shaman for?"
"We're trying to find a supernatural abnormal irregularity in the world," Augur answered. "But I've never even heard of the shaman. Where'd you come up with this info, Candor?"
"Bartender, of all things," she replied. "Korcha, can you take us to the shaman?"
Korcha crinkled his nose and crossed his arms in annoyance, but finally replied, "Yeah, I guess so."
Korcha started to walk down the docks, but Augur stopped him briefly. "Look, Korcha. I realize that we've been kinda at each other's throats lately. And, well, that's not what I really want, so I'd just like to apologize to you. You and your family have done quite a bit for us, and I'm taking this opportunity to thank you."
Korcha was silent for several long seconds. Finally, he conceited, "Yeah, I guess I've been a bit of a jerk too. I'm sorry, I guess. Look, let's just put this behind us."
"Agreed," Augur complied. "Now, let's head over and see this shaman."
"I'm sorry, but due to our strict policies, only residents of Guldove are allowed to see the shaman." The bodyguard rejected Augur, Seraph, and Candor from entering Steena's tribal hut.
"Relax, they're with me." Korcha assured.
"Oh, I'm sorry." The sentry replied. "If Korcha says he knows you, then I guess you can't be bad guys. Go right on in, but please remember to show proper respect and to demonstrate courtesy on the sacred grounds. Conduct yourselves in an amiable yet modest manner."
"Thanks," Candor smiled at him. The guard's solidly built body, rippling with strong muscles, looked very appetizing to her. As she walked slowly by, Candor took a good look at the well-toned physique of the sentinel. She secretly hoped that those powerful arms would be forced to throw her out of the tower and subdue her, but that was a personal wish she would have to set aside for later on.
"You guys go ahead," Korcha consented. "I'll wait here and have a talk with my buddy." The three Zealians walked into the tribal tower, hearing a conversation start up between Korcha and the guard in the background.
The inside of the tribal hut, large enough to hold a conference if need be, was largely built upon wooden walls and floorboards, with velvet rugs and drapes covering everything from the walkway to the alter. Off to the side hovered a greenish translucent octahedral prism, which Augur would later discover was known as a Record of Fate. In the far front of the room sat a middle-aged woman, noticeably older than Candor by several years, and adorned with expensive whitish garbs, equally whitish long hair, and an elegant headdress fitted carefully with rare jewels.
"Would you happen to be the Shaman of Guldove?" Candor apprehensively asked to the woman sitting high atop a chair not quite decorated enough to be considered a throne.
"Yes, I am Steena, the High Priestess. Tell me, travelers, what business you have here."
Augur nervously glanced around at Seraph, and then to Candor. He had never been much of an expert at these highly formal situations, and he found himself stuck in a monster of one now. Finally, he said, "I, um... We're currently visiting with some of the residents of your fine town. Um, well..."
"Don't be shy, young man, I'm not here to judge you," Steena comforted. Then, her facial expression drooped slightly from the cheerful manner she conveyed when they had first seen her resting in an undersized chair. "Hmm, I sense something quite strange about you, Boy. There seems to be a great emptiness about your very being... Almost as if you're not supposed to exist. You aren't dead or anything, are you?"
"No, not exactly," Augur responded with a half-truth.
"Peculiar..." Steena muttered. "No matter, please tell me what I can do for you."
Candor broke Augur's constant stream of unintelligible babble, "We are, quite obviously, foreigners to El Nido. We are in search of something that can't exactly be found on a map."
Augur quickly regained his composure from his earlier show of stuttering in front of the High Priestess. "Great Shaman, does the term Angelus Errare mean anything to you?"
"It most certainly does! It's ancient Dragonian scripture," Steena spoke in a soft, yet strangely powerful voice. "Although I'm a bit rusty on my dialect, and I haven't studied the texts for quite sometime, I believe it means, roughly, 'Where Angels Lose Their Way.'"
"Does Angelus Errare have any sort of connection, or perhaps a connotative definition that associates itself with the world around us?" Seraph asked, fishing for information without wanting to give too much away.
Steena appeared to think about her answer for a few seconds, possibly drawing information from her brain that related to her study of the topic in her younger days. "Angelus Errare, in the Dragonite scriptures, referred to a portal between the living, natural world, and the netherworld. A gateway the dead spirits of the ever-changing Earth must pass through after their time upon this world is done. Legend has it, not all spirits managed to complete the journey, and some were caught in a temporal passageway while traveling between life and death. They have 'lost their way,' if you will."
"So, in general, it is a portal between two worlds?" Candor asked.
"In essence, yes," Steena confirmed.
"Are there any of these phenomena in the El Nido region that you know about?" Seraph asked.
"The portals between the living and dead worlds are everywhere," Steena answered, not issuing the information the three Zealians were looking for. "You must pass on beyond this life in order to gain access to them, however. Now, if you don't mind me asking, why all this interest in the Angelus Errare?"
"We're thinking of different meanings for Angelus Errare, I believe," Augur answered. "We have no such interest in a passageway to the dead world. Rather, we're searching for a connection gateway between this world and an alternate reality, if that makes any sense."
Steena appeared puzzled. "I'm sorry, but I do not believe that such a thing could exist."
"I see..." Augur sighed in disappointment. "Then, can you tell me anything about The Bend of Time? Apparently it is located on a small island lagoon somewhere to the southeast of the main island."
"This is a place I have heard of, on one or two occasions. I've never heard of its location, before, or even known if it actually exists, for that matter. But..." Steena trailed off. Then the tone of her voice became defensive and confrontational. "Where did you come about all this information?"
"Picked it up from some weirdo on the Zenan Continent," Augur lied, citing exactly the words he had once heard one of the merchants at the docks of Guldove say about a rare artifact of some sort. "Anyway, do you know anything about it? We're kind of big on exploring. It's a habit you can afford to pick up when your business deals are as successful as ours."
"I see," Steena imperturbably acknowledged, not sure if she believed the story or not. Finally, she said, "It's supposedly a special warp once used by Dragonian Warlords for summoning monsters for training, but it was made obsolete millennia ago. I guess if you want to try and find it, somewhere in this island lagoon you speak of, then be my guest. The only place I can think of where a place like this might exist is somewhere to the southeast of the main island in the center of the sea. There's a small atoll in the area where high palm trees block any view of what might actually be on the island. It's a long shot if you want to try there, but I don't know what else to tell you."
"Alright, I think that's all we need to know. Thank you, High Priestess Steena!" Augur gratefully exclaimed. Seraph and Candor also extended their gratitude.
"I pray that your journey be blessed by the Dragon Gods. Perhaps you should seek their guidance in your travels," Steena suggested. Seraph extended an additional thanks to Steena for the advice as she walked out of the tribal tower. Outside, she saw Korcha wrapping up a conversation with the guard outside.
"So, how'd it go?" he asked.
"Well, Korcha," Augur answered, "we're about ready to get out of your house and stop bothering you."
Korcha looked cheerful, and smirked clearly. "Well, it's 'bout damn time!" He gave Augur a rugged slap on the back as he said this. "Hey, it was a pain in the ass, havin' you guys 'round here, but I think I'm gonna miss ya."
"Thanks, Korcha, I guess," Candor replied.
"Don't get too excited yet, Korcha. We need a favor from you first," Seraph said, playing on the fisherman's soft spot for her.
"Oh yeah? What's that, Seraph?"
"We're gonna need your navigation skills." she insisted. You're gonna have to take us on a little boat ride to the other side of El Nido. After that, we'll be outta your hair for a while."
"Hey, no prob. Ya'll come back now. I'd love to have ya back. Just... stay at the inn next time."
Lynx, or, more accurately, Serge, couldn't help but smile at himself. His mission at Fort Dragonia had been a total and unbridled success. The dragoons ranks were still very strong, but an absolutely huge chunk of their forces were now stranded on the other side of the island, blocked from advancing back to the Viper Manor by a gigantic volcano. General Viper himself was now in critical health, if not already dead, because of the stab wound he received. The four Devas... or was it three? Lynx couldn't remember for certain, but in any event, they were all unaccounted for, which made his job easier. As for Serge-the original Serge, at least-he was now stuck in the alternate reality, worst case scenario. Or, best case scenario, he was trapped in the dimensional vortex with no way of returning to the real world. And, to top things off, they had switched bodies, so that Serge now had the exterior of a Demi-human, and Lynx now had obtained the body of the Arbiter. As for Kid, well, that pesky brat had been completely duped by his pseudo-guise. He had that absentminded teenage twit wrapped around his finger, and she didn't even suspect a thing. She was willing to follow him anywhere, and obey his every command. Everything was falling into place.
With most of the experienced, well-trained dragoons stuck over near Fort Dragonia, Viper Manor was crawling with nothing but greenhorns for knights, most of whom had never even drawn a sword in actual battle. This would be the perfect moment to conduct a raid on the palace and turn it into the headquarters for the Porre incursion into El Nido. The town of Termina would have to be quarantined to avoid any sort of rebellious uprising, and it would not make the Porre soldiers very popular in this part of the world, but it was an issue that would have to be dealt with.
"Sir Lynx," a voice garnered to his attention. The dark clone of Serge turned his head up, looking away from the sea beside the floor of mighty warship, swaying with the waves underneath his feet."
"Ah, General Kowske..." Lynx spoke. "It's been a great while. I'm amazed you recognized me in my... altered state."
"I know you anywhere, Comrade!" the general declared. "Unfortunately, Father Time has not treated my body so well. But that's an issue for another meeting between us. Pleasantries of our reunion aside, my purpose here is to inform you that we'll be landing in the ports of Termina within the hour. You can probably already see the town off the bow of the ship. I've instructed all my soldiers to take the town, using force, but without using lethal force, if possible. Porre will be in command of the largest city in the El Nido Archipelago by the morning's light."
"Excellent, General," Lynx beamed with excitement, but did his best not to make this evident. "Who have you chosen to lead the command center in Termina?"
General Kowske looked peculiarly eager to answer. "My nephew!"
Dark Serge raised an eyebrow to this, "Is Norris ready to take on such an important task?"
"We need to start giving him opportunities and leadership experience with these sorts of situations sooner or later. God knows I can't command Porre for too many more years," Kowske reasoned. "Besides, he's got the best of the Black Wind backing him up, in overwhelming numbers, against a bunch of civilians sleeping in their beds. Don't worry, it'll be alright."
Lynx appeared grim. "If you say so. How long after the Termina occupation will it take us to be ready for an assault on Viper Manor."
"Two days, but by then, we'll have lost the element of surprise."
"If your troops are up to their usual calibur, it won't matter. All the experienced dragoons are gone," Lynx coldly warned.
"Any special orders you'd like me to give?" the general inquired.
"In Termina, we don't want to kill the civilians, but in Viper Manor, we'll issue the ultimatum to evacuate all non-Porre personnel. Any resistance will be forcibly expelled, using all means necessary. Also, if anyone of importance is found in the Manor, keep them as official prisoners of war. Especially Lady Riddel, she can be used as ransom and a means of persuasion against the Dragoon forces on the other side of the island. Also, be on the lookout for Dario's kid brother, if he's still alive. And we can't forget that deserter Luccia, can we?"
"Luccia committed no such acts of treason, Lynx. She left for El Nido in a time of peace, after the Independence War, and before our El Nido incursions. Besides, with what we did to her brother, who can really blame her?" Kowske reasoned.
"Speaking of Grobyc, how are the repairs coming along?"
"He'll be ready for action within a weeks time," the general answered. "We've got the best mechanics in Porre working on him. It'll be an ironic meeting between him and Luccia, if we do manage to find her in the manor."
"That, it certainly will..." the dark Serge agreed. Looking out at the steadily growing outline of Termina in the distance, he spoke to his old partner in warfare, in a somber tone of voice he had used with General Kowske countless times in the past, "Get the men dressed and have them form their ranks. Issue the order to attack as soon as we dock in Termina."
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