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E V A N D E R and S O L I A

Windward Island
The Skullfish

Solia hastened back to Evander, stepping between him and the beasts. The closest one was smaller, adolescent, and ignored her at first. She caught it by the arm as it lunged for her partner, jerking it up off of its feet, then as if the thing had been made of dirt and feather rather than flesh and scale, she hurled it away, against the helm’s railing.

The second was fully matured, with a wide jaw and hands big enough to grip a man’s skull and tear it to ribbons with its claws. She glanced to where the unfortunate crewman had been cut down. His sword lay there, skittering about the wood as the waves rocked the Skullfish. Too far for her to reach, but perhaps Evander could.

Before she could suggest as much, the bigger Savorask crashed into her—or more accurately, against her. For its size it might have expected an easy tackle, but instead she only staggered back, and its claws scraped awkwardly past her ribs and collar.

Solia had an instinct for momentum, especially in combat. She knew if she tried, she could right herself and try to force the beast back outright, but even caught off-guard this position was no disadvantage. She leaned into the stagger, stepping into a sturdier stance, then took the Savorask by its neck and side and in a whirl threw it head-over-heels across the helm.

The younger one had composed itself, and its sights had not strayed from Evander. It stalked towards him, evidently wary of any more surprises, but seemed no less ferocious. Solia meant to engage it again, but before she could even start for it, a sudden and powerful force latched itself about her left arm and stayed her.

Turning, she saw that the adult had its tongue wound up her forearm, and from across the helm had begun trying to reel her in. To her surprise she had to fight just to keep herself stationary, and as the Savorask found its footing, that too became a struggle. Not for the first time, she had underestimated flesh.

“Evander! she called, when it became clear she could not intervene. “The sword! Arm yourself!”

Evander didn’t need to hear her call twice, eyeing the approaching Savorask making its way toward him at a menacingly slow, measured pace. He met the eyes of the creature as he pushed himself up from the deck to stand on his own two feet once more, before suddenly dashing for the sword. The creature reacted to his sudden movement by quickening its own pace, hurrying toward him in a race to reach the blade before Evander could grab it.

With the advantage of initiative, Evander managed to reach the blade not a second before the long claws of the Savorask would have sliced at his vulnerable flesh - and instead the creature now found itself on the defensive, with Evander grabbing the bottom of the blade’s hilt and lifting it in an upward slash aimed in the general direction of the beast. It may have been young, but it was not an easy target, and it lept backward in a quick reaction to the swing of the blade that allowed it to escape almost unscathed, bar a slight slash on its chest.

The creature backed off for a moment as it re-evaluated the situation, and began to feel the shock and pain of the light wound from the blade.

In this moment of opportunity, Evander turned his attention quickly back to Solia, who was still wrestling against the larger Savorask that had its powerful tongue wrapped around her forearm, attempting to pull her towards it.

Spinning on his heel, he hurriedly took the few steps required to shorten the distance between himself and the two, raising the blade in the air and bringing it down with considerable force to cut the tongue of the Savorask and free his partner.

Unfortunately the beast was spurred into panic by the oncoming blade, briny adrenaline surging through it that granted it the kind of strength only living things could will themselves into. It did not release Solia, but rather tightened its grip and threw itself back, and her forward—directly into Evander’s path.

The sound was unpleasant, but it was also unlike the parting of flesh, and there was no agonized scream to join it. Instead, the slamming edge skirted down her shoulder and embedded itself a few centimeters into her bicep. She blinked, thankful that her upper arm was in better shape than her forearm. Even though the sword was plain and simply-edged, a powerful swing might have shattered her elbow completely.

“I appreciate your efforts, Evander—” she began, only to be hauled ever closer to the large Savorask. The sword wriggled free of her arm and clattered to the ground at Evander’s feet.

It may have been worth trying to resist, plant her feet into the deck and hope she didn’t crater the wood. Instead she let herself go on, nearly jogging into the beast’s pull until the moment of truth arrived, and it made to clamp its jaws down on her weakened arm. Right then, she took a solid stance and swung the fist of her right arm, free of chips and cracks, in from the side. Most of the teeth there broke free, or just broke. She took a firm hold of the hinge of the beast’s jaw to anchor it, gripped the tongue with her damaged hand and wrenched it back with as much force as she could safely muster.

This sound was unpleasant. Something further down in the Savorask’s body came loose, or perhaps it was many things; admittedly she wasn’t entirely savvy of their biology. Regardless, the thing went limp, its tongue slackened, and she shoved it away.

Her focus returned to her partner to see how he was faring.

Evander was admittedly taken aback by the situation, still processing the relatively quick succession of events that led to Solia destroying her opponent. He made a mental note that it was probably a good idea to remain on her good side if he didn’t want to find himself dismembered. Indeed, the source of her strength was puzzling - but he didn’t have time to think on that for now.

The younger Savorask, seemingly enraged by the rather brutal death of its companion, parent, or whatever it might have been, let out an almighty screech as it sped towards him.

“Ah, damn”, he thought. Awkwardly planting his feet firmly on the ground with a slight space apart from one another, in an attempt to mimic the stance he had once been taught to use when ‘bracing’ for an impact, he was well aware that his days of trained combat were but a distant memory. And his abilities in the battle against these creatures only highlighted as much.

The creature came within striking distance of Evander after only a few seconds, arms outstretched and flailing wildly at its target. Given the pace of his foe, he had found himself with little time to properly react - and beyond bracing for the inevitable and physical clash between the two, he could do little more than raise his sword. Evander gripped the hilt of his dull blade with both hands and raised it to his side so that his shoulder faced the creature. Grimacing, he awaited the attacks of the creature as its claws came hurtling toward him.

Strike, slash, the Savorask’s claws were vicious and quick, but thankfully it hadn’t saw fit to employ its razor jaws. In truth, there wasn’t enough time for the beast. Even if Evander had been entirely unarmed and immobile, there was too much of him to go through, and too little space between them, and his partner.

Solia closed the distance much like the Savorask had—a few long strides, a nasty swipe, and she had the thing by one of its slimy wrists. She dragged it away and flung it heavily against the railing. At first it managed to stay aboard, but one crushing blow to its underdeveloped ribcage was enough to cave them in, and the beast toppled over, back into the crashing waves.

“Evander?” she called back, and returned to the helm. “Are you alright?”

Evander looked himself up and down, noticing a slight gash on his right upper-arm. The adrenaline had prevented him from feeling any great pain thus far - but now that he had noticed the wound, he would be lying if he said it did not hurt. Despite this, however, he had escaped remarkably unscathed, and it wasn’t merely luck that had saved him.

“Just fantastic”, he said in reply through gritted teeth. He covered the wound with his left hand, with some drops of blood escaping through the gaps between his fingers. It had been a while - a long while- since he’d been injured, and even though his new battle-wound wasn’t anything serious, he hadn’t yet become re-accustomed to the experience.

“Looks like we got all of ‘em up here.”, he remarked while surveying the helm one final time. “Rather, you got all of them. It’s a good thing you were around!”

“I appreciate your assistance in kind,” Solia said, eyes hovering over his wound. “I apologize for leaving you alone against the beast. We should find a healer for that, when this is settled.”

Evander offered only a slight shrug in response, typical of a Northerner unused to accepting much help. “We’ll see. It’s not too bad.”

Turning his attention to the situation on the rest of the ship in an effort to steer the conversation away from the wound, and better hide the pain, he gave a slight nod to the deck below the helm as he looked over the railing toward the fighting still ensuing. It was chaotic, but it appeared as though the crew were gradually bringing things back under control.

“This is not how I thought today was going to go.”

Smith's Rest, New Anchorage | HQ
March 27th, 2677

Vera didn’t remain in the cafeteria long after she finished eating. Normally she wouldn’t have minded sticking around to chat up the other pilots, but with some of the more familiar faces already miles away, piling onto the morning’s general discomfort, she politely excused herself to Joshua and headed into the hall.

It would be time to start training soon, she guessed. She’d hook herself into one of the simulations and spend a few hours getting used to the feeling of being, well, a giant robot. Equal parts thrilling and unsettling. But before that…

The Jackspar house was built on routines. Mom had them, Vera had them, and Lizzy had them. Her sister’s had transferred the easiest into their new lives, and so that made her daily haunts predictable. It was morning, there were no pressing engagements, so Vera determined that she should veer to the pilots’ gym. Lizzy always did physical warmups out of bed, then again after breakfast. Back home she’d had to do them to eat at all. Now, she supposed, it was just habit.

Sure enough Vera found her there. She was alone, and taking advantage of that, had music blaring from her data-tool so loud it nearly floored Vera when she opened the door. Thankfully the walls were thick. Even more thankfully, Lizzy noticed her immediately and lowered the volume—not completely, but enough. Vera couldn’t fault her for it, back home every day for her had been silence.

“Vi,” she greeted, monotone, but Vera deciphered a pleasantness in it. “You’re up early.”

“Everyone is today, I think.”

“It would seem,” Lizzy huffed. She’d taken up at the chain-dangling punching bag, and it looked as if she’d been at it for a while. Her fatigue jacket hung by the door, and the pants were rolled up high on her shins. Recently she’d taken to pulling her hair back into a tail when she trained, and while Vera thought it looked nice, tough even, part of her worried she might eventually just cut it all off.

Lizzy assumed a fighting stance, and went to work on the bag again. Vera hopped onto the small rise of the makeshift boxing ring and sat there by the data-tool, watching her. There was a striking dissimilarity—to her, at least—in the way her sister fought, and how she danced. In the comfort and privacy of her hobby, with Vera her opposite, she was like a tide. She was serene, moving to and fro as the waves did, imperceptibly, rising and falling with elegance that might have been orchestrated by similarly cosmic forces. Vera knew Lizzy would never wear a dress, but liked to think that, if she did, and to delve even further into impossibility, if she danced, she might look like a drifting, ghostly sea-being—the kind that she’d read about, that were so far down they had to make their own light.

With the bag as her partner, she was much less aquatic. Every action was sturdy—not stiff, but sturdy—every movement sure, and purposeful. The ambiguity was not for her, it was for the bag. She did not stop to consider her partner, to let it breath or to move in accordance with it, she had the lead. When she pivoted, and the bag swung past her, she’d just as quickly yank the momentum from it with a flurry of fists, knees and elbows. No, these were very much strong, unyielding, earthy movements.

“So Percy, Stein and Alan took off for the mission,” Vera said.

“I’m aware,” Lizzy hissed between strikes.

“Think they’ll be alright?”

“I think at least one of them will be.”

Vera might have laughed if she thought Lizzy was trying to be funny, but she knew the statement, and the lack of faith, were sincere. The curtness surprised her nonetheless.

“You alright? You seem upset.”

“I’m fine.”

“Did you want to go?”

Lizzy struck the bag a tad harder. The chain shrieked. “I’m a soldier of New Anchorage, of course I wanted to go. All of us should want to go. I’m sure Fouren and Moore were just thrilled for the opportunity.”

“Right,” Vera mumbled. “You…sure you’re not mad?”

“I am not mad. It’s not my place to voice doubts in the decisions of my superiors. I won’t pretend like I understand Graham’s reasoning. But I am not mad.” Lizzy’s focus on the bag grew more intense. She struck harder, faster, dipped the swings she let through and followed up on them with ferocity that made Vera feel a bit bad for the stitched-up sack of stuffing. She went on. “Our first contact with this settlement in months—if not longer. They need help, we want to establish relations. What should we do? We should send a team who can competently navigate the Alaskan front, effectively handle any raider presence, and properly represent the operations and interests of New Anchorage. I know, let’s send the Russian, the Waster, and Moore!

Percy’s name was punctuated with a particularly weighty uppercut that sent the chain warbling. Lizzy exhaled and held the bag steady.

“Uh. Don’t tell Percy I said that.” she said, catching her breath. “I’m…trying to be nicer. To people.”

Vera laughed, somewhere between nervous and genuine. On one hand it was nice to see Lizzy get passionate, on the other, she worried about how many of those punches could have been meant for Percy, or Alan, or anyone else.

“For what it’s worth, pretty sure they’re just going there to help. Don’t think it’s a negotiation.”

“Everything is a negotiation.” The words were cold, certain, and familiar. Vera wasn’t sure how she felt hearing her sister repeat one of mom’s mantras. Before she could dwell to long on it, Lizzy changed the subject. “Have you seen Madison this morning?”

“Oh,” Vera blinked herself back. “Uh, no, I haven't She wasn’t in the dining hall yet when I was there. You lookin’ for her?”

“Yes. There’s something I’d like to talk to her about.”

Lizzy snagged her data-tool, her jacket, and slid into her boots. She checked back over her shoulder as she tidied up her uniform, and it seemed to Vera like she was being analyzed.

“How’s the plug? Are you sleeping alright?”

“It’s fine.”

“It’ll be a bit uncomfortable for a while, but if it gets too bad or it starts hurting all the time, you should talk to Lofgren.”

Vera giggled. “It’s fine, Lizzy. Really. I’m good. I’m even training.”

Her sister smiled, just barely. “I’ll have to hear all about it, later. I’m going to check the mess hall. If you need me later, I’ll be around.”

They waved goodbye, then Lizzy left. Vera hopped down from the ring, and considered staying for a bit. She threw a few jabs at the bag, but found it was much tougher than she’d thought, and remembered anyway that she had other, more important things to do, like find Stein’s father. The conversation with Josh had distracted her again, but now she was awake, she’d eaten, she was focused.

Vera barged back out into the hall, and set out for Mr. Kalfox’s office. She was determined to get answers, or at least warn him that a big fan of his had come to town.
S o l i a

Windward Island
The Skullfish

As the Skullfish drew nearer to Gullspire, the winds borne of the storm that surrounded it began to beat against the ship, and its crew. There had been a time Solia had reveled in gales like these, she could cut through them with ease and grace on the back of her aether wings. Now, though, she steadied herself, and held her cloaks in a tight brace.

When Evander had been summoned to the helm, she followed. With their goal closing in on them, few had their eyes turned backwards, and she did not need to worry much about someone spying her if a rogue gust tossed her hood back. Soon enough it wouldn’t matter, thankfully. Once they reached Gullspire she had every intention of abandoning this ridiculous ruse. They would be too far in, no one would argue hard enough to send her away. Something had proposed enough of an issue to warrant a request to turn around, but before she could put much thought to it, the ship was rocked, suddenly and rather violently.

Solia was able to keep her footing without much issue, though she did ready herself to catch Evander should his own fail him. It became immediately clear that this was not simply the storm, and sure enough, only moments later she was met with a familiar, albeit unwelcome sight.

Now what are you doing here, so far from home?’ she wondered.

The Savorask were a common sight in Maelstrom, at least in the lower docks. When the storms passed through, ships unfortunate enough to be caught on their way to port often found themselves harassed by the abyssal things. She and her siblings had come to blows with them many times. Then, she had her wings, and her spear. Her harpoon, the wretched thing, was still on Windward. She would have to make due.

Solia yanked her hood down, and briefly rolled the sleeve of her left arm up. The damage there, under the bandages, was still evident to the touch, and she resigned that it would be best if she fought mainly with her right hand.

She started to descend onto the deck, then remembered Evander, and remained by the helm. She could not tell if he was armed, nor did she know if he had experience fighting such beasts, or how much, if he did. Down below the Imperial girl and plenty of the other crewmen had already drawn their weapons. Together they would manage, alone, Evander might not. It wasn’t a risk she was about to take, regardless.

“Keep at the helm, or descend to the deck?” she asked. “I’ll have your back, either way.”
S o l i a

Windward Island
Port Harbor, the Skullfish

Evander’s answers stayed her, momentarily, and she nearly fell behind him. There was much to consider about this man, much more than she had previously thought to expect. Or perhaps for his kind, these sorts of stories were common. She had no way of knowing. On Maelstrom her understanding of people was not simply basic, it was limited. Her home had attracted specific types of minds, most of which thought beyond her own reasoning. It was what staggered her when she’d tried to explain herself, and for a while even before she’d come to Windward, this gap in knowledge troubled and embarrassed her. But, she’d figured, does an enchanted sword understand the mystical intricacies of its own enchantment? No. It simply knows what it is and what it does.

She frowned to hear his own father had passed away. He hadn’t explicitly stated as much, but she wondered if that had been what drove him from his home. It was easy for Solia to assume that he must have cared deeply for his father, and wonder then how close they might have been. Like her and her own, perhaps? She could empathize with the loss, then, which seemed to her a new, if bitterly exciting feeling.

It troubled her as well to hear that his experience as a diver had been…less than excellent. She knew well enough that some people were prone, often even justly, towards self-preservation. She did not know that so many were divers—a profession she had previously thought to be comprised majorly of selfless, heroic souls. Evander’s story had her glancing around again at their company. Many with strong, healthy forms and well-made equipment, suddenly required a consideration not simply for their worth as aid on the mission, but for the origins of their own fortunes. How many had stabbed allies in the back for a glimmering artifact? Left divers behind so that their cuts might swell in the absence? How many would jeopardize this mission, and the safety of Windward Islands residents, the moment danger forced them to choose between themselves, and another?

Troubling, she thought, and thought no more on it.

As the two of them approached the Skullfish, she noticed once again the Imperial and her louder, bolder teammate, who in fact made it hard not to notice them. The young man and his blue-haired friend were nowhere to be seen. She supposed the fewer children there were putting themselves in danger, the better, but she could also not forget how furious the chief had been. Once this was all over, hopefully the tempers will have cooled.

Evander gestured to the ship, ready as were the other divers.

“Certainly,” she agreed, and did her best to match his grand smile with one of her own, as she followed his lead aboard the Skullfish.
S o l i a

Windward Island
Port Harbor, The Sunken Shephard

Solia considered the rest of the tavern as Evander asked his questions. With Bron’s speech concluded, many of the diver patrons seemed to be dispersing from the pavilion, and regathering in a march towards the docks. She waited just a few moments longer before rising herself, and letting Evander take the lead onward—partially for the slowness of her steps. Even still, it was a few moments more before she’d answer, an awkwardness that did not escape her, but was all the same unavoidable.

What could she say to him? Could she bare to this stranger the true reason for her arrival here? Admit to him that the tides had washed her ashore as thoughtlessly as driftwood? No, certainly not, but all the same it seemed unfair to mislead him.

’It isn’t the time.’ She assured herself. ’That is all.’

When she did break her silence, it was with a glance to either side. Her voice was quiet, and again she measured her words carefully.

“I believe…fate, could be thanked, in part. Fate, and the wind.”

She might have left it there, had she not immediately doubted the answer anyway. It donned on her then that no one had ever asked her why she helped people. In fact she doubted any angel or golem had been asked such a question before. No one asked ships why they sailed, nor fish why they swam, or the sun why it set. They simply did. It was nature.

That did not seem to her like a satisfactory answer either, though.

“The wind…” she began again, less tempered and more recovering. “Carries sound quite…naturally. And I believe no sound carries as swiftly or as potently as desperation. I suppose you could say I am attuned to it. I heard Windward Island’s call. I answered.”

Sufficient, perhaps, though she dared not dwell on it much longer, lest this answer became incomprehensible to her as well. She opted instead to hurry past it.

“But you—“ she went on. “A former diver, now helming the ship of a…conman, you mentioned? I find myself caught between wondering why you’ve been above the waves for so long, and what drives a northlander to be as far away from his home waters as Mother Ocean can possibly allow. You seem eager enough to dive again, so I don’t imagine you’ve any lack for skill or nerve. It is a curious thing—”

She stopped herself, realizing her eyes had turned back to the ground in contemplation of her own questions. She felt silly.

“I’m sorry, I believe I might have begun to ramble. I don’t mean to overstep with my questions. Especially after you…” She drifted, recalling that, when people were lost for direction as she was, they often coughed, or grunted. She could perhaps mimic these sounds, but without lungs they would likely have fallen flat. “After your own…generous questions.
I must have spoiled the crucial boat character that comes in later.
I think he means: “someone who looks like a ship.”

Boat OC when.
S o l i a

Windward Island
Port Harbor, The Sunken Shephard

Solia was not sure when the silent accord had been struck between them, if it had, but the gratefulness she felt for Evander’s reaction was only cemented further as he went on considering their strategy. He had, in a rather singular manner by her experience, deduced and accepted her nature at once. It was a remarkably kind gesture for a stranger, and one she hoped could be repaid with the potential rewards before them.

Her gratitude compelled her to insist on his preference for their approach, but reason reigned her in. There was in fact much for her to consider now, between the two options.

She’d seen Gullspire on her way in—a monolith in its own right, but she had spent decades traversing a spire many times its height. Not so long ago she would have leapt at the opportunity to scale Gullspire on aether wings. It would have been simple, quick. Now, however, she doubted her engine could manage to get her even a fraction of the way up, assuming she could even get off of the ground. She was not necessarily opposed to climbing, she could still climb the rock, given tools sturdy enough to support her. What concerned her was falling. With how heavy she was, reacting quick enough to any sudden problems was unlikely, and if she did fall, her body posed a terrible danger to any below her, and of course the ship itself. Supposing she took the time to separate herself from the group and climb away from the ship, they gained safety at the expense of time, and they might as well climb without her then anyway.

Despite all of this, the other option, somehow, appealed to her even less. As if in insult to Aruth’s nature, Father had designed his children to inhabit the skies, and not the oceans. True, they had plunged themselves beneath the waves to rescue sinking crews and precious cargo, and Solia could recall a sister who herself had come to prefer the water, but these were exceptions to a rule: Maelstrom’s angels belonged in the air.

And this, Solia knew, was simply an excuse. Any other time, she would have thrown herself into the sea without even a moment’s hesitation if called to do so. She could walk the bed of the ocean for days, or weeks. She had done just that when Maelstrom fell, drudged through reef and weed under the crushing silence of Mother Ocean’s forgotten depths. In a dark which drowned the light before it reached her.

Before father, when aether golems and angels were tied to their creator’s lives, the angels who passed on were buried in the deep, at the base of the island which was the Spire’s base. Solia had never seen it before she’d been cast down there. What is it that could rest at the base of Gullspire? She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

But then she considered Evander, as she ought to have instead, anyway. He claimed not to have been on a dive in years, but he had experience with it. She wasn’t sure if he had any climbing, but her cursory knowledge of the Frozen Sea had her doubting there were many structures like Gullspire to practice on.

“As it stands,” she said, finally. “I...sink, much more reliably than I scale rock. It would be simplest, and I think safest for everyone if I were in the water instead. Of course I won’t impose a decision on you. If you find yourself more comfortable in a climbing harness than a diving suit as of late, I will readily accompany you in the climb.”
S o l i a

Windward Island
Port Harbor, The Sunken Shephard

Evander’s reaction was expected, albeit quite thankfully muted. She thought the grip lasted longer than necessary, but that was understandable. She pulled hers back first to lay back in her lap.

Silence. For a moment Solia thought all might actually be well. Then the dreaded question came. She couldn’t blame him, in fact to expect nothing from the inquisitive minds of people, in retrospect, seemed cruel. It was their want to know, and their right.

A man interrupted him, and Solia might have prayed thanks to Mother Ocean. He was mountainous in height, casting a shadow over their table that Solia welcomed. He seemed vexed, angry even, and it was a difficult impulse to reign in not asking him if he was alright. The fact that his outburst with the table of children had easily reached Evander and herself made it a bit easier. Clearly he had some connection with the fleeing boy, maybe as a mentor, maybe even familial. Regardless, it grieved her to see this man, whom she understood to be Chief Talu himself, berate the boy.

Nonetheless, he posed them questions, and she felt again that winding discomfort in preparing to answer.

And then Evander answered for her.

She’d lowered her head already, but tried to spy him from beneath her hood anyway. He didn’t seem upset, or afraid. Perhaps a bit quickened having to interject for her, but otherwise…

Solia nodded along with Evander’s answer, but readily took the opportunity to say nothing.
Alright so clearly this must be the part where Terhikki tries to tackle Talu.
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