Chapter 13 - Legend of the Seacarver
XIII – Legend of the Seacarver
The next morning, Jakob rose before the sun. Throwing a week’s worth of clothes into a large backpack, Jakob fixed Proto to his airy white shirt and went up to the kitchen. He was surprised to find Sylvia awake as well, waiting for him at the table with a piping-hot mug.
“Chocolate brew?” she asked. “Just made it.”
Jakob sat beside her, where a second cup was waiting. He brought it to his nose and breathed deep. “It smells amazing,” he said.
“You always say that,” shrugged Sylvia, her eyes moving to his backpack. “This isn’t just a meeting, is it? Jakob, what are you planning?”
“I don’t know,” said Jakob, pausing to sip warm liquid chocolate from his mug, “but Rotier and the Dead Coast are involved. I need to do this, Sylvia… for me, for my book. Short of Pinstripe, this is the only lead I have.”
“I understand… all too well,” Sylvia sighed. “Just, be careful. This whole thing reeks.”
“I’m used to things that reek,” he grinned.
Sylvia rolled her eyes and took a long drink.
Throwing back the rest of his chocolate brew, Jakob slung his backpack over one shoulder and headed for the door.
“When will you be back?” asked Sylvia.
“A week by the sounds of it,” said Jakob. “I don’t know if you’ll be able to reach me while I’m gone. If Vennamin calls, tell her I’m writing.”
Sylvia strode across the kitchen and gave her brother a rare hug. “I will, so long as you promise to be right here, this time next week.”
“I promise,” Jakob squeezed her tight.
“Good,” said Sylvia as the broke apart. “Otherwise, I’m calling the cops.”
It was still dark when Jakob left home. A sliver of moonlight broke through the clouds, but the streets were bathed in the glow of hanging lights that zig-zagged between the shop awnings. Jakob’s block of the art district was never too cold, even in the closing weeks of Cropsun. A gentle breeze whistled through the lifeless streets. Jakob couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen it so quiet.
Jakob’s Pursuer was already waiting for him at the otherwise lifeless station. He stepped inside the alca and sped off toward the raised rail network. It didn’t take more than fifteen minutes to reach Edgeview port, a cluster of buildings and piers around a small bay. In the distance, Jakob could see the cross-continental alca rail, carving a massive black stripe across the starry sky.
The Pursuer came to a stop in front of a plain-looking administrative building with a dozen different flags flying from its front arch. There was a small lawn and pathways leading off in either direction, bending around the corners of the building. Jakob stepped out of his alca, looking around for any sign of the girl. The building was lifeless and there wasn’t a person in sight.
“Proto,” said Jakob. “The girl mentioned a ship going out about this time. Any idea what port we’re looking for?”
The lens on his chest flickered with light. “Odd,” said Proto. “There are ships scheduled all day and night. This dock doesn’t see five minutes without some sort of activity… except for right now. There’s a whole hour of nothing.”
“Then we’re in the right place,” said Jakob. “I’ll bet you if we check the docks, we’ll find someone that doesn’t belong.”
Jakob took the path around the left side of the building and wound up on a well-lit wooden boardwalk. There were hundreds of fishing vessels docked in a complex network of ports. Some were small enough to be manned by one or two crew; others were heavy-plated metal juggernauts capable of surviving run-ins with the great monsters that dwelled deep at sea. Scanning the vessels, Jakob didn’t see any that looked out of place.
“Proto, go infrared,” said Jakob. “Any activity.”
“Not a sign on life on any vessel,” said the index.
“She’s got to be here somewh—”
Jakob nearly yelped as he spun around. The girl from Pinstripe’s Palace strolled down the boardwalk, her irises blazing with rainbow light. Other than her eyes, Lylliana looked like a normal girl on the verge of adulthood. She wore a yellow sundress that fluttered in the soft breeze and a white broad-rimmed hat. In one hand, she held a small suitcase and tucked beneath the other arm was what looked almost like a medieval knight’s helmet.
“I hoped you’d come,” said Lylliana, a smile on her lips, “I owe you answers, I know, but first, we need to get on that boat.” Her fiery eyes shifted past him as she pointed down the row of behemoth floating fortresses to an empty dock at the end.
“A stealth vessel?” asked Jakob, excitement building in his chest. This was either a dream or he’d stumbled upon a plot so fantastical it put his stories to shame. “Where to?”
“Roana,” said the girl, matter-of-factly. This one word hit Jakob list a punch to the chest.
“Impossible,” said Proto, piping up at last. “No ship in the history of this dock has ever sailed there. I just checked over the logs.”
“Impossible or not,” said the girl, more serious now, “this is your one ticket to Roana.”
Jakob considered her words a moment. “Even if your ship can get us across the sea alive,” he said, “how am I supposed to walk around Roana without drawing crowds? I won’t even be able to speak! Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the stealth vessel?”
“Not if you wear this.” She held out the helmet for Jakob, and, in the moonlight, he could see it in detail. Steel plating shielded all but the chin and mouth with a mask covering the eyes and nose. The mask itself was inlaid with a capillum’s face, bold browed and stern with massive bushy brows. Four colored stones shaped like tears were inlaid just below the holes for the eyes; they glowed, softly with pulsing light. Whoever created this had clearly put an incredible amount of time into the realism of the face imprinted upon the mask, and Jakob wondered how someone so young could have acquired such a masterwork.
Taking the helmet, Jakob held the cool steel in both hands. “What is it?”
“The mask of the Koerribot,” said the girl, “wear it, and you will become him.”
“Become what?” asked Jakob.
“The Koerribot,” repeated Lylliana. “Capillum folklore would tell you that he is an immortal outlaw and champion of the people… but he’s much more. The Koerribot is an adopted title for a long line of men and women who have fought for something greater than themselves.”
“And what would that be?” asked Jakob.
“Soon…” said Lylliana. “For now, just know that whoever wears that helmet is wholly the Koerribot, from fingerprints to DNA… You’ll even understand Roane.”
If everything surrounding this moment hadn’t been equally bizarre, Jakob would have thought it all a complex joke. Even now, he was more intrigued by her seemingly impossible technology than he truly bought into her tale.
“However,” she continued, “you must stay in my presence to keep up the illusion. Three days from now, the Koerribot is scheduled to meet a contact in Roana, the human counselor, Kyrillis Ma-Ikkut. That’s our front to reach Rotier. The rest I will answer once we’re aboard.”
“For the story…” relented Jakob, pulling on the helmet.
Lylliana’s eyes flared with light. “Be warned, there will be a sensation,” she said. “It is perfectly normal, so try not to panic...” Rainbow fire leapt into her hair and weaved down around her torso. Jakob’s gut tightened with a cramp that spread through his chest, arms, and legs. It didn’t last long, nor was it overly painful.
“That wasn’t terrible,” said Jakob, not recognizing his own voice. He spoke deeper, with an accent he couldn’t place. Suddenly, the ground seemed further away, as if Jakob were standing on a box. He looked down at his dark furry arms—
“I’m a capillum!” Jakob gasped. His hands looked like they had been stretched out and covered in dark fur that now spread across his arms and legs. Trying to get a better look at himself, Jakob made for the edge of the boardwalk. He took a step and immediately felt as though he had just hopped off a treadmill. His stride was long and effortless as he approached the moonlit waters and looked down into their surface. Sure enough, a black furred capillum with scarred lips stared back at him from behind the mask. “Im— Impossible… This must be a dream.”
“Um, Jakob…” said Proto nervously, “I’m seeing it, too.”
“You’re more awake now than you’ve ever been, Jakob Rite,” said the girl. “I promise, I will help you make sense of this. But, right now, we have a boat to catch.”
Whatever doubt Jakob had was erased upon seeing himself as a capillum, and was now replaced with awe and a million burning questions. This was either a dream or the most important story of his life. Either way, he would see it out.
Jakob could hardly focus on walking as Lylliana skipped along the creaky boards of the pier, leading him with grace. Moonlight glinted off the still water and cast ominous shadows from the pointed bows of the massive, armored ships. In his head, Jakob tried to make sense of the morning, but there was none to be found, not in the light, nor the girl’s words, nor the sensation of walking about as a capillum. He couldn’t fathom how the impossible girl was going to explain all this. For now, all he could do was focus on not mucking up his role.
“Who is the Koerribot exactly?” asked Jakob, still mystified by the strange sound of his voice. “Not just the legend, but the person. What are they like: stern, outgoing? If I’m going to play the part, I should at least know more about my role.”
“The last Koerribot filled every room with her energy,” said Lylliana, a sad admiration in her voice. “She was bold and brilliant in everything she did, but her predecessor couldn’t have been more opposite; he was cold and calculated. What I mean to say is that, for as long as you wear that helmet, the legacy of the Koerribot is yours to shape.”
“Won’t people be suspicious of the sudden change?” asked Jakob. The further they walked from shore the darker the pier became, but the rainbow fire streaking through Lylliana’s hair was all the light they needed.
“The Koerribot has been missing for twenty years,” said Lylliana. “Even an immortal is bound to change in that much time.”
“I suppose,” sighed Jakob, trying to wrap his head around the idea of being a legendary outlaw.
They neared the empty dock, passing the last of the giant war boats and fishing vessels. As they walked along the pier, the air started to shimmer. It began like fog over the water, but as they drew near its details took form like the focusing of a camera’s lens. The ship looked almost like a speedboat, but longer, with aerodynamic curves that came to a point at the bow. The raised cabin at the rear was tinted black and a small ramp led up onto the open-air deck. There, a tall, hooded figure was waiting.
“One last thing,” whispered Lylliana in Jakob’s ear. “Nobody but you will be able to see me.”
“Koerribot,” came a young raspy voice from the figure on the pier; his accent was clearly Roane. “So, you do exist, after all. And here, I thought my mother was mad.” As the capillum spoke, the strange Roane words that left his lips unscrambled themselves in Jakob’s ears, becoming a message he could understand.
Jakob breathed deep and mustered every ounce of confidence. “I can’t speak to her sanity,” he said, “but I can assure you I’m the real thing.” His words also twisted; despite speaking in his own tongue, Jakob heard Roane leave his mouth. “To whom do I have the pleasure?”
“Aeryll Takata,” said the capillum, drawing close. He wore a well-fitted white tunic with black sleeves and pants. Lowering his hood, Aeryll revealed his sleek silver fur with crimson dye at the tips of his brows and in patterns down his neck. “Come, Mother is expecting us.”
Jakob followed the capillum across the ramp onto an open deck with low walls.
“We’re only a short way out,” said Aeryll. “You can stay up on deck or go down below. It’s your ship, after all.” With that, the capillum entered a door near the stern where the dark windows of the cabin overlooked the ship.
Jakob and Lylliana situated themselves near the bow as the boat purred quietly to life. The docking ramp retracted and then they were off, accelerating quickly out of the bay into the open waters. Despite some small waves, their vessel cut through the waters without bumps or sway. Lylliana’s hair flew wildly in the wind, the tongues of rainbow light dancing in time.
“You promised me answers once we were on board,” yelled Jakob over the roar of the wind and sea. “Who are you? Why are you helping me?”
“Not yet,” said the girl, “not this boat.” She pointed toward a shape in the distance that Jakob had mistaken for a rock. As they approached, he could see it was, in fact, a larger ship.
The vessel was unlike any Jakob had ever seen. In some ways, it looked like a larger version of the ship they were on now, sleek and white. Only, this vessel was over thirty feet tall and shaped like a child’s drawing of a cloud if an engineer had come along and smoothed out all the puffs.
“We should go below,” said Lylliana. “We’ll be docking soon.”
They went to the door that Aeryll entered and passed into a narrow stairwell. Lylliana led Jakob down the metal steps to a room that looked straight out of a military facility. Monitors covered most of the glassy white walls and panels below them sported hundreds of tiny lights, sliders, and knobs. There was a central aisle through the equipment, and a door just beside the steps with a dozen warning signs written in Roane.
“I’ve never seen a ship like her,” said Jakob.
“She’s a prototype,” said Lylliana, “the only of its kind ever made. Her name is the Seasprinter, daughter vessel to the Seacarver, which we should be docking to any moment now.”
“The Seacarver?” Jakob gasped with recognition. Of all the ships he could be on…
“You know it?” asked Lylliana.
“Of course,” said Jakob. “It’s in Quisitive’s Five Greatest Mysteries of History. A Roane spy vessel that disappeared on its maiden voyage. Three hundred years later, it’s never been found.”
“She was made to hide, and she’s done her job well,” said Lylliana.
“You act like you’re the one who took it,” scoffed Jakob, “but the Seacarver was shipnapped over three hundred years–” The whole ship gave a sudden lurch and Jakob had to steady himself on a nearby railing. He could feel them rising straight upward and, suddenly as they started, they came to a stop.
The door at the foot of the stairs swung open and another capillum stood in the entry. She was much older looking than Aeryll, with a similar style tunic in grey and crimson. Her silver hair was matted, the dye in her fur fading, but her large black eyes were full of life as they came to rest on Jakob.
“Koerribot,” she smiled and bowed. “It has been too long.”
“That’s Temril Takata,” whispered Lylliana, “captain of the Seacarver. She’s the only one who knows our secret.”
“Indeed, Captain Takata,” said Jakob, bowing.
“And your companion, is she with you?” asked Temril.
Jakob looked to Lylliana who nodded. “She is,” he said.
“Good,” said Temril. “When I received your message, I had fears it might be a trap. I’m happy to find my fears unfounded. Your cabin is waiting below. I can take you there now.”
The old capillum captain led Jakob and Lylliana through the door, up a half flight of polished white steps, to a wide-open lounge that looked like something out of a luxury yacht. The floor was carpeted in a wave pattern of black, white, and grey, and moonlight poured in freely through a curved observation window offering a wide view of the Seasprinter, docked to the ship’s nose. Beyond it, Jakob saw nothing but dark water and stars. There were several blackwood-bookshelves, with glass doors keeping their contents secure and a massive telescope set up near the observation window. In the very center of the room, two white crescent couches faced each other with a round glass-topped table between them. A capillum with silver and pink fur sat hunched over the table, pouring over a book. At their approach she perked up, her excitement etched in her young features.
“You’re real,” she whispered softly, but in this body, Jakob could hear her clearly. “You really do exist!”
“Compose yourself, Naza,” chided Temril.
“I’m sorry,” said Naza, bowing, “it’s only that none of us besides the captain have actually seen you. I always knew the captain believed what she said, and I trust her, but to see a legend in real life… where have you been all these years?”
“Naza, remember what I told you?” asked the captain.
“Privacy,” said the girl. “Of course, I’m sorry Koerribot.”
“I’m sure the Koerribot will address all our questions when he is ready,” said Temril. “Until such a time, it’s not our place to pester him. Now, go ahead and get the engines warmed up. Koerribot, you’ll be through here.”
She led Jakob through a door on the far wall into a hallway, clean and glassy white, almost like the one in Pinstripe’s Palace. Along the passage were several doors with silver labels printed in Roane.
“I apologize about Naza,” said Temril. “Brilliant engineer, but every word she thinks finds its way off her tongue. The rest of the crew is fast asleep. I’m sure they’re just as eager to meet you.”
Jakob swallowed hard, still unsure how to play his character. Now that he was on the vessel, he felt conscious of every movement and each syllable, as if the slightest misstep would dispel his ruse.
Temril marched all the way to the end of the hall where a glass elevator, just big enough for the three of them, was waiting. Jakob boarded, making sure to leave room for Lylliana, and they descended two floors to a sizable round room. Windows wrapped all the way around the chamber, and hundreds of colorful fish filled the waters beyond. The elevator, bathrooms, and shelves were all built into a wide column that ran through the center of the room with a pair of beds on one side, separated by a dark curtain, and telescopes facing nearly every direction.
“You’re safe to remove your mask here, Koerribot,” said Temril as Jakob reached down and tested one of the beds for firmness. “I wish to know your face… and, that of your companion.”
Lylliana turned from a window near a school of bright blue fish and the light in her hair faded, leaving only the rainbow fire of her irises. Following her lead, Jakob reached up and removed the helmet. A tingling sensation ran through his arms and the helmet seemed twice as heavy as before.
“As I thought,” said Temril, her eyes locked on Lylliana. “You never made it out of the Dead Coast, did you?”
“It was nearly worse,” said Lylliana softly.
“Then your enemy was not so defenseless as you thought,” said Temril, looking now to Jakob. “And if he’s here, then I assume the last Koerribot shared your fate?”
“I thought so,” said Lylliana, “But when I learned Rotier escaped, I knew she had as well. Quisitive’s report all but confirmed it. She left him a message, or maybe it was for me. Either way, we need to find Rotier and that pen.”
“Then we shall proceed as per your message,” said Temril. “You know where to find me.”
“Temril,” said Lylliana as the old capillum returned to the elevator, “thank you for keeping this ship safe all these years. You’ve done your father proud.”
The captain smiled. “Kind words, old friend,” she said, and the elevator shut behind her.
Jakob rounded on Lylliana the moment the doors had closed. “Who are you?” he asked. “All this…” he looked about the spacious cabin, “your light, this helmet, the way you spoke to the captain, everything about you is impossible. Are you even human?”
“Every bit as human as you,” she replied, trotting over the beds and pulling back the curtain between them. “Take a seat,” she said, relaxing at the end of one bed, “I’ll explain what I can.”
Jakob joined Lylliana at the edge of the bed, and the engines kicked to life, sending a trail of bubbles behind them. Over the next hour Lylliana told Jakob all about the kytra. She described in detail their fantastic powers, moving objects, swaying minds, even being reborn after death. However, she warned, not all kytra use their gifts for good. By the time she was done, dawn’s light had breached the waters, illuminating a world of aquatic life outside their window.
“So,” said Jakob, rubbing his temples, “if I understand correctly, this technology you use, isn’t technology at all? You’re just a four-thousand-year-old goddess—”
“I’m no goddess,” said Lylliana sternly.
“Fine,” said Jakob. “A four-thousand-year-old woman with the powers of a goddess, reborn all throughout time to fight an evil so great you won’t even share its name.”
“You have to understand,” said Lylliana. “This evil is a kytra who has made his name the very heart of his power. He doesn’t just kill, he consumes the souls of others like us, then fills the husks they leave with his light and his name. Knowing that name would only make you a target.”
“Then why bring me at all?” asked Jakob frustrated at her absurd and often crypted answers. “Why show up in the park? How am I any safer now, knowing as little as I do, than if you had left me out of it?”
“I thought I’d won, that I’d finally trapped my enemy,” said Lylliana, her vivid eyes staring intensely into his. “If only for a lifetime, I thought I could be free to seek out other kytra.”
“And that led you to me?” asked Jakob. “But I’m just a man.”
“A man who can see the light of peridom,” said Lylliana, “the telltale sign of a kytra. I searched for years before I found you, but when you passed out in the park, it was clear you were too young. If my enemy did return, you would be helpless against him.”
“Too young?” scoffed Jakob, staring at a girl easily a decade younger than him.
“Each life, our soul grows a little brighter,” said Lylliana. “Yours is certainly bright, but, for a kytra, your soul is still quite young. In a lifetime or two, perhaps you could be a star pupil. But, with your young soul and my new mind, I doubt I could teach you to shape the light as I do.”
“So, what’s changed?” asked Jakob, his pride feeling attacked.
“The Quisitive Report,” explained Lylliana, looking out into the endless waters. “I was part of Rotier’s expedition. Together with him and the Koerribot, I ventured deep into the Dead Coast. We intended to strike a final blow on my enemy at the source of his power… but, we did not expect felphants. The terrible creatures wielded the light as a kytra would. They expected us, and we played right into their hands. I couldn’t let my enemy take me, and so I was reborn.”
“You died?” gasped Jakob.
“By the Koerribot’s blade,” nodded Lylliana. “I thought she had taken her own life and Rotier’s as well, but after hearing of the doctor’s escape, I suspected she must have guided him out. The figure Rotier saw in the Quisitive documentary confirmed it. Only, she shouldn’t have been able to escape, not without…” Lylliana’s eyes sunk down to her lap, and Jakob could see she was clearly struggling with a thought. She sighed and rose from the seat. “I’m sorry to be abrupt, but I should check in with the captain.”
“No problem at all,” said Jakob, whose head was absolutely spinning. This morning he’d woken up unsure of what to expect, and now, he was finding it hard to believe he wasn’t still dreaming. “I think I need to write for a bit anyway, try to make some sense of this morning.”
“An excellent plan,” piped the girl, the fire in her eyes leaping into her hair. “I’ll be back before lunch. Then, we can discuss the particulars of our meeting with the human counselor.” Turning to the elevator, the girl took a step and then disappeared entirely.
“Jakob, what have you gotten yourself into?” sighed the author, collapsing back into his bed. “Hey Proto, you alive? Guess we finally get to test how you run off grid.”
“Core systems check out,” groaned Proto, flickering to life, “just don’t ask me to call your alca. I feel like half my brain’s got cut out.”
“How about copying some notes?” asked Jakob, hoisting himself up and grabbing his travel bag. “If I can’t find inspiration in what just happened, I won’t find it anywhere.”
“I think I can manage that,” said Proto. “So… you believe her?”
“The girl?” asked Jakob.
“No, that fish outside the window,” said Proto sarcastically. “Of course, the girl. I might be missing some libraries, but she’s got more than a few screws loose if you ask me.”
“But did you see her?” asked Jakob. “Truth or not, she’s unlike anything else.”
“Sure, sure,” said Proto. “Just don’t go getting us killed by some maniac now. Sylvia would never forgive us.”
“Don’t be dramatic,” chided Jakob, digging through his backpack until he found his notebook and pen. “She seems perfectly kind. Now, let’s see… where did I leave off? Right! Timing the guard patrols at the Simmean Compound.”
Jakob wrote through the morning, ideas pouring out onto the page. He was so entranced in his work that he hardly noticed as footsteps approached.
“I brought lunch,” said Lylliana sweetly, carrying a large tray. The scent of lemon and fish filled the whole room.
They ate together on the bed, and Lylliana ran through the details of their cover mission. In exchange for access to Roana, they would be delivering a time-sensitive package for the human counselor.
“It’s nothing illegal, I assure you,” said Lylliana. “In fact, the seeds we’re delivering could potentially save lives.”
“Seeds?” asked Jakob.
“For a genetically engineered plant,” said Lylliana, “designed to survive the frigid climates of the human counselor’s homeland, far south of Irasil. Years of work have gone into these specimens. They’re the only of their kind.”
“If we’re bribing counselors, at least it’s in favors that’ll do the world some good,” shrugged Jakob, loading his fork with well-seasoned rice.
“Jakob, if you don’t mind,” said Lylliana as she finished off her plate. “I was hoping to spend some more time with the captain. It’s been decades since I’ve seen her.”
“That works perfectly, because I’m on a flow,” said Jakob proudly. “At this rate, I’ll be done with the chapter by tonight.”
“Best of luck to you, then,” said Lylliana, “and, don’t feel any pressure to address the crew today. Even the last Koerribot took her time to warm up to it.” She waited a moment for Jakob to finish the rest of his food then collected the trays and skipped off toward the elevator, vanishing suddenly mid-stride.
Lylliana didn’t return until dinner time. She brought trays of a hearty fish stew and fruit salad, and, once again, disappeared after they finished eating. Hours flew by and dusk fell over the waters outside as Jakob remained entranced in his writing. Just as he penned the last words of the chapter, he heard the elevator doors open.
“Jakob!” said Lylliana, rushing excitedly to the bed where he was packing away his notebook. “There’s something I want to show you upstairs in the lounge. Most everyone’s asleep, so it’ll be just the two of us.”
“As long as I don’t have to talk to anyone,” said Jakob nervously. He zipped up his bag and grabbed the Koerribot’s Helmet off his bedside table. “Just in case,” he said.
Pulling on the helmet, Jakob transformed once more into the capillum outlaw. The sensation of being three feet taller with long furry limbs was no less alien the second time around. Together, he and Lylliana rode the elevator to the Habitation Deck and followed the hallway they had come in through to the wide-open lounge. Just as Lylliana had said, the ship was quiet and there wasn’t a trace of life.
Lylliana flicked off the light as they entered the lounge, the fire in her hair casting a softly shifting glow over the carpeted room. She led Jakob to the windows and looked up at the night sky. “What do you think?” she asked.
Great blue bands of stars reached like arms across the heavens. Jakob had never seen anything like it before.
“Don’t get views like this in Hampson,” said Jakob. “Lylliana… can I take this off?”
“’Course,” she said without breaking her gaze from the heavens. “If anyone comes in, I’ll just make you disappear.”
“From sight or…,” said Jakob.
“Yes, from sight,” laughed Lylliana, shooting him a glare. Looking back up to the stars, she pointed upward.
“You see that bright one, there?” she asked.
Jakob followed her point to the edge of the starry band. There, one light was much brighter than the others.
“Imagine that’s the nose,” said Lylliana, tracing with her hand, “those six to the right are the body… then there’s two for the Front legs… back… and tail.”
“I see it,” said Jakob. “It looks kind of like a cat.”
“Exactly,” said Lylliana. “That’s Na’Zhir, the huntress. Mastoban legends say the girl could change form, between human and cat, a gift from Osaya, the spirit of stars.”
“Let me guess,” said Jakob. “You knew her, too?”
“No,” chuckled Lylliana. “Na’Zhir is just a story, but I’ve always seen myself in her tale. She was the only one in her village who could hunt the monstrous beasts that called the nearby forests home. I, too, was a hunter, and I cared deeply for my people. For centuries I defended them, guided them, and after all that, it was another who would ultimately save them. My enemy wasn’t always like he is now. Once, he was the bravest and brightest kytra I’d ever met… still, to this day, there’s never been another like him. He saved us, and when I saw my people no longer needed me, I came with him back to his home, to Irasil. We were inseparable, like family.”
“What happened?” asked Jakob.
“He heard a voice,” said the girl, “and he believed it to be a god. I don’t know what it told him, only that he became paranoid. I tried to talk him down, but one day, something changed. He looked different, felt different, like his very soul had molded into something new. He wielded power unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I knew the voice was behind it. Tens of thousands lost their lives that day, and yet, when the sun fell, I didn’t mourn for them. I mourned for my closest friend, for what he’d become.” Jakob could see tears falling from her fiery eyes. “I apologize,” she said, turning abruptly from the window. “I only wanted to show you the view, not burden you with my failings. Perhaps we should return to the cabin.”
“Nonsense,” said Jakob. Every time he looked over at her, it felt strange seeing a girl so young and so full of stories. “If what you’re saying is true, then there’s no tale ever told I’d rather hear than yours. Let’s stay and stargaze awhile.”
“Alright,” said Lylliana, wiping her eyes. “But let’s just watch. No more stories tonight.”
When they finally retired to their cabin some hours later, Jakob fell asleep nearly instantly. His dreams were full of dark figures in misty rooms, then the mist became waves and the figures were dragged down into darkness. As they fell, the figures burst with rainbow flame and reached for Jakob—
Jakob woke suddenly as the ship lurched. Jumping out of bed, Jakob looked out the window just in time to see them rise above the waves, sunlight beating down from a partly clouded sky. Looking up, he saw the ship’s body was now hovering some thirty feet above the ocean, sending a torrent of force down upon the water’s rippling surface.
“Welcome, to the Coral Meridian,” said Lylliana’s voice from behind him. Jakob spun around and saw her exiting the bathroom in her loose-fitting silver pajamas, covered in little stars.
“This isn’t the Long Sea…” said Jakob, suddenly realizing where he was. “We’ve gone East!” Thousands of tiny islands spread as far as he could see. The crystal-clear waters between them were colored by vibrant coral and countless fish. The air around them was teaming with clusters of colorful laudices, jellyfish-like creatures that floated lazily on the air. In the distance, a series of massive black towers rose from the water, forming a line all along the horizon. “Is that the EMP wall?” asked Jakob. “Even if the Seacarver can rise above the water, how are we supposed to get past that? Even aircraft can’t get through.”
“You can’t go through, nor can you go over,” said Lylliana, joining Jakob at the windows, “but nothing’s stopping us from going under.”
“This is a submarine?” gawked Jakob. “Makes sense, I suppose. Still, the water here’s too shallow to dive. How are we supposed to go under the wall?”
“Caves,” grinned Lylliana. “You’ll see.”
They soared over the Coral Meridian, drawing ever closer to the colossal towers. Lylliana changed and then went up to retrieve a breakfast of toast and eggs. By the time they were done eating, the EMP wall was only a mile or so out, and the Seacarver began to slow. Their cabin sank back under the water, and Jakob got a good look at the land beneath the waves. Sure enough, there was an enormous opening in the rocks just beneath them, plenty big enough for the Seacarver to pass through.
“It took us years to map these caverns out,” said Lylliana proudly, stacking the trays, “and that knowledge has passed down from captain to captain for centuries. As far as I know, we’re the only ones ever to travel this way.”
“Oh, that’s good material right there,” said Jakob excitedly. “Proto, take a note! I want to revisit that idea later, see if we can’t use it somewhere.”
“On it,” said Proto from the bedside table.
While Lylliana returned the trays, Jakob fixed Proto to his shirt and went to the window, watching as the Seacarver descended into the chasm. It was nearly pitch black, with only a little light filtering down from the surface in rays. Bioluminescent fish flashed in the darkness like colorful lightning flies on a Newsun night, though they scattered when the Seacarver’s headlights came on. The cave itself was monstrous, with sizable offshoots leading out in several directions. Jakob walked around the cabin, observing the vast variety of ocean life all around them. As he was passing behind the engines, Proto suddenly piped up.
“Um, Jakob,” said the index, sounding nervous. “I just toggled infrared, and there’s something out there.”
“We’re in the ocean,” said Jakob dismissively. “There’s lots of somethings out there.”
“No, this is something big,” said Proto anxiously, “something really really big, and it’s following us!”
“What do you—” Jakob was cut off suddenly as the urgent voice of Captain Temril filled the room.
“Uj etul u komma zo sokuk za vurokka eligmoz,” she said in Roane. Without his helmet, Jakob couldn’t understand a word of it.
“Jakob, Captain needs help on the bridge!”
Lylliana stormed from the elevator, holding the Koerribot’s helmet in her hands.
“Wait, how do you have that helmet?” asked Jakob. “I left it on the bedside table.”
“That’s your question right now?” she asked him, marching over and handing him the helmet. “I swapped the air in my hands with the helmet on the table… in other words I teleported it. Now, put it on, quick.”
Jakob placed the helmet on his head, and, once again, his body morphed into the Koerribot.
“Hold on you two,” cried Proto, still pinned to Jakob’s shirt, “it’s building up a ton of energy. I think it’s going to—”
Suddenly, the waters outside lit up like lightning in the night. The whole ship shook violently and the lights went dark. Jakob was thrown to the ground.
“Emergency power activated,” said a calm feminine voice over the comms system. Small strips of red light illuminated the edges of the room, flashing toward a small service door beside the elevator.
“I thought sea monsters only lived in the Long Sea,” groaned Jakob as he picked himself up. “What’s it doing here?”
“Some of these caves have been left alone for centuries. Others have never been explored,” said Lylliana. “There’s no telling what you’ll find down here. Now, we need to move… fast!” A new sensation filled Jakob as Lylliana’s eyes flared with light. He felt as though a hole had been poked through his center and that the rest of him had been wrung inside out. Streaks of vivid color filled his vision, and, next thing he knew, Jakob was in a whole different room.
Looking around, Jakob saw he was on the ship’s bridge with two large chairs for the captain and first hand, occupied by Temril and her son. They sat at stations full of displays and switches with a wide viewing window that offered views above and all around them.
“How did you—” started Aeryll, spinning sharply in his chair. He glared at Jakob, looking a bit unnerved.
“Nevermind the Koerribot,” said his mother. “Get ready to put all power to engines. Naza,” she called, pressing a button beside her main display, “what’s our time to reboot?”
“We’re still cooling off,” said a woman’s voice over the comms. “Maybe a minute to power.”
“Not to intrude,” piped Proto, “but I don’t think you’ve got a minute. It’s charging up again.”
Sure enough, Jakob could see a dark shape dead ahead of them. It looked like a massive squid and its many tentacles were starting to glow a faintly pulsing blue.
“Mother, she can’t take another hit,” said Aeryll in a panic.
“She won’t,” said the captain calmly. “Old friend, would you kindly lend a hand?”
“Of course,” Lylliana smirked and strode to the window, placing one hand against the glass. “No monstrosity of Rhun can stand against the power of a kytra.”
“A human? Who’s she?” gasped Aeryll, nearly jumping in his seat. “Did she just appear out of thin air?”
“This is Lylliana,” said Temril, “the power behind the Koerribot, and our family’s greatest secret. Now hush and let her work.”
The squid’s tentacles lit up a blinding blue as a bolt of electricity shot once more through the water. Like lightning in the night sky, the energy arced toward the ship, converging at Lylliana’s outstretched palm. The rainbow flames surrounding her burned brighter than ever before, engulfing her whole body and lighting the bridge in her pearly glow.
“I’ll just borrow that,” said Lylliana. She danced in place, and the brilliant flames snaked around her. With grace, she bowed low, leapt, and clapped her hands together. A streak of brilliant silver light shot from her body and raced toward the creature. The light engulfed the sea beast and then shot off down a nearby passage, faster than any alca. Darkness fell back over the water.
“The squid is gone,” exclaimed Proto.
Jakob sighed in relief as he looked to Lylliana. She still held her pose, frozen from the moment of her clap. The light around her was dimmer than Jakob had ever seen it.
“Are you okay?” asked Jakob, approaching her.
A moment later she suddenly shook too, her eyes fluttering open. “It’s far away now,” she said, sounding out of breath. “It won’t bother us again.”
Meanwhile, Aeyll’s gaze darted between them.
“What are you?” he demanded, rising from his seat.
“Show some manners,” snapped his mother. “Lylliana just saved us all. She’s the one who gave us this ship and a cause worth fighting for. The rest, she’ll share when she sees fit.”
Aeryll sank back but eyed them both mistrustingly.
“Captain, we’re back online,” came Naza’s voice over comms. The whole bridge lit up in stark white lights, causing Jakob to squint.
“Good work, Naza,” said Temril. “You too, old friend.”
“It’s really no problem at all,” panted Lylliana. “I could use a rest, though.”
“It’s well earned,” said the captain. “Come, Aeryll. Let’s get out of here.”
With the crisis averted, Lylliana and Jakob returned to their cabin via an elevator at the rear of the bridge. Lylliana made straight for her bed, collapsing on top of the covers, while Jakob dug out his notebook. Jakob began on his final chapter, a climactic race against time in a deep-sea labyrinth. Not only did he know just how he wanted this story to end, the promise of new answers on the horizon meant he’d have more than enough ammo to dive right into the next book. Lylliana rose just before dinner, but before she went off to collect food for the pair, Jakob stopped her.
“If you can turn us both invisible,” he said, “do you mind if I come with?”
She grinned brightly and offered an arm.
The pair took the elevator to the habitation deck and Lylliana led Jakob through the first door on the left. There, they found a clean and spacious kitchen with a large table for communal dining. Three capillum sat around the table; one he recognized as Naza, while the other two were new. All of them had intricate markings in their colorful fur and wore similar hooded clothing to the captain and her son.
As they passed, Jakob could hear them deep in conversation, but without the mask he couldn’t understand a word they were saying.
“They’re discussing the Koerribot,” whispered Lylliana, leading Jakob towards a door at the back of the kitchen. “It seems our story is already being exaggerated.” When Lylliana was sure the capillum weren’t looking she cracked open the door and hurried Jakob inside. They entered a room full of industrial looking machines and storage. There, a pair of trays had been set on a table underneath a wide heat lamp. The smell of fried fish met Jakob’s nose as he saw the bright golden fillets and crispy potatoes piled on his plate.
“This is us,” said Lylliana, grabbing her tray. They took the food and swiftly retreated to the cabin.
Once they had eaten, Jakob and Lylliana spent some time simply chatting by the windows, watching the wondrous world of sea life beyond the glass. For the next day and a half, the Seacarver wound in and out of the tunnels. Every so often they would rise back up to the surface to weave between the islands only to submerge again when they neared Roane outposts or research stations. The night before they were set to arrive in Roana, the Seacarver finally reached the edge of the Coral Meridian.
“This is it,” said Lylliana. “All that lies between us and Roana is a short stretch of open seas.”
“How long until we’re there?” asked Jakob. He was sitting at the edge of his bed, scribbling furiously in his notebook. The end was so close.
“We’ll make port by morning,” said Lylliana. “You should rest now. You’ll need it for tomorrow.”
“Soon,” said Jakob. “Only a couple sentences to go…”
By the end of the hour, Jakob had written his last word. It was a cliffhanger ending, but one he knew would keep his readers begging for a next entry. Vennamin would love it.
“Proto,” said Jakob. “I need you to scan in these pages. Get it to Vennamin the moment you get signal. He held up the lens to his notebook, and Proto flashed a soft blue light along the pages, recording their content.
“That’s it then?” asked Lylliana excitedly.
“Well, I’m sure the editor will have some notes,” said Jakob. “But, yeah, that’s it! I can’t believe it’s finally over. Just in time for me to start a new chapter tomorrow.”
Lylliana chuckled and lay back in her bed with a satisfied smile. “I’m glad I chose you,” she said, looking over to him.
“Me too,” said Jakob, tidying up his things. “Imagine how bored I’d be right now if I’d decided not to come. I can tell you what, my readers are going to have to thank you because the old ending I was planning was nowhere near this good.” He climbed into bed and got comfortable beneath the sheets.
“Do you really think there’s a trap waiting for us?” he asked, pulling the covers over his shoulders.
“I don’t know,” said Lylliana. “Whatever we find there, I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
Her words calmed the many worried questions floating about his head. After seeing what she did today, he had no doubt he was safe with the girl. “Goodnight, Lylliana,” he said.