Anima: The Masquerade

Into The Flames of Tribulation: Karma is a Bitch

One week after “Through the Glass”

Garret Rodrigo sat in the usual spot in the corner of his favorite bar. It had been his meeting place to discuss matters with Captain Forde for years now. In the time since Garret had become Forde’s First Mate, the man had never been so hideously late before. It had already been nearly an hour since the decided meeting time.

Perhaps Forde had forgotten? He was getting to be an older fellow after all. Despite that, The Captain had never done anything to show that his sharp wits were growing dull.

“Another ale for you, Mr. Rodrigo?” The nearby wench who’d made the inquiry was wiping down what had previously been an occupied table.

“Of course, thank you.” The man sipped the last of his current pint as he continued to try to decide what had gone wrong. It wasn’t long before Garret was distracted by a scratching sound that appeared to be coming from something nearby. The man looked around, trying to pinpoint the location of the soft, erratic noise.

Checking under the table, Garret saw a small gray mouse scratching at his boot. He frowned before quickly raising his and foot stomping on the little rodent with considerable force. Garret smiled when he heard the bones crack and raised his boot to see how much of a mess he’d made. The lower half of it’s body had been left in ruin, leaving the pathetic thing to simply quiver in anguish and shock.

Garret scoffed in disgust and kicked the mouse a couple of feet away where it would pose no more threat to his boots. “Oi,” the man called out to the woman who’d gone behind the counter to pour some more alcohol, “seems as though you’ve got a bit of a mouse problem.”

“Welcome to the Star Islands,” she chuckled jokingly. “About all we can do is take precautions to keep them out of the food.”

“You haven’t seen Captain Forde today, have you,” Garret asked after giving it some thought. “Perhaps I missed him?”

“Not today, sugar. You’re the only other regular who’d come in this early in the day.” Garret sighed and slouched in his seat. He hated waiting, especially when it was unnecessary. The woman brought the second pint of Ale over to the table and took away the empty mug. “Enjoy the drink, Mr. Rodrigo.”

“You know I will. I’ve got to have something to pass the time.”


The morning after “Through the Glass”

Lydia awoke feeling heavy and sluggish. Her splitting headache reminded her that she’d lost a lot of blood in her failed attempt to retrieve the Mercurial Eye. Sleep had been scarce due to the constant pain around her severed limb, leaving Lydia only one to two hours of sleep during the night. The crew was too lively and noisy to do anything more than wish for more rest.

After a having the wound cauterized and dressed, Lydia had been thrown into the brig. There seemed to be a single crew-member standing guard as occasionally the varying sounds of a dead bored soul came from just outside the barred cell. Chatter between crew mates had revealed that the vessel had indeed arrived at the Star Islands. If there was ever a time to make an escape, it would have to be soon.

Lydia figured that whoever was ready to purchase someone with the kick that someone like herself carried would have their security measures set to a far higher standard than those on the ship. While docked, Lydia also had the advantage of having an entire ocean to disappear into if for whatever reason she didn’t have the time to gather the zeon for teleportation.

Slowly easing up into a sitting position against the cell wall, Lydia began to contemplate how to escape from the cell. Even if she was able to slip outside of the cell, getting off the boat and away from the docks would be improbable under normal circumstances. To add to the list of unfavorable circumstances, missing her dominant arm and suffering from anemia would work together to put the nail in the coffin; the basic idea of escaping through conventional means seemed impossible.

Lydia would need to remove the collar, she decided. Getting off a boat would be child’s play after the suppressive effects of the leather band were no longer in effect; “How” was the next question. With only a few moments of thought, Lydia’s mind quickly provided her with a solution.

The crewman just outside of her cell would be her best asset for removing the collar. It would simply have to be without the man realizing what was happening. Quickly coming up with a plan of action, Lydia crawled toward the door of the cell and knelt down with her face poking out slightly in between the metal bars.

“Life seems so unfair, doesn’t it?” Lydia spoke out to the man after building up the courage to proceed. There was no room for failure in her plan.

“Don’t come complaining to me about it,” he scoffed as he sat down on a creaky wooden stool.

“It was pitying you, actually. I’m sure you’ve heard how much the captain intends to sell me for?”

“The boss says he can get six hundred thousand gold crowns for you, probably more.”

“And how much is the captain paying you? Probably not even one percent,” Lydia dangled the idea over the man’s head with a subtlety taunting tone.

“What am I going to do about it anyway? It’s the Captain’s call what to do with the gold, not mine. People learn that real quick on this boat.”

“Well, you seem to be a smart fellow.”

“Watch it lady, I think you’ve got something brown on your face,” the man chuckled.

“But I’m not wrong, am I? You must realize why someone like myself would sell for so much as well?”

“Well you’re not the first mage we’ve captured, but the Captain says you’re the strongest one we’ve ever had our hands on.”

“So tell me, how did your captain get his position on the ship,” Lydia asked. Asking questions to help someone create their own answer to a problem had been a simple social technique that Anna had taught Lydia several years ago.

“He outsmarted the old captain. Robbed him blind, took the ship for himself, and left the old Captain to die on an island. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard the story more times than I can count,” he explained. Lydia pulled away from the bars and sat in a relaxed position.

“Yet here we are, sitting idly and making small talk.”

“So?”

“So the only thing keeping you from ascending straight to the top like your captain did is the key to this collar.”

“And why would I help you?”

“I think deep down inside, you know the answer. I can give you anything you want. Gold, women, or anything else you can think up. I’m worth six hundred thousand gold crowns for a reason, you know. All you have to do is earn my gratitude by removing this collar.”

“Why should I believe you?” The man sounded suspicious, but it was clear he hadn’t made up his mind just yet.

“Where’s an injured little blind girl going to run to after lying to her captor? I’ve lost so much blood I can hardly stand. Clearly, my freedom is entirely in your hands. and I can’t go anywhere until you’re satisfied.” The man was quiet as he thought the situation over carefully. Lydia was counting on the man’s greed to bait him into agreeing to her terms and did her best to keep an honest looking, confident face.

“Fine,” the man finally spoke, "but not one foot outside that cell until you’ve given me everything I ask for.

“Not even a toe,” Lydia agreed. The wooden stool creaked as the crewman stood and walked over to Lydia’s cell. He eagerly sorted through the ring of keys and opened up the door, quickly closing it behind him. Lydia’s heart began to race as he gently pushed her head forward to reach for the small padlock that kept the collar tightly bound around her neck. With a metallic clicking sound, the lock fell to the ground.

“So what first,” the man cackled like a child taking an entire pie for himself. “Gold. Show me what you can do first and get me some crowns.” Lydia did as she was told, raising her arm slowly with her fist clenched. With a dramatic touch, the girl slowly opened her fingers and gold coins spilled onto the floor. It was fortunate that the man had no idea those coins would turn to ash the moment she stopped feeding it with her energy. “Brilliant! Give me more! I’ve been living on biscuits for too long. I want a feast fit for a king!”

Lydia stretched her hand toward the other side of the cell door. Building blocks of white energy poured from her body and flowed together to create a table loaded with the finest food imaginable. Almost immediately, the pleasant smell of roasted boar and fresh breads took hold of the room.

“And a lady,” the man continued on his rampage to fill each of his desires one by one," a nice sexy lady with elegant round curves! I’m gonna get busy while I eat!" Lydia with-held her negative reaction to the man’s lack of good taste, instead playing it cool and proceeding with her next spell. The man had completely lowered his guard, and she’d decided it was time to go.

“As you wish,” Lydia nodded obediently. The girl conjured her inner power, causing it to erupt fourth and swirl around her. In an instant, light consumed the room and Lydia dissipated into thin air along with the illumination. The man looked around in loss and confusion. As he realized what had happened, the room suddenly seemed dimmer than it had even before the girl had cast her first spell. There was no woman, and both the gold and the food were now gone.

“God damn it.”

Back in the Mercurial Lighthouse, Lydia appeared in her chambers with a flash. She took a deep breath and released it slowly as if to expel the pain and anxiety which had built up during her capture; it was finally over, but there was still much to be done.

First on her list of priorities was to take care of herself. Lydia carefully removed the bandage that hugged her ribs and covered her severed arm, poking at the festering wound. Even the slightest disturbance made her want to cry out in agony. Without waiting another moment, Lydia charged up her inner zeon pool and restored her body to its prime physical condition. She tested her new arm out, moving it around and squeezing it with a pleased smile; it was nice to have her good arm back again.

With all of the bodily ailments she’d stack up over the last few days now gone, it was far easier to think clearly. Lydia’s first thought was that despite her good health, she was still in dire need of a bath. She quickly walked to the bathing room of her quarters and held her hand over the tub. A clean, cylindrical stream of water spewed rapidly from her palm and quickly filled the large wooden oriental-style bath built into the floor. With another spell, Lydia dipped her hand into the water and adjusted the temperature to her liking.

The girl smiled with satisfaction before stripping her clothes off and slowly slipping into the hot water and melting into a slouched position that left only her eyes and nose above the surface. As the minutes passed, Lydia simply absorbed the pleasure of comfort before wandering into thinking about the future at her own pace.

The fact was that Captain Forde still had the Mercurial Eye. A part of her wanted to be done with the entire matter and let the man have his trinket. However, the object was far too precious to simply give up and Lydia wasn’t going to let it go without a fight.

For now, Lydia decided that she remained in desperate need of adequate sleep. Restoring her arm and putting on the display for the crew-man that had accidentally set her free had been costly. If she was going to confront Captain Forde, she would need all of her strength. After resting, Lydia planned to go back to the Star Islands and track Forde down by whatever means necessary.


Six days later

Captain Forde knocked on the rickety wooden door of the worn down building behind the market. He was still bitter about the loss of his fortune and had no intention of giving it up by any means. Rumor had it that the person who lived here could help him solve his problem.

“What do you want,” a female voice called from behind the door.

“I’m looking for Natalia Jennings. A friend of mine says you can help me find someone,” Forde spoke with his head close to the door. He wasn’t keen on shouting his business for all to hear if he could help it. The door popped open a crack to reveal a petite brown-skinned woman who appeared to be in her early thirties. Her head was shrouded in a humble hood, making it difficult to perceive all of her features.

“And what if I can?”

“Well, I am a wealthy man, Ms. Jennings. Perhaps this will suffice?” Forde pulled a large bag of gold crowns from his pocket and and dangled it in front of the woman’s eyes for her to see. The woman suspiciously eyed the bag for a moment before looking Forde straight in the eyes and nodding. The man stepped over the threshold as the door opened to see a humble, but quite cozy, living quarters.

With a gesture, Natalia invited Forde to sit down on the large couch. The woman sat across from a small coffee table in her own chair as the man took his seat.

“Who is this person you seek? Do you have a name?”

“Just the name Lydia.”

“I’m going to need more than that if you want me to track someone down.”

“Female, light brown hair, and clouded eyes. She’d blind, but extremely potent.”

“Then you speak of one of the Oracles of the towers?” Natalia grew curious as to why someone would be seeking on out, but decided to mind her own business as she always did for her clients.

“If that’s what you want to call her. Can you find the girl?”

""The gold first." Forde nodded and handed Natalia her payment. “This had better be worth it.”

“There’s no need for worry; I am an honorable woman. I am keeping the gold safe, but it is not mine until your target is located.”

“Fair enough,” Forde agreed. “How do you plan to find this person?”

“With the element of light. I too am skilled with magic. It can reveal many things, including the location of this person.”

“Shall we get started then?” Natalia nodded and closed her eyes to concentrate. A teal colored aura extended from the woman’s body as the room began to shimmer and shake slightly. It was clear to Captain Forde that whatever spell this was had a lot of kick to it. He’d seen many spells cast in his time, but only the big ones affected reality before they’d been cast.

Suddenly, Natalia opened her eyes and a flash of light seemed to burst from within, lighting up her skull through her flesh. The luminescence glowing strongly for several seconds before flickered and fading away.

“Well, what did you see,” inquired the man, leaning forward in his seat with eagerness.

“She’s not far. It seems she’s taken refuge in the old abandoned granary. I saw her asleep, huddled in the corner.”

“Thank you,” Forde eagerly stood from his chair. “If you’ll excuse me, I haven’t a moment to lose.”

“Of course,” she nodded. Without another word, the man rushed out the door without even bothering to close it behind him. He pushed past groups of shoppers through the market, knocking over goods and leaving a trail of angry customers as he sprinted as quickly as possible to his destination. Having been long out of shape, it wasn’t long before the captain dropped to a jog, huffing as he continued on. All the while he prayed to himself that the girl had not moved from her spot.

Finally Forde arrived at the granary. The building was practically falling apart under the ocean weather and likely did little to protect anyone inside from the elements. The man drew his sword and carefully opened the large wooden double doors. There was little he could do about the heavy creaking sound as the hinges rotated.

He quickly cleared the first room before moving down a short hallway to the storage area. There, he smiled to himself as he spotted a figure huddled up in the corner under a ragged blanket, just as he’d been told she would. Quietly, Forde crept over to the blanket before yanking it off and pointing his blade at what he assumed would be the girl he was looking for.

“Got you!” The man shouted before realizing there was nothing more than a couple of old pillows placed cleverly underneath the cloth. Forde rubbed his chin in confusion, trying to imagine how she could have known to set a decoy.

“Looking for someone, Captain Forde?” The man turned to see Lydia step out of the shadows. The girl’s arm had been restored, nor did she show any indication that she’d been lost in the city as he’d thought.

“You think you’re clever, huh? You haven’t changed the outcome of this meeting,” Forde scoffed.

“I am quite clever, Captain Forde. It took me days to track you down and isolate you under my terms. After I found you, it was only a matter of time until I found your chain of informants.”

“So it was you who led me to Natalia?”

“You catch on quickly. Now here we are like a cat with a mouse in its paws.”

“I’ll show you who the mouse is,” the man announced confidently. “I’m going to hack that arm right off of you again and drag you back to my boat covered in blood!” As he lunged forward with his blade, Forde’s sword came to a dead halt against Lydia’s shoulder instead of piercing her flesh.

“You can’t cut me, Captain,” Lydia informed the man as she touched his sword with her finger tips. As if responding to her will, the metal blade liquified into mercury and compressed itself into a neat lustrous sphere before solidifying once more and plopping to the ground with a loud ringing sound. Forde stared at his empty hilt in awe, suddenly realizing he’d picked the wrong fight. He’d been outsmarted, and overpowered.

“I’ll give you anything,” Forde begged as he look back to the girl who stood calmly before him. “Don’t kill me!”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill you Mr. Forde,” Lydia outstretched her hand and lifted the man into the air with an unseen telekinetic force. With a quick motion, she forcefully slammed the man into the wall behind her and brought her eyes in front of Forde’s for him to see. “No, I have much better things in mind for you. How many people did you sell into slavery? How many souls did you leave feeling desperate, helpless, and small so you could be rich and comfortable?” Lydia hooked her finger into the small chain around Forde’s neck, retrieving the bright violet gem which had been the entire reason for her return to the Star Islands.

“I didn’t count! Just don’t hurt me!”

“You are going to meet the same fate, Captain Forde.” Without giving the man a chance to say anything else, Lydia poked Forde’s forehead. His figure warped, shifted, and compressed, leaving behind a small gray mouse in his stead. She gently lowered the rodent to the ground and released it from her supernatural grip. “Enjoy the rest of your small, helpless little life, Mr. Forde.” Lydia turned and exited the granary as the confused little rodent looked at its vast and expansive surroundings.

Forde felt his heart thumping in his chest. Was this permanent? What could he possibly do now? He didn’t have any idea how to be a mouse. Where would he get food? How would he survive among so many dangers and predators? It was then that Forde had a brilliant idea. He began to scurry off toward the tavern. It would be a long walk, but he’d promised his first mate he would meet him there! All he had to do was get him to realize what had happened, and they would figure the rest out afterward. Medicine, a mage, he didn’t care what it took to make him human again.


It was nearly midnight, and the last of the evening crowd was wandering out of the tavern. Garret Rodrigo remained in his seat with a small stack of empty mugs on his table. He wondered on and off what might have happened to the captain to cause him to miss the appointment completely. Whatever it was, Garret expected to hear one hell of an excuse when he saw him again.

“Oi, miss,” Garret called out to the woman cleaning off the bar, “Take my coin, I’ve got to be going. I don’t think good old Captain Forde is going to be making his way over here.” Garret stood from his seat and approached the counter top before setting down a small bag of gold.

“I’m sorry you were disappointed,” apologized the woman with a look of genuine sympathy.

“Disappointed, yes. But not in your service ma’am, you can bet I’ll be back eventually.”

“Have a good one.” Garret left the tavern and closed the door behind him. It was off to the ship, he supposed. The Captain had to turn up sooner or later.

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DeadJim

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