This story segment contains brief violence.
42nd of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Core Ocean — West Ayvartan Waters
At noon, amid the deep blue of the ocean, the Heavy Cruiser Revenant launched a floatplane patrol. Near the bow of the ship, the Revenant’s two catapults were turned northward and Remora float planes hurled to begin their journey. Each would cover hundreds of kilometers of sea and return within hours, reporting via radio any contacts with enemy ships.
From the operations deck, at the fore of the massive, armored citadel of the ship’s forward superstructure, Captain-At-Sea Monashir stood with her hands behind her back, staring seriously at their operational map of the West Ayvartan Naval Sector, as they knew it in their strategic planning. Her chief concern now was the Bundesmarine of Nocht.
At her flanks, the Selkie class frigates and the Aircraft Carrier Admiral Qote were getting ready to depart and rejoin the East Ayvartan Fleet as a potential defense against Hanwa, whose role in the conflict everyone suspected, but no one knew for certain. In any conflict with Hanwa, their first strike would definitely be an assault on the nation’s Navy, and likely a first-strike against their naval command. Chayat was sure to become a target.
Admiral Qote would certainly be needed in such a situation. Not so much the Revenant.
As such it would be up to the Revenant to escort the Charybdis back to Rangda in Tambwe, while the Admiral Qote was relocated, and the Selkies covered it in transit.
Captain Monashir was used to acting alone or on limited resources. Nevertheless it paid to be cautious and use everything at her disposal. Before her support ships departed, Captain Monashir had requested enough time for a full reconnaissance patrol. The Admiral Qote had gracefully acquiesced to her request and delayed its departure a few hours.
She waited with her breath held in her chest, surrounded by radio and navigation equipment, viewing the ocean through slit windows at the front of the compartment.
Though she loved the view of the sea, it was no longer important to the crew.
In this new age of warfare, what she saw with her senses hardly mattered to the fight. A battle might be decided far before she even knew a battle was imminent. Seaplane recon was the best Monashir could hope for at the moment. The Revenant had an underwater sound detection system, and while the navy was intrigued by the ARG-2’s capabilities in Bada Aso, there was no time currently to install such a thing on the Revenant.
She watched her float monoplanes launched, and could not quite see them fly away.
Radio reports came in every fifteen minutes from both planes.
No contacts; clear seas; etc, for the first few hours.
Then a report came in: “Remora-3 has sighted a heavy cruiser. Looks like a Lubon Gloucester judging by all the big guns strapped to it ma’am. I don’t see any supporting ships, and it seems westbound. It’s far from home. I can’t imagine what it’s up to.”
That’s what it took; in this age of aircraft and signals, those words were worth more than the sharpest eyes on the deck of any ship. She had her contacts, hundreds of kilometers away.
Quickly the crew began to work on triangulation, while their aircraft shadowed the enemy. Soon they worked out a possible course for the Gloucester, as well as a potential combat area. Such an action begged the question: would they engage the Gloucester?
They couldn’t reach it on the surface. But passing this information to the Admiral Qote would allow them to deploy some of the 62 aircraft on-board. Though the Qote would have flushed at the request — 14 of its aircraft had been lost in Bada Aso, 10 to landing accidents, rendering the crew gun-shy — they might have ultimately agreed to do it.
Garuda and Roc aircraft could have attacked the Gloucester within the hour.
This would be an easy fight for them, and would eliminate a royal navy heavy-hitter. No resources would have to be diverted other than the planes and a few travel delays.
However, they were only two days out from Rangda, and the stray ship did not seem to be headed for their land. Though it had no business in these waters in war-time, and though Lubon was certainly Nocht’s crony in this war, Ayvarta and Lubon had not yet engaged in shooting. This attack would mean the Ayvartans shed first blood on the Elves.
It was all well to destroy this one ship. Captain Monashir, however, saw further risks.
“Let the Gloucester go. All Seaplanes return to base. We speed to Rangda.”
Captain Monashir knew she had lost her nerve. She had been confronted with a situation and turned her head from it. Bitterly she recalled her first impression of Madiha Nakar before her own battle — a battle the Captain had seen as reckless and unnecessary. Nakar had achieved an incredible result. But the thought of going out of her way now to destroy this Elven ship, while tempting, still felt reckless and unnecessary.
Monashir was not Nakar, and the sea was not Bada Aso.
Operations in the western Ayvartan waters were thus concluded. Admiral Qote broke off, and met new escorts. Captain Monashir sailed for Rangda. She was sure of her choice.
44th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E
Core Ocean, Ayvartan Waters — Heavy Cruiser Revenant, around Tambwe.
Easterly winds carried cold from the Kucha over the little dominance of Tambwe across the lower northwest coast. Under the hot noon sun blaring over the ocean, the cold turned into a fresh breeze. But much of the deck was vacant, and there were few around to savor the air. On their final approach to the city of Rangda, only several hundred kilometers from harbor, the cruiser Revenant and its crew took a deserved break for lunch belowdecks.
Floating on the opportune breeze, a certain creature found the empty deck suitable.
And weary of the ship’s confines, a certain Warrant Officer found the creature in turn.
Hidden behind one of the lifeboats on the ship starboard, Parinita Maharani peered out onto the raised prow, near the forward gun turret housing the massive 300mm double cannons, where she found this beast bathing in the sun. Her eyes drew wide open and she pushed a hand against her own lips to stifle all the little noises her mouth spontaneously generated.
This was a Drake, one of the many large, reptilian animals in Ayvarta. In the continent’s vast wilds, the Drake in its various forms was a fairly common form of solitary predator.
However, this was a most uncommon form of drake.
Slender and the size of a big cat, it was much smaller than its siblings. Instead of a snout, like other drakes, it possessed a hard, beak-like mouth with a jagged interior. Instead of scales, the creature was covered in fuzzy down, like a baby bird. Though it lacked true wings, and had quite developed front and back limbs with stubby claws and strong muscles, there were fleshy, earth-tone membranes extending between its front legs and flanks, that amassed into folds while it lay in repose. What drew Parinita’s gaze the most was the gaudy purple-and-teal coloration of the creature’s fuzz, that shifted with one’s eyes and the position of the sun’s light as though the creature were encrusted with a gradient of gems.
“A Kite Dragon!” She squealed to herself, staring at the creature from afar.
Though still a Drake, its ability to “fly” on the wind lent this creature its name.
And a legendary reputation. Parinita’s head filled with little girlish fantasies.
The Kite Dragon raised its head and stared lazily around itself, awoken. Parinita feared that it might take off, but it did not. It raised one of its front legs over its head, and with this motion it stretched taut the flap of beautifully colored skin that made up its “wing.” Bending its head it nibbled on its own skin, likely to relieve an itch, and then laid again under the sun, unconcerned with the surrounding machinery of this giant modern warship.
Such a shocking sight; the futuristic grey meeting the regal purple of the past.
Watching this living treasure, Parinita could hardly contain her excitement. She hesitated to approach it. She was awed, seeing the history of the world that she had been taught, the mythical history, a part of it at least, confirmed before her eyes. Though on the one hand she had hated her grandmother, those stories she told had become quite a part of her the past month. Those ideas that she kept alive, those things only she knew.
To see them in flesh, to interact with them, made her proud. It made her special.
In her mind, she did not even question where this being came from. It was fated to come.
But what pure maiden did it seek? Perhaps; could it be? Herself? Parinita was giddy.
“Chief Warrant Officer, I have safely removed the rat from your bed quarters–”
Parinita turned around and sharply shushed the person coming in behind her, snapping instantly out of her pleasurable reverie. It was Sergeant Agni, whom she had tasked with removing a pest from her room. It had been a hasty compact. Parinita had run screaming out of her room and found Agni outside the door by sheer coincidence. Seeing a familiar face, she hid behind Agni for several minutes and then shoved her into the room, shut the door and ran way. Informal, unspoken; as one does with these sorts of things.
Standing out in the open, Agni turned her head from Parinita and toward the deck and finally seemed to notice the Drake. There was no change in her disinterested expression upon spotting the majestic being laying on their ship. She blinked, and stared, dead-eyed. Agni never emoted, and the sight of the Kite Dragon had no visible effect on her.
“What is that?” She asked simply.
“It’s a Kite Dragon.” Parinita triumphantly said.
“What is it?” Agni reiterated with no change in tone.
“Haven’t you heard the stories?”
“No.” Agni dryly replied.
Of course she hadn’t. Barely anybody did anymore.
As a child, whenever her grandmother deigned to pay her attention, Parinita received a thorough instruction on Ayvartan mythology. Her family, she had been told, where once faith healers and spirit priests, highly valued by their people in supernatural matters. They were also keepers of the histories of tribes and ancestral, nascent nations. She knew all about Kite Dragons, and as she spoke, she carried herself quite proudly for this.
“Kite Dragons are the highest order among dragonkind that is left in the world. Drakes cannot fly, but Kite Dragons have achieved such a status, that they needn’t fly. They merely trick the wind into ferrying them, like a kite. It is said that the regal Kite Dragon moves under its own power only in the presence of pure maidens, such as princesses and saints and songstresses, whom it takes very kindly to. It is said that an ancient King once followed a Kite Dragon for days to find a beautiful bride in Dbagbo, suited for queenship.”
Parinita finished with a flourish of her hands, awaiting a response from her audience.
“What a lazy little Drake; it sounds quite ridiculous.” Agni said, touched not by the tale.
“What? Ridiculous? It’s amazing. This is an extremely rare, majestic being!”
“Can it breathe fire?”
Parinita threw her hands up. “No!”
Agni shrugged. “I’m not interested then. I’m not a pure maiden anyway.”
“You’re damn right you aren’t! Not with this attitude!” Parinita said.
Agni opened her pouch, and pulled up a black, furry thing from it.
“Here’s your rat, by the way.”
Parinita drew back.
Agni shuddered. The Kite Dragon crooked an eyebrow at the sudden screech.
Parinita bolted up the nearby lifeboat hoist, finding a strength hitherto unknown to her. In two lightning-fast hand-holds she made it onto the life raft and threw herself under its covering tarp, crying aloud. Agni must have lost her mind! That rat was at least 100 cm!
“Agni, kill it! Shoot it! Throw it in the ocean! It’s a rat! A rat!” Parinita cried.
She peered out from under the tarp and found Agni staring at her with those same blank eyes, mindlessly petting the rat’s head as its plump body dangled from her fingers. She felt a skin-tingling disgust with the little beast, it’s pink fleshy little limbs, its stringy tail. She could see it in her mind creeping around, teeny-tiny, festering in people’s garbage!
“It’s harmless.” Agni said, holding up the little fiend and shaking him dismissively.
“Rats bite you and scratch you and carry diseases!”
From under the tarp Parinita flailed her arms helplessly.
On the deck, the engineer seemed to finally realize her officer’s disgust, and nodded her head solemnly. She averted her gaze, looking almost remorseful of her current conduct.
“I’m sorry; I did not understand just how much they affected you. I shall rectify this.”
Agni withdrew her pistol from her hip and put it to the rat’s pathetic round head.
She locked eyes with the rat as Agni prepared to finish it.
Parinita groaned sharply as if deflating. “No! No! Ok! Don’t do that!”
“Should I just let it go then? There’s really nowhere else for it–”
“Fine! Fine! Let it go! You barbarian! Let it go!”
Instead of shooting, Agni nodded, put down the rat and released her hands.
Parinita watched in horror as the furry devil scurried away.
Freed, the beast flounced up the deck, crawled over a fire extinguisher box, leaped to the prow, and was then snatched in mid-air by a sudden lunge from the Kite Dragon.
Clacking its beak, the creature tossed the rat into the air and swallowed it whole. A gross bulge formed on the creature’s throat as its meal went down. Uncharismatic noises issued from its beak and nostrils; once its meal had fallen far enough, the dragon relaxed, laid back and stretched out on the deck, its belly glinting royal purple in the sunlight.
“It ate the rat.” Agni said, sounding very lightly puzzled.
“It ate the rat.” Parinita mimed in a much more anguished tone.
She climbed back down from the life rafts and set foot on the deck once more.
Seizing Agni by the shoulders, she shook up the engineer, gritting her teeth in frustration.
“I blame you! I blame you!” Parinita shouted as Agni’s head bobbed.
“Did something happen up here?”
One of the side doors from the conning tower opened, and Colonel Madiha Nakar emerged.
Tall and fit, and quite well-dressed in her black, red and gold KVW uniform, the Colonel managed quite a presence. There was a look of consternation on the normally soft features of the Colonel’s brown face, her dark eyes locked onto Parinita’s hands as the guilty secretary manhandled Sergeant Agni. Parinita withdrew her hands and fidgeted, looping some of her strawberry hair around her finger and laughing perhaps a little too girlishly.
For her part, Agni seemed unaffected by the gentle thrashing.
“That happened,” She said, pointing out onto the prow.
Madiha turned her head to look and stared at the creature, narrowing her eyes.
She raised a hand atop the gentle bridge of her nose to shield her eyes from the sun.
Her lips curled into a serious expression.
“That thing is in the way and needs to get off the deck promptly.” Madiha said.
She started toward the prow before Parinita could relate to her the myths she told Agni.
Parinita watched as the Colonel approached the Kite Dragon and started shooing it.
She was in distress, waiting for the creature to lunge angrily at the impure Colonel.
The Drake opened its double-lidded green eyes, and raised its head in consternation.
Madiha tapped her feet hard near it, and nudged it brusquely with her shoes.
Spotting her, the creature narrowed its eyes and sniffed. Parinita was ready to cry out.
Suddenly it sprang up onto Madiha’s chest and curled its tail around her in embrace.
“Parinita!” Madiha cried. “Why is this strange bird attacking me!”
Parinita’s jaw dropped in response. She wasn’t being attacked; the Kite Dragon had just acknowledged her as a pure maiden. Perhaps the purest it had ever seen judging by how it nudged its head lovingly over Madiha’s breast, and curled its tail around her waist. It seemed almost positively in love with her, hooting and clacking its beak, its down standing on end.
“I think it likes you.” Agni said dully.
“It does!” Parinita said. She made a little squeeing noise. This was a once-in-a-lifetime sight! She almost wanted to rush belowdecks and get the cameras. “It really likes you!”
Madiha stood still and stared in dismay at the gently stirring creature.
“Gross.” Madiha moaned.
Nonchalantly Madiha pushed on the Kite Dragon. It unfurled and fell back on the deck.
Like a strange cat, it bounced back against Madiha’s legs, rubbing its flank on her.
Madiha sighed. “I don’t want this.”
Parinita gasped. She was in disbelief at everyone’s sheer lack of curiosity. Even if they knew nothing, this made no sense! “Madiha, look at it! It’s beautiful! It’s such a rare, majestic–”
“It eats rats.” Agni interjected.
At once Madiha looked down again at the creature and seemed to have new eyes for it. She knelt, picked it up by its front legs, and raised it to her face. She gently spread its gliding flaps, and blinked at the colorful display of its bejeweled fuzz once exposed to sunlight. Eyes closed, contented, the creature lifted its long gradient colored tail and slipped it beneath Madiha’s neck-length hair, lifting several tufts of her messy bob.
Nonchalantly, she deposited the creature back onto the deck and walked away.
“I will reassess its utility, I suppose.” She said without affect.
Parinita raised her hands to her face, shaking her head and muttering to herself.