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Shining Force: Chapter 5




Chapter 4

Max looked down at Maeís upturned face, waiting expectantly for a kiss. Since he didnít have anything

better to do while he waited for his brain to shift into gear, he bowed his head and kissed her. After a

timeless moment, their lips parted. That was worth the wait, Max thought to himself, recalling the campaign

of almost two years now, and the attraction heíd felt on that first encounter. His brain still wasnít doing itís

job, so he kissed her again.

"Mmmm," sighed Mae, laying her head back on his shoulder, "Did you enjoy last night as much as I did?"

"Iím sure I did."

"Mmm-huh?" Mae looked back up at him with a puzzled look.

"Well, after we toasted you, it all starts to get hazy. I really canít remember anything after Gong started

singing along with Jogurt and we all started throwing bread at-" Mae, her face suddenly closed up, began to

rise to leave. Maxí brain finally kicked into motion, and realizing her intent, he grabbed her and pulled her

down with his eldritch strength. Mae struggled, but he held on firm until she finally looked him in the eyes.

"I said I didnít remember, not that I didnít enjoy it," he said quietly, gazing intently at her, "now listen up,

and listen good." He swallowed, took a deep breath, then swallowed again. "I love you." He swallowed, and

said it again, more quietly. "I love you."

The response was immediate. First, she began trembling. Then she grabbed his face and kissed him, far

more enthusiastically and energetically than the tender good morning kisses of a few moments ago. When

they finally came up for air, he told her again. "I love you." And they kissed again.

"I love you too." Mae lay her head on his shoulder. "God, why didnít I say that before. I wanted to tell you

at the bridge, but I was just..." she shook her head.

The next ten, maybe fifteen minutes were spent talking intimately, over a wide range of personal subjects,

like Maxí past, Maeís past, Varios, who got drunker and made the bigger fool of themselves last night, as

they cuddled together in the hay. No, Iím not telling. Like I said, it was personal. Letís give them their

privacy.

******************************************************************************************

When Max and Mae came out to breakfast, Gort and Luke were at the table, physically at least. The rest of

them had gone wherever consciousness goes in times of extreme discomfort, while their bodies clutched

their heads and moaned quietly, pathetically. Serving maids brought them glasses of water, which they

sipped quietly, and little sprigs of herbs, which they chewed as delicately as possible, mainly because even

their teeth hurt.

Gong and Diane were there, too. Their hands kept brushing against each other as they ate their toast, and

they kept glancing at each other, then looking away with a smile. Mae nudged Max. "Looks like weíre not

the only ones to find a little happiness last night," she winked. Max nodded.

"Whereís Domingo?" he asked to no one in particular. Gort and Luke both jumped in their chairs at the

sudden noise, and Luke almost burst into tears.

"Heís in the room Anri set out for him," whispered Mae. Max nodded and went to fetch his adopted tyke.

Domingo lay in a puddle on the floor, his tentacles twitching softly. "Hey, kiddo, how you doing?" Max

asked quietly.

Domingoís squid eyes fixed on him. "Are you alright?" Max blinked.

"Of course. Why do you ask?"

"You kept drinking that poison last night. And the more you drank, the weirder everyone got." Max

chuckled and knelt down to pat him on his cap.

"Not to worry, Domingo. Itís a mild poison, and everyoneís better the next day. Well, after the hangover

wears off, anyway. You ready for breakfast?" Domingo levitated up, and followed him back to the dining

room.

Diane was still at the table with Gong. The elven archer was not merely smiling up at Gong, but was in fact

sitting on the ogreís enormous knee, spooning gobs of creamy boiled oats into his homely, good natured

face. Mae set out a platter of raw meat for Domingo, and two bowls of oats for herself and Max and told

them both, "keep watching when people come out to breakfast. Youíll see who did what last night."

A short while later, Tao came out, looking diminutively regal in her robes, a smug expression on her face.

After what he must have thought a suitably long interval, Guntz followed, of a similar stature out of his

armour. Mae and Max smiled at each other.

Next, Amon and Balbaroy came out. Strangely, while both were as affectionate as always, nothing seemed

particularly different between the two, no renewal of endearments seemed obvious. "Amon told me about it

a while back," Mae told Max. "They only procreate once a year. They do it in the air, too."

"When are they due to fly?" Max asked, his mind suddenly awash with concerns for a pregnant/nesting

Amon.

"In another month or so."

Finally, Anri came out, a smug smile playing about her own lips. Max tensed as she sat at the head of the

table. A moment later, Zylo came out, looked at the Princess, and flinched, before slinking to the table, as

Maxí eyebrows shot clean off his head. Max opened his mouth to ask-

And then Ken stepped out, barechested, looked at his liege lady, and blushed from his face clean down to

where his human belly became equine chest.

Then Pelle came out...

Vankar... Arthur... Earnest, his normally grim features set in an uncomfortable pose...Lowe...only Jogurt,

hopping onto a seat to munch some fresh roasted nuts, seemed oblivious.

"Well, that clears up the last of MY illusions about the aristocracy," said Max in a cheerful voice. Nova and

Kokichi came out to breakfast, plopping down in their seats with nary a blush nor glance. Max looked at

Nova.

"When you get to be our age, other things become more important. Things like sleep," Nova said without

looking up. "We werenít around for anything after the tenth toast."

Tenth toast, Max thought, oh yeah, thatís when Lowe started dancing on the tables...aloud, he asked, "Anri,

how long do you wish to stay in Guardiana?"

"Only another day or so," Anri replied, spooning a bite of oats with sugar and milk into her mouth, "Soon as

Iíve taken care of some things, we can get back to Uranbatol."

"Very well. Iíll be heading there now, and leave Amon and Lowe there to get the ship ready."

******************************************************************************************

Their new ship was considerably large than Joy of the Sea, a cargo vessel built for hauling large amounts of

crates and passengers. Laden with barrels filled with onions, berries, and other fruits vital to avoid scurvy

amongst the omnivores in the group, nuts and seeds, salted beef, flour, a quantity of eggs packed in straw,

and many, many casks of water-Max had ruled out all but a small supply of alcohol for the voyage, some

fine wines, and a few small kegs of ale to last Gort and Luke for the duration of the voyage. For me, I think

Iíve had enough beer to last me the rest of my days. Maxí tastes had developed into a preference for a

goblet of wine at meals, and he was quite finished with trying to prove his manhood to anyone by drinking

the bitter brew.

For a day and a night, the Pride of Empire been sailing, the enormous sails pulling them forward as the

Shining Force practiced their skills on the broad decks or in the holds, relaxed in their cabins, or just leaned

on the rail and gazed at the sea-or deposited their meals into it, depending. Max spent most of his time

either reading in his room, while snuggled up with Mae, watching the sea next to her, or playing with

Domingo. The hatchling greatly enjoyed playing a kind of tag with his adopted father.

After a day, Mae came to Max with a problem. "Some of the team are concerned about Domingo."

"What happened? Is he hurt?" Mae shook her head, and layed her hand on his shoulder reassuringly.

"Itís not that. Theyíre...a little discomfited, by what he did to that knight at Uranbatol."

Max stood perfectly still. "Discomfited?"

"Theyíre upset over having a comrade eating a sentient creature, Max. I know you love him, I like him

myself, but-"

"Team meeting, main hold, five minutes." Max turned smartly on his heels and stalked off.

"Max, wait!" Mae ran after him. "You know Iím not part of this, right?" Max looked at her a moment, then

forced a smile and nodded.

******************************************************************************************

"All right, Iím going to say this once, and hopefully keep my temper," Max said, standing in front of all the

assembled team, save for Domingo, who had been sent to Maxí room on a made up errand. "Some of you

have a problem with Domingo. I donít know who, and frankly, I donít care."

"Domingo ate a centaur at Uranbatol. Some of you may feel uncomfortable about that, that only someone

born yesterday would see nothing wrong with eating sentient beings. Well, get this: at that time, Domingo

had LITERALLY been born yesterday. Heís a BABY. Heís a genius, but heís still a hatchling." Max swept

the team with burning eyes.

"Now Iíve explained to him that heís not to eat anything that can talk. In the meantime, heíll make other

mistakes, learning how to be a part of civilized society. Thatís what growing up is all about. And make no

mistake, he is just STARTING to grow up. And bear in mind, you are the first examples of your respective

species heís met. You are his teachers on what other creatures are like. Remember that, next time you see

him."

"Any questions?" There were none. "Dismissed."

Some days later, Mae came back to him. "I think your speech did the trick, Max. Everyoneís pretty much

agreed to let it slide. And Amon wanted to ask permission about spending some time with Domingo. Sheíll

be rising for a mating flight in a couple of weeks, and sheís feeling very maternal." Max nodded.

"Permission granted. Come here, look at those dolphins out there..." They stood side by side, watching the

aquatic mammals leaping around in a circular pattern. Max called out to Domingo, playing up in the

lookout nest with Hans. "Look at this, Domingo. These guys are sentient too. See what theyíre doing?

Thereís a school of fish in the center of that circle. Theyíre forcing the fish to stay together, and now theyíre

going to start moving in, one at a time, to snap up their fill."

"Can they talk?"

"With a bit of an accent, yes. They kind of squeak out the words. Generally, if itís sentient, itíll be able to

talk, or communicate in some manner, at least." They watched the dolphins feeding for a while.

The quiet moment was broken by Hanís cry, "Monsters!" Max called up to him, and he clarified, "Sea bats,

and-Pegasus knights! Runefaust! RUNEFAUST!" And cabin doors opened and warriors barreled out of the

holds at top speed, their practice weapons traded for live ones.

Vankar, stumbling out of the stables, said, "Donít worry. Iíll just take a bucket with me into battle," as his

face shifted through several shades of green.

Pelle passed him, saying, "youíll be fine once the battle starts." Guntz moved to the center of the ship and

stayed there, throwing spears ready. As this was the first time heíd dared come out of his cabin in armour,

Max let him stay where he was.

"Domingo, go with Amon and Balbaroy. Give them spell support." Domingo dipped in a nod, then soared

up and joined the birdmen, swooping around the masts with Kokichi, awaiting the attackers.

Hans strung his bow, checked his arrow supply, then glanced down. "Oh," he breathed, then called out,

"Weíre being boarded! Port and starboard decks! Weíre being boarded!"

"Pelle, Vankar, Earnest, repel boarders to the starboard deck. Mae, Gort, Luke, with me to port deck!"

The boarders in question were shellfish of unusually large size. Their shells were several inches thick, from

which long tentacles of extreme and obvious strength waved sinuously, suckers looking to grab onto edible

targets. Rather than try to hack through the thick shell, Max waited for a tentacle to reach out for him, then

sheared it clean off. The mollusk immediately pulled all itís remaining appendages inside itís shell,

cowering from further damage. At this point, Anri, from behind him, cut loose with a spell, and a

whirlwhind of icy cold whipped up in the midst of the boarders, shards of ice congealing out of water vapor,

the shellfish writhing and shriveling into their shells in a vain attempt to avoid their fates. Max and the

Gladiators shoved the frozen seafood off the deck into the water below.

Turning to check on Domingo, Max watched as the Sky warriors swooped and struck, tearing into the

knights and bats with deadly effect. Domingo waved his tentacles, then cut loose with his own freeze spell,

sending several bats into the foaming sea. Kochichi turned aside to wave at Domingo approvingly.

"Kochichi, look out!" Too late, as a Pegasus knight slammed his lance into Kochichiís flight pack, tearing

through the delicate structure. The dwarf dropped like a stone into the water below. "No," breathed Max,

just as Domingo slammed his body into the knight like a thick rubber projectile, knocking the knight back

into Amonís sword. Balbaroy swooped down to the sea, trying to find their fallen comrade.

"Damn," Max muttered, "Damn, damn, da-" FWOOOM! "TAO! You donít use fire on a ship!" This is not a

good day, Max thought to himself, the sweat of exertion heightened by the sweat of extreme stress. He

grabbed a bucket of water and began working on the flames, as Mae grabbed a tarp to smother them.

Finally, after the team had worked together to subdue the flames, Max ran to the railing and called out.

"Kochichi! Where is he?" Balbaroy swooped in for a landing, then pointed down at the sea. "Whoa," Max

swore involuntarily, then winced as Mae stepped on his foot with one metal shod hoof.

Kochichi was being held fast in the arms of a mermaid. Long blue hair cascaded down in a slick wet mass,

with a lithe beauty of...a teenager? No more than 16 years of age, tops. "My name is Shell of Waral. Thank

you for destroying those monsters! You can repair your ship in Waral, just follow me!" Max nodded, and

called out instructions, and the smoldering, damaged ship shifted course for the island of Waral.

"Iíve heard of Waral," said Nova, as they sailed towards the island.

"Do they have good shipyards?"

"Iím not sure. The stories didnít exactly dwell on that subject."

"What do they have, then?"

"Good food, good drinks, attractive, VERY friendly people. You know, the essentials."

******************************************************************************************

Waral was truly a tropical paradise. Humans and Merfolk lived on the island, the sunken remnants of an

ancient volcano, formed into a lush semi circle of land, filled with lush vegetation, all carefully nurtured by

the humans. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, all of which they feasted on with the Merfolk, who brought delicacies

of the sea, fresh fish, shellfish, crustaceans, and edible seaweeds. The young men were leanly muscular

from working hard and playing at athletic endeavors, the young women were equally lithe and lean from the

same tasks, while the older humans were rounded, soft fat over hard muscles, their faces given over to the

wrinkles of a life of outdoors work and good humor, as opposed to the snit lines achieved by a lifetime with

a nasty attitude(resulting in old people whoíve scowled so much from the time they were young, the scowl

lines are permanently embedded into their faces). The merfolk, on the other hand, were perpetually youthful

and attractive. Shell turned out to be a 26 year old woman. "Itís a lot harder to move around in water than in

air," explained Shellís aunt Shimol, who looked like a 17 year old herself, aside from a few laugh wrinkles,

"So we all stay very lean and hard." She waved her fin at Max, displaying smooth aquamarine scales and

translucent turquoise membranes. "Wanna feel?"

Mae promptly stepped on his foot.

The ship had been taken into the harbor, and merfolk and humans worked on it from top to bottom, as the

team took advantage of all the island had to offer. Max went with Anri to pay their respects to the Chief of

the island, who promptly renamed himself the King of the island, after learning of the title. Judging by the

reactions of the assembled islanders, this "political reorganization" was hardly a rare occurrence. The king

had a large pot belly, which he kept filled with good food from a platter that was kept filled at all times. He

kept pressing his visitors to partake of the edibles, showing a good humor and friendly nature that warmed

their hearts. "Try this one, itís one of my favorite fruits." Delicious. "and this is a cookie made with fruits

and seaplants." Wonderful. "And this one is the flesh of a salmon, served raw and wrapped in onion." Max

stopped in mid swallow to begin choking it up, then stopped, considered, and thought, itís not bad, either.

He took another bite and affirmed that thought.

Upon learning of the Shining Forceís abilities and purpose, the "King" immediately endeavored to hire

them. "One of our Friars has disappeared," he explained, taking a deep draught of a deceptively mild wine,

made from a fruit called "bananas," "he was last seen paddling out to Ring Reef. Itís where our merfolk

used to keep schools of fish. But now the currents have gotten too strong, and we darenít go near the place."

"But he did?"

"Yes, and we havenít seen hide nor hair of him since-oh, they just finished with the shrimp, have some. Can

you help us?"

"Weíd be delighted, your Majesty," said Max.

"Majesty?"

"Ah, yes, thatís how Kings are addressed."

"Majesty? Majesty... itís got a nice ring to it..."

******************************************************************************************

Max blinked his eyes slowly, then took stock of his surroundings. A little hut, made of island materials, the

thick grasses mostly. He was lying on the woven mats the humans of Waral used in place of heavy bedding.

He thought back and tried to remember what had happened.

Letís see. I had Amon and Balbaroy do recon on the reef. When they found nothing except an

abandoned...hut? I went in on one of the rowboats by myself, and then...? Max rolled to his feet slowly,

stretching out the kinks.

"Well, Iím glad to see youíre up." Max whipped around to see an older man in the robes of a friar. "You

were thrown from your ship. I rescued you," the friar went on.

"Thank you. Kind of ironic, since I came here to rescue you." Max shrugged and gave a little grin.

The priest returned the grin. "I couldnít get back to Waral, what with the strong currents. Fortunately, this

hut was here, so Iíve been OK. Strange doings are going on! The water in Ring reef vanished and a strange

creature appeared!"

"Any ideas?"

"It might have something to do with the legend of a Shining Path that leads to Metapha."

"Metapha?"

"The legend says Metapha is a land of the ancients. Itís supposed to be filled with the lost technology and

mystic secrets of the ancients." Max nodded.

After heíd finished getting dressed, and joined the friar in a quick draught of restorative tea, Max went to

investigate the reef. The water had indeed receded, to display a rounded structure, formed of some strange

blue substance. A jagged hole showed where the substance had been cracked by age, then imploded under

the pressure of the sea. Inside the structure was a glowing blue platform, whorls swirling across it. Max

looked at the platform a moment, deduced itís purpose, and stepped onto it.

******************************************************************************************

Max found himself in a strange, otherworldly, "place" for lack of a better term. Nothing visible save

platforms and paths formed of pure, cool ice, above which shone clusters of stars, below which hung

impenetrable blackness. Then Max saw the creature the Friar had described. A skeleton. Runefaust, Max

thought to himself. The skeleton took no note of him, stepping itís way down the path. Max followed.

The skeleton led him to a chamber, where a Mage in the robes of Runefaust stood before an assembly of

skeletons, hellhounds, and enormous, disgusting worms. The Mage chanted, "I invoke a path before me..."

Max suddenly skidded on the slippery ice, landing with a sharp grunt. "What?" The Mage stared at Max

with an expression not unakin to horror. "Shining Force! I was so close...so close! I shall destroy you all!"

All? thought Max, as a set of strong hands helped him to his feet. Max took in the team assembled, Mae,

Guntz, Gort and Luke, Zylo, and the archers. The priests. Tao and Domingo. "Right then, letís do this,"

Max said in a determined voice.

The ice proved as treacherous footing for the skeletons and hellhounds as for the team. Tao enhanced this

by melting the ice with her blaze spell, then the team skewered the hellhounds and smashed the skeletons

where they lay. The worms proved slightly more difficult, their thick hides guarding multiple hearts and

vital organs. Chopping them up proved inefficient. Domingo froze them, and Zylo, Max, and Mae hurled

them off the platforms, into the seemingly bottomless void below. Finally, only the Mage remained.

Max adjusted his grip on his blade, only to have Taoís small hand pull on his arm. "Let me do this," she

said. Max looked at her. "I have to redeem myself. The ship?" Max nodded, and Tao stepped forward.

"A Duel of Magi!" she called out. The old man, bent over his staff, sneered and nodded.

"A Duel of Magi!" he agreed. Then he lowered his staff and hurled forth icy death.

Tao countered with her blaze, and met the cloud of cold with a blast of pure heat. Steam obscured them

both, as they both battled with their strongest powers. "Tao!" cried Guntz, as he lunged forward to help her.

Max held him back. "She needs to do this," he said. Guntz gave him an anguished look, then nodded and

stepped back.

The center of the steam moved back and forth, as each combatant upped the ante, or ebbed momentarily.

Finally, the steam cloud flew forth and blasted into the far wall. When the steam finally cleared, a weary

Tao stood, covered in dampness, her robes and hair dripping, and her mouth set in grim triumph. The old

man stood there a moment, then collapsed slowly. "Aaaargh," he groaned, his flesh blistered and seared, his

eyes staring sightlessly, as his hands clutched at nothing. "I was so close...the way to Metapha...almost

ours..." he sighed and was still.

Guntz grabbed up Tao, holding her close yet gentle, and carried her over to where Lowe and Khris could

perform their work on her. She lifted up her hand and caressed his armored cheek tenderly, and smiled

wearily.

"Max, I have been waiting for you." Max looked around, hearing the voice of the spirit of the Pool of the

Ancients. "I used that mermaid to bring you here..."

"Why?"

"The Shining Path lies behind this door. It leads to the land of the Ancients. The key to the Accursed Door

is there. I shall open the way to the Shining Path now." The door began to shudder, in preperation to

opening.

Then the entire structure began to shudder, as rocks began falling down from the upper reaches of the door,

the door grinding to a halt as whatever mechanisms it used jammed. "No," cried the Mage in a thin voice,

raising one hand in a gesture of defiance, clutching his fist at Max. "Though it takes all of my remaining

strength, you shall not use the Path!" He went limp again, and Gort and Luke promptly made sure that he

would not rise again.

"Alas, the path is blocked," the Spirit spoke again. "Listen. Two things are needed to break free Dark

Dragon. Darksol must get the key to the door, as well as the Manual of the Seal."

"Manual?"

"The Manual is in Dragonia. You must stop Darksol. The seal must not be broken! Go to Prompt. There

you should find another Shining Path..." Then the voice receded, as the ground began shaking.

The ground is collapsing, thought Max. "Run!" several people cried simultaneously, and they all began

moving at top speed. Guntz carried Tao, Lowe, and Khris in his arms, moving at top speed. Mae slowed

long enough for Max to shove Gort and Luke onto her back, then they moved at top speed, Max making

sure that Domingo kept up.

The ice floor began to crack and split underneath them, large chunks falling off the floor behind them as

they ran. "Wait a minute," Max muttered, then concentrated and cut loose. "Egress!" And the team found

themselves on the shores of Ring Reef.

The Reef shuddered behind them, as the structure at itís heart collapsed. Then the sea began spewing forth

from the portal. The swift currents ebbed and stilled, and the sea was calmed. Max took careful stock of

their situation, making sure everyone was present and accounted for. By that time, the Friar had shown up,

and explanations ensued.

"So the Shining Path was here! Too bad itís blocked..." murmured the Friar.

"Thereís another Shining Path in Prompt," said Max.

"What? You must go there at once!" Max nodded, and turned to be swept off his feet by a flustered Mae,

her face running the gamut of emotions, from relief to anger.

"You scared the hell out us! Donít ever go off alone again!" Mae said, as she lifted him off the ground,

hugging him close as she looked him in the eyes. Max nodded, grateful for the plated armour protecting his

ribs from her crushingly fierce embrace.

"Yes, dear."

******************************************************************************************

The people of Waral were overjoyed to have the Friar safe again, and almost as glad to have their Ring Reef

reopened for the herding of fish. The King ordered three full days of feasting and partying, in which the

team thoroughly enjoyed themselves, though only Gort and Luke even approximated the drunk following

the battle at Uranbatol.

Max checked in on Kochichi on that first night. The dwarf was disconsolate after the destruction of his

flight pack, and Amon and Balbaroy had thus far been unable to cheer him up. "I canít fly anymore," the

old Dwarf moaned, "what good can I do the team if I canít fly?"

"Now stop that at once!" snapped Max, his desire to comfort suddenly tempered by his anger, "I donít

tolerate whiners in the Shining Force!"

"But-"

"But nothing! You made one flight pack, you can make another! In the meantime, quit whining. Youíre still

alive, and youíve got the tools, the talent, and the materials to fly again. In the meantime, lighten up! Itís a

party!" Max grabbed a tray of the raw salmon and thrust them at him, waiting until heíd swallowed before

describing the ingredients...

Anri discussed trade deals with the King during the holiday, with a keen eye towards the delicious edibles

produced by the Island "kingdom." The Chief, as it turned out, was beloved by his people for his shrewd

negotiating tactics, being such a master of economic affairs that his very home, while of a size and splendor

befitting a much admired ruler, had well over two thirds converted to shops, which he ran for a tidy profit.

Anri countered his keen mind and charming personality with her own brilliant diplomatic mind, her sweet

nature, and her flirtations and outrageous flattery, stoking and stroking his immense ego. Before the

holidays had ended, the Chief, who had reverted to his original title after deeming the title "King" far too

"minor" for the lord of the island, had agreed to numerous trading agreements and charters.

"How did you get him to agree to this one here, on the Banana crop?" asked Nova, pointing at one of the

contracts. Anri just smiled. "Never mind," Nova said, and took a drink of the banana wine.

Lowe and Khris spent their time with the Friar. Upon discovering that he too was from Guardiana, they

spent much time together, discussing nuances of philosophy and theology, and praying together. On the

third day, Lowe came running up to Max, where he lay on the beach with Mae, her head in his lap, sharing

some fruit. "My prayers have been answered!" he cried.

"What about?" Max inquired, as he sliced a piece of flesh from a mango and plopped it into Maeís mouth.

"Iíve been praying ever since we started across the sea, for a cure for seasickness. Just a short while ago, I

had a vision!" Loweís eyes became distant, as he remembered what heíd seen. "I beheld a bush, grown out

of a rock. And the bush was on fire, yet it did not burn. And I heard a voice, say unto me. It said, it said..."

"Yes?"

"It said, ĎForget it, Vicar!í"

"This is a answer?"

"I said my prayers were answered," responded Lowe with a sniff, "I didnít say they were fulfilled." Max

looked at him with an arched eyebrow, then fed Mae another piece of mango.

On the second day, Max greeted Bokken, whoíd simply walked onto shore that morning, his head covered

by an enormous helmet with a glass plate for a visor. "Itís got a plant growing inside," he explained, "It

recycles the air as I breath."

"Does it ever run out?"

"Only if I exert myself too much. Howís the food? Is that...sashimi!" Bokken, it turned out, had a real taste

for raw fish. They spent much time talking about their travels, sharing their experiences. "I went to

Uranbatol, but since there were no ships, Iíve been walking along the sea with this helmet. I stop when I

reach an island, grab some food and water, rest, then move on," related Bokken.

"So where are you headed next?"

"Dunno. I think Iíll go to Dragonia. Maybe Iíll see a Sacred Dragon!"

Finally, the holiday ended, the ship was repaired, the relatively exotic edibles on board traded to the

islanders for their own fresh, native foodstuffs, and they set sail once again.

*****************************************************************************************

For a week they had sailed on.

Kochichi had spent the first few days in his cabin drawing up blueprints. Occasionally, the others would

hear screams and curses from within. Occasionally, he would issue forth to grab food. Other times, he

would burst out in a rage, crumpling up a set of plans up and hurling them into the sea with an incoherent

roar.

Amon and Balbaroy helped as best they could, explaining all the nuances of birdís wings and flight, down

to the featherís ability to provide additional wingspan with maximum strength to weight ratio. Guntz was

particularly generous, allowing him to check out Dr. Crachetís handiwork in order to build a new engine.

But it was Domingo who gave him his greatest inspiration. After talking with the little creature for a while,

Kochichi suddenly leapt up from the galley table and ran to his cabin. The next day, he began scrounging up

the materials for construction.

Guntz and Tao spent much time together, as she wove spells of illusion to tell fanciful stories, and he

demonstrated the learning attained as Crachetís assistant to show her interesting mathematical puzzles.

"See, if I make this grid here where X is the horizontal point, and Y is the vertical, then I make Y=X2 the

equation, then watch. X=1, Y=1. X=2, Y=4. X=3, Y=9, and so on. So you start connecting the dots..." and

he drew a smooth curving shape, the ends flying off the top of the paper. "Itís called a parabola. And you

see this point here in the cup of the curve? Thatís called the focus. If you shot lines into the parabola and

bounced them off the walls, theyíd all end up passing through this point. So you can focus light and stuff

with a parabola. And its structure is stronger than most anything else, so you can use it for buildings,

bridges, sword hilts, anywhere you need a lot of strength. My armourís got parabolic curves on it wherever

possible, for added strength." Tao stared at the paper, fascinated, then kissed him on his cheek(naturally he

was out of his armour. Did you think he wore it 24/7?).

Domingo spent much time playing with Max and Mae, and with Amon, who was starting to show signs of

imminent nesting, knitting warm blankets and pillows. "We donít just sit on the egg," she explained. "Itís

far better to wrap it in warm, soft bedding, so we can make sure itís nice and comfy, not too hot, not too

cold." Domingo dipped in agreement, then handed her some more yarn.

Gong spent his hours with Diane, or with Zylo, discussing nuances of combat applications of Chi.

Occasionally, the two could be seen hurling blasts of energy towards the horizon, with exhalations focused

into roars.

Khris was seen with the Paladins all over the ship. She seemed to be simply flirting more than anything else,

not limiting her attentions to any one of them. When asked, Pelle summed it up. "Sheís cute, and funny, and

perky. Thatís an irresistible combination. Weíre just waiting for her to finally choose one of us."

"But in the meantime, arenít you getting a little frustrated?" asked Max.

"The frustrationís part of the fun." Pelle grinned. "Besides, anything worth havingís worth waiting for."

Anri spent her time studying with Nova. Behind closed doors, where he could keep an eye on her. "You

know, youíre being SOOOO unfair."

"My prerogative. Now pipe down and turn to the next chapter."

"Look. Iím all grown up."

"I hadnít noticed," Nova remarked dryly.

"I can make my own decisions! You are NOT my father." Nova jerked up, and stared at her closely, until

she began to flush and shrink into herself.

"Youíre in the Shining Force, right?"

"Yes. Sir." Anri was much quieter in tone, already regretting her hasty remark.

"Max is our high commander. Maeís the lieutenant and field commander. Iím the flag commander. That

means I outrank you. You still with me?"

"Yes, sir."

"If youíre going to rule Guardiana, you need to learn how to behave. Thatís why you were sent to Manarina

in the first place."

Anri lowered her eyes to the floor. "Yes, sir. But-"

"But WHAT?"

"Why do I have to behave, when everyone else gets to have fun?"

Nova looked at her a moment, then hugged her. "Youíre the Princess. The Queen, once we get back. You

get a lot of privileges, like wealth and power. But you have to pay the price. You have to hold yourself to a

standard higher then that of the others. Youíre going to have an entire nation, and the rulers of the other

nations, watching everything you do. That means you have to be careful of what you say and do."

"But why me?" Nova pressed his nose to her forehead in a lupine kiss.

"Because thatís your destiny. We all have a destiny. Maxí is to be the leader of the Shining Force.

Kochichiís is to develop flight for flightless creatures. Yours is to be Queen."

Anri looked up at him with a little smile. "What about you?"

Nova rolled his eyes and assumed a tragic air. "My destiny is to die painfully of an ulcerated stomach,

caused by the stress of dealing with modern youth." Anri giggled and hugged him tightly.

"I love you, Nova." She whispered into his fur.

"Good to hear it," Nova returned in a voice gruff with emotion. "Now back to the books."

******************************************************************************************

A day later, the monsters attacked.

A wave of the hideous shellfish crawled on board, herded along by two pegasi knights and a gargoyle

commanding a flight of seabats. Hans, from his vantage point up in the lookout nest, and Gong and Zylo,

practicing their chi powers up on deck, were able to hold off the foes until the others could ready

themselves and join the fray. "What about your armour?" Mae asked Max as he rushed in with his steel

blade clutched with a two handed grip.

"No time." And with a powerful sweep of his sword, Max bisected a bat, wading into battle with teeth

bared. Maeís lance, formed completely of the same watered steel as Maxí blade, was more than massive

enough and sturdy enough to pierce the conch shells to the soft vital organs within. As the other Paladins

readied themselves, they too charged out and struck with their new lances, courtesy of Anriís negotiations

with the Chief of Waral. The Gladiators charged in with their axes, taken as booty from the slain Lizardmen

of Elliotís force. The massive blades possessed an internal core of a magical power source, which heated

the blades to a blazing red. Formed of esoteric metals with high melting points, the blades melted as they

cut through shells/bones/armour/any hard substance protecting softer areas. The shellfish proved easy to

kill. But there were so many of them!

Zylo and Gong made use of their developed skills. With a muffled whoof, Zylo slammed a bat with a

concessive wave, shattering the hollow wing bones and dropping it into the sea. Gong caught a knight a

glancing blow to the wing, dropping him to the deck where Guntz paused in the midst of hurling spears at

the aerial opponents to jab the fallen winged centaur once, twice, through the chinks in his armour.

In the course of the battle, Max eventually found himself clinging to the riggings, swiping at the bats, then

up in the lookout nest with Hans, where he provided the archer with close range protection and freed Amon

and Balbaroy to draw some of the bats away.

Then the Gargoyle swooped in on Max. Max readied himself to strike, but the Gargoyle pulled up short

with a flaring of his immense wings, and growled out a quick spell. Suddenly, Maxí vision became clouded.

His sight slowly blurred, sharp images becoming blurred, light become dark, until all he could make out was

vague shadows. The Gargoyle sneered and dove in, knocking Max from the mast. Max desperately grabbed

the gargoyle, wrapping both legs around him and his sword arm, as he grabbed for his knife. The gargoyle

responded by savaging his face and torso with his claws and chest, before Max finally freed his

tunnel/trench fighting knife, and sank the thick serrated blade into the scaly chest. Repeatedly pulling the

blade out and jabbing again and again, the blinded Hero continued to battle desperately until he slammed in

the deck, his fall slowed sufficiently by the gargoyleís wings that instead of cracking his skull, he "merely"

suffered a concussion and several broken bones, as incapacitating as the badly bleeding wounds the

Gargoyle had given him. Itís dead weight lay on top of him, his body too damaged to muster the strength to

shove it off.

Max lay there, his body in excruciating pain, for what seemed an eternity. The sounds of battle roared dimly

in his ears, as though from a far off distance, but he simply lay there, twitching feebly, groaning softly in

agony.

Finally, the corpse was dragged off of him, and concerned voices from a far off place reached his ears.

"Dear God, is he alive?" Mae... Max tried to call to her, but only a moan came out.

"Heís in bad shape. Weíll do what we can." Lowe, Max recognized, and three sets of hands rested on his

body to heal him. He jerked in agony, the touch exacerbating his pain. The pain slowly eased, as the divine

healing power worked on him.

"Stay with us, Max. Donít leave me!"

"Mae..." Max finally managed to whisper. The effort of speaking sent him down a sliding tunnel into

blackness.

As unconsciousness brought him into her merciful anesthetic embrace, the last thing he heard was, "Those

creatures destroyed the helm. We canít navigate..."

*****************************************End of Part 5*************************************

Authorís note: And so Mae and Max finally embrace their true feelings for each other-not to mention each

other. Love is a wonderful thing, and the part of this story I most enjoy writing about is the part where

characters share it. Mere battle scenes cannot compare.

Tao and Guntz seemed like a decent match up. So did Diane and Gong. Opposites attract, you say? In a

sense. Tao is a wizard par excellance, while Guntz is a scientific researcherís assistant with the skills

needed to service and repair his armour. But both are intellectuals, with a love of books and learning. Diane

is a diminutive elf, while Gong is a hulking ogre. Yet both are gentle, kindly souls, with an inner core of

strength and disciplined natures. Like chocolate icing on chocolate cake, two tastes similar yet different,

complimenting each other beautifully, either one incomplete on itís own. And like the dessert, so

wonderfully sweet.

The mathematical discourse was an expression of my belief that authors should attempt to educate,

enlighten, as well as entertain their readers(the three Es). Before I go further on this, let me express my

admiration for Weiila and her incredible stories. Of all her work on RPGClassics, the only one I havenít

gotten around to diving into is "Kain." I admit to some trepidation before reading "Hanging Around," due

to the mention of certain spandex wearing Japanese imported stars of a half hour long commercial, but her

handling of they who shall not defile my story by being named (in particular, their demise) wins her a big

kudos in my book. Her humorous stories are very good, not very many gut splitters, but a continuous series

of chuckles, kind of like the late George Burns. Her serious work, on the other hand, in particular, "Magusí

Quest," highlights my statements. As you read her work, you discover the hidden motivations of the villains,

their drives and desires elevating them above the generic V-title into complex characters that the reader can

truly empathize with. Weiila enlightens her readers as she titillates them, and reminds me of professional

and published SF author Lois McMaster Bujold, who also presents 3 dimensional characters, with both dark

and horrific scenery and powerfully moving dialogues/monologues, and humorous dialogue and situational

comedy(did I mention that Ms. Bujold is my current favorite author?). If Weiila will continue to hone her

skills as an author and develop her own characters(if her skill at handling other writersí creations is any

indication, she should have no trouble on that score), she has a definite future in the field of fictional

literature(this is the same reason I write fanfics myself. Anything worth doing requires practice to do well).

Anyhow. Math is a vitally important skill to develop. Ever hear somebody say, "I NEVER had to use math

outside of school?" Notice how the only ones who make a decent living without sweating their buts off in

the process are comedians of sufficient talent to obtain a role on a sitcom? So I demonstrated a little

example of Precalculus, with some of the applications that result. That little equation Y=X2 and the

Parabola make your life easier with everything from the sturdy arched bridge that bears the weight of

thousands of tons of vehicular mass each day, to the headlights mounted on those machines. And yes, math

is HARD. But it can be fun, too, like a crossword, a maze, or... a puzzle within an RPG?

Anriís antics and frolics with... well, with roughly two thirds of the male members of the SF, are what

happens when children exposed to OVERLY disciplined and regulated lives are suddenly cut free, due to a

parent dying, leaving a school run by administrators and teachers that move one to check the records to see

if the Israelis would like to meet them to discuss their roles during the war, or whatnot. I had a friend whose

mother not only ruled with an iron fist, but actually charged him rent at the age of 17, even as she insisted

on a 9:30 curfew. After her untimely death of a stroke, he became totally uncontrollable, particularly

considering that his father was useless in the child rearing department. At every opportunity, heíd join us for

nights out. And every night after 9:30, heíd become a brooding monster. Eventually, he became less and

less fun to be around, as he became wilder and more prone to do insane things. He simply exploded with the

repressed drives that had been suppressed for so long.

Now Anri, on the other hand, has the good fortune to have a strong surrogate father figure in her life. With

Nova to set the rules with a firm but loving hand, Anriís antics will be coming to an end, as she matures into

a young lady ready for her role in life. Needless to say, Max will be much relieved...

Note that Iím not suggesting that children not be disciplined. All children require rules. And if you say "But

Iím not a child, Iím..." and state an age that ends in "-teen," yes you are. If youíre reading this, youíre

probably an intelligent and thoughtful kid, but you are still a kid. I personally feel that the age of maturity

has risen along with our lifespans and intellectual advancements, that where 13 was sufficient for Bar

Mitzvah, marriage, and a life of grueling labor, 21 is the very LEAST that should be considered adult.

Modern man is a creature of far greater intellectual and emotional ability than his forefathers(as example,

these days the concept of slavery, once considered perfectly natural and vital to the economy, is now almost

universally held to be immoral. Average IQs rose 10 points last century. The only athletic records of

antiquity that have yet to be broken are the long jump records of the Greeks-they possessed strange disks of

stone to achieve distances comparable to modern triple jump distances, and modern athletes are yet unable

to comprehend their use) and as such, requires more time and resources to fulfill his potential. So unless you

have truly despicable parents(not likely, if theyíve given you sufficient time and resources to enjoy yourself

by surfing the Ďnet), donít be too upset when they lay down the law. And once you grow up, you WILL

thank them for it. I did.

Now Khris, on the other hand, with parents both dutiful and loving, has maintained the standards set for her,

refraining from anything much besides occasional flirtations. Thus, no morning after scene for her, and no

hangover(Just because someone makes a toast doesnít mean you have to drain the glass. Wetting your lips is

quite adequate, or even just raising the glass in agreement). And Pelleís statement of "Cute, funny, and

perky" being irresistible to guys, is pretty much accurate. Keep posted to see who she finally decides to

match up with. You may be surprised...

Maxí rant to Kochichi highlights a pet peeve of mine. Everybody has problems. Complaining is one thing.

Whining quite another. Anytime you find yourself overwhelmed by personal problems, check the basics.

Did you wake up in a bed? Did you eat today? Do you have the wealth and leisure to scan a story off a

website with a computer hooked up to the internet? Youíre ahead of about 90% of humanity right there.

And once you break through your doldrums, youíll find that your problems arenít so bad after all.

Kochichiís loss of his flight pack isnít an end to his days as a flyboy. Itís an opportunity to make an even

better flight pack, making him an even tougher combatant.

As a personal example, Iím built along the same lines as Gong. I scare people. Now I could spend time

moping about how I intimidate people without meaning to, jerks assuming that my great size means a lack

in intelligence, and the fact that acrobatics and calisthenics are no easy thing for me (the human form is

most efficient in terms of strength/weight ratio at a height of about 5í4" to 5í6"). Instead, I take heart in

how I can reach high shelves without a stepladder, and being able to use my size and strength to help out

others. And learning to perform cartwheels, flips, and pullups despite being built something like the big

goon Billy Crystal encountered in a Ninja monastery in Florida, in the series "Soap" ("Maybe we should

have left the gun at home and brought the piano..." "Jodie, promise me you wonít fight that guy." "Maggie,

Iíd kill myself before I fought that guy..."), not only is a source of personal pride, but means that I move as

fast as many lightweights, and hit like a sledgehammer.

Maxí terrible injuries received at the end of the story highlight yet another point. No matter how good you

are, youíre are GOING to take damage if you spend a lot of time fighting. The contusions and such of

repeated blows are going to ache in the mornings. The cuts of knife fighting will lead to scarring and

possibly permanent crippling injury. And even with modern dentistry, even if you go to a competent dentist

in Mexico who works for a fraction of the cost of an American dentist, having teeth knocked out gets

expensive... and no matter how good you are, dumb luck, a slippery patch of terrain, a momentary

distraction, a factor that you didnít account for, can mean that you end up taking a fall. Donít go looking for

a fight. Donít push a confrontation into violence. This will leave you more time to enjoy good food, good

friends, and good literature(am I egocentric, or what?).

In our next installment, weíll see the introduction of some new members to the team, further developments

in Maxí little surrogate family, and Iíll even take a swing at humanizing a pair of villains.

Oh, and my E-Mail address has changed. Itís now archone89144@yahoo.com.

Chapter 6

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