Nathan reassured the sailors as “The Tempest” embarked into the heat of the massive naval battle. The Calican forces were able to work together to frequently encircle the enemy ships, unload their cannons, and sink them whilst withstanding the enemy’s barrage of cannon fire, despite the undead “healing” beams sent out by the enemy’s flagship “The Tombstone”. After a lengthy firefight, it became hopeful that the day could be won by the Calicans….assuming someone could board the enemy flagship to take out their leader. Of course, Nathan immediately volunteered his ship for the glory (or certain death), while Belcoot’s vessel “The Adversary” and the remaining ships protected “The Tempest” and held off the remaining enemy fleet.
Kao-Tsu, Nathan, Talia, Vivian, and the crew fought wave after wave of skeletal and zombie sailors as they fiercely cut their way to the stern of “The Tombstone”. Finally, they found their foe. Kao-Tsu recognized his enemy’s familiar profile as he leaned cockily on the mast. "I knew you were behind all of this…Han Li!" the tiny monk exclaimed angrily. A crackling purple and red energy scored across the menacing face and body of the undead martial artist. Han Li cracked his knuckles as his eyes narrowed.
“Kao-Tsu. You and your friends killed me once before. Now is my chance to hurt you…by taking out those dear to you!” While pulsating magenta power, he struck a vicious blow to Nathan’s midsection, and the fight began.
The four surrounded Han-Li, executing the deadliest of attacks in sync with one another. Their opponent was faster, stronger, and far more capable in comparison to the last time they had fought the monk. Somehow Han-Li was able to shrug off their attacks and turn their status effects upon whomever attacked him! But still, even after fighting the aquatic ghouls who inhabited and powered Han-Li’s undead form, the party proved too much for his stamina. The altercation came down to one blow between Han-Li and Nathan….and as the noble fighter crushed his enemy’s shoulder with a surge and sent him staggering to the ground, Kao-Tsu had realized that his best friend had set Han Li in the perfect position for his final super special move. Kao-Tsu felt the reassuring glow of Master Fong’s presence within him, and he knew it was time.
“Ten Dragon Strike Technique!!!!” Kao-Tsu roared as he jabbed pressure point after pressure point onto Han-Li’s demonic form. The evil monk bellowed in massive pain as he crashed to his knees. The amaranthine energy whirled about his body in an uncontrollable frenzy. “Nooooooooo!” he screamed as his body burst apart at the seams and exploded into light particles. Vivian and Talia shielded their eyes as they gazed back to where Han-Li’s body had been standing, only to see the glowing figure of Kao-Tsu, standing as tall he he could, in triumph over his arch enemy’s final defeat.
- * * * * * *
With the death of Han-Li, the battle was soon won! “The Adversary” was able to sink “The Tombstone” and the paltry remaining ships of the Nightmarescape retreated into the darkness as a cheer rose from the Calican fleet. The captains of the ships all met on “The Adversary” for a massive celebration. A toast was given by Belcoot to their victory and to the sailors who gave their lives for the good of Calica and the free world. As they split up the treasure from the plunder, Vivian’s eye was caught by a glittery tiara. “Pretty!” the dark eyed pixie exclaimed, as she shrunk the crown to her size, snatched up her prize, and flew away quick as a whistle before anyone could deny her. She spent the rest of the evening zipping between the dancers and enjoying the succulent taste of Goo’s inebriated donations.
Meanwhile Kao-Tsu was thoroughly enjoying his night snogging his girlfriend Lun Raftfleet when halfway through the evening, a tipsy Logg Raftfleet stumbled over to his table. “You! Boy,” he lisped, “just what exactly ARE your intentions with my daughter anyways? To marry her?”
“Uhhh…..well yes, most likely eventually, maybe” Kao-Tsu darted back at the sailor.
“Well,” Logg replied, “you’ll have to beat ME in a drinking contest before you expect that to happen!” With that he slammed onto the table the largest pint of larger Kao-Tsu had seen all night.
“Oh that’s it, bring it old man!” Kao-Tsu laughed. And as they drank the night away, so ended Kao-Tsu’s memory of the night. Neither party could recall who won the contest the next morning. Which was probably all for the best.
As the night wore on, elsewhere Talia sat in a corner darkly illuminated by candlelight. Wine glass in hand, she stared at the letter that had been delivered to her prior to the battle. “To my daughter Talia” was all the envelope said in the familiar curly handwriting of her father. Her gaze bored into the letter. “Something bothering you?” Nathan asked as he slid into the seat next to her.
Talia took a breath and her eyes fell as she spoke. “My father….he had this delivered to me before the battle. I haven’t read it yet. I’m afraid, Nathan….of what it says. I almost want to rip it up before reading it. But yet….” Her dark eyes clouded over, and she looked at Nathan. “Please Nathan. Read it for me. Just….tell me if it has anything of value. It hurts too much to read it myself. Please?” Nathan looked at Talia solemnly. He nodded as he tore open the envelope’s seal and read its contents. He stuffed the letter into his pocket and paused for a moment before speaking.
“Talia. What do you want to do after this is over?”
Talia blinked in surprise. “After this is over? Next is the Shifting Sands, and we have to find the location of…”
Nathan cut her off. “No, no no, I don’t mean after this battle is over. I mean after the WAR is over, and after we’ve cured your curse, and after Calica is restored, and all is set to right in the world. What do you want to do?”
Talia shook her head, trying to even imagine a world without the war. “I guess…..um….I guess….I just don’t want to be alone.”
Nathan softly gripped her by the shoulders and he looked directly into her eyes. “You’ll never be alone again.” With those words, he bent over to her and together they shared a tender first kiss.
- * * * * * *
The day after the celebration, a great flapping was heard. Everyone ran to the upper decks to see none other than General Lang astride his giant Roc. When they filled in the details of their glorious victory, instead of joy, his face reflected great fear. “We need to get to Raftfleet. Post haste!” Lang ordered. To the confused faces around him, the intelligent Zartinian explained that he believed their success in battle was a diversion from the REAL threat, back in Sternberg! With little to no troops left at home, the capitol of Raftfleet was a sitting duck for the Shifting Sands army. Richard Bishop and Nathan exchanged a glance with one another. If the strategist was correct, then many innocent civilians were in grave danger. The fleet set sail immediately for Sternberg.
Even approaching the floating city, the Calican armada knew they were too late. Smoke rose from the region and the city was still aflame in many parts. Noises were heard as they came closer….the despairing cries of broken men. Once ashore, the party immediately headed toward the home where the Bishop family had taken up residence. Richard ran inside the gutted building, and his wails of sadness that followed were unbearable to hear. Nathan stood in a coma like state, mouth agape at the destruction that surrounded him. The party cried in silence together as they took in the horror of the scene.
Later, as Kao-Tsu and Talia and Vivian pulled themselves together somewhat, they were filled into the details by Tifa Lightbringer, who had managed to save many of the children of Sternberg by taking refuge in Hazarath Nor. Not only was Lang correct, but the army of the Shifting Sands had specifically targeted to kill the children and women of the town, while leaving the men alive but injured. The enemy was looking to cripple the morale of the army. And as they heard the desperate screams around them, Kao-Tsu realized that they had indeed succeeded. Talia snapped in anger at General Lang, blaming him for not realizing the enemy’s plot sooner, and she she stormed away, kicking rubble as she went, her eyes burned with tears at the tragedy they had all suffered.
Still in shock, Nathan wandered into the house. He searched for any tokens left that could remind him of his now dead mother, sister, and brother. After affixing the tokens to the inside of his shield, he set about his next task. From the ashes of the house, he spread the sot onto his shining silver armour, blackening it with the embers of remembrance. He repeated this process for hours until the armour was permanently sooted. The deaths of his family would never be forgotten, and his enemies would quake in fear at the sight of the man who now knew unforgivable pain and loss.