Dark is the blood that pumps within Shiro’s veins. Darker, much darker is the laughter of evil men with hearts perverted by greed. Dark, a different dark is the night that dawns over King Kolivan's kingdom and all his people. Dark, deep, and hungry are the chopping waves that rock Captain Shirogane’s boat as he voyages coastline to coastline. Dark too are the eyes that watch the water ebb and flow.
Darkest of all are the cries and night terrors that prowl just beneath the black, frothy sea.
Captain Shirogane is not a stranger to terrors, night or day alike. He is not deaf to splitting cries. He is not squeamish to enemy blood running and spilling over his hands. Enemies, he knows no strangeness to, either. Shirogane is long conditioned to the red dripping over his hands and smearing his face; the dripping red that bleeds over the horizon. Deep red was the sacrifice of his right arm; a small price to pay for the security of his people. His sabbaticals smell like the iron of sharpened swords, hastened strikes and blood clotting wounds.
Captain Shirogane lives and thrives for the weeping blood and acid sweat not for satisfaction. Not for the glory for his own sake, not for the medals on his chest or the ribbons on his arm. No, the reason he fights to win and lives to die is singular and simple. For the duty over the people, the loyalty he's long sworn for the king; this is why he fights. Not only is his arm something he’s willing to give. He has long since pledged his entire life for the sake of Terra’s kingdom. The new metal arm isn’t as fluid, but serviceable enough. It lets him continue with his missions.The Captain rises and breathes each day to serve. He lives to defend. He heeds King Kolivan's commands because he knows there is a job to do.
“Captain Shirogane, his Majesty seeks your office most immediately.”
Granted, not all of his Majesty’s commands seem immediately pertinent or logical.
“Just before training?” Shiro asks the frazzled errand boy. Had the Captain been a Low Admiral, he would have pushed harder against acquiescing. Had Shirogane overseen his own fleet, he would have outright refused the King’s summoning. But then, Shiro considers, if he were a Fleet Admiral he would not be troubled with leading training at all.
“His Majesty assures it’s most important.”
“Oh it’s most important?”
The errand boy, only standing as high as the Captain’s chest, nods a frantic head. Only after Shiro hums and sighs in understanding does he scurry away. Shiro commands another Captain to resume the knights’ training regimen, then follows behind the errand boy in a decidedly more sedate pace. He saunters really, watching the boy dash off when they reach close enough to the room near the King’s chambers. He pulls the door open, hardly pushing it closed fully again before addressing matters. The Captain stands by the threshold, bowing his head. Shiro’s voice is low when he speaks, Kolivan’s backside facing him.
“Your Majesty. I was told it is urgent.”
Kolivan grunts. He leans his whole weight on his outstretched hands, bracing himself against his heavy mahogany desk. His fingernails clench into his palms.
“Captain Shirogane.” He sighs deep, expelling his demons in one harsh breath. “It is Lance.”
Shiro gasps. He scorns himself for thinking he could take even a short walk for granted. Every minute hastened to his Majesty’s suite could have been another minute defeating Lance. Another minute gained could have been another life saved. He holds himself straighter.
Shiro dreads to ask, “what has Lance done this time?”
Before he takes two steps towards him, the King holds up his hand. Then, he stretches it out to point towards the windows before them both. Outside the sky is overcast and grey. The clouds are indiscernible from each other, sweeping and whispy. They obscure any pure blue from above. Below, the waters of the coast are just as tumultuous. Testy, Shiro thinks would be a better word.
Tentatively Shiro steps a couple steps closer. King Kolivan is quiet in solemn contemplation.
“Commander Holt has just reported to me another drowned ship.” Shiro doesn’t have the time to feel either shocked or sick before His Majesty continues. “What do you see out there, Captain?”
Frankly, Shiro doesn’t know why Kolivan isn’t asking First Admiral Antok or even Duke Keith that question. He doesn’t even know why he’s in the room with the King, he doesn’t know how this concerns him yet. Instead of paying his ignorance any mind, he answers Kolivan’s question without an angle.
Shiro looks out beyond the window, then to the King to gauge his expression. Nothing is revealed. He looks back out to the horizon.
“The clouds have been grey all day, your Majesty.” He begins. “I see empty waters, harsh waves and changing tides.”
At last, his Majesty King Kolivan turns to look Shiro in the eyes. Cryptic and hollow he asks, “Captain. Look out again.” His tone is far too pointed, “What is it that you do not see?”
“Your Majesty… I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Hmm.” Kolivan holds his gaze sharp out to the swelling waves.
To the King’s question, there are too many ways for Shiro to answer. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He doesn’t see… any ships. He doesn’t see any sky above, any creatures within the sea. He doesn’t see First Admiral Antok, Shiro doesn’t see Low Admiral Thace. He doesn’t see this he doesn’t see that. Whatever is Kolivan trying to imply?
“Do you see Lance out there, lurking beneath the depths?” The King at last folds into the silence. Shiro shakes his head, still ambivalent and remotely confused. Kolivan must notice Shiro’s gaining impatience, so he finally answers the question he’s been asking all along. “You don’t see Lance out there, do you. You don’t see him and his minions sinking our ships. Drowning our cargo. Torturing our people- these are men, women and children, Captain.”
The Captain’s face tightens. He knows all this. He knows all these things well, far too well. He’s never had to see the dead, hollow look of men returned from Lance’s horror; no man has ever returned from it.
The King continues. “You don’t see the blood- our blood, Captain- poisoning and letting in the water. Unless you’re on the very damn ship, you only see what happens that breaks on the wave’s surface. Lance may hide all his doings within the sea, but we must bring him to light.”
Shiro agrees, agrees with his heart and soul and mind and strength. The kingdom of Terra will surely put an end to the havoc and hurt Lance’s madness has caused. Shirogane holds onto this hope every day, every minute and every second. He knows if he doubts it for even a second, a minute, gods forbid a day- it would mean Terra’s ultimate ruin.
Especially when, without warning or inflection, King Kolivan declares “You must bring him to light.”
Shiro nods with full conviction. He watches the King’s eyes watching him. They bear down. Down. Shiro dares to look up. His Majesty’s words finally click.
The hand Kolivan lays on Shiro’s shoulder is far too grave. His eyes too piercing when they look into Shiro. His words unravel like the rope of a thick noose.
“Captain Shirogane. You need to be the one to draw Lance out. You know the seas, you can read the waters. Captain, you know where Lance lurks.” He squeezes Shiro’s shoulder tight enough for Shiro to feel his own pulse. “You know the way to bring Lance to the surface.” Tighter and tighter he presses. “You know the way to defeat him for all of our sakes.”
“I see.” Yet still, Shiro truthfully does not. He is loathe to question the King, but this is an instance he finds Kolivan’s commands not logical. (However pertinent they now may be.) “But your Majesty, why not give commands to First Admiral Antok? Or even Low Admiral Thace? I’m sure Ke- Duke Keith would love to be charged with this mission. They have more authority, they can bring fleets down upon Lance. Since Keith- his Highness is in line for the throne, you could use his title to recruit faster. I’m just a captain your Majesty; how do I have the jurisdiction to bring Lance to justice?”
In response, the King shakes his head. “I do not want fleets reigning over Lance to subdue him. Terra will make more of less. We don’t need stronger, but smarter” he says. “Captain Shirogane, I want you and a small group of men and women to search under Lance’s waters.” With his hand still crushing over the Captain’s neck, Kolivan leads them away from the window. He points to maps, papers and schematics piled on his desk. “You and your team will find his lair, trap him, and kill him.”
Shiro swallows discreetly.
The King asks “Do you understand?”
Captain Shirogane knows it is a request he cannot refuse. “Yes my Lord.” He bows in submission.
“Good.” Then the King finally releases the grip of his palm. However, his gaze is no less repressing. “I know you won’t fail me, Captain. I want quick work made of this. Remember, your first and only objective is success.”
Shiro finishes, “For there is no other option.”
When the King has said his piece he dismisses Shiro from his suite. Bewildered, Shiro can’t help but take a moment to just breathe outside of the room. To gather his thoughts. He measures his heartbeat.
To take down Lance alone. He considers. But I wouldn’t be alone. I would have “a small team of men and women.” Shiro amends sardonically. As he walks back towards the naval yard from which he was summoned, his mind is restless in thought. Continuously he thinks of himself, a simple naval captain, approaching and apprehending Lance in all his righteousness. He thinks of all the men and women that have gone before him, never to be seen again. How their unheard cries are echoing down in the sea’s black depths. Shiro thinks of Lance merciless and blood-thirsty; his heart darker than the waters he haunts.
Would Shiro be among the lame and muted men? Will his cries only reach the surface of the waves, and not the surface of the shore? Would Lance even be so kind as to give death to him in haste?
No, no he would not be. Shiro’s steps are heavy, determined as he walks. He would not give death in any way, for he would not be given the opportunity.
Success. For there is no other option.
By the time he arrives at the courtyard, he already has his mind half-made about his crew. As another vessel anchors down, he approaches a nearby Commander. Discreetly, and vaguely he tells her the news. She nods her head, then hurries away to gather sailors at Shiro’s behest. Then, he waits. On a short podium he stands as people gather. The ships, the training grounds, the docks are all emptied as they swarm towards him. He meets eyes with none of them.
When they right themselves in formation, his mind is made fully. He wastes no breath and minces no word as he speaks out among them.
“Today, I hear of yet another drowned ship taken by Lance’s hand. At this moment he still grows stronger, as he soaks in the blood of knights and innocents.” He glares not into their faces, but into the ashy air above them. “We will mourn, but now is the time for action. Let not another drop of blood shed on Lance’s account. Let not another family lose to the sea’s harsh waters. Let Terra prevail over this water demon which has plagued us for far too long.” The sailors’ attention is rapt. “Let me have a team of men and women among you. I need the brave and the strong, for though we will be few, we will be mighty. Together we will sail out into Lance’s waters, and capture him. Subdue him. Together we will defeat him once and for all.”
Shiro knows that amongst his men, each thinks they are the one to be chosen for his mission. Some faces betray their hope, their expectancy. In others he sees pride or presumption. In even less he sees humility; some, nothing at all. He alleviates their suspicions by calling out names one by one.
From the King’s knights standing before him, Shiro calls out two men and three women. Each one marches to join the line where they stand before the rest. Shiro knows the rest of his crew are not amidst the rest and will have to seek them later. For now he nods to his crew, but they do not nod back. They all wait for his next words.
The sailors simultaneously salute, then disperse.
“You five,” the men and women perk up, still at attention in a line. “To the planning room immediately. Make yourselves useful while I gather the rest of our crew. Dismissed.”
The five salute, scatter, and make haste to their next station. Shiro likewise walks briskly to the last men he needs in his crew. It is a tall order he knows he will ask, but it is a tall order he has been given. He is assured they will see the urgency, and comply accordingly.
High Captain Iverson and High Captain Holt are to be Shiro’s Second and Third mates, respectively. Iverson to keep the others in check, mostly. Holt is to then keep Iverson in check, and help keep the mood light as they sail to their doom.
Shirogane snorts perversely.
Mostly, High Captain Holt’s presence on Shiro’s mission is for emotional support. His (and his son’s) genius strategizing and engineering don’t hurt, either. In another portion of his mind, Shiro also wants to keep a friend close. He hates requesting that the man sail with him to the tides of Hell, but Shiro doesn’t know if he can do it without him.
Besides, the Captain thinks as he hurries to the offices, High Captain Holt might be the strongest asset of the team.
Because out of all of them, High Captain Holt might very well know the most about Lance. Shiro remembers climbing through King Kolivan’s ranks being told story after story of Lance. Fable after fable. At the great dining hall where sailors, knights would come home, barely by the skin of their teeth, arms and hands would gesture wide retelling of The Great Terror Lance. On vessels when Shiro would man the deck, sailors would wear all their bravado as they told how they just barely nicked the skin of Lance’s fin. How his mighty tail nearly capsized the boat, and how the water seemed to cackle in his wake.
Then in the midst of their boasting, Samuel Holt would approach in silence. He would address the mass in nothing more than humility. Sobering were his words and tone. When the sailors returned to their duties, Holt would pull Shirogane aside to dissuade of any tales. He would tell him the truth.
“Long ago,” he would say with tired eyes, “man and water were at peace. Lance lived peacefully below the sea, while mortals populated the earth above.” Shiro believed every word. “But one day, for reasons unknown, Lance became restless. He became angry. Perhaps the waters weren’t vast enough for him, or the shifting blood that runs through his veins became too primal. As a god, the people knew that Lance always was; he was self-created. But perhaps somehow, the magic that made him great eventually overwhelmed him.”
Lance was a god. Is a god, and is a god who holds deadly domain over Terran coastal shores. He appears as a gliding shark with black pointed tips, as well as a man man with azure glow. In either form he inspires fear too archaic and supernatural to comprehend. Shiro has never seen him at all, not in either form. He doesn’t feel he needs to. Not in order to give the respect Lance is due.
“Maybe it was the primal blood which overcame him. It made him bloodthirsty. And because he feels no consequence for his actions, he only gained power.” Shiro said.
“Very true, son. But hear this,” Holt had raised a finger. “Lance is not a man. Lance is not a shark. He is not a simple changeling or fae or goblin or ghost. Lance is a god, Shiro. A master of his own creation; nearly immortal.” He drew a breath. “But only nearly. That, and that alone is our last hope. His near-immortality is our only shot at success. Because of course, there is no other option.”
Shiro does his best to remember every word High Captain Holt has told him. He clings tight to every word of caution, every prudent silence. Overeager and ebullient Holt might sometimes be, but Shiro can’t think of a better person he’d want as his Third mate. The High Captain’s wisdom abounds in spades. Shiro knows Holt is going to be the backbone of this mission.
But just as soon as he reaches the High Captain’s office, he feels another hand crashing down on his shoulder. He’s expecting to see one of his crew mates or even another captain to ask about his orders. The face he sees he doesn’t have the pleasure of recognizing. At all.
Before Shirogane can open his mouth to speak, a red-haired, desperate-eyed man pleads without a word. From his glittering eyes, Shiro knows this man is a magician. From the strength in his arms and the clutch of his fingers, this man has fought for every right he has. By the marks on his face, he less fought for them, more trained.
“Are you Captain Shirogane?” he asks.
Shiro finds his accent unusual, even for a magic-wielder. He nods to the man in reply.
“And you have orders to take the next ship out to face Lance?”
Shiro nods to confirm.
In a tone just short of an order, the man says “You must take me with you.”
This raises the voice from Shiro’s mind. “Excuse me?”
“I am Coran, Astral Magician for King Kolivan,” he explains quickly. “My niece Allura was on the last voyage sent to Lance’s domain. She too is a magic wielder, but has not returned. Under Lance’s power I am most afraid of what will come of her.”
“I see,” Shiro nods once more.
It isn’t enough for Coran, however. He clings tight to the drapes of Shiro’s cape in distress. In a tone closer to begging, he repeats his request.
“Captain Shirogane, I need to be on this crew for your next voyage out. I cannot bear to think of the way Lance might be abusing her magic, if she is even still alive. I will not let myself think of any worse fate that may be awaiting her.”
“Coran. If I may, I-“
“Captain! Please!” He runs his fingers over his full mustache, dragging them across his mouth, then meeting at his chin. “I cook. There’s this goo we magicians like to make. It’s never gotten standing ovations when I’ve made it, but that can’t be helped.”
Stricken, Shiro lowers the hand he’s had raised to High Captain Holt’s door. “Sir… Sir are you-“
“I can help you navigate!” Coran snaps his fingers. “They say I’m one with the stars at this point, what with being in astrology and all that. I’m not just a passenger, Captain Shirogane. I can do a great deal of service for you.”
“Stop, Coran.” Shiro holds out a hand. He takes a deep breath. “I can tell that your niece, Allura, she means a lot to you.” He mutters, “I can also tell you’re not leaving without a yes.” He looks Coran in the eye and gives all the honesty in his heart he’s able to. “Truthfully, I can’t tell you how dangerous this mission is going to be. When or if we find your niece, we will need to prioritize Lance over her. I need everyone to be fully prepared for anything.”
“Aye, aye Captain!” Coran snaps himself into a sloppy salute.
Shiro raises his knuckles to knock on Holt’s door, then turns his head to dismiss Coran. He opens his mouth, but his voice draws short. The man’s skills fully connect with Shiro’s recollection.
“You say you can navigate?”
Coran nods. “Aye. People have also said I make a great mechanic. Coranic is the name that-“
“That's good. You’ll want to be there in the room while we plan our next voyage.” Shiro sucks in air through his teeth. “I hope you understand too, that if you are really deciding to come on this voyage, how discreet the nature of your passage will have to be. I have commands straight from his Majesty. If he were to know a civilian boarded the ship-“
Coran’s face is untroubled. “Worry yourself not about that. ‘Discretion’ is my middle name. Actually it’s Hiero-“
“Well anyway. Besides Captain,” he makes a grand gesture to himself. “I’m not a civilian. I’m a magician. Which civilian do you know that can do this-“ quickly he reaches into a pocket of his hip-satchel. His fingers coat with fine powder, sprinkles some in his mouth, then disappears from sight.
Shirogane has known those with the gift of magic to be wily, but never like this. He isn’t quite sure what to make of the silence; whether Coran has teleported or simply cloaked himself. Shiro gives the moment a little longer to prove either hypothesis.
From the void Coran’s presence left, a soft chuckling bubbles up. Then a snicker. Shiro can see the hall to his left and to his right, but nothing beside him from where he hears the sound.
“You can hear me, can’t you Captain Shirogane? But you cannot see me. My magic can do many things. It will be very advantageous for your crew to have me aboard.”
“Indeed,” Shiro grins. He’s guessing he’s going to have to wait for the man’s spell to wear off, but no matter. He still has the other men he needs to gather in his team. Smoothly he dismisses Coran.
Captain Shirogane deliberately doesn’t think about all the time he’s spent listening to Coran’s beseeching. Instead he gently shoos him away, telling him to meet back at the planning room. When he crosses into High Captain Holt’s office, he hears faint laughter.
“Sir,” Shiro sighs. “How much of that did you hear?”
Holt lowers his hand from his mouth. His voice is laced with a smile. “Enough to hear you have new orders. And that you have an extra crew member to account for. Well done Shiro, for holding out against Coran for as long as you did.”
Samuel Holt laughs. “His magic makes him popular to King Koran. So does Allura’s magic, for that matter. Coran’s known among the admirals for his eccentricities.”
It’s a curious thing. If Coran has talked with the admirals and King so often, why wouldn’t Shiro recognize him? He must have seen him before. Perhaps it was magic.
“But speaking of your orders, Shirogane” Holt diverts. “I’d be delighted to be your second mate. I thank you for considering me.”
Shirogane is ever so glad for lessons in deference and tact. “Actually, sir. I was hoping you’d accept being Third. I’m to ask High Captain Iverson as my Second to watch over the crew. I need you to watch over him.”
At this, Holt laughs out loud. His laughter is deep, choppy and bordering absurd. “Consider it done, Captain. I’ll report to the planning room post haste.”
“Thank you, sir.”
No arbitrary or needy persons approach him when he fetches Iverson. He appreciates his momentary, fleeting reprieve for simplicity. He takes it in spades. When he reports to Commander Iverson his commands, he acquiesces with a gruff grunt. With that, all of Shiro’s errands are complete. He may finally get to work.
The sailors and the captains stand restlessly when Shiro arrives to the planning room, himself. Their energy is like electricity that has yet to be released; static and unpredictable. Captain Shirogane is sure his words will do little to relieve the pressure.
“Thank you all for coming so quickly.” He glances to Coran, “Our additional crew member comes as a surprise to us all,” then back to his crew, “but as a magic-wielder, Coran is serviceable in both astrology and engineering.”
“Astrolo-gy? On a ship? Are you mad, Shirogane? How the devil is astrology going to help on a damn ship?”
“The stars, Sir Iverson-“ Coran explains kindly, “tell me where to go.”
“They ‘tell you where to go’, huh.”
Swiftly, Shiro knows to diffuse them both. “We’ll all have time for questions later. Right now we all need to focus, cooperate, and make every moment count. Every minute spent is another moment in Lance’s favor.”
Swiftly, Shiro’s company is silenced. He presumes to take the floor.
“Now because we are a small team and lack access to a fleet, we need to act with intelligence. Resourcefulness is the main idea. Resourcefulness and… and magic. I am quickly becoming more and more grateful to Coran’s assistance.”
One of the sailors quip, “Do we even get a battleship?”
The Captain shakes his head. “No. I’m sure not. Even if I were allowed one for this mission, I wouldn’t want one. We need all the stealth and surprise we can get on our side.”
“So…” another drawls. “What do we get? How are we going about this? Are each of us putting on our slip seal armor and diving?”
“Shirogane, we’re not taking a damn rowboat.”
“You will agree, a rowboat will beat the slip seal suits where subtlety is concerned.”
“But then how would we communicate with each other?”
“There has got to be a better way.”
“Enough.” Shiro cuts into their bickering as he is reminded that genius comes with a price.
He walks around the darkened room, shuffling around metal furniture and sifting through paper. Shiro clears the table his crew is gathered around, then places colored blocks near his hands. He lifts the red one, and they all observe. It clacks against the hard wood when he sets it in front of him.
“We sail on a cutter.”
“With all due respect High Captain Iverson, anything bigger would be suspect. Anything smaller looks too much like there’s something we need to hide. Which there is.”
At that, Iverson visibly bristles and deflates simultaneously.
“So what are you saying, Shirogane?”
“I’m saying we need to be clever. We need to hold our cards until the very last second. We will sail near Lance’s lair on an unassuming boat. We keep arms to a minimum; as a matter of fact, none of us will cary firearms.”
“No guns, sailor. No lasers.” He stares at her, then to the rest of them one by one. “Not a single one.”
“We’ll best him with the power of teamwork and cooperation. Is that what you’re saying, Captain?”
“If you weren’t so smart sailor, I’d be less disinclined to agree.” Shirogane fights the temptation to rub his temples. “What I’m saying is that we’re going to take every advantage we can get. Smaller vessel. Weapons downscaled. I’d go so far as to say I want everyone out of uniform.”
“What about the slip seal suits? Do we go without those, too?”
“No, you’re right.” Shiro creases his brows. “Where your civilian clothes overtop your slip uniforms.”
“That way we can conceal more equipment underneath.”
Now, this time, the Captain’s smile is genuine and proud. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
All too soon, Iverson crushes the momentum he’d been building with his crew mates with a sour word. “I’m still not wrapping my head around your wanting to sail in completely defenseless. No guns? Where is all your sense, Shirogane?
Patience has never been Shiro’s greatest virtue. He exercises it most on Iverson. Now, it is thin and terse when he affirms, “we would not be defenseless, Sir.” He asserts his case. “Each one of us would be good to remember that Lance is a god. How is he to be defeated by guns of mortal hands? With weapons forged by mortal fire? We’re not fighting fire with fire, here. We’re facing magic. That means we have to fight magic with magic.”
“Thankfully we have someone who knows all about that now, right.”
To be perfectly frank, Shiro’s getting tired of his crew mate’s lip. He knows if he keeps them much longer it’s just going to cause more animosity. He tries to conclude their meeting quickly.
“It seems we’ll be drawing on Coran’s resources much more than I though.”
“So how do you propose we apprehend Lance with magic exclusively?” High Captain Holt asks.
Shiro thinks a moment before he responds. “I propose we sail in under the cover of night. Cowards though it might make us, it could be our only chance to trap him.”
“Our only chance at success,” Iverson admits.
“For there is no other option.” The knights agree.
Quickly they discuss necessary supplies they need, detailed times and the vessel they’ll use. Each crew member agrees upon their role, and decide to embark in five days. The planning adjourns and they all dismiss. After a quick salute, Shiro’s crew runs to their next stations and leave him with a choice.
Absolutely, Shirogane can choose to follow his own orders. He can wait for the end of the week, then dispatch with his team in united vision. He can wait. He can affirm his patience. He can, and he may.
Or he can and may not.
Captain Shirogane may say enough of his patience, enough of the wait. Shiro can think of all the lives lost, all the families torn and ask why anyone should wait a moment longer.
One option seems considerably more selfish than the other, but in the end, it is his choice. Shiro must choose the path to success.
High Captain Holt was the only one Shiro trusted enough to tell the message. Holt knew him enough to know better than to restrain him, but always pointed him in the right direction.
“Are you sure you want to do this, son?” He asked hesitantly.
“I feel like I need to do this,” earnestly Shiro answered.
“Then I know I cannot stop you.” Holt’s smile was tired. Thin. Knowing. “But I urge you to think of the rest of your team. Think of the duty you were given. What of Iverson? And Coran, he’s depending very much on you. So are the rest of your crew mates.”
Shiro shakes his head. “I need you to tell them where I have gone, Sir. I apologize for putting this on you, but-“ then he bites his tongue. Shiro cannot ask for that particular favor; for Holt to tell his team where he had gone should he not return. Shiro will return, and he will return victorious. He amends his favor. “But I also will need you to tell them when I return. If after 3 weeks I have not sailed back to the dock, proceed with the mission without me. For the safety, hope and future of Terra I must go. And I must go alone. I hope you understand.”
“I do. Or, I will try to.” Holt slaps Shiro on his back, nudging him towards the door. “But Iverson will not. Go before he catches word of your plan. Pray you return unharmed before the King hears word, as well.”
“Thank you, Sir.” He nods briskly to his superior, then walks away before another moment does.
Two days before his team’s scheduled sailing to apprehend Lance, Shiro embarks in their stead. Armed with potions in every hidden pocket, spells nearly spilling over the corners of his satchel and humbling himself to the oldest of his trousers and cloaks, Shiro is assured there’s not a peril for which he did not prepare. He makes it within his conscious thought that he’s prepared enough to assure his safe return.
The naval dock isn’t empty in the early morning dawn, but not nearly as hectic as the withering afternoon. The two days before Shiro was supposed to leave, he pats himself down again after he leaves Holt’s quarters. He gives minute nods to knights and captains as they pass. Once they do, he sets to work in preparing his own vessel for departure. He packs it full with rations overabundant, clothing and orbs he’ll need for air helmets.
By now, goodbyes are not too sentimental for Captain Shirogane. Although, he doesn’t regret not giving one to his crew. It’s for their own good and Terra’s that he’s going before. In his head he knows he really should wait, but his passion has outweighed and overrun his logic. It has made him forget his receding patience. He reasons that if fleets and brigs before him have not won, then a new tactic must be employed.
In truth, Shiro isn’t commissioning himself to seek and seize Lance. With what Shiro’s planning, he’ll be surprised if he even comes into contact with him at all. For this personal venture, all Shiro wants to do is learn. He’s done with hearing second-hand accounts from proud men and self-seeking women. The few books written about Lance are thin, angry and slap-dash at best. They write him as only the terror he’s caused, not the god that he is. While Shiro knows Lance’s doings are terrible and many, he still wants to let Lance plead his own case. For this mission, Shiro sails to learn.
That is why when he unties the ropes binding him to the dock with his natural and Altean arm, the most dangerous weapon he keeps on his person is an enchanted diving dagger. (While his Altean appendage is charmed, its employment will hopefully not be necessary.)
The previous day he approached Coran wanting to know protection spells and other incantations he might need to ensure safe passage under the waves. The magician said he’d “do him one better”. Eagerly Coran had returned with pots of dusty powder, then sat them both down. Meticulously, slowly, archaically, Coran painted runes across Shiro’s arms and back. He promised they’d help protect Shiro from the dangers below. That they helped channel the moon and the wave’s harmony with him.
It all felt beyond his understanding, but now as he unravels his mast and sets into the waters, it’s like he can feel the rippling tides course under his skin. If he reached under his tunic, he would feel the runes’ warming glow.
The shifting waters take the Captain from the dock out to shore. Then from the shore, he’s pulled to the sea’s open waters. The transition is both gradual and immediate. It’s as though one moment he’d been walking from Holt’s quarters, and the next, he’s sitting in the midst of the endless blue of sky and water. Or rather it would, had not the sun’s passing forsaken the time.
Out in the lawless waters, Shiro knows he is tempting fate. With only the runes humming across his body and the potions secured around his hips, the man has never felt more vulnerable. It could be that on a ship this small, he feels the waves more acutely. It could be that by hovering so close to the water’s surface, he can smell the salt more distinctly. He wishes he can hear Lance more sharply.
When he has sailed to the open waters, where the blue stretches to all directions endless, cloudless; where the blue threatens to overwhelm and blue is the only thing he sees- he knows this separated from populace, no one will be able to hear his screams.
Bearing that in mind he pulls out an air helmet orb and wraps the magic over his head. He lowers his little vessel’s anchor for however much good it can do, then slips into the cold waves without another thought.
Cold are the tumultuous waves that wrap Shiro under. Cold, and thick like sludge does the water feel as it crowds over him, sucking him to the sea floor. Colder still does he keep his reason, his anger, his passion. Captain Shirogane does not seek his vengeance now, just the eradication of his ignorance.
Cold and dark are the creatures Shiro dreads that circle beneath.
The pale water is lightened by the accosting sun above. Its rays pierce into the surface of the water, so Shiro doesn’t have to waste another spell simply wandering around.
Reconnaissance, his mission is. For right now the semantics are lost to him, and he couldn’t care less.
The only thing he sees to the right and left of his periphery are groupings and groupings of seaweed. He sees cliffs of sand gently caressed by the saltwater, but not enough to misplace their grains. The sun’s light streaks glow beneath, the haunting emptiness illuminated more. Shiro sees empty water. Amidst the blue shifting around and the green swaying slow, he expected schools or packs of life to make themselves known. They must be wandering the same, just like him. But they are not. Not as far as Shiro can tell. The emptiness prevails.
It is the water’s emptiness that makes him most suspicious. Had he felt hunted or stalked he would know to flee, but this unknown gives him little to prepare for. In the emptiness he is given no hints towards Lance’s inner lair, so he draws upon flashes of maps he’s memorized for this very occasion. The coldness seeps into the joints of his right arm and shakes it away. He dives deeper.
Shiro doesn’t know how long he’s been swimming. He’s too deep under the water, he doesn’t want to waste time swimming back to the surface to track the sun. Neither does he exert overwhelming energy in his arms or legs, choosing to let himself float.
It must be the beginning of the second hour when he finally feels another presence. He doesn’t hear any echos or swishes near him. He feels the stuttering vibrations in the water. Shiro treads in place. Then, the creatures rush him.
Two things Shiro sees as he turns himself around. The first being the shocking cyan of the sharks’ eyes. Lance’s minions, Shiro knows. The second thing Shiro notices are the rows and rows of yellow teeth in an opened, red jaw. They open straight towards him.
Having no time for a spell, Shiro evades. He quickly exhales, then holds his body like a pin to drop beneath them. He kicks his legs with all his might. He pulls his weight with all his strength. Not daring to look behind him, Shiro darts away from the pursuing sharks as fluidly as he can, hoping to afford just enough distance to swallow some invisibility powder.
The sharks pursue.
Shirogane cannot dare to out-swim a creature whose home is the very water he violates. His feet nearly slip into the open jaws of the reef sharks. Lance doesn’t show his face, but his influence is all around Shiro as his sharks wind around. The Captain knows better than to think they’re hungry for Terranian blood, but all the same, they look… hungry.
In his blind, silent panic, Shiro doesn’t notice the direction the sharks have been leading him; back to his own vessel. He doesn’t see the upward arch they’ve been pushing him. All he feels and all he sees is his pumping heart against white, bubbling water. His hands grow sore from the waves he has to distort. All he sees is the thin opportunity to make his final escape.
Desperate is his reach to his satchel, reaching into an arbitrary pot and praying against all hope it’s the magic for which he seeks. Shiro dips two fingers in. Before the salty water can dissolve it, he lets the powder absorb on his tongue. Never does he stop swimming for a second. But then, before his shock can even enter his mind, the thrashing of tails ceases behind him. Shiro dares to turn around, slowly. He bobs in place. The sharks circle around the space he last occupied, wondering where he’d disappeared.
Shiro knows the sharks aren’t stupid. They can smell him, his very fear floating towards them. They just cannot see him. Shiro has not a moment to lose. He dares a thorough glance into his satchel, swallows homing powder to return to his vessel, then rows away as swiftly as he can.
The royal dock is all a frenzy when he returns. He would have thought for a royal naval Captain his return would have been more auspicious, but not a single felicity is spared him. Third Mate Holt is the kindest face when he secures his anchor, but even then, Shiro wouldn’t say his face is that of kindness. High Captain Iverson and the rest of Shirogane’s crew are pointedly scowling. Still, he cannot find the remorse or contrition from within him.
“Hello, crew.” He nods quickly to them. “Debriefing in 10.” Shiro privately delights in their aghast faces when he strides past. “Dismissed.”
10 minutes is only just enough time for Shiro to pace to his quarters, change out of his diving uniform, then walk to the planning room. It’s the only time he’ll allow for himself to let his mind spiral. When 10 minutes conclude, Shiro knows his mind must be resolute.
It’s not time to search and to learn. His steps back to the planning room are heavy and echoing. It is time to capture and apprehend.
Within 10 minutes, Shiro makes a new plan to defeat Lance once and for all.