And indeed, the ship arrived in time.
The survivors looked up. It was an old wooden ship, and symbols decorated the outer shell.
Ragna looked closer. The symbols glowed in a sickly green light, allowing her to see their forms. Whatever those symbols were, they were not runes. They resembled them, but that was not the Futhark. She had never seen such carvings before.
Did the Eren Archipelago use another language system? That shouldn't be the case. Every nation and kingdom used the same runic letters. Then was the ship from a time when humans didn’t use runes in the Archipelago?
But why would such an ancient ship still be in use? It didn’t look like a vehicle used by the coast guard. For one, there was its size. Even that monster would have problems to envelop it. The mast pierced the clouds, its tip reaching out of her eyesight. And the ship spanned its azure sails like the wings of a dragon. Despite its age, it seemed to be in pristine condition, at least from what Ragna could see. There was no dust, and the wood looked clean.
The ship didn’t stench and emitted the smell of yew.
But what caught most of the attention was the figurehead. A white-clad woman pinned in front of the bow, her arms widened to embrace the moon. Her face was as dignified and beautiful as a goddess. She was white like the winter and white like bones, so detailed that one could think she was made of marble. Even in the dark of the night, one could see every curve of her body and believe she was wearing just satin. Who might have served as the inspiration? Some goddess from the old times, or maybe a real person had inspired her?
And just for a moment, Ragna imagined what it would be like to meet this beauty before her attention went back to the ship itself.
Maybe it was a pirate ship? No. What kind of pirate could afford something like this? Romance Dawn – the great age of piracy – was over anyway. There were no more old-fashioned pirates anymore in these parts of the world. Those still pirating used modern vehicles, and their behavior resembled sea-faring terrorists.
“Quicker than I had expected.” The captain straightened his back. He narrowed his eyes and frowned.
Did he have the same thoughts as her?
Nonetheless, he walked towards the incoming vessel.
The ship let out a bridge that docked at the remains of the cruiser. On the higher end, the captain of the coast guard appeared. Hidden behind a long midnight black mantle and their cap that was too modern for the ship’s aesthetics, Ragna could discern no feature of their body. The guard captain stood there like a statue, and even though nothing was visible, Ragna his gaze pierced her heart.
The first survivors started to board the ship. One by one, they entered the bridge, slandering as if sleepwalking. Perhaps it was exhaustion or the general mood after everything that happened, or maybe…
"Thank Twice that you're here," said the captain. "I don't know how much longer we could have lasted. We need to make it quick. Many of them need proper medical treatment."
Barely recognizable, the guard captain nodded. The captain moved forward when Altera grabbed his wrist. He stopped and turned around.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
Altera gulped. The aura of confidence she usually emitted was gone. She had narrowed her eyes to slits. Her face lacked any ounce of positivity. It was a pained expression that Ragna had never seen on her before.
“Please, don’t go. Something’s not right.” She had reduced her voice to a whisper as in fear the guard captain could hear her.
“Can you explain that?” The captain clicked his tongue. In his eyes was a weird gleam.
Had he hoped Altera's words could provide an excuse not to board the ship and instead stay with the MS Verne?
Altera shook her head.
Unbeknownst to them, the guard captain raised his head. A shadow like a grin obscured his face.
“I…I can’t explain it.” Altera stuttered. “I just know that this ship isn’t safe. If we go now, we will…”
A sigh interrupted the future Valkyrie. The light in the captain’s eyes had vanished, and his arm pointed at the survivors.
“Look at them. They won’t hold out any longer. This is our only chance. In the current political climate, Coast Patrol will not come a second time. It’s either now or never. The Verne will never work again, and…” He pointed towards the broken fennel. “She's sinking further and further. If we stay here, we will drown. That is if that thing doesn’t return. My passengers have made their decision. As the captain, I’ve to be there for them. It is my duty to make sure they reach their destination.”
He looked at Ragna and Eric. “What about you? I assume you'll stay too.”
“I…I'll stay. I think Altera's right,” said Ragna.
If it weren't for Altera, they would have been long dead. She was able to convince the forest god not to kill them, and she had known how to deal with that monster. It might have been luck, she might have an affinity for the otherworldly, or maybe she was just that amazing. After everything, listening to her was the best course of action. And more than anything, Altera deserved their trust.
“We'll stay too.” Grendel leaned against the fennel. His face resembled Altera’s.
Even his hooded companion seemed unwell. In the moonlight and the glowing ship, Ragna could discern the dark-skinned face under the hood. His perpetual frown was more pronounced than usual.
The captain smiled. It lacked all joy, full of fatalism.
But for whom was it? Was it for the passengers, his crew, and him, or was it for them? One of them was going to make a terrible decision, but what other options did they have?
“Then, this is farewell. It wasn’t for long, but it was an honor to travel with you,” the captain said. “Miss Xion, please greet the Mayor in my stead, and tell him I can’t visit Auster this time. I think I'll retire.”
Altera nodded, and the captain let out a fake sigh.
“It's a darn shame. I had hoped I could taste his famous whiskey again. And you.” He glanced back at Ragna. “May you reach the destination you desire, Ragna Griffin.”
Ragna widened her eyes. “How did you...?”
The captain let out a laugh. “That’s a captain’s secret. Let’s just say that despite my age, my information network and I are well accustomed to this modern age.”
“Don’t worry. I think I'll take this little secret to the realm of the dead."
Ragna lowered her eyelids.
“You don’t have to feel sorry for an old man. My travel days would soon be over anyway,” he added.
“Then this is goodbye,” said Ragna, trying to smile. “Captain…” She stumbled upon her words-
She had never asked for his name.
“Dakkar,” said the captain and boarded the ship. “I’m Captain Dakkar.”
The ship pulled the bridge back and sailed away into the distance until their eyes couldn’t see it.
Five people remained on the shipwreck. None of them spoke a word. They just waited. What could they say in the first place? That they hoped the other ship would arrive in Eren? That they had made the wrong choice. Unlike the passengers, they could fight back and find a solution. They had done so in the past, so would they this time again?
Eventually, when the last remnants of the wreckage were about to submerge into the sea, another ship arrived.
Captain Dakkar was right. He couldn't have afforded to wait. Had the passengers waited, they would have drowned. One couldn't fault him for his decision. He had to choose between two uncertain paths.
Unlike the previous ship, this one looked modern. It had no mast and seemed to run on electricity. The sailors on it screamed that the coast guard had arrived, and the five boarded the ship.
“Has the first ship already arrived in Eren?” Ragna asked the captain.
The captain tilted her head and looked at her with confusion. “First ship?”
Ragna’s face darkened.
“Coast patrol only sends one out. This is the first ship.”
Romance Dawn – The great age of piracy that started in 1545AR and ended 1687 AR. It was caused by two events: (1) The weakening of the Vaixian Empire that had been missing their Kaiser for 45 years and (2) the execution of Platine de Vasseur, the so-called king of the pirates. His last words were a declaration to the world to find his treasure. Enticed by the promise of these vast riches many hissed the pirate flag. But the correlated improvements of the marine, and the lack of success in finding the treasure led eventually to its end. Today, only a few are still searching for the treasure, and with most of the world already explored only a few potential locations, like the depths of the oceans, the rising forest or Minanaught remained.