"...Slade..."

Groaning, he regained consciousness, but just barely.

"...Slade, hun...wake...up!"

Being shaken sideways, his grasp of awareness finally came about.

Finally opening his eyes, he stammered, "Mmmm...Good morning, Missa." He shifted his blank stare quickly to the roof, then back down to the face of the dark-skinned girl hovering over him, several locks of her long hair tickling his cheeks. Stretching, he took a deep breath in and out, almost symbolic of his new day.

Missa stifled a laugh. "Good morning?! The sun's almost overhead," she exclaimed, playfully yet disapprovingly nodding, as she returned the large smile on Slade's face. "You poor boy...You'd better get a move-on, before we'll have to say 'Good evening'!"

They both laughed as she took a step back, allowing him to rotate his prone body sideways and lean forward into a sitting position. Rubbing his closed eyes thoroughly, Slade reached for his torn white shirt upon the foot of his bed, which managed to evade his grasp several times before he was able to slide it on. Finally ascending to a standing position, he followed Missa out the door of his "house", which resembled a hut more than anything else.

Slade greeted the 'morning' sunlight with squinting eyes. "So, what's the news today," he asked Missa, in an almost declarative manner. As he finished his pseudo-question, she quickly spun around to her right, long chestnut hair dancing behind her motion.

She said, hesitating, "Earlier there were some ships near the horizon...definitely the first we've seen in a while," as she scanned the edge of the ocean, eventually fixing her gaze on the aforementioned vessels.

However, the last statement only scarcely permeated Slade's hearing. He seemed to be thoroughly immersed in the concept of taking in his surroundings, a ritual he exhibited nearly every day since he had washed up on the island three years ago.

The island, appropriately enough dubbed "Island" by its twenty-three human residents, existed right in the middle of a quite docile portion of the sea. The wide variety of vegetation that thrived on the island provided them with a sizable supply of food, more than enough for their needs, left alone with the prospect of the many types of fish populating the waters surrounding Island.

Slade's mind continued to wander. As he glanced toward the sun with his eyes, his mind glanced toward the fact that, in his years living on Island, the skies were always full of sun; it never, not even once, rained or snowed, or even became cloudy.

Turning to the north, he examined the only other piece of land visible for miles. It, just like his home, was a small, isolated island; however, unlike his Island, there was a quite abnormal phenomenon present. On the other island, a massive, frenzied pillar of water existed, always being pulled upward into the skies by forces unknown. At its vanishing point, an equally mysterious, eternally lingering halo of clouds seemed to merge with it. He didn't know a single thing about the island aside from its perceptible features, and, he honestly had no problem with that, either.

Turning to his right once more, his mundane ritual abruptly ended when he took notice of the ships Missa was discussing just moments ago. As he watched them in motion, fragments of the comment he nearly ignored seemed to finally surface into his mind. The seven ships, barely visible from afar, took on a blackish hue and apparently were headed due south by southwest.

Having finally taken notice, Slade turned toward Missa, who, about as clueless as he was, returned his shrug. They, however, would not let a number of ships halt the progress of their day, and, much like the rest of Island, resumed their day as normal.

For a few hours, the inhabitants of Island resumed their "work" as they did every day. Of course, though, on a lazy republic of twenty-three that was already well-taken care of, there wasn't much to actually labor over, so for the people, "work" at most entailed physical fitness and the occasional job that needed to be done. For Slade, his "job" today found himself somewhat sparring, as he usually did, with his somewhat close friend Ent. Both of them wielding what appeared to be bamboo sticks roughly as long as they were tall, they exchanged casual conversation as they fought for whatever they were imagining was on the line today.

"So, Slade, what do you make of those ships?" Ent's overhead swing was deflected by the tail end of Slade's pole.

"I don't know...To me, they're just oversized boats. Why do you ask?" Evasively spinning, he took Ent's legs out from under him with a fell swoop.

Ent quickly rolled out of the way of any possible follow-up to his adversary's offensive, rising safely out of harm's reach. "Well...Do you find it odd, by any means, that we haven't had any sort of naval vessel pass by here for years?"

"Well, I guess that's kinda odd...But that's probably just a coincidence." They both stood in combat-ready position, but neither made a move.

"I don't know if you've been up long enough...Heh...But, they've also passed by several times...It seems like they're circling around us." Ent planted his pole vertically into the sand, officially standing down.

Slade did the same. "They're probably just interested...Well...That's today...The other island...You know...It's not exactly something someone besides us would exactly see every day..."

"How do you know? I've lived here my whole life, and you practically washed up here without a brain. As far as I'm aware, nobody here knows what the world outside of our own even looks like."

"It was just a guess, I suppose."

"Well, I don't know, though...Those ships seem mighty suspicious to me...That's just my thoughts, though."

"Yup...your thoughts." Ent rolled his eyes in response, a smile cracking his face.

Slade idly pushed his pole over with his foot, dry sand flying upward. At that moment quite large wave rolled into the corner of his and Ent's eyes. Avoiding the relatively immense cold of the ocean water, they took a few steps north, away from the tide, and their eyes both seemed to catch simultaneously on the same thing.

The ships were heading toward Island.

With no one but the two of them even present on that half of the island, Ent began breathing more intensely. Slade, on the other hand, remained calm, and looked simply glanced over towards Ent. "Go tell the others that those ships are coming for us." Ent looked back at Slade, almost failing to comprehend Slade's words. Slade's expression changed from a blank form to a sterner one. "Now!"

Ent nodded and ran off. Slade simply looked again to the southern shore, awaiting the oversized boats. The sun to the east was just beginning to sink below the horizon, and the darkened western skies were illustrating that. Slade stood adamantly for what seemed an eternity, as the ships closed their gaps with the tide.

As Slade's hair, the same brown hue as Missa's, blew in the breeze, he stared down the mechanical adversaries approaching him, noting there was currently one less in their numbers than before. Almost zoning out in his thoughts, he slowly drew in a deep breath and released. "Please...None of this...Not again..." he whispered to himself.

Ent dashed back to Slade's side of the island, the twenty-one others alongside him. Every single one of the others lined up, unsure of what to make of the situation, as they stared silently and intently at the ships they were completely foreign to.

The first vessel finally plowed through the mud as it washed onto the shore, instinctively inclining many of the Islanders to take a few steps back. Slade remained adamant, his left hand starting to form into a fist.

A few moments after the first ship had come ashore, a loud clanking sound permeated the air, amongst the random chatter of the ship's inhabitants, and a massive door on the starboard side of the ship seemed to unfold outward and just fall onto the wet sand. At the same time, a ladder fashioned out of ropes was thrown over the opposite side of the deck, but as with the large door, no one seemed to come out.

Moments passed, and the collective heartbeat of the island's populace rose drastically as the air filled with tension. After what seemed to be an eternity, a figure dressed in ebony and crimson colors emerged from the door in the side of the ship. As he walked down the door's incline and then toward the Islanders, several of his men, all dressed in gray and black, emerged similarly but formed a single-rank line down the shoreline instead.

The crimson colored man, a sword at his side, began to speak. "I am Commandant Anro of the esteemed Platinum Edge fleet. Amongst our travels, we seem to have fallen off course, and we are demanding your directions to the Port of Stlein."

Slade had opened his mouth to speak but Mannes, the Island's leader (solely based on seniority), stepped forward and cut him off. His voice boomed, "We know nothing of this 'Stlein' you speak of, and certainly we would not enlighten complete strangers such as yourselves. Who are you, anyhow?"

Anro snorted to himself, taking several steps forward, sand splashing around his feet with each step. "Never heard of Stlein...No...Wait...You have never heard of Platinum Edge? Tell me, old man...Where do your loyalties lie?"

"Loyalty? We are simple residents of the republic of Island, and our loyalty, if one would even call it that, lies with the land here...no one, and nowhere, else." As he finished that sentence, the other five vessels touched shore, but no movement was seen on any of them.

"Hah...Republic of this "Island" you speak of? As far as we are concerned, this place is nothing more than a lazy community of castaways from the real world. If you possess no loyalty to the true great power of this world, then perhaps we shall have to instill it in you."

Mannes nodded disapprovingly. "There is a fine line between what you call 'loyalty' and what others call 'blind trust'."

Anro looked about, and took a couple of steps backward. Drawing in air, he began speaking loudly enough as if to alert the Islanders and people aboard the ships, "This land shall be annexed in the name of the Empire Durein!"

"Like hell it will!"

With one backhanded swipe, Anro knocked Mannes sideways onto the bed of sand. Mannes closed his eyes tightly, a look of discontent inhabiting his face. Slade's anger finally started to get the best of him, as he lunged forward and swung his arm at Anro, who instantly leaned backward to counter his motion.

Anro continued to make his proclamations. "As my first action as the founder of this island, all able men will be conscripted into the army of Durein effectively immediately, either by our force or by their own intelligent choice!"

Slade stumbled a bit as he regained his focus and rose up. "Then just bring it on...Anro," he said, with a mocking tone in his voice.

Missa cut in. "Slade, be careful! For these guys, fighting is their lifestyle." He nodded in acknowledgement, a beaming smile upon his face.

Anro ran backward, motioning towards a few of his soldiers. Three anxious men carelessly dashed into battle with their adversary of unknown power. As Slade and his enemies came almost face to face, the three men drew their weapons of choice. One used a pole-arm, while the two others both used broadswords.

The man with the most evident range advantage led the assault. Swinging the pole horizontally as if to try and penetrate the heart area with his radiant blade, Slade carefully, hastily reversed that plan. Dashing under the weld between the pole and the blade itself, he seized the blade in momentum, flipping around it and snatching it from the soldier's very hands. As he did so, he pulled the pole inward and spun around, hitting the now defenseless men squarely in the ribs with the blunt, side end of the blade. Upon impact, the soldier fell to the ground, to meet his good friend Mannes, who was now sitting up and witnessing watching Slade do battle.

For the occupants of Island, this was unlike anything they had ever seen before. Slade, a quite able man in his own respects, had never went this hard or fast on anyone he was training with, for such an occasion as the one he was engrossed in now. His true potential, until now, was unknown to both his "family" and the foreigners he was engaged with, and only the man fighting truly knew how hard he could go.

Slade held the pole-arm aside, his own forearm and wrist nearly coiled around the portion that was to be handled. A second man predictably moved in for the offensive, swinging his sword wildly but in a controlled, perhaps even choreographed, manner. As he drew his energy moving the sword into an overhead slash, Slade evaded and held the rather weak portion between the pole and the blade, right into the aerial path of destruction. As he did so, the blade was freed from the pole itself, and he now possessed his favorite weapon, a simple pole.

Now mounting a two-way, yet very nonviolent assault with his now bladeless pole, he struck both his opponents simultaneously, cleaving the first man right in the neck, and debilitating the second with a kick to the kneecap. As they were both falling, at almost the same rate, he spun around and reversed the pole, striking the other, rather shortchanged, man right in the back portion of the spine.

In less than fifteen seconds, Slade had crippled three "professionals", all without a single injury. However, too far gone into the focus of combat, he failed to notice more soldiers charging toward the area behind him. Unlike Slade, his sparring counterparts were failing miserably doing battle, some without weapons, and some with only the hard bamboo rods, succumbing miserably in a clash with a sharpened metal weapon. His friends Ent, Ry, and Mokken had been similarly disabled in combat, now being held at the point of a sharp object. Anro simply smirked at the work all but three of his men had accomplished.

"I'll break it down for you, son. There's hundreds of us, and frankly, if we had just you as a soldier, we'd be much better off...That's to say, we can easily do without your three sidekicks there that I can dispose of at any moment. So...How about you drop your weapon and simply climb aboard the ship, and we'll do you the luxury of leaving your friends alive?"

Slade deliberated. "Please...No violence. I'll do what you say, just leave them alone." He dropped his pole, and just a moment after, was blackjacked by the blunt end of a broadsword. His vision went blurry as he was being dragged away, with his three friends, into the ship.

Missa ran forward to his aid. "Slaaaaaaaaaade! NO!"

Two soldiers grabbed her from behind and held her back, dragging her the other way, to another ship completely.

Slade felt quite dazed from the last blow and, legs retrieving splinters from the door he was being dragged through, he finally blacked out.