Night fell upon the merchant island of Port Tiburon like a thick and warm patchwork quilt, smothering the large floating isle in a loving embrace as it soothingly dragged it down to sleep. The docks and streets, so crowded and noisy by day, were still and somber, with not a single sound to be heard, save for the hushed whispers of the wind. The many stores and guilds that lined the sides of Port Tiburon's streets sat silently in their lots, doors locked down and the lights snuffed out as the owners laid themselves down to rest. Even the normally rancorous ruckuses of the taverns and inns had all but fallen away to the drowsy tunes of the night, and the patrons and caretakers fell to their beds for a good, long slumber, while their ships out on the docks bucked and rocked softly with the swelling tides. Not a single soul stirred, not a single soul started. All the town was filled with a melancholy sigh of peacefulness.
The same could easily be said for the large and intimidating mansion located just a mile from the outskirts of town, staring over the ports from the top of a high, rolling hill. Silhouetted against the bright white glow of the large full moon, the Vanderdecken Manor loomed majestically over the trading port in silent solemnity. All the lights within the Victorianesque mansion were out, even in the servant's chambers, the hours and the residents far too drowsy to do more than simply drift on through the night. Creaks and yawns echoed through the centuries-old building as it eased itself to rest, soothing all within it to somber slumbers, while it itself nuzzled down into the ground for another quiet night.
However, though all the house sighed in silence, if one listened closely enough, they would have been able to hear the creaking moan of floorboards rebounding through the hallways in a tone far too labored and restless to be that of a settling estate. They rolled down the corridors at a soft and even rhythm, with barely a pause between the creeping creaks. Someone was still awake, and wandering through the moon-washed halls.
A luminous glow of a candle's light slowly pooled into the corridor from an adjacent hall, as the restless rambler edged his way around the corner. With cautious, creaking steps, the young resident of the regal estate sidled along the edge of the wall, gripping the candle with a twitching left hand. The golden light of his flame washed over the boy's anxious face with an almost ethereal glow, lighting up his features in an odd mixture of lights and shadows. No older than seven, the young boy's face was lined in worry and unrest in such a way that only a tireless child could bear. His large, luminous yellow eyes, almost cat-like in appearance, flicked back and forth as he stared down the hall warily, while his messy, snow white hair fell haphazardly into his face with every shake and shudder that ran through his premature frame.
Of course, he had sound reason to shudder so. The young boy trembled slightly as he continued his cautious path down the hall, ears pricked up for the slightest sound behind him. If his uncle or aunt, the Master and Mistress of the Manor, found him up and awake at this late hour of the night, and not in bed, he shuddered to think what punishment would be handed down upon him. Especially if they were to find out where he was aiming to go on this midnight meandering.
The young boy's cautious steps continued to moan beneath his feet as he shuffled along to his destination, forcing a minute grimace to slip onto his face. The muffled groans of the house had gotten to his nerves long ago, and any second now, he half expected to see his aunt or uncle, or even one of the frilly maids or the stiff butlers, frowning down at him as he rounded yet another corner. Sighing, he shook away the foolish worries of his heart and continued his labored journey, until he finally edged his way around the last corridor, and found himself face to face with his target.
The Master's Study.
He was never allowed into the study, he knew that all too well. In the seven years he'd spent living with his aunt and uncle at the Vanderdecken Manor, not once had he even seen more than a winking glimpse at the large, enigmatic room. And now, the restless spirit within his soul that could never be sedated, had dragged him up from his bed and right outside the very study that had, for so long, held an alluring mystery just beyond his reach. All that stood between him and the room now was the large oaken door, with its polished brass doorknob that shone out brightly even now, in the dead of the night. Gulping down the anxiety and trepidation that had been welling up within him now for quite some time, the child reached his quaking right hand up to the shining doorknob, grasped it firmly with his hand, and turned it to its side.
The door creaked open slowly, the unoiled hinges shrieking softly into the muted night. Yet it was enough to make the boy pause once more, ears nearly pointed from strained listening, and whip his head around once, twice, three times more, to see if anyone had heard the noise and risen from their beds to investigate. When no signs of disturbance came to him, the child finally allowed a small, victorious grin to worm its way onto his face, before he disappeared into the dark study, silently shutting the door behind him with a soft 'click'.
The boy could not help but gasp as he stared into the room, the light of his candle casting twisted shadows across the floors and walls, creating a solemn, somber aura that filled the young child with an odd feeling of reverence. In the dim light of his candle, he could see the four fixtures of furniture the office had to offer—three large, comfortable arm chairs that looked fairly well used, though still in great condition, and a large, oaken desk with papers, charts, bills, books, logs, and other seemingly miscellaneous items upon its surface. Shaking himself awake from his trance, the child turned away from the furniture, and over to the decorations that stood upon the walls to his sides, starting first with the nearest one on his left.
The first thing that the boy noticed about the left wall, as he rose the candle in his hand close to get a better look, was the enormous map. It was literally the largest sky chart he had ever seen in his entire short lifetime. It stretched probably five feet across, and three feet tall, and was drawn in such perfect detail that even he, who had very little credible taste in art, had to be impressed. It showed the floating isles that made up the Seven Realms of the New World, from the lush, tropical Camerocco, to the tundra-covered Morozhenyy, to the metropolitan island-nations of the United Isles of New Europe. Each had the major trading points marked for each of the Seven Realms, and pins were poked into each, with red bands of thread looping from one to another, showing the most popular routes used to travel from one port to another, with Port Tiburon's port island having amongst the most threads drawn towards it.
Tearing his eyes away from the sky chart, the young boy turned his attention instead to the rest of the wall, and couldn't help the smile slipping onto his face as he recognised four very distinct portraits surrounding the enormous map. The first two, above it, were of the Master and Mistress of Vanderdecken Manor. The man's long black hair was slicked back pretentiously, while his storm blue eyes burned down on anyone staring at his stern, serious portrait. His wife beside him was just as firm in her portrait, if not more so. Her long, almost unrealistically blonde hair was pulled back in a firm, formal bun at the back of her head, and her amber-colored, hawkish eyes seemed to bear down on the young boy from behind her angular glasses, even from her unanimated painting. It sent shivers down his back as he thought of her gaze on him, and turned to the other two.
The first, on the far left side of the map, was of an unbelievably beautiful young woman with thick, long, auburn-colored hair with honey- and ebony-colored streaks mixing in, worn in a long, thick braid over her shoulder, with her emerald green eyes shining gleefully from behind a small veil of bangs. Directly across from her, on the far right side of the map, was a man with long, messy, careless black hair, which seemed to have a knack of falling down in front of his golden eyes, eyes just like the young boy's. Unlike the couple above them, these two portraits seemed relaxed and carefree, the woman wearing a pleased, toothy smile, while her husband across from her wore a cocky smirk upon his unshaven, unkempt face—a face that his younger brother above him had never made, in all the years the boy had known him. The boy smiled at his father's portrait, and rested his hand upon his mother's as he passed by her once more, before he turned away from the left wall, and walked across the room to the opposing wall.
Like the left wall, the right had many portraits and paintings of unbelievable detail and aesthetic beauty. However, as the young boy raised his candle up to see the images before him, he instantly noted the stark difference this wall held to the one parallel to it. This wall was adorned with the visages of glamorous sky battles and wild ventures; a Stratos Leviathan soaring over a merchant's galleon; a pair of Raider frigates dueling in the midst of a raging maelstrom; a large UINE Marine gunship, smoking and crippled as a single Raider galleon rained hellfire down upon it. The images were so realistic, so precisely detailed, that the young boy could almost feel as though he was there himself. Suddenly, he felt himself wanting to be there, to be sailing with them. He started to walk towards the painting, hand outstretched, as though he could just step through it, like a window, and end up in another world.
The boy would have remained there, staring in awe at the large and beautiful battle paintings upon the wall, until even the morning, had not the winking flash of reflected light in the corner of his eye caught his attention, forcing him to turn his gaze away from the glamorous scenes, and up to another object upon the wall that instantly sent shivers down his back and a thrilling burn through his blood.
Hanging upon the wall, crossed against its sheath, with a wooden base plate behind it to hold it in place, was a large Raider's cutlass.
The boy gaped in awe at the masterpiece of tempered steel and perfected artisan skill that hung upon the wall before him. The sheath of the blade alone was practically a treasure, a pure, deep black piece of ebony wood, with swirling, spiralling designs, much like mist on a cool, summer night, upon the surface. The mouth of the sheath, where the blade slid in, was adorned with a silver cuff about its perimeter, with a small dip on either side, and a similar silver cap on the very end of the sheath. Similarly, the hilt of the cutlass had much to boast over, expressionless and routinely-polished steel with a black leather grip. And the blade itself impressive, with the multiple small bumps and ridges along its flat end, a smoky design melted into the steel itself, and the odd glow of the flame reflecting back at him. However, what truly gripped the boy's attention and held it firmly in hand, was the large, egg-shaped gem that sat at the point the blade and the hilt met. It was a blackish, purplish orb, with shocking red swirls dancing around the outside. It truly was a wonder to behold. He could not help but marvel at it, as if the weapon and its gem held a sort of underlying secret that only he could see, that made it greater by far than any other blade that came before it or after it. He could almost hear a voice, whispering soft words into his ears, calling him towards the blade. Slowly, and without him consciously knowing it, the child reached out with his trembling hand to the worn leather handle.
"I wouldn't touch that if I were you, Nate."
The poor boy's heart leapt up into his throat at the sudden entrance of the cool, rasping voice that came from just behind him. How had he not noticed that someone was up? Or right behind him, for that matter? His heartbeat raced faster, pounding heavily in his ears, and he couldn't help the shrill yelp that broke free from him as he felt a large, firm hand grasp tightly upon his right shoulder. Instantly the boy turned about, raising his hands in front of himself in self-defense, while his head sank down into his shoulders, waiting for the punishment that would surely come.
Imagine his surprise when he heard no harsh, scolding words, but a rich, bellowing laugh he had come to know very well.
"Oh come now, come now, Nate, why so afraid? In the seven years that you've known me, your dear old grandfather, have I ever even once raised my hand in punishment to you? Honestly, my boy, I thought you of all people would know me better than that!"
Nate, the young boy, felt his head pop up out of his shoulders so fast, he thought that it might come off. The voice, the words, still echoing loudly within his skull, he threw his arms down to his side and his candle up into the face before him. A wide grin spread across his young face as he saw not the scathing glower of his uncle, but the wrinkled, greyed, and perennially good-humored face of his grandfather, Stephen Vanderdecken. Almost simultaneously as his recognition of his grandfather before him came the melting away of all the terrible tension and anxiety welled up within him. Grinning from ear to ear, the seven-year-old leapt forward, wrapping his one unoccupied arm around his grandfather's barrel-like chest.
"Grandpa!" he cried in a soft voice, muffled even more so by the old man's chest, "I'm so glad that it's just you! Can you have any idea just what Uncle Danny would do to me if he found me in his room without his permission?"
"Oh, he'd probably just let you off with a warning, Nate," the old man said, the edges of his silvery beard creeping up in a smirk. Still, the young boy shook his head, folding his arms defiantly.
"Says you," he muttered, letting a tired huff escape his lips. The grandfather chuckled loudly, his frame shaking slightly as he settled in his mirth. His chuckles ended with a deep sigh, and the old Vanderdecken man laid his hand on his grandson's shoulder, turning him away from the room.
"Well, let's try not to find out, eh?" he asked in a highly amused tone, half guiding, half forcing the young boy out of the room. The child, however, paused, just before leaving the room, and turned back to the cutlass, and the winking orb in its blade.
"...Grandpa…" Nate began, looking up at the silver-haired elder beside him, "what's so special about that sword on the wall?"
It could have been because of how tired he was, or because of the other-worldly glow of the candlelight, but Nate could have sworn that he saw, just for a moment, a nostalgic glimmer find its way into the old man's eyes, and a small tear form in the far corner. Then, the next second, it was gone, and the man simply rolled back on his heels, sighing.
"The sword, eh?" he asked, smiling down at his grandson. "Well, Nate, that blade happens to be the Raider cutlass Azazel, the legendary family sword. It has been in our family for generations upon generations."
"Well what's so special about it?" the curious boy asked, tilting his head to the side like all children do when they try to make sense of a situation. The old man chuckled and shook his head.
"What's so special about it?" he asked back. "Now that's a story I haven't told since your father was even younger than you...the legend of the family sword."
As soon as his grandfather began speaking of stories, Nate's eyes shone with pure excitement, and quickly the small Vanderdecken boy ran to one of the large armchairs that sat across from the Master's desk, and eagerly wedged himself into the unbelievably comfortable cushions. If there was one thing that Steven Vanderdecken would be known world-round for, it would be his sensational story-telling skills. Some claimed him to be better than the bards of the old world, like Shakespeare, Homer, and J.K. Rowling. For seven years, Nate had listened to his grandfather's stories, and by the way the man was acting now, he could tell the story he was about to hear was a good one.
His grandfather chuckled lowly as he watched the small snow-haired boy sink into the large armchair, and grinning to himself, he shook his head, and sauntered over to the chair beside his. "I see that we won't be leaving until I tell you the legend, will we?" His grandson only settled further into the deep cushions of the chair as he nodded to the old man. Sighing, he sat down himself and ran his hand over his brow, glancing over at the large cutlass hanging beside the both of them. "Well, then…where to start…"
"Long, long ago, long before the age of the grand Sky Raiders, back before the days of the noble Marines, even before the legacy of the Sky Sailing Vessels began, the world was still in one solid form, with much of the land we live upon now firmly anchored to the mainland. The humans mostly lived in peace during this time, busy raising families, making livings, and struggling to keep up with the rest of the world, much like how we are today. Still, every rose has its thorns, and for the humans of this era, that was war. Their vicious, ceaseless warmongering ways would eventually lead to their downfall, of course, as a dark and malicious force from across space and time gazed upon them like a wolf would lambs."
"What was it, Grandpa?" Nate asked, leaning towards his grandfather with widened eyes. The man chuckled at the boy's eagerness and continued.
"It was a Demon, Nate," he said simply, turning his face to the side until his azure eyes landed sadly upon the shining steel of Azazel. "A terrible, uncontrollable Demon by the name of the Dark One, Emperor of the Demons. The Dark One's power was unparalleled throughout all the realms of the universe, able to even contort time and space. And sadly for us, humanity's terribly wrathful ways had attracted his attention. The Demon decided that he would toy with humanity, and with the flick of his wrist, he sent most of the world's land down into the ocean, while the other half of the land slowly ascended into the heavens, where their fragmented islands still float today. Pleased with the chaos he threw us into, the Dark One released his hordes of Demons upon our world, and claimed it as his own. It became his playground, and us, his playthings."
The old man paused, and shook his head. "The terrible chains of bondage were bound about all of humanity for many years after the Dark One entered our world, and many of the Demons he released upon us relished in the endless chaos and fear we brought them. However, there were a few that looked down upon humanity, and was disgusted by what the Dark One had done to the once proud race. One such was so riled by the scene that he rebelled against his brothers and sisters, stole sacred artifacts from the Dark One's treasury, and fell to the world below, searching for a man who could help him defeat the Dark One. He eventually found one such human, a young man by the name of Michaelis Vanderdecken, our great ancestor."
Nate squirmed anxiously in his seat, a giddy grin on his face. His uncle and grandfather had both told him of their shared ancestor before, a proud and fair skyman who had sailed across the vast horizon a thousand times over with his unstoppable crew, the Phantom Regiment, bringing wealth and power to the Vanderdecken name for generations to follow.
"The Demon knew that Michaelis would not aid him on wim alone, though," the grandfather continued, "for his Demon brethren had brought a harsh scar upon history, and forced the image upon all humans that Demons were evil, destructive creatures, and not to ever be trusted. So when he finally came to him, he knew he would have to convince Michaelis to join him. He did this by making an offer he knew the human could not refuse. He had seen the sorry state Michaelis' family was in, wallowing in poverty. The Demon told Michaelis that if he joined with him in the war against the Dark One, wielding the only blade that could defeat the Emperor of the Demons, he would bless his descendants with wealth and glory. Michaelis agreed eagerly, and took the sword with him. After Michaelis agreed, the Demon turned his gaze to his brethren. He could not hope to defeat the Dark One with only one human in tow, and he knew that there were others that could aid him. And he knew just how to convince them to join him."
"You see, this Demon was not only carrying the one blade that could defeat the Dark One, but also the Four Sacred Gems of the Elements, which had given the Dark One his power to control fire, water, earth, and air. The first one he used was the Fire Gem, on a Demon that lived amongst humans at the base of three volcanoes. Using the gem's power for a short moment, he caused the volcanoes to erupt. He then gave the Demon there a choice; take the gem, save his people, and join him and Michaelis against the Dark One; or, let his new home fall to destruction. The Fire Demon agreed, and claimed the power over fire for himself. The Demon repeated this three more times with the other gems, and the three other Demons he saw worthy of wielding their powers. He caused an earthquake to tear an entire island apart, with the knowledge that the Earth Gem would keep the island stable and safe from any other harm. He caused a powerful east wind to send one Demon's home hurtling across the sky, with the promise that the Wind Gem would make it so that his home was never lost again. And, he caused a once lush tropical island to shrivel up and die, knowing the Water Gem would bring life back to the barren land. Each time he did this, the Demons he met agreed to his terms, becoming Demons of the Four Elements. Finally, with his four brothers by his side, and the acursed sword ready to be wielded, the Demon turned his gaze at last to the Dark One."
Smiling, he closed his eyes and leaned back. "The battle lasted for an entire month, and hundreds were killed on both the human's and the Demon's sides. But, in the end, the victor was clear. The Dark One was pushed to his limit, unable to bring so much as a scratch upon Michaelis' form without receiving a wound even worse as payback, and before he could summon his most terrible of powers, the Demon that had sided with Michaelis from the beginning cast the Dark One across the universe, frozen in an endless sleep. With the Dark One's defeat, both human and Demon kind were released from their bonds of servitude. The Demons left the world of the humans, upon the 'gentle' request by both Michaelis and his Demon allies. However, before they left, they handed the sword and the gems to the humans, for safe keeping, and in case such another calamity such as before came upon their new world. Michaelis gladly claimed the sword for his own, and returned to his family pleased. All of the promises the Demon had given had come true; his family was wealthy, the lands he had protected remained safe and secure for years to come, and trouble never again fell upon the world. Humanity was, for once, at peace. And it was all thanks to our ancient ancestor, and his legendary blade, Azazel."
"Wow!" Nate exclaimed once more, as his grandfather finished his story. "That's amazing! I can't believe that we're related to someone so powerful and amazing as that, Grandpa! Or that we have such an awesome weapon in our own home!" As he said that, he turned his gaze over to the blade on the wall. The grandfather nodded, smiling back at him.
"I know…of course, Nate," he added, his smile melting slowly away, "Michaelis' journeys did not end with the Dark One's defeat. He continued travelling the world with a legendary crew by the name 'The Phantom Regiment', as I'm sure you know, the limitless horizon holding too much allure for him now to just pass it by. And someday, you will also be able to contribute to the legacy our great-grandfather left for all of us Vanderdeckens to live up to."
Nate's eyes widened, and he gazed up at his grandfather with excitement glistening in his eyes. "Really?" The old man chuckled and nodded.
"Indeed. Just like Michaelis, myself, and your father, you too will feel the lure of the sky, the adventure it carries. Someday, you will feel it within you, and you too will be unable to stop yourself from going out, and travelling the world in search of adventure." Seeing the ecstatic glow in his grandson's eyes, the elder sighed and stood up. "But that's a ways off still, my boy, and you have more growing to do, so off to bed!"
"Aw, Grandpa!" the boy exclaimed, pouting sadly. The wizened man shook his head, and gently led his grandson by the shoulder out the doors of the office, a small smile upon the both of their faces.
As they left, though, they failed to notice the small, other-worldly glow rising up, off of the cutlass on the wall, a purple mist swirling within the gem within its hilt. Nor did they hear the voice, soft and still, below even the sounds of the creaking house around it.