Chapter 1: Times Change

The kingdom of Greymark stood watch over the lonely Western Seas from the largest island in the Sky Rock archipelago, far away from civilization and many of the troubles associated with it-its people content and wanting for nothing, for the sea, forests and fertile land provided ample opportunity for any person to make a living for themselves if they were willing to work hard. Greymark Castle was built on the top of the highest cliff, overlooking the ocean, too high to be reached by cannon fire; its stone walls built to withstand the strongest of hurricane winds. While the islands of their archipelago were not the biggest, they were still some of the loveliest in all of Atrimus, with dense forests filled with plenty of game and deep valleys abundant with sparkling spring water. Villages mainly dotted the coasts, though occasionally a hamlet sprouted at the foot of one of the archipelago's plentiful mountains. No one was too poor, and only the royal family could be considered truly wealthy, but everyone was happy. In a world of nations far more powerful than it, Greymark had managed to dig itself a place that no other could hope to take from it. What kept such a small kingdom afloat was the expensive export that only they had the market on: a special type of magnetic metal that could be used to make the most expensive and fail-proof compasses the world of Atrimus had ever seen. But the size of the main island, and its distance from other major ports acted as a natural defense against all who would try to conquer them and their metal. It also seemed that the Sky Rock archipelago was protected by supernatural forces that no human could hope to overcome on their own. Storms constantly rolled across the middle of the Western Seas, with winds so strong even the most accomplished of weather mages could not control…unless they were Greymark natives. Rumors were also abound of horrendous creatures who kept lairs in the area where the storms seemed to rarely form, ones impervious to all forms of weaponry both conventional and magical, and many a vessel was lost to them…unless under the guidance of a Greymark navigator working charms known only to natives. Where had these hardy folk learned such tactics? From their ancestors. But before them? No one remembers.

Greymark had been ruled by the namesake clan for centuries, starting out only as a small group of settlers lead by Orindian Greymark leaving their home island of Rhune (the third largest island-nation on Atrimus) to avoid a tyrannical king and his nightmare tax laws. They hadn't been expected to survive for long, but the discovery of the magnetic metal now known as grey-iron, quickly allowed them to build a respectable colony. Orindian Greymark was quick to establish and corner the grey-iron market, not even allowing outside observers in to see the mines and how they worked. Miners were sworn in with an oath to never speak of their methods or about the things they found inside the mines, leading to outsiders speculating that grey-iron was not simply an ore found only in that part of Atrimus, but perhaps some kind of magical item produced by otherworldly means that the Greymark colonists had merely stumbled upon. Spies unnumbered were being sent constantly to try and infiltrate the mines and businesses dealing with the ore, but most would not return from these missions. Those that did could mysteriously not remember what they learned, if they had really learned anything at all.

And now, in the year 1269 of the Common Era, two hundred years after the founding of the kingdom of Greymark, one Alphis Greymark rules the Sky Rocks with the adoration of all his subjects and the respect of the Atrimus Merchants League. His ships are the finest, his wind-weavers the best and his soldiers are like finely sharpened blades, known around the world for their ferocity and tenacity in battle (not that there is much for them to battle nowadays). His family stands strong, his eldest son only a few years away from being ready to take a bride, and already the people of the archipelago begin their preparations for the Betrothal Feast, raising the fattest cows and pigs for slaughter, and using the best land available for farming vegetables specifically for the feast. Even the other countries of the world, so vastly different from Greymark, have begun grooming their noble daughters in an attempt to gain the prince's favor.

This tradition is old, even for the world of Atrimus, and one that is dying out as well. For Greymark is the last kingdom in all the Thirty Seas of Atrimus, the rest having fallen to rebelling subjects or traitorous advisors. Revolution has wrecked the waters over the last three decades, shaking the very foundation of society as globalization from new technologies becomes more and more prevalent. But Greymark clings to the deep-rooted ways, their wealth allowing them to remain however they pleased.

The doors opened slowly with only the slightest protest from the hinges, causing Grand Admiral Viermont to swivel his chair around to face the arrivals. The framed picture of a middle aged woman and a pair of teenage boys wobbled as his considerably sized stomach knocked against the edge of the desk. He reached over with a pudgy hand to steady it. He then turns it back around to its original position: facing the wall.

The Grand Admiral took a deep breath and looked to the new arrivals and found the words of a half formed cordial greeting dying on his tongue before they leave his mouth. These were the mercenaries he was expecting, no doubt, but he had unsure of what to expect of them. But whatever those expectations had been, they certainly hadn't included the sight unfolding before him now. A large man, perhaps one of the tallest he had ever seen, with an unruly head of grey hair, an eyepatch and a nasty looking bastard sword engraved with orange glowing runes hanging on his back stood in the doorway flanked by a young man with the body proportions of a scarecrow, wearing a metal harness-leather jacket hybrid and goggles with tiny antennae coming from the upper corners and another being with a severe limp wrapped in heavy clothing and wearing an overly large wide-brimmed hat whose only purpose was obviously to hide their identity.

Hironimus Viermont forced a pleasant smile and stood up, leaning heavily on his desk to do so, "Well, well, you must be the mercenaries I was told about. The…Bronze Dragon Company, yes?" His round face stretched as the smile grew wider, toothier.

The man with the eye patch stared silently, blankly, with his good eye, at the Grand Admiral for several seconds without saying anything. Only when the admiral's smile melted away did the man with the eyepatch answer, "Yes." His teeth flashed briefly as his lips curled back with that single, sharp word, showing deep yellow stains beneath a barely contained moustache.

The young man in the goggles stepped forward, his eyes looking larger than normal thanks to the thick glass of the goggles, "Ahem, yes, we are they." His hands trembled and his eyes twitched between his own boss and the admiral as he spoke, "This is our commander, Harmond Aelar, and I am his second in command Berith Lariet, I also act as the Lead Navigator for our fleet. This heavily dressed fellow over here is the leader of our ground and boarding parties, you may call him Yarbip, if you find yourself so inclined to address him." The man in the heavy clothes shifted his weight from one foot to the other, grunting a greeting Hironimus did not quite understand. "We came with our Master Engineer, Jules Ramon, as well, but he…prefers to not be a part of these kinds of negotiations." Berith spoke quickly, as if he had given this speech more than a few times in his career, but did not stutter or fall over himself. "Our tactical officers remained on board."

"You have more than one?" The Grand Admiral asked, it was highly unusual for an independent fleet to divide an important duty like that.

Berith smiled sheepishly and shrugged, eyes darting to his boss then back to the admiral, "Mmmmm, yes, kind of. Sort of." He didn't offer a further explanation and the admiral didn't pursue one, because in all honesty he really didn't care all that much.

In the shadow of the hallway behind the trio something moved and made an audible, high pitched whirring sound. In the dimness, Hironimus saw a young man, about the same age as Berith he guessed, standing and facing into the room. The look of this youth caused Hironimus' heart to splash down in his stomach and send a wave of nausea in return. This short haired man was more metal than human, his eyes were obstructed by black-glass circles and only his nose was visible above a metallic shell that covered his entire mouth and extended halfway down his throat, with holes around where his mouth should be, and from those holes ragged breathing could be heard. On his back, the source of the whirring-a pair of long metallic arms sprouted from his shoulders, one ending in a four pronged claw and the other a nasty looking drill. They bobbed up and down like a kraken's tentacles as the metal man stood completely motionless.

Berith followed the old man's gaze and let out a nervous laugh, "T-There stands Mr. Ramon." He took a step forward, drawing Hironimus' attention once more. "You…called us here to discuss our payment, and what it is we're supposed to do exactly."

Grand Admiral Viermont pulled his attention away from the whirring horror in the shadows, his eyes falling on the bespectacled nervous wreck before him, "Ah, yes. Yes, right. We've already wired half of your payment into your accounts, with the other awaiting completion of your contract. You and your fleet will assault the Sky Rock archipelago and kill the Greymark royal family and all who inhabit their castle, down to the last child."

Berith raised his hands, index fingers extended, "That….that is one of the things we wanted clarification on. You see, everyone knows that Prince Yuron Greymark is preparing for a Betrothal Feast and…"

Hironimus interjected, "Of course, but that shouldn't be a problem. You will carry out the operation before the first of the potential brides appears for the meetings." His grin returned, looking much more sinister than before. He was used to his underlings, and even his equals, cringing at that expression, but none of the mercenaries before him showed even the slightest disturbance. "I am not the only one with a staked interest in this operation, you see, just the biggest share." He sat down again, his bulk straining the chair as he leaned back, "Just get in and out before any royal convoy arrives. You're the best money can get, right? You should have no problems."

Berith's eyes narrowed and he licked his lips, "This brings up our second concern…" he took a step to the side.

It was finally Harmond Aelar's time to speak up, "We will renegotiate the contract before we go." He spoke flatly, his voice deep.

Hironimus tilted his head, eyes narrowed, "Excuse me?"

The one called Yarbip laughed loudly, it sounded like the strained screams of a drowning man, and in a tiny opening between the scarf and large hat a pair of golden colored eyes with slits for pupils glimmered; Berith rubbed his hands together, rocking back and forth at the waist ever so slightly, his magnified eyes transfixed unblinking on the admiral's face; finally, Jules Ramone stepped into the room, his black eye-glass shining beneath the yellow-white electric light as the mechanical arms bobbed up and down at a faster pace than before, like a pair of snakes.

"The amount of work you're making us do doesn't match up to the amount of gold you're paying us," Harmond said, taking a step forward. "We will renegotiate now, and you will comply with our demands."

Had the admiral been talking to anyone else, he would have exploded in a fit of rage, but something about the mercenary leader's stance-back straight, shoulders up, his one good eye smoldering (and the sword on his back)-pushed his aggressive nature down, unsettling him to an unfamiliar degree. There was no doubt in the admiral's mind that the mercenary would have no qualm killing him if he wanted to.

"A seventy five percent pay increase should do just nicely," Berith said, clacking his teeth together audibly. He produced a ledger from the back pocket of his jacket and held it out for the admiral to take, "Just acknowledge the transaction with your signature, transfer another twenty five percent to our accounts, and we'll be as right as rain."

That's when Hironimus noticed the air around Harmond's sword, it was distorted, like a great heat was coming from the blade. The runes were pulsating with a foul energy the fat admiral could feel down to the marrow in his bones.

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, "I-I will not be intimidated. We can take away what we've already paid if you aren't satisfied. You are replaceable." The admiral looked past the mercenaries to the door to call for his guards but he saw they had already tried to enter and had been stopped dead in their tracks by Jules Ramon, whose gleaming metal hands were now around their throats.

Yarbip stepped forward, and from beneath the clothes rose two green scaled claws. They slammed onto the desk hard, sending pictures, papers and the desk lamp flying in every direction. The only thing that stopped the admiral from screaming was the combination of shock and disbelief.

Gently, while smiling maniacally, Berith set the ledger down for the admiral, conveniently placing it between Yarbip's yellow claws, which were beginning to dig into the wood of the desk. "Sign. It." The bespectacled man said flatly, the little antennae of his goggles now glowing blue with building electricity.

Quinn Belmont strolled along the beach in her formal travelling attire, a black leather jerkin with matching pants and a pair of boots that would, hopefully, last her through the harsh training of the next few years. Waves laced with white foam crashed upon the shore, washing away her trail and causing her to have to dance back and forth along the shoreline while keeping her attention on the horizon. The cold, salty wind blew around her face and along her neck and ears, causing her to shiver. It was a new sensation, she had just cut her dark red hair short enough to fit the military training school's standard-much to her mother's chagrin, "You have such beautiful, soft hair, and now it's all gone!" she cried. A worn scabbard at her hip swung in time with her steps, inside it an old sword forged by her great-grandfather, thought it has never left its scabbard. She squinted, shielding her eye from the glowing mid-day autumn sun that defied all the clouds attempts to cover it.

The girl was specifically looking for the small fishing boat belonging to her family. Her father and eldest brother had taken it out early that morning, before she had gotten up, to check the traps from the previous night, hoping to find them filled with plenty of crabs. They did this even knowing this was Quinn's last day in Trailmar, that she would be gone on the afternoon transport to the main island where she would spend the next three years in a school, training to become part of the Greymark military.

Quinn wrapped her arms around herself as the strength of the chilly wind increased and the grey clouds finally blotted out the sun. Despite the weather, this was her preferred time of year. The changing of the colors and cooling of the near unbearable sun, mixed with the occasional thunderstorm, instead of the hurricanes of summer, was her favorite. The smell of the fireplace and hot chocolate as the family gathered around the radio for the annual spooky story programs was an annual affair that created lasting memories for Quinn every year that should would remember for the rest of her life.

From behind her, from quite a ways away, came a voice, "Quinny!"

She turned to see her mother, Cera, and little sister, Aria, coming down from the cliffs to meet her. During the brief distraction, an unnoticed wave crashed against the shore and crawled up to lap against the toes of Quinn's boots. She let out a surprised cry and leapt back.

Aria, an energetic six year old with freckles and red hair like her sister, came running up, laughing. After catching her breath she spat out, "Did you see Daddy and Elrin yet?" She let out a yelp as the wind kicked up again, setting her dress flapping wildly in every direction. Quinn noticed she was carrying the toy sword their father had crafted from driftwood when Quinn was Aria's age, almost thirteen years ago now. It was well used, the handle having to be replaced so many times over the years that each new one was now just tied onto the bottom with a length of hemp rope, the "blade" had somehow remained intact, but notched from fights with trees and rocks and, on rare occasion, an older brother.

Quinn shook her head, lips tightened to make her mouth a small line in her face. Her mother said, "They'll be back before you have to leave, dear-heart, I'm sure they're just late because the traps are overflowing. Today is a very special day, and I know that they wouldn't miss it for the world. You know it too, in your heart."

"Maybe," Quinn said, her heart only a bit more at ease from her mother's reassuring words and the sight of Aria carrying her play-sword.

"Until then," her mother took her by the hand, "Come inside so you don't catch a cold."

So back home they went, up the winding wooden stairs, through the rough, grey rocks of the grassy cliff, granted only a brief reprieve from the late autumn wind. A white flag planted in the ground at the top of the stairs was flailing wildly by the time they emerged and Quinn's mother said she could smell the rain coming. She was rarely wrong when it came to inklings concerning changes in the weather. Across the browning field they went, to the single two story home with the painted red roof and white wooden walls.

In the screen backdoor Quinn could see her second oldest brother Olly standing with his arms crossed. "A call just came in from the dock," he said as the others made their first steps onto the back porch, "Said that the transport is going to be late, that the weather-weavers are having to work overtime to delay the storm so the engineers can place fresh charms and wards on the boats."

Quinn sighed, "It figures this would all happen on today, of all days." The screen door swung open just in time for her to step in. She pushed passed her brother and made a bee-line to the living room, where she flopped down on the couch without even bothering to unhook the blade from her belt.

Thunder rolled in the distance and the sky darkened even further as the cloud cover thickened. Cera stood at the back kitchen window, overlooking the ocean, with her hands twisted up in her floral pattern dress. "Where could they possibly be?" Aria looked at her mother with increasing concern, little eyebrows held aloft, her thumb instinctively going into her mouth as she huddled closely against Cera's legs.

Olly stood next to the couch without sitting down, his arms crossed across his chest, "I've made beef stew for lunch, Quinny. Do you want some now that you've got some extra time?"

Quinn looked up at her brother, "No…no, I'm too nervous. But you could…" she turned her gaze to the overly large device on the other side of the room, "Could you turn on the radio for me?"

Olly sighed and ambled over to the yellow and brown metal box that was almost as big as their refrigerator. With one extended finger he flips the single brass switch that brings the whole thing to life with a click followed by the soft hum of electricity flowing through the vacuum tubes. Quinn thanked him as he passed the couch to make his way back to the kitchen.

It took a few seconds for the radio to warm up, and for several more after that there was only static. But the static slowly began to give way to the monotone voice of a man reading the day's news.

"A category one hurricane suddenly appeared off the northern coast of Sky Rock almost an hour ago," he began before being interrupted by ear-scratching static. Quinn frowned and was about to stand to go give the radio a smack when the man returned, "-orts indicate that the royal weather mages are having a bit of trouble keeping the storm in check, a rare—but not unheard of-event, which history indicates may end up in substantial damage to the archipelago if conditions do not show signs of improvement, whether through aeromancy or natural causes."

Hurricanes were nothing new to the Sky Rock folk, many of the elder generation still venerated them as portents of a great oncoming change. Quinn had always seen them as an inconvenience, something that stopped her training. While she thought sitting around in the dark with candles, reading and talking with the family because the power as out was kind of fun, she still would have much rather been out and about running and climbing. Plus, there was the inevitable debris washed up on the beach that made it dangerous to walk around in the sand without shoes for a few weeks afterward.

Quinn sunk back into the patchwork couch, gazing at the ceiling and half tuning out the reporter who moved onto local affairs, which consisted mainly of agricultural news and reports of grey-iron output in the half dozen mines that littered the archipelago. One of the bulbs on the ceiling fixture blinked, once and done. Her mind drifted to the anxiety dream she had the previous night, one of the rare dreams she could actually remember. She had nearly missed the transport to the main island and, after arriving, suddenly couldn't remember what she was supposed to do. And she had forgotten all of her luggage. And everyone there was better than her. She shook away the memories and turned to lay on her stomach, burying her face in one of the handmade pillows.

What was a few more hours when she had been waiting for this moment for as long as she could remember? The life of a trapper was not one she had ever wanted, like so many of her relatives—not that she faulted her brother Elrin for wanting to continue the family business. Nor did she have any interest in being a farmer or a forester or a miner. From the moment she accidentally discovered her great-grandfather's blade in the attic, the same boredom filled summer evening that she had her father make her the toy sword, she had wanted to be a soldier. So she had taken to honing her athleticism by practicing daily whenever she had free time, with whatever she could find in the natural environment around her. She swam (a natural thing the inhabitants of Atrimus were practically born doing), ran through fields and forests, and climbed the cliffs around her home religiously. Often times risking her well-being to complete her self-set outlandish goals to the horror of her parents and siblings. But she never hurt herself…too seriously. When her eighteenth birthday came around, the recruiter for the Greymark military came around (after receiving a flood of letters from Quinn) and she passed the physical and academic tests with flying colors. And now, four months later, an almost out of season hurricane had come to delay her dream for Gods knew how long.

A half garbled commercial about joint ache cream came on just as the smell of the beef stew wafted from the kitchen and was now spreading across the whole house. Despite her earlier denial, Quinn could no longer put off eating before leaving and this was as good a time as any to give in. With great effort, she lifted herself off the couch and dragged herself into the kitchen, where her mother still stood at the window, but her siblings had moved to the table with little porcelain bowls filled with steaming stew. Aria was loudly shoving spoonful after spoonful of the stuff into her mouth as Olly watched with a twinkle of pride in his eyes, even though Aria's appetite and nondiscriminatory practices when it came to food were well known. Such food appreciation, on both sides, was a familial trait of the Belmont clan.

Quinn had just moved to the boiling pot, finding that her mouth was watering, on the stove when Cera suddenly cried out, the noise she made so loud it almost cause Quinn to trip headfirst into the cabinets, her honed reflexes letting her catch herself before tipping over. She turned on her heels and was at her mother's side in a flash. Olly was on his feet, ready to move while Aria had frozen solid with the spoon in her mouth.

"What?" Quinn gasped, putting a hand on her mother's shoulder. A second ticked by and down at the beach she saw the beginnings of a disaster.

The family boat, having missed the island's dock by about three miles, had run aground halfway up the beach, a large hole ripped in the front of the hull. From the ship one figure supporting another emerged and began hurrying up the path towards the wooden staircase. Quinn was out the door before Cera could utter a word of protest. Rushing off again to face trouble head on.

The wind had picked up considerably in the twenty minutes that had passed since she had last been outside. She shielded her eyes from dirt and sand that had been kicked up and was now buffeting her, threatening to blind her. The shelter of the staircase was welcome and she practically leapt down them to arrive at the bottom at the same time her brother, Elrin, carrying their father, arrived at the bottom. Quinn nearly screamed when she saw the condition her father was in: the entire top of his head, which he kept shaved since he started going bald, was covered in deep cuts that look suspiciously like claw marks.

Elrin was bleeding from his own cut, on his forehead above his left eye, just obscured by his shaggy hair. "Help me get Dad inside, Quinny, there's a bad storm comin'," he said gruffly, and Quinn slipped under her father's free arm to help lighten the load. They arrived at the top of the path just as Olly was about to come down. His mouth fell open at the sight of Elrin bleeding and their father half-conscious but no words came out.

"Go back and open the door!" Quinn barked and her brother bolted away. Then to Elrin, "What the hell happened?" she was shouting now as the din of the wind grew louder, almost howling.

"We'd pulled up a bunch of the traps," Elrin began, wiping away some blood trickling dangerously close to his left eye, "Was a good amount of 'em in there, too, the little red buggers. We were about to get the last of 'em and the wind started blowing really hard, almost overpowered the engines so Dad kicked 'em up to full. The dang thing is getting old, so there was all this smoke coming outta the top, but we couldn't stop and then suddenly, when we were about a mile away from the docks…" he paused as they reached the back of the house. They helped their father up the stairs onto the porch and Olly propped the screen door open for them. Elrin continued as they moved their father to the living room couch, "Then something hit the engine propellers, something big and heavy. There was this loud bang and the whole dang thing almost came out of its rigging. These big cracks appeared and the whole boat started taking on water. Dad put the 'mergency tape over 'em to stop the leaking, and looked over the side and saw some kinda big thing swimming down in the water. ;Big and dark' he said, and then it looked up at him with 'yellow eyes and smiled' at him with giant fangs like this," he opened his mouth and traced out the fangs with a finger, each one about as long and thin as a fillet knife.

Quinn watched with horror and disbelief, "But…you had the charms on right? We just had them renewed last…"

"I know!" Elrin almost shouted. He lowered his voice to a whisper as Cera and Aria scrambled around to get their father comfortable and his wound patched up. "They were there," He stopped talking and knelt down so Aria could lift up his hair and wipe away the blood and clean the cut with a damp cloth. She had a brave face, but Quinn could see her little hand trembling. Elrin watched as the little girl rushed out of the room before speaking again, "Dad said they must have been something else. Something not from our waters, and they were in some kind of horrible frenzy. Then they hit us again, Quinny, as the engine was about dead, and I fell and whacked my head on the edge of the live well, and Dad almost went overboard. Quinny…something grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to pull him under, if I hadn't been there he never would have made it back. I grabbed the gun from under the wheel and shot at whatever had him."

Quinn listened the best she could, distracted by her panicking mother's crying at her father's side. Aria was still grimly running back and forth from the downstairs bathroom with medical supplies, the first aid kit itself too heavy for her to carry on her own. Olly was at the telephone, screaming into it at the doctor on the other end, begging him to brave the storm and come down from the village to the house-no doubt the storm was interfering with the lines.

"We should get you down, too," she said finally, taking Elrin by the arm, "Upstairs and into your bed for some rest. You did well, brother." She took a length of bandage from Aria and wrapped it around Elrin's wound.

Elrin smiled at her and gave an understanding nod. With a quick look at his father, who had come back around fully now, he headed upstairs.

Olly slammed the phone down on the receiver with a loud, and oddly musical, clang and leaned against the wall in exasperation, "I think I got through to the doc, despite all the damn cutting in and out. They'll be here in a bit…I hope." He moved across the room to check the front door, which was rattling in its hinges. He pushed on it to make sure it was secure. "Dammit all."

"Language." Aria called out in a shaking voice, from her position near her resting father's lacerated head.

Cera was in the process of cleaning out the cuts to her husband's head when Quinn knelt down next to her. Cera's eyes were red from crying, but she had ceased the open sobbing and was soberly tending to her husband's wounds. "Look at how pale he's getting." She whispered, Quinn barely able to hear her.

Edward Belmont was indeed far paler than could be considered healthy, veins all around his skull and down to the tips of his fingers had become visible, having turned a disturbing shade of purple beneath his flesh. His eyes moved rapidly beneath closed lids, and his breathing was loud and ragged.

Quinn knew that he had been envenomed by whatever attacked him. The kinds of creatures that swam around not only the Western Seas but the entire oceanscape of Atrimus were dangerous on multiple levels. So of course there were all kinds of cures out there, the only question was which one was it he needed. Sweat formed in thick beads along Edward's face, the cloth Cera used to wipe them away barely able to do its job. Quinn turned her face away after noticing a bit of whiteness in the depths of one of the wounds to see Aria staring wide eyed at their father, tears welling up in the corners of her forest green eyes.

Their eyes met and Quinn reached out to take the medical kit from Aria's hands, but she turned at the hip to keep the bandages and disinfectant out of Quinn's reach, "I can do it," Aria said quietly, averting her eyes. But Quinn persisted, reaching around her sister to first take the translucent blue bottle of disinfectant. Aria made a sound of protest and grabbed for the bottle but Quinn had it out of her reach before her fingers could even brush it. "Quinny! Stop it!" She reached again and Quinn took the bandages out from under her little sister's arm.

Aria squealed, frustrated, but Quinn handed the things to her mother so she could use both hands to hold Aria away, "That's enough, Aria. Mom can handle it, okay? Mom can do it." Aria howled, the tears no longer hanging in her eyes, but now streaking down her face in thick streams. Quinn engulfed the flailing child in her arms and carried her away back to the kitchen, where Olly joined them.

Quinn sat at the kitchen table with the cooling bowls of stew with a sobbing Aria in her lap. Outside, rain had begun to pour in tandem with the wind, which blew the doors of the open windows back and forth violently, causing them to alternately bang hard against the sides of the house and the window glass. The glass was thick, built to resist storms such as these, but even they wouldn't last long against the unsecured wooden doors.

"I'll…go close those," Olly said without looking at his sisters. For a brief second, the back door opened, but that was enough for a wave of rain to get in on the tiled floor and make Aria cling to Quinn. Struggling against the wind, Olly managed to get the windows closed right and while the whole process took thirty seconds he returned soaked completely to the bone. "It's getting wild out there," he gasped, taking off his shirt and wringing it out like a dishrag over the sink before dropping it in.

Twenty minutes, and a much stronger storm, later, there was a frantic knock at the door. Quinn, having long since sent Aria up to her room for a nap, rushed to the front door and threw it open. The island's lead physician, Dr. Rumin, had braved the hurricane to help. The older man had grown up as a close friend of Edward Belmont's, their own parents were friends as well. Though their lives went two very different paths, things between them had changed very little. Now Elrin Rumin was at Edward's side, a scope in his hand to observe the exact nature of the cuts, his accompanying nurse already preparing a catch-all anti-venom.

"Your dad's a tough ol' bastard," he said to Quinn, preparing to stitch up one of the more shallow wounds on Edward's head. The nurse handed him a towel that smelled heavily of disinfectant and he used it to wipe around the edges of the wounds. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed, making the lights flicker on and off again.

"I'll get downstairs and prep the generator," Quinn said, more than happy to leave the physician alone to his work, though Cera was sitting in a chair in the kitchen in just the perfect spot to be able to see into the living room.

The weather was muted in the concrete room bunker that was the Belmont basement, shelves lined the walls, stacked with cans and jars of preserved food with barrels of fresh water stacked in one corner. The generator stood by itself against the wall opposite the food with three 5 gallon cans of whale oil stacked next to it, the fuel it needed to run. She tested each can's weight, choosing the lightest one to fuel the generator. The stench of the oil was almost overwhelming so she put the handkerchief from her pocket over her mouth before going any further. Very carefully, she extended the plastic funnel from the mouth of the can and slipped into the generator's fuel receptor. The can wasn't heavy, even when it was full, but she used both hands to steady things. And it was a good thing she did so, because just as the fuel was flowing a thunderclap so strong, and loud, happened that the very foundation of the house shook, almost throwing Quinn off her feet.

The girl cursed, gently putting the can on the floor and closing it, triple checking to make sure she had the lid on securely. She placed a finger on the generators "on" switch and waited for another surprise, looking up at the dark ceiling then out the small window near the ceiling just above the generator. Two minutes ticked by with nothing but the howling wind so Quinn flicked the switch.

The machine coughed once and sputtered, the fan belt whirring loudly until Quinn gave the thing a little punch. The lights on the ceiling grew a little brighter as the machine stabilized itself, a little green bulb next to the on/off switch glowing steadily to let her know all systems were good to go. She flipped it off again, the lights dulling immediately afterwards.

She could go back upstairs now, but Quinn's legs were hesitant to obey her mind's commands. The image of her father she had wanted to be her last, before leaving for the academy, was one of the strong, no-nonsense fisherman that he was, but now there was no chance of that. The thought of staying home another year to help him recover crossed her mind, but that isn't something he would want she realized right away. She stood at the bottom of ancient staircase with the half-broken hand rail and steps that squealed like stuck pigs when anyone used them, staring up at the door which she hadn't closed all the way. The glowing yellow-white kitchen lights made the door look like a portal to another world, and at the moment, for Quinn, it felt like one too.

Down in the basement, the scents were familiar-dust, candles, preserved jams and oils (the generator was a new addition, only two years old). Up there was blood, and terror-sweat, and tears. For ten minutes she stayed at the bottom, leaning against the wall and contemplating the speed at which everything was changing now. The door swung open, making Quinn jump, and in it she saw Olly's shadow.

"Come on back up and help us get Dad to the ambulance, they're going to have to take him to the clinic." Quinn began her ascension, taking two steps at a time, when she was halfway up, Olly added, "And get your luggage. They're going to take you as well so you can catch the transport." She stopped, head tilted, eyes narrowed, "The storm is already weakening thanks to the mages, at least around our little rock. C'mon."

"Is Dad going to be alright?" She was almost afraid to ask, and the words came hesitantly from her lips.

"Doc Rumin said they got to Dad in time, but they don't know what kind of venom got him, so they need to run tests, and after that's out of his system, he'll need some serious stitches for his head. The nurse patched Elrin up well enough so that he doesn't have to go." Olly stepped aside to let her into the kitchen.

Cera wasn't sitting in her chair anymore, though the thing was still where she had moved it. Olly grabbed it and moved it back to the table. The dishes there had been cleaned away as well. They entered the living room just as the doctor was maneuvering the carrying cart through the narrow front door. The rain was still coming down at a decent rate, but Quinn could tell the wind was dwindling. It was there they found Cera, standing behind the couch, leaning on it for support, her fingers dug deep into the fabric. Her eyes were transfixed on the gurney so when Quinn tapped her on the shoulder she jumped.

"Quinny…" Cera whispered her name, arms coming up to wrap around her elder daughter.

Olly had moved on to go upstairs, leaving Quinn alone with their mother. She managed a weak smile in his direction as her mother patted and stroked the back of her head. The two stood there, Cera murmuring words of encouragement and love into her daughter's ear, as Olly moved Quinn's luggage out to the ambulance. There were only two suitcases for clothes and a small duffel bag for personal effects. Dr. Rumin, with the assistance of the eldest son of his best friend, with whom he shared a name, carefully moved Edward into the back of the ambulance, where the nurse sat ready to go with an IV filled with a liquid painkiller.

"Tell Aria I said goodbye," Quinn said weakly, "And please be safe, I don't think this rain is done with us yet."

"I'll tell her, and we will," Cera returned just as faintly, "And don't you push yourself too hard. Becoming a Marine is no easy task…" she paused, thinking, then said, "Grandpa would be proud of you," she meant her own grandfather, the one who forged Quinn's sword with his own hopes of becoming a soldier.

Quinn's luggage was backed in at the foot of the gurney after it was loaded into the ambulance. Elrin, now drenched, reached out so he and Quinn's hand brushed finger tips as she passed. She mouthed "good bye" to him and he did to her as she climbed into the front of the vehicle. The engine roared to life, sputtered twice, sending black smoke from the tailpipe, and made a loud grinding noise as the doc shifted it into drive. Windshield wipers leapt back and forth violently to keep the way clear as they pulled out onto the road.

Quinn watched as her family filed back into the house, which was getting smaller by the second. The door shut and they were gone. It would be the last time she saw them for a very, very long time. She turned and sank down into the white leather seat, resting her head in the cradle formed by the seatbelt that was a little too high up on her shoulder. Her eyes felt heavy and she desperately wanted to sleep, but her mind was filled with memories that refused to be put away for another day. That, and the ambulance's siren was too loud.