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As the rumble occurred, some rocks shifted, and dirt rained down over our heads. I glanced around with a confused expression on my face.

“What is that?” I asked into the empty darkness.

About a half-minute later, I heard another boom in the distance. My eyes fell to the governess, whose expression had turned white.

“That sounds… like cannon fire.”

“What’s…” I was going to say, what is a cannon, but I realized she’d only look down on me some more so I changed what I was going to say. “…going on?”

She listened carefully as a third boom sound. After this one, there were a few lighter popping sounds as well.

“It sounds like… North Harbor is under attack…”

“What?” I immediately shouted, running up to her and grabbing her shoulders. “What does that mean? By who?”

“How should I know?” She hit my hands away, “But that’s what it sounds like. North Island is being attacked by someone.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “That… that can’t be. Other than the islands… would one of the other islands do this? The citadel?”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Short of open rebellion, the citadel would never attack like this!” The Governess defended. “Besides, there are other threats out there. If the North is being attacked, we must get a message to the citadel!”

“The Citadel? That’s right. The Citadel will send help!” I said, still feeling panic.

She nodded. “That’s right, so, if this is a dreadnaught, then let’s try to get it powered on. It should have a connection to the dreadnaught. With luck, we can send them an SOS, and in a few days, they’ll have an entire fleet here.”

“Ri-no… wait… what? A few days? No, no, no…” I shook my head. “My family is out there; they need help now!”

The Governess made a bitter expression. “There is no helping them now.”

“Bullshit!”

“Look, this island is very small. Sweeping through it would be easy. Even if people flee into the forest, they have nowhere to run. Besides, they’ll likely set the whole forest on fire, and the village with it. In other words, there is no salvation. Only down here, where no one knows where we are, will we be safe.”

I was listening to her, but only superficially. At her last words, I perked up.

“Right! That’s it! I’ll lead them here.” I turned to leave, and the Governess reached out and grabbed my hand, stopping me.

“If you leave, you’ll almost certainly die.” She said, showing concern for the first time since she had been down here.

“I can’t not do anything!”

“If you go up there and try to bring people back, you might be seen!” She suddenly changed tactics. “This discovery is far too important. If our enemies got their hands on this dreadnaught, I can’t even tell you how bad it would be! We have to keep it a secret! We can’t let them find us. It’s not just for our own sake, but the sake of the entire Heaven’s Sky Archipelago!”

“That’s what this is about?” I sneered, pulling my hand away. “You’re stupid little discovery here?”

“Miles! Listen, you cannot be seen coming back, or we’ll lose everything!”

“My little sister!” I shouted back. “The children!”

Her expression faulted for a moment. She personally knew the children, as she had been teaching them all for the last month. She finally gave a defeated look.

“You’ll probably die in the attempt.” She responded sadly. “Just go… and… be careful. If you lead even one pirate back here… we could lose everything.”

I nodded, “Remember, my ability is {Flee}. I won’t be caught!”

I moved over to the slit in the rocks and belly crawled through it in record time. Then I stumble down the rocky mountain and practically leapt into the slime path. Thankfully, slimes were very slow, and it’d probably be days before the hole filled back up with slimes. As I went, I heard more pops and booms. Each one only propelled my steps faster.

I moved across the boards, around the bend, and was back on the ledge racing full-tilt into the forest. At my extreme pace, it was less than five minutes before I was overlooking the village. There was screaming, and two buildings were on fire. One was the mill, and the other was the blacksmith. The Jefree home had collapsed completely. There was a flash in the darkness out on the water, and I could see a boat drifting ominously in the darkness for just a moment. There was a whistling noise that I couldn’t make out before, which ended with a boom as a piece of the dock exploded. There was also the occasional pop, which I sometimes caught a light in the village during.

However, despite saying I was there to save the children, there was no helping them. It wasn’t like they were gathered all together in one spot. They were spattered throughout Harbor. It would be the responsibility of their parents to keep them safe. If I ran into one, I would certainly rescue him, but I wouldn’t waste time going into town. Instead, I headed straight for my own manor. My sister, my mother, and my father… those were the three that had to be saved above all else. Even my favorite maid would take second place to any of them.

I ran on pure adrenaline. Thankfully, I was youthful and didn’t need to stop before coming up to the manor. Naturally, I didn’t take the main entrance. I could see as I approached, that that entrance had been kicked in. That meant that whoever was there was already in the manor. Gulping down my saliva and taking a ragged breath, I pushed into a side door, which was a servant’s entrance. I didn’t have to move far before I saw blood. Our cook was lying on the ground, dead. His throat had been cut.

It was the first dead body I had ever seen. Feeling like I was going to scream, I bit down hard on my palm to keep my voice in. At that point, I heard footsteps stomping around above me, as well as shouts from voices I didn’t recognize. They sounded feminine, but they were harsh a guttural. I didn’t have time to freak out over the death of a man I knew. He used to swat my bottom when I tried to snatch a pastry from his cooling rack. I don’t know why I remembered that just then.

Moving forward quietly, I exited the servant storage room and moved up into one of the hallways to the manor. In a half-crouch, I headed for a back stairway which would lead up to the floors where our bedrooms were located. I planned to do a circuit of each bedroom. If luck was willing, my family were hiding in each of the rooms.

I headed up the stairway, finding the closest room to me being my parent’s bedroom. I went toward the door, noticing it was open a crack.  It was then that I realized I could hear someone rustling around in there. I could hear drawers being opened and then tossed on the ground. Neither of my parents would be treating their own stuff this way.

Taking my hand away from the doorknob, I quickly moved away and to the next room. This was the bathroom. I slid into the room and then closed the door softly behind me, afraid those in the master bedroom would charge out into the hallway and see me. The porcelain tub was cracked, and there appeared to be a struggle in here. I heard a loud thump from the hallway and a scream that sounded like a woman. I moved to the door and looked through the keyhole.

My maid was there. Her name was Selena. She had fallen to the ground right in front of my door. I was just about to open the door when I saw her head get yanked up by someone else. There were two people wearing pants. I couldn’t see their faces. Selena had a pained expression on her face as they pulled her back. They started yanking her down the stairway by her hair as she screamed. I could only watch it happen. I was too afraid to give chase.

I was also much too afraid to go back into the hallway. Standing up, I looked around the room. As hyper aware as I was at the moment, the sudden billowing of the curtains caused me to flinch. When I realized it was just the wind, I ran out to the window. There was a pretty thick bannister along the side. I could probably shimmy over to the other rooms without having to be in the hallway. Since I was along the back of the house, there was only the forest behind me, and no one would see my movements.

I opened the window the rest of the way, wincing every time I made a noise. When I finished, I moved out of the window and onto the bannister carefully. Then, I did exactly as I planned, holding on to the ivy that had crawled up the house as I sidestepped to the next window. I moved slowly and methodically until I was there. Glancing in, I could see it was my father’s study. The window was open just a crack. It was enough that I could hear what was going on. I only afforded the quickest peak, though.

My father was there, standing behind his desk with his back straight. On the other side of the desk was someone else, although I wasn’t able to make them out. I was afraid to give it another look in case they noticed me. I was banking on no one seeing me at the moment.

“Please, spare us.” My father said, “We’ll give you anything we want.”

“Hmph… we’ve already taken everything we want.” A husky female voice said. “Sparing you is just pointless. I don’t like leaving loose ends.”

I heard a popping sound, which was far closer than the ones I had heard before. It was enough that I jumped and almost fell off the side of the house. I couldn’t help but look again. I saw the back of a redheaded woman. She was wearing a green boa, and black coat, and unfortunately that was all I could make out of her. As for my father, he appeared to be sitting in his chair.

The woman walked out the door without looking back. As soon as the door shut, I opened the window as quietly as possible and slid in. As soon as I spun the chair, I bit my lip to keep from letting out a scream. Dad was there, but he was bleeding profusely from his neck. He was actually still alive and was making a raw, gasping noise.

“Father!” I reached down and grabbed dad’s hand.

His eyes landed on mine for a brief moment, and his hand tightened a bit in my grip. His lips began to move, unable to make the sounds. I had no skill in reading lips, but I understood the words he said, as well as the intent in his eyes.

“Save them.”

That was what he said. By them, he, of course, meant mother and my sister. Once he formed those words, father’s gaging stopped, and he continued to look forward without moving another muscle. He was dead. My body began to shake. I wanted to scream and cry, but I couldn’t. I had to keep moving forward. It was for the pair of them. I had to keep moving. I had to try.

Father had a sword mounted on the wall. I went over and ripped it off, drawing the sword. It was sharp, although he had never learned how to use it. I didn’t know either, but it felt better than having nothing. I went out of the window again and continued moving on over. The next window was my own, so I passed it and kept going. My sister’s room was at the end of the house and actually wrapped around to the front. I slid into her room without even checking first.

I had my sword out and waved it around, ready to stab anyone who was in my way. However, the room was empty. As I looked around, my expression started to drop. The room looked like it had already been ransacked. My sister was already long gone. Just as I was losing hope, I heard a loud shriek from the front outside. I ran to the open window and looked out. My eyes immediately locked on my sister. She was lined up in front of the house. My mother was there too. So was Selena, and three other women who were youthful and pretty. No one else had been brought out.

As for the redhead who killed father, I didn’t see her. However, there were about six women surrounding the girls. They all held these strange wood and metal devices. They seemed to be the things that made the popping noises. That was the thing that killed my father.

“Brother! Save me!” Lily noticed me, and in her frantic haste, shouted up to me despite giving away my position.

Mom, who knew better, looked up, and when she confirmed it truly was me, she let out a single yell. “Run!”

I cursed and spun away from the window, but I had barely made it five steps when the door burst open, and a woman came in. She was tall, with a bandana on her head, pants, and a blouse.

“Well, well, look who we have here?” She spoke with a drawl that made it difficult to understand her. “ A stray that I missed.” 

“Who the hell… are… you people?” I shouted, choking over the anger and anguish I felt.

“Us? We’re pirates, love.”

“A what?”

“Hoho… aren’t you just the cutest. It’s too bad captain has a policy of no men. I’d love to take you onboard, tie you down, and show you a thing or two.”

“What are you doing with my sister? The women outside?”

“Sell them?” She shrugged. “You don’t need to worry ur’ little head. Your ladies r’ lucky. We Nadric don’t believe in sexual slavery. Captain will sell them as laborers. Makes less money, but you can rest easy knowing your women won’t be raped to death by ‘em pirates like us.”

“…”

“Ah… no last words, love? I was liking listening to ur speak all proper like. Well… if you’re done.” She raised up the strange device, aiming it at my face.

I had a sudden feeling, so I jerked to the side as she pulled the trigger. There was a blinding pain as my face was struck by something. It burned, and I let out a fierce scream. Half my vision was gone in an instant.

“Oi! Who said you could be dodging me bullets?” She snapped, pulling out a dagger.

“Go to hell!” I screamed, catching her blurred body in my one good eye.

I charged her, leveling my sword down. Using my full force, the sword slid right into her and then kept going until we slammed into the wall. Her eyes were wide, and I was looking right into her face. Her mouth was open with shock. As I pulled away, she looked down at the sword sticking through her chest, and then up at me.

“Blimey…” She muttered in disbelief. “The little cuck actually killed me.”

Blood suddenly fell from her mouth, and her head fell down. At that moment, another person burst through the door. I immediately began to run, not even attempting to engage them. I heard a pop, but I had only one thing in my mind. Escape!

“Damn! How did he dodge that!” A woman cursed.

I kept moving, leaping out the second story window from where I had left it open.

“Shit, he went out the back window. Go around and get em’!” Someone called out.

I landed hard on my feet, falling to my knees and even having to roll. I got back up, but I was limping now. I heard people running alongside the house while shouting. I ran as best I could. I heard more popping noises, and whistling flying by, but I managed to avoid it all.

Deep down, I knew the only reason I was alive was because of the {Flee} skill. I was using it for all it was worth. What did it do? It seemed to warp perception, making it much harder for people to see me. It was harder to target me, and it was easier to lose track of my presence. At this moment, both of those functions were keeping me alive. I made it into the trees, but I didn’t run straight. Instead, I turned and began to run parallel the village. I had to lose them. I had to get back to the cave. That was my only thought.

“Damn, where is he?”

“That slippery shit!”

I could hear their voices behind me, but I didn’t stop running. I kept going. As I passed by with the village nearby, I could see most of it was ablaze now. On the beach next to the dock, I could see small boats where these so-called pirates were getting on and off. It looked like every woman of working age in North Harbor had been rounded up. I was looking so hard that I barely managed to stop myself before slamming into someone.

Stopping short, I came face to face with my cousin. She had a bit of sand and dirt on her, but she otherwise looked fine and was just as surprised to see me.

“Miles?” She said in disbelief.

“Cousin!” I said, fighting back the tears and pain.

Every part of me wanted to collapse into a fetal position and cry, but I had to keep going, seeing her made everything worth it. There was someone from my family I could save.

“Oh, dear! You’re wounded!” She cried out, looking at my shoulder.

“Huh?” I looked over, only now realizing there was a knife stabbed into my shoulder.

When I had run that woman through, she had managed to get her knife up. It was only pure luck that mine ended up in her heart, and hers ended up in my shoulder. I had run all the way here with it still stuck there, driven completely by adrenaline and shock.

“I-I’ll get it!” She declared.

She wouldn’t stop until I sat down and she pulled the knife from my shoulder. Only once it was out did the pain come flooding back. My entire body was shaking with it.

“Your eye… your shoulder… they did a number on you… didn’t they…” She said sympathetically.

“They call themselves pirates,” I responded as she tended my shoulder. “They’re going to sell all the women to slavery. It sounds like.”

“Isn’t slavery banned in the Heaven’s Sky Archipelago?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think they come from the four islands.”

“Well, there is nothing we can do. They’ll surely sweep the island one last time before they are done. Where could we possibly hide?” She said, looking at me expectantly.

“There is a place,” I said, coughing. “Remember the cove? There is an area deeper in we can hide. The Governess is already there.”

“Oh?” Cousin raised an eyebrow.

“It’s a place with ancient technology. She says we can contact the citadel with it. Apparently, she already is trying. They might already be on their way.”

She broke into a smile and grabbed my bad arm excitedly. “Then, there is hope! Let’s go immediately!”

“Ow… um…”

“Please…” She begged, holding me tightly. “I’m scared of the pirates. Please, we need to go somewhere safe.”

I nodded, “Come on.”

The route back the cove occurred in silence. I hurt all over. My shoulder burned. My eye burned even more. Every step was agony. This time, I was the one who almost fell off the ledge as we made our way into the cove. In fact, Cousin was much more stable than before, catching me twice. She had become very supportive, sticking very close to me. She must have been shaken up and scared too. I couldn’t imagine what trauma she had faced before running into me.

I didn’t waste time admiring the view, instead, heading immediately back to the slime tunnel. Still, no slimes had taken up residence, thankfully. I stepped right in. Cousin looked in it warily for a bit but reluctantly followed. In the cavern, I looked up the landslide. The slit at the top was no longer dark. There was a clear light emanating from it. Cousin looked over at me questioningly.

“Come, it’s up here.” I climbed up the rocks, although it took about three times as long in my current condition. We then slid our way under, finally coming out onto the deck of the ship.

“Miles?” A voice asked as I came into the light.

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“I managed to get the lights on, but the dreadnaught is impossibly complicated.” She said as she came out from an area that seemed to lead into the ship, only then seeing my face. “By the ancients… what happened to you?”

I was in too much pain to be flirtatious, so I could only let out a dry chuckle. “The only one I found was my cousin. Good news, I don’t think I was followed by any pirates.”

My cousin smiled toward the Governess and approached her. “Unfortunately for the pair of you, he’s wrong on both counts.”

“Hm?” The Governess asked.

I only realized at that moment that my cousin had a knife in her hand, and then she plunged it right into the Governess’s stomach.

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