Azure Epoch Chapter 1 - Skygirl

Chapter 1 - Skygirl

“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.”
-William Feather

The new century brought new aspirations for the future, especially in the fields of technology and travel. During the century’s turn, a scientist by the name of Dr. Kossack managed to theorize a revolutionary equation that provides a free, condensed form of energy for all that came to be known as Aer. Combining this energy with machinery, therefore creating a quantum leap in technology, this new wave was adequately christened as Aerogear.
            Yet, even with a new form of energy in their hands, Aer and Aerogear couldn’t stop rising tensions that led to a world war between the Kingdom of Stormgale and the Krieg Empire. Wrought with the death of a Queen and ending with an armistice, the conflict came to be known as the Lightning War.
            A year after the war ended, an adventurer came across a valued artifact thought to be long lost by historians - a product of a past race, Scientists began to pinpoint more locations for more artifacts, and several more adventurers began undertaking odysseys to uncover these legends. As these Ooparts, or “Out-of-place artifacts” were recovered, the adventurers’ journeys became the stuff people could read about in journals and tomes.
            The aspect of adventuring ascended to high popularity within the general populace, as only 13% of the world was charted on maps. Those who saw their destiny riding on the currents of the wind and within the blue skies referred to themselves as “Azure Travelers”.
            One such Azure Traveler, by the name of Craft Ballade, managed to discover a new continent called “Sauria”, where he claimed that the magnificent realm was situated in the epicenter of a gigantic glacier. Bringing back proof of creatures called Saurians, Craft became the world’s most famous Azure Traveler.
            But our story isn’t with him – rather, it begins with his offspring, the Ballade twins.

Ballade Island, 348 miles off the coast of Stormgale Country

A mound of Reddish blonde hair poked out from underneath a set of covers. Sunlight bled into the room of a young man, steadily illuminating his belongings and furniture as the seconds passed. The warm light licked his exposed toes and he stirred, groaning and half-speaking as his body reanimated.
            “Ugh…what time is it?” The burgeoning maturity of the young man’s voice spilled out from tired lips.
            “Six a.m., young Master,” said a new voice that caught the sleepyhead off guard, spurring him to immediately sit up and yank the covers off of his face. Emerald colored eyes stared outwards, focusing on the form of a man, looking to be in his sixties, who was well-dressed and stood as rigid as a wooden plank. “Just enough time for your morning workout and a spot of breakfast before school.”
            The elegance of his voice did nothing to ease the young man from his irritability. “Guado, I hate it when you do that!”
            “Do what, Master Mikhail?”
            “Just pop up outta nowhere like a dang ghost or somethin’!”
            “I’m no ghost, young master; I’m just…readily responsive.” Guado, their Butler and Guardian, cracked a deviant smile to tease Mikhail. He was there for their every need and took a miniscule amount of delight to know that his inhuman speed and stealth bugged his wards.
            Mikhail slid out of bed and stretched, his joints and taut muscles creaking and popping as he fought to get his body back in working order. “Hut hut, Mikhail. Time waits for no boy!”
            “Ugh! Last day of school can’t come any faster.” Mikhail swiped a bang of his hair from his right eye and looked at a Calendar. It was June and five days out of the third week were circled, with the sixth day bordered by a number of lines and musical notes. “Saturday can’t come any faster, unless Marle finds some way to go spelunking somewhere…”
            Mikhail, followed by Guado, walked to his room door and opened it, peeking his head out. Usually his sister would lie in wait with a pillow to smack him in the face with it, and so he braced for the inevitable and unavoidable impact. It didn’t come.
            “What the heck? Where is she?”
            Guado craned his head over Mikhail’s and looked at the hallway of the second floor of their house. There was a mess of a trail littered with clothes, and nuts and bolts. There was a staircase besides an open door where the path of clothing originated, but the string of untidiness didn’t follow the stairs; it vaulted over the bannister, a pair of pants dangling like a makeshift rappel line. It resumed all the way to the foyer and halted at the front door.
            “At least she closed the door behind her.” Mikhail withdrew back into his room, summarily kicking Guado out, who landed on his bottom with a loud oomph! Minutes later Mikhail emerged, clad in a grey sleeveless shirt and purple knee-length shorts. He tapped his sneakered feet, huffing and puffing as his eyes shot over to a heavily modified electric guitar that was propped up against a wall in his room. “Let’s hurry up so I can get some guitar practice in before school.

Enix City Skyline, Capital of Stormgale

The skyscrapers were a marvel to look at. Enix City was one of the more modern cities, constructed big and wide enough to allow the expanse of air travel throughout its various nooks and crannies. Traffic slowed to a crawl during the night, but once the sun came up, people would wipe the sleep from their eyes, tumble out of bed, and board their airships in order to get on with their days. It was 5:50 in the morning, and Marlena “Marle” Ballade stood a rock’s throw away from another young woman who herself stood firm and proud, her index finger pointed at Marle.
"Every weekday mornin' you pull me away from my cartoons and challenge me. Each time you fall flat on yer ass." Marle stretched her arms and legs, audible cracks and creaks trailing her words. "I'll save you a headache; you can't beat me." She wagged her gloved finger at her rival, which earned her a glare of pure contempt. Marle loved taunting the so-called “Princess of Pirates” every time she worked up the nerve to challenge her to a race.
            Sylvia “Sylvie” Deck was Marle’s classmate and daily opponent, constantly trying to one-up her in whatever they do. Every morning before school, Marle attempted to watch cartoons at the Enix City Theater, and each morning, right on schedule, Sylvie would interrupt the comedic hijinks to proclaim her intention to defeat the “daughter of the famed Azure Traveler”. Marle’s response usually was to roll her eyes, shrug her shoulders, and play along, hoping that one day she’ll get the point. Marle even considered coming to the Morning showings in disguise.
            But what the hell. She loved knocking the princess off her high horse.
Sylvie tied a scarf around her head, allowing a tuft of her golden hair to drape against her backside like an angelic cape. Marle raised an eyebrow once she caught sight of the scarf's decorative emblem - the insignia of Sylvie's family, the Deck Air Pirates, although this wasn’t a publicly known fact. "And you should know me - I always get what I want, and right now, I'm claiming my prize - my foot planted firmly up your ass!"
Marle sighed as her Wing Gear repulsed a sufficient amount of compressed air to grant it lift, which was followed by a loud hiss and a steady current of repulsion. "The saga continues, Sylvie. Catch me if you can!" Wind flustered fiercely through Marle’s red and black clothing as she went sailing forward from the rooftop just as the sun peeked over the horizon to blanket the city in golden light. Marle sailed like an eagle on a sudden breeze that carried her inches above the top of a passing airship, quickly gaining a lead on her opponent.
“You gotta try harder if you want to—oh boy.” Marle’s teasing was cut short as she laid eyes on a large aeroplane, designed elegantly like a sparrow with its tail end belching blue fire. With no effort at all the aircraft caught up to Marle as she leaned forth on her Wing Gear, the hoverboard putting out more plumes of air in response to her gesture. While her body was tilted forward, she crooked her forearm near her chin and held her remaining arm behind her back; Marle believed this position cut the wind resistance, allowing her to move as one with the gales.
On top of the sparrow ship stood Sylvie triumphantly with her arms crossed. Despite the large amount of rushing air, her body was as firm as a tree. “The fastest ship we could build! Get ready to kiss the asphalt, ‘Skygirl’!”
Marle grinned. She took this as a sucker punch to her pride as well as inspiration to outrace this newfangled plane. Her moniker as “Skygirl” was on the line; Sylvie would surely go blabbing to everyone in school if Marle lost to her now. “Challenge accepted, princess!” She screamed back but was unsure if her calls were carried by the wind.
Sylvie walked to the cockpit of the plane and tapped the protective shield with her foot. It opened in response, and she hopped in, taking control of the craft in no time at all. The wings of the craft flapped like a flesh-and-bone bird, catching plumes of wind to help it climb altitude. Marle looked back and witnessed this, but felt the wind that hit her face suddenly stop; she turned to look and gasped, yanking herself and the Wing Gear into a 90’ angle as she nearly collided into a skyscraper. Luckily the instantaneous puff of air from the Aerogear-powered board broke her momentum, and she leaned forth (or upward), her boot depressing a small panel that activated the ignition of a miniature canister of diesel. The rear of the board belched crimson flame, granting Marle enough boost to climb the side of the skyscraper and emerge back into the expanse of the lit rooftops of Enix City.
Marle’s new momentum ejected her over another skyscraper and she found herself on the tail end of the sparrow ship. The plane bumped and jerked thanks to her sudden drop, and Sylvie looked back, furrowing her brow. Marle hopped off of the board and took it underarm, broke into a sprint and ran over the cockpit of the plane. With a twisting somersault, she dove off of the craft, lolling her tongue in defiance of Sylvie’s efforts, and shoved the Wing Gear underneath her feet. Kicking the rear panel once more, the board roared to life and Marle sailed away on another wind current, cackling at her impending victory.
Marle lurched upwards into the air, the city growing smaller underneath her. Sylvie’s sparrow ship followed suit, flapping its mechanical wings in its attempt to catch the Skygirl. Once they reached the clouds, Marle came to a stop, riding on a steady plume of air. The sparrow ship flew out of a wind current behind its target, extending its wing span while its tail end engine kept it afloat.
“Impressive!” Marle called out across the wind. “You nearly got me there!”
“My ship, the Gorrion, can outclass that clunker you call a Wing Gear!” Sylvie laughed heartily as she figured she had Marle finally beat. Her family worked tirelessly to develop these ships, and the Gorrion was the first of many. This is the perfect field test.
Marle’s Wing Gear was one of her own design that used a combined might of Aerogear engineering and replaceable Diesel canisters for an instantaneous burst of speed. She worked many hours on this vehicle, as her reputation as the Skygirl was constantly in jeopardy. Marle never knew when some upstart racer wanted a shot at the title; she needed to be pinpoint on the spot with her gear.
“It’s almost time for breakfast at school and I’m starving; let’s wrap this up, alright?” Marle pointed straight down and Sylvie knew what she was inferring – a final race to their school, Chronicle Academy. Marle extended her arms and leaned back, sending herself into a contorting freefall as she tucked in her arms. Sylvie commanded the Gorrion into a dive bomb, speeding after the Skygirl to overtake her like prey. Marle continued to twist, a tunnel of air surrounding her as her frame seemed to plummet faster.
The ground approached quickly and Marle reacted, kicking the power of the Wing Gear back on. She corrected herself in an instant, thanks to the wind tunnel she created which granted her control of the gales around her body. Followed closely by Sylvie, Marle sped along a dirt path on the outskirts of the city, cheering loudly as she took the lead. The Gorrion curved its wings inward to soar on the wind current, Sylvie’s eyes nearly bulging out of her skull as she closed in on Marle.
The two came up on a narrow, man-made path and Marle immediately took it; Sylvie tried to but reneged as the wings would be crushed against the concrete and steel walls. The Skygirl burst free from the end of the path, cheering raucously as her newly gained speed helped to put a grand distance between her and Sylvie.
A structure surrounded by a large gate came into view, possessing architecture of stone and metal. From its top came blankets of steam and sparks of electricity from power poles and copper stacks, and behind the stacks were airships docked into port that led down into the structure. Chronicle Academy was one of the finer buildings in Enix City, welcoming students from all other countries and continents open to their education.
The whine of an engine filled the school yard and the students, well those who were bothered to be distracted by the sound, turned to look at its origin. Marle glided along the school’s flight path, followed closely by the Gorrion, and the two were neck and neck.
“I hope there’s some power left in the canister!” Marle’s heel clicked the panel once more and the exhaust port coughed flame, though not as powerful as before. She assumed her racing pose from before, hoping that the sudden cut in wind resistance will give her the needed edge to take this victory. Marle hadn’t expected Sylvie to clear distance so quickly.
The school gates rapidly approached, and Marle lurched up to clear it; she did, marking this as her victory, as Sylvie furiously barked. The Skygirl gestured once more to break her momentum while the Gorrion soared overhead, flapping like an angry bird of prey.
“Told ya!” Marle confidently held out her arms as if welcoming an attack. “I showed you every day that you can’t beat me, no matter what ship you throw at me!”
“Oh, don’t worry! I got something planned that’ll knock you on your ass, Ballade! You can’t hide behind Daddy’s legacy any longer!”
“Oh, look who’s talking!” Marle situated her hands on her hips. “Ms. ‘I use my family money to try and beat one girl’!”
The comment enraged Sylvie, as she bellowed with enough hot air to fog the window of the cockpit. Her shouts were muffled and her lack of attention nearly resulted in the Gorrion crashing onto the school. “Oh crap!” Sylvie exclaimed as she snatched the controls and yanked it back towards the sky.
“You should get that looked at!” Marle teased, cupping her hands around her mouth as she shouted.
Sylvie wiped away the makeshift steam from the windows and began yelling again, nearly thickening the cockpit once more. Marle caught that she was barking threats but could hardly make out the words; she taunted Sylvie once more.
“What was that? Didn’t quite catch it; you sound muffled!” Marle cackled and more of the school kids joined in with raucous laughter. The laughing was eclipsed by the roar of Sylvie, who yanked the controls and commanded the airship away from the area. “Oh, looks like she’s heading to the Maintenance Hatch.” Marle considered following to continue her harangue but managed to get a glimpse of the time from the giant clock situated on the academy’s main building. “Ah crud; I better hightail it to the cafeteria!”
Marle took off in a mad dash towards the academy, a large cloud of dust kicking up in her wake.

Chronicle Academy Maintenance Hatch, Ten Minutes Prior

Lina Leyline walked into a darkened room and depressed a button on the wall. A loud whirring sound filled the stadium-like area and electricity crackled through flickering light bulbs, illuminating everything in Lina’s line of sight.
            She shook her violet hair and quickly tied a bandanna around it, creating makeshift ponytails poking out opposite sides of her head. Unlike the other school kids, Lina was clad in a navy blue jumpsuit with brown boots and gloves. Once she was done with her bandanna, her hand found its way to a wrench the size of her leg – being of medium sized stature, the wrench was large enough to possibly wield as a blunt object.
            “Alrighty, let’s see what’s on the menu for today. Puyo, bring me the list for today’s assignment.” At Lina’s urging a small creature floated into the Maintenance Hatch that appeared to be a cute meld between a puppy and a raccoon. It carried a clipboard in both hands, and hovered to a stop besides Lina, who took the board and planted a kiss on the creature’s warm and furry cheek. “You’re on point this morning, Puyo!”
            Puyo the Anthrokin, a race of sentient animals who bore a natural connection to Aer, squeaked in response, acknowledging Lina’s praise. Puyo was Lina’s companion and assistant, as she herself tended to throw herself into her work. She looked down at the clipboard and silently read the information jotted down last Friday, judging from the date marked near the top of the job sheet.
            “Wait, what? Who broke a plane engine?!” Lina’s eyes burned with fury upon reading the job information. Pursing her lips, she lowered the clipboard to look at the docked airplane in the bay. Its engine was in shambles, cracked and dislodged like an important piece to a child’s toy. “I swear, it’s like these dummy heads enjoy working me to the bone! Too much drag racing!”
            Puyo squeaked angrily in response to Lina’s frustration, flying around and pointing emphatically at the dis-repaired plane with her stubby arms. Her tail twitched and thumped against air as she pushed her arms against her fat hips. Lina grabbed the wrench in a way that looked as if she bore intentions to brain someone with it. Mumbling to herself, she stomped over to the plane, only to be stopped in her tracks by the sound of a whining engine.
            Lina turned around to see the Gorrion flying full tilt towards her. Suddenly stricken with fear, she was petrified. The Gorrion stopped short, managing to break momentum mere inches from Lina. When she looked up, Puyo was in front of her, holding out chubby arms that shone with deep pink energy. An intricate circle of power was cast in front of Lina and Puyo that stopped the airship in its tracks.
            “Aces. You keep savin’ my butt, Puyo…” The Anthrokin squealed in triumphant joy.
            “Wow, that little fella can cast Aer so quickly!” The sound of Sylvie speaking through the ship’s PA system rang out through the bay. It was loud enough for both Lina and Puyo to plug their eardrums.
            “What the heck are you doin’? You can’t bank at that speed and expect not to kill someone!” Like before, Lina and Puyo motioned in sync with comical anger. “Why were you flying so friggin’ fast, anyway?!”
            “I need you to take a look at my ship, Abercrombie! That wannabe racer made me push it to the limit!”
            “Racing Marle again? You do know she’s outran everything you’ve thrown at her—“
            “That’s beside the point!” Sylvie threatened to fog up her cockpit yet again.
            “I’m too behind the grind, Sylvie. Don’t your family have mechanics?”
            Sylvie narrowed her eyes at Lina and the cockpit popped open. She bounced from the plane and landed behind Lina, towering over her by another six inches. “I didn’t ask my mechanics; I asked YOU. What’s the point of being a genius if you can’t fix my machine whenever I ask for it? As much money I give you?”
            “Money you give me?” Lina and Puyo looked inquisitive briefly before their synced emotions switched to irritation. “You still haven’t paid me for that last commission! Remember the last time you wrecked your airship trying to beat Marle in a race?”
            Sylvie didn’t answer; she leaned down and towards Lina, her eyes narrow and her brow furrowed. “Can you do it or not?”
            It was then that the sound of creaking metal filled the hangar bay, followed by a new female voice. “Now Sylvie, I know you’re not trying to muscle my friend when you still haven’t paid for services rendered. People might call you and your family rat finks.”
            Both Sylvie and Lina looked to see a young almond skinned woman with long black hair and features suggesting that she hailed from Chuugoku, an Eastern country. What was more surprising was that she held the Gorrion in the palm of her hands like a doll. “Now wait,” Sylvie began, holding out her hand to get the girl to stop, “don’t do anything wacky.”
            “Mei-Peh!” Mei-Peh Chi, Marle’s best friend, began to slightly toss the airship up and down, balancing it on one outstretched palm.
            “I need to warn you, Sylvie – this is my weak arm.”
            “Drop it, Chi!” Sylvie ordered as she took a step closer to the young woman, unsure of what she’d do once she got close enough.
            “Oh sure, I’ll drop it – after I’ve played dodgeball with it outside for a time.” Mei-Peh Chi about-faced and began walking outside of the hangar. Sylvie yelled to get her to stop and she did, chuckling sadistically before turning her head back.
            Mei-Peh gently set the airship down but the impact, and the angle she put it at, caused the wing to crunch under its weight. Sylvie’s face turned white with horror. “Ooh…I’m sure that’ll buffer out.”
            “BUFFER OUT?!” Sylvie began to assume a bright hue of crimson as she growled.
            “Shoot me a five spot and I’ll do it for you,” Mei-Peh said, walking over to the wing.
            “NO! No, don’t touch anything else!”
            “Fine, then. Get your butter and egg man on the phone and pay Lina. Just ‘cause she works for the academy doesn’t mean she’s running a charity. You wouldn’t want me to break your toys?” Mei-Peh lowered her voice to get her point across. Begrudgingly, Sylvie left to make a call, and as soon as she was free of earshot, the two girls burst into laughter.
            Mei-Peh stood just about as tall as Sylvie and could easily look over Lina’s head but the latter was in no way intimidated by this, nor her freakishly immense strength; she figured that all girls from Chuugoku was that strong. Clad in black and red clothing, her shirt was tight fitting and it showed off her physical maturity quite well. Her trousers were shorts with several pockets that ended just past her kneecaps, and like Lina, she wore boots that were weathered.
            “You always come in so early; don’t you ever eat breakfast?” Mei-Peh said as she rested her hand on the genius’ shoulder. Lina motioned with her thumb behind her, and Mei-Peh laid eyes on an open lunchbox where Puyo was sitting and eating a candy bar. “Waiting until lunch doesn’t count, Lina! Come on; I’ll treat you to breakfast; I still got some cash left from the trip on Saturday.”
            Lina’s stomach rumbled loudly and she groaned. She took a look at the airship with the dislodged engine and sighed heavily. “Alright. This engine will take me a couple of hours, so I’ll get a bite. Where’s Marle?”
            “In the cafeteria.”
            “Wait, what are they serving today?” Lina pressed her fingers to her chin, hoping that what may be going on isn’t.
            “I think its Bacon and Eggs with Sausage—“

            “Oh crap; we need to get there right now! Puyo, come on!” Lina yanked Mei-Peh by the arm and the two took off in a burst of speed. Puyo whined and dropped her candy bar back into the lunchbox. The Anthrokin flew after the two, matching pace as they reached the cafeteria, which held quite a ruckus. 


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