This article, Heart to Smaller Heart, is property of Skydek.

Rage of the Red Dragon
This article, Heart to Smaller Heart, is the property of Flame Lizard and cannot be tampered with or referenced without his permission.

Last Chapter - Trouble After the Trial

The next morning, Lars O'Ryenne arrived at a prison in Lowindell. He pulled a chair next to the cell in which Marlynx was contained. He stared at the petite exceed, with his tiny paws tethered together by a pair of metal handcuffs that prevented him from harnessing his magical power. Rune nights stood at each side of the cells, monitoring closely every last twitch of muscle by both Lars and Marlynx. Lars scanned his eyes across the gray stone walls that had no crack at first glance. Sweat gathered at the bridge of Lars' nose, underneath the bridge of his glasses while his body couldn't refrain from following suit within his light-blue cotton T-shirt and Khaki cargo shorts. With no window to allow for Marlynx to peek at what the rest of Lowindell looks like, the air was damper and warmer than that of the outside. He looked at back at the cuffed Exceed, only to meet his punishing glare.

After a minute of staring, Lars broke the silence. "So. Did you hear about what happened last night?"

"No." Marlynx replied

Lars kicked back in his chair. "Well let me explain: your ship was ransacked, Noreen almost got killed, and now, we are basically stranded here." The small exceed, who was sitting on the cold stone floor, his arms crossed and resting upon his knees, made no response. His countenance changed at this revelation as he stared blankly, thinking about the Noreen. Lars grew impatient.

"Hey! Are you listening? I just said that your best friend and first mate almost got killed last night"

"I heard you." Marlynx snapped as he continued to stare at nothing.

"That's it? No response? Not even an apology? a simple declaration of remorse-"

"Why the fuck are you here?" Marlynx's tone of voice grew stronger at this point as his already thin patience ran thinner. Lars followed suit, raising his voice.

"You are asking me that? How about you think about the reason why you are here!"

at this, Marlynx then shouted at the top of his lungs, "For a reason that doesn't concern you!" At the sound of this, the guards swiftly turned to face Marlynx's cell.

"Keep your voice down! We're not going to tell you again!" Their stern shouts echoed among the dim stone-clad hallways of the underground prison that sprawled underneath a sparkling port city, rendering every single soul in the jail silent, including Lars himself. In the silence, one could only hear Marlynx's heavy breathing. Lars sighed.

"Come on. You know better than anyone that if a member of my family is in trouble, I will stop my life dead in its tracks to help them any way I can. I can't believe that an S-Class mage like you would forget something like that."

Marlynx crossed his little arms and glared at Lars. "Lecturing me like this isn't helping. Not when i am already in the middle of considering the poor decision making I have displayed over the past few days." Lars sprung to life at this rare comment.

"Wait, are you telling me that you are actually admitting fault!? Oh my God!" A sliver of rage welled up inside of the spiky haired cat, but upon remembering the presence of the guards, it simmered down and gave way to a more controlled response.

"That's what i was referring to: your condescending tone. It doesn't help."

Lars sighed. "Whatever. Let's get back to nusiness. Since you are the captain of the Valles Marineris, I owe you a much more detailed explanation. Replacement costs for the equipment stolen exceed your budget. Before you ask, I checked it before coming to Bantia. If we were to purchase replacement supplies, this expedition would be a huge bust, and that would hamper your ability to go on hunting trips like this in the future."

"It wasn't my fault." Marlynx contested.

"Oh really?" Lars asked sarcastically.

"I was referring to our supplies being stolen, smart one!" Marlynx then sighed.

Lars shifted in his chair and raised his voice. "You don't have to be so defensive."

Marlynx spoke up. "Oh really, coming from-"

"Anyway," Lars interrupted. "Your crew is currently looking for jobs to get money to buffer the financial hit to this expedtion." He then chuckled. "Wouldn't it be funny if one of them went after those thieves that ransacked the ship last night."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." Both Lars and Marlynx buth spun to the exit, finding Florz leaning on the doorframe with his arms crossed. "You must've heard Master Zephyr this morning; If it was as simple as tracking them down and taking them out, we'd have done it by now."

"I definitely heard him; that is why I was being sarcastic." Lars replied.

Meanwhile, Marlynx's curiosity got the best of him. "Who exactly are those poor souls who messed with my crew?"

Florz huffed, apparently not looking forward to explaining it all again. "They're part of a group called Bloody Smile. A dark guild specialising in pretty much anything against the law." He pushed off the frame and began to approach, waving the guards away. "This particular group was led by one of it's leaders. Jackass by the name of Oran Fulbore. And considering that, I'd say you're crew where the poor souls in that situation."

Marlynx glared at Florz. His gaze became full of passion and conviction as he responded, "I don't think so. See, to me, any person who messes with my crew is a monster... and just so you know, I hunt monsters for a living."

"Damn it, Marlynx, why do you always have to take my lines?" Lars shouted as he faced the small talking cat. He turned back to Florz. "Anyway, I would assume that this monster that attacked Noreen is indeed Oran Fulbore. Chances are, I am right, but I do want to be 100% certain before I start my research on this man... or thing."

Marlynx piped up, "Wait, you mean an actual monster attacked Noreen? I thought i was being figurative here."

"To be honest, we really don't know." Florz shrugged, ignoring Marlynx's glare. "Your girl said the thing talked; animals don't normally do that. Coupled with the fact that nobody else has reported seeing a monster running through the city, my best guess is he uses Take Over Magic." He crossed his arms and grinned, amusing himself with another thought. "Either that or there's a really big underground tunnel we don't know about. Can't really disprove either theory right now."

"Well, I don't know much about this place to deduce that there is tunnel here, so I will go by the theory that the leader used take over magic." Lars said while crossing his arms. "Does Bantia's Magic council have any intel on this "Bloody Smile" that they can make available to civilians who request it?"

"Are you serious?" Florz chuckled, but the harsh look on his face betrayed the fact that he didn't see much humor in it. "You guys aren't civilians, you're not even tourists. And even if you where, telling just anyone what we know about them would be more than a little counterproductive, seeing as how we don't even know where the hell they are." He paused a moment, realising that he's slowly been raising his voice throughout his refusal. He took a breath to calm himself, then tried a different approach. "I know what Hanna told you, but you guys really can't get involved. She could get into some seriously deep shit of something happened to one of you."

"I didn't say I was going to get involved." Lars sighed while massaging the bridge of his nose. "Let me rephrase that. Where is your library?"

"Yeah, I'm not telling you that." He said flatly, pushing off the wall and waving one of the guards forward. "I'm here to take your cat friend to that ship of his, not set you up to go to war with a dark guild that we barely know anything about." The cell door slowly swung opened and Marlynx was led out. "Please don't start anything. We've got enough stuff to deal with right now, ok?"

Lars sighed. "I understand. You have my word that none of us will start anything. It's just... nevermind. I will leave you to your business." He turned to Marlynx. "Look, forgive me if i talked down to you before. If there is anything i am gonna leave you with, just please apologize to Noreen for what you said to her on the ship."

"I guess she told you what happened, huh?" Marlynx's voice is calmer now as Florz prepares to escort him.

"In a time like this, it is important for each family member to know one-another's business." Lars said as he began to walk out of the prison. Before leaving, however, he turned back to Florz once more. "By the way, I saw that you lowered your temper as you spoke. I appreciate and respect acts of self-control like that."

As Lars walked on the pavement outside, the heat of a setting summer sun resting just above the horizon provided relief from the clammy and cold conditions of the prison. The aroma of seawater enveloped the mage as he began to walk towards the shipyard with the hope of finding Noreen and Hanna. As he did, he thought to himself, "I have to know what attacked Marlynx's crew, so should it ever strike again, I can be prepared to protect them."

At the same time Marlynx was being escorted back to his ship, Hanna was investigating another lead at the docks. A lead that would hopefully lead to Bloody Smile. Or at lest, the stuff they stole. She stared at a scuffmark on the curb, then up at a chunk of brock taken out of the nearby building. Something jumped the curb going around the corner, and Hanna suspected that it was caused by whatever the perpetrators had used to hull their loot away.

Unfortunately however, that was just speculation. It could have happened last night or last month, she couldn't prove either scenario. And seeing as how the robbery took place late at night in the middle of an industrial sector, she didn't really expect to find any witnesses. "Dammit..." She muttered, stretching her back. "I've got nothing."

Noreen noticed Hanna at the corner of her eye. The docks were teeming with workers, mostly the Valles Marineris crew, trying their best to make throrough repairs tot he ravaged, yet battle-ready vessel. Noreen decided to take a break from helping lifting coils of wood while giving instructions to her crewmates to talk to the black-haired mage who paced the decks, searching for whatever she could find that lead her to a solution to the investigation.

"Hey, Hanna, What'cha up to?" She called.

Hanna composed herself, wiping the disappointed look from her face with a quick pat of her cheeks. Still though, she didn't know what exactly to say. Because, as she stated, she had nothing. "It's... Going as well as could be expected."

"I would guess that you are still going at the investigation?" Noreen asked.

Hanna nodded. "Yeah, but finding a lead has been... Well, it's been difficult." She began embarrassingly rubbing the back of her neck, trying not to make it seem as hopeless as she felt it was. "This place is such a high traffic area that it's taking a while to figure out what's related and what's not."

"I'm sure it's very rough for you. Honestly, I appreciate all the hard work you are putting yourself through to help find these crooks." Noreen said. "I can see why it's so busy though, this town is remarkably beautiful."

"Glad you like it." She smiled again. "Sorry you're first visit has been so rough though..." Quickly moving past that, Hanna turned her attention back to her work. After just a minuet however, she growned in frustration. "Ugh... If only we could narrow it down a little... Scouring the city like this is taking too long."

"Well, I wouldn't want you to overwhelm yourself. Why not take it in steps? Search here for a few minutes, then maybe take a break and check another part of this local area?" Noreen replied.

"Because we're in a..." Hanna stopped herself. Noreen must have known they where in a hurry. Hell, she was almost a victim after all. But still, she had a point. Wearing herself out now wouldn't do anybody any good. "Yeah, I suppose you're right."

Noreen smiled. "In fact, I was planning on taking a break too! After that lifting and supervising, I'd say that we take a break together for a few minutes. I would like to see the area around this pier since i've been on these docks ever since i got here. Care to show me around a little bit?"

"W-well I can't go to far but..." Hanna looked around a little and, save for the few lingering knights still taking statements, she was pretty much on her own. "Yeah, sure. Only a little bit though." Finally relaxing for the first time since getting up that morning Hanna stretched her arms over her head and began to lead Noreen towards the waterfront. "Well, there's really not much to see here, this is part of the industrial district, so it's all machines and warehouses. If you want a real look around, you'll want to head farther into the city."

"Well, If the edge of the industrial district isn't too far, maybe we can head there? Maybe explain some buildings from a distance?" Noreen said while looking out to the streets beyond the port.

"Just a little bit." Hanna assured, apparently growing paranoid that she'd be caught slacking on the job. Zephyr was already weary of how personal Hanna'd made this case, so the last thing she wanted was to be seen wasting time. The two found an empty dock with a relatively good view over the warehouses, and Hanna began pointing at the shadows on the skyline. "Well that big flat one's the tram station. Fastest place to get anywhere within the city. And... Over there's the Magic Council headquarters... but I guess you already knew that."

"Even from a bland part of the city, it still looks nice. I can't wait for the opportunity to explore the city once a substantial part of our work is done." Noreen looked at Hanna. "Traveling is something I love a lot; reading about other places just doesn't cut it for me. I'm a curious soul, and one might say I get off on exploring new places.." She looked around, taking in the view of the city on the horizon. After she was done, she turned her head to her left and noticed a faint trail of metal shavings that dimly sparkled in the evening sun leading to some hidden area around the corner of a building. She tugged at Hanna's arm.

"Hey, check that out over there." She said while pointing.

Hanna looked too, but seemed far less interested in her find. "Yeah, part of living on the cost means nothing metal ever lasts." Her eyes traveled up the side of the corner, looking for whatever the metal might have fallen from. Curiously however, the wall was made of brick. "Wait, where'd it come from?"

A notion formed in the back of her mind, especially when she noticed a chunk of brick was missing from the wall at around knee height. She inched closer, Noreen following along, and began looking over small trail of metal filings mixed into the port's brick floor. Hanna's detective intuition was going off like a siren, and the gears in her head began to turn. "This shouldn't be here. Who crafts metal in the middle of a port..."

Noreen chuckled. "Whosoever crafted it, of course."

"But that's what I'm saying..." Hanna insisted. "People bring stuff hear from all over. Brought in and sent out by the tons. But nobody actually builds anything here. And this is way to much to just be scrapings..." She knelt down and brushed her hand across the brick, careful not to cut herself on the metal, and a theory formed in her head. "Hey Noreen, how far away is the dry-dock you're staying at?".

"Some 30 to 40 metres from around that corner, I'd guess." Noreen looked at Hanna. "Why?"

"I think the robbers came this way." She muttered, more thinking out loud than answering Noreen's question. "This why none of the patrols have spotted them, or why nobody's reported seeing them outside of the industrial district. They're hiding somewhere around here. And this trail might've come from wherever that is."

"I'd say we check it out. Follow your gut, because sometimes doing so actually works." Noreen said. "Well, Care to take a look real quick?"

"Well it's my job to, but..." Hanna slowly stood up again, trying to chose her words carefully so as to not sound insulting. "You know you shouldn't be a part of this, right? It's my job to track them down, not yours."

"I understand, Hanna." Noreen turned to stare at the suspicious scrap metal as she sontinued. "I am not trying to invalidate what you are saying because you are right in the fact that I shouldn't be a part of this. Remember though that once our crew got attacked, we all became a part of this whether we wanted to or not. I, myself am not dumb enough to go out of my way to track down whoever stole from us, but If the opportunity presents itself for me to help, I am gonna do it and ask for forgiveness later."

Hanna stared blankly for a moment. She really hadn't expected Noreen to outright agree with her. Argue, definitely. But not agree. Still, she somehow found herself unable to turn her away. "Ok, just... Try to be careful."

Next Chapter - Skirmish on a Summer Night

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