Jack shivered as the bus fish dove into the water. But it wasn’t cold at all. He blinked a few times but the water was perfectly clear. He noticed the fish. Countless fish; all swimming in mountain-sized schools. They moved constantly and formed huge crescents, rainbows and roads. Jack realised that the fish he was on was gigantic. The part that had been sticking out of the water when they got on was merely the tip of the iceberg. It was round, smooth, vividly blue and red and apparently benevolent. That was until a hill-sized school of fish cut it off and it blew bubbles at them angrily. Nevertheless, a perfectly PG fish. Jack turned to Jean and the others and spoke. Of course, he had foolishly forgotten that he was underwater and swallowed a mouthful of ocean. Beardface laughed bubbles mightily. Jean shook her head exasperatedly and grabbed Jack by the face. He squirmed as the salt water burned his throat and lungs. She kissed him on the mouth. Jack felt a blob of air fill up his lungs. When they broke away Felix and Beardface were elbowing each other and winking stupidly.
“So, that’s why she went looking for him.” Beardface signed.
“Love conquers all!” Felix signed.
Jean looked away soon enough for Jack not to see her blushing. Jack didn’t catch any of it. When he saw their hands moving he thought they were trying to warm up or something. He had no knowledge of this language or the people that used it; the Kewlio.
While some, in fleeing from the land, headed to the outer fringes, the obscure islands and the odd floating town the greatest amount of refugees went under the sea. You see, Salvatora, in her infinite beneficence, created a plant that, if eaten, allowed one to breath underwater. It also had a low glycemic index. As a result, people from the furthest hills, the deepest caverns and the busiest cities flocked to the seas. Together they formed a new home for themselves and all those in need: Kew. The people of Kew: the Kewlio, soon learned that spoken language wouldn’t work underwater. This knowledge was immortalised in the first ever Kewish aphorism: “Never open your mouth underw…glubglubglub.” And so, within the first few days of their formation, people were already starting to form their own signed languages. Now one year later: the most commonly used of those sign languages: Das Kew is signed throughout the seas. Das Kew is the official language of Kew although the two major dialects: Kew Bro and Kew Beenz are also quite prevalent and demand to be noticed. Note: these signed languages are in no way related to the signed languages used in the the forests of Head Island.
As Jack breathed the bubble of Jean that was inside him his whole body calmed. He looked ahead and nearly lost his breath again. There was a gigantic mass of pink fish ahead of them. As they drew nearer, they realised it wasn’t a school of fish at all. Rather, it was a massive valley of pink coral. What Jack didn’t expect was what he would see when they went into the Pink Coral Valley. The Bubble city of Kew. Even from this distance he could gauge the tremendous size of it all. There were hill-sized bubble structures nestled in the coral mountains. A drop-off that opened upon the yawning ocean. Long snake-like formations of people moved between them. The vivid mix of colour reminded Jack of Flockboast, but there was something more here. A purity, a kindness, a will. He couldn’t think of the word.
The bus fish stopped at one of the glowing bubbles and a few other people who had been on with them got off. Jack could see through the bubbles. There were people inside. Beardface showed Jack three fingers. And so they stopped three more times before getting off. As they went further into the heart of the Bubble city the traffic increased. Jack was amazed to see all kinds of people here. Beard Islanders from the North and South, who normally didn’t get along, Nose Islanders, Wizards, Molish and a great deal of Head Islanders too. Here they all existed together. Of course, there were also a lot of fish. The last stop was a particularly popular one. There were dozens, nay, hundreds of people swimming over to it. It was the biggest one yet. Jack gazed inside and saw what looked like row upon row of tables. He couldn’t hear. But he could see their cheerfulness, their laughter, their smiles. Beardface grabbed Jack and flung him over his back when they got to their stop. They swam off the bus fish and made their way onward with Felix taking the lead. Jack was startled when he saw that Felix had transformed into a fish. They passed the bubbles and traffic and went towards an oddly misshapen building. It was nothing like the translucent, luminescent bubbles he had seen. Upon drawing closer Jack managed to make out what it was. He even recognised it. It was the other half of the Queen’s Own Galleon.
There were several heavily armoured guards outside the QOG. They stood still as statues with mighty blades at their sides, the only sign that they were alive was the melodic stream of bubbles escaping from their helms. One of them stepped forward and began to sign. Jean swam towards the guard. He recognised her and let them pass. When Jack glided by the guards he thought he saw one of them fidget. Then he bumped his head on a tangential plank of wood and lost all of his breath. Fortunately, they surfaced soon after within the vessel. They stepped out of the water and into the bowels of the Queen’s Own Galleon. Jack spluttered noisily and took a desperate breath. Beardface patted him heavily on the back.
“Fret not, dear Jack, my lung capacity was much the same on my first jaunt into the depths. But come, compose yourself, Jean’s already gone on ahead.”
Jack began to recognise more of the ship. That being said, the last time he was on it he spent most of his time getting sick. They walked into what used to be the gallery. All the paintings were gone: lost in the fall. All save one: a painting of a tree that hung on the back wall. The gallery had been rearranged and made into a sort of court. There were tables and seats and a podium. There were about a dozen of those heavily armoured guards in the room. They were stared down as they walked in. Jean was already sitting, with a guard on either side of her. There was another heavily armoured knight at the podium. A few more even walked in and apparently changed shifts. Beardface, Felix and Jack sat down behind Jean, they were among a small crowd of people. There was some murmuring before the guard in front acted. They raised their hands and saluted with both hands forming a V-shape and cried: “Salvatora be praised!” Everyone joined in except Jack who had no idea what was going on. Beardface leant over and whispered in Jack’s ear:
“These armoured lot are the self-titled: Salvatora’s Knights. They formed soon after this woe began.” Felix leant over and whispered in his other ear.
“They’re a well-meaning bunch; dead-set on saving as many people as they can.”
“Who’s in charge?” Jack whispered back.
“An old friend.” Felix winked.
The knight at the Podium extended his arm and welcomed yet another of the knights. But this one carried himself differently. There was an experience, a jaded-ness, a weariness but also an endurance in his gait. The hairs had long since all gone silver. A Das Kew Interpreter stood up beside him.
“Doj!” Jack cried with surprising volume for one so attenuated. Before he knew what was happening two Knights had him by the shoulders.
“How dare you!” one of them cried.
“That’s our Boss you’re talking about!” spat the other angrily. The Das Kew Interpreter signed boisterously.
“Stand down, knights. That is a guest of honour.” Dojima said wearily. Jack could have sworn they had told him only a year had passed but Dojima spoke as if it were a decade. The knights retreated instantly at Dojima’s command. He looked at Jack and nodded.
“Welcome back, my friend.” He said. Jack nodded back weakly.
The beginning of the trial involved a smorgasbord of uninteresting ceremony and protocol. However, soon enough, though it didn’t feel like it, they got to the juice of the matter.
“Jean of the E’ko E’ni, you have stolen the property of Salvatora’s Knights in order to go on an unsanctioned mission to the fringes of Hat Island with little hope of success. You miraculously managed to survive and bring back survivors. However, you were responsible for the loss of two anti-mist suits and several other items. Furthermore, the jet fish you commandeered were meant to participate in a rescue mission headed for Southern Head Island. Your actions forced the sortie to be delayed and risked countless lives. What do you have to say for yourself.” Dojima said. Jean was looking him straight in the eyes.
“I did what I felt was right. I am sorry that my actions delayed the sortie and lost your property. I am more than willing to participate in any and all rescue missions. However, although my actions may have caused trouble for many others I felt it important to save someone I called friend.” The word friend resounded through the ship. The interpreter signed it with particular oomph. Jean bit her lip to maintain her composure but she didn’t break eye-contact with Dojima for a second. He eventually looked down and interlocked his fingers.
“I understand your intentions Jean. But intentions alone are not justification enough. Your actions have saved some but endangered more. Salvatora’s Knights do not make such decisions. We serve the greater good, that more rather than less life may be saved.”
“So do I.” Jean said. “But friends matter in my greater good.”
“Then you have said your piece.” Dojima said. “In accordance with our law the punishment is clear. Jean of the E’ko E’ni. You are under arrest.”
The knights grabbed Jean by her arms.
“Watch it!” Jean snapped.
“Shut up, prisoner!” spat one of the knights. “I’ve got family on Head Island! It’s your fault they’re not here now!”
Jean went silent.
“Calm down, knight.” Dojima said sternly. “Take her to the brig.”
“Just a moment.” There was a snap and the two knights on either side of Jean turned into bakawks. A cloaked spectator stood up.
“Is this truly your decision, Dojima?” she asked. She had green eyes that blazed calmly in the shadows of her hood.
“KayLenPai! What business do you have here?” Dojima said through gritted teeth.
“I came to see where we stand.” she said. Half a dozen knights chose that instant to dive onto her. They hurtled towards her at blinding speed, their weapons raised. The spectators screeched, Beardface bellowed, Jack gasped, the interpreter did the best they could. The hooded figure’s eyes flashed red, she shot out a hand from within the robes and made frantic signs. When she finished the incantation the knights’ weapons and armour all turned to dust and they collapsed on the floor in their underwear. The interpreter shrugged and apologised for not knowing Gixish (the sign language utilised by wizards to use magix).
“How can you do this, Dojima?” KayLenPai said indignantly. “Jean was your student! Your friend! She saved the desert nation and even managed to save others without your help. She should be a hero!”
“Every decision has consequences, every one. Everyone is equal before the law. There are no exceptions and there is no special treatment. Before I was merely her teacher. But now I am a leader. I must act decisively. I must act in accordance with the rules I have created. I cannot pick and choose where the rules apply otherwise they mean nothing. And without those rules order cannot be maintained and justice crumbles.”
“What good will it do?” asked KayLenPai.
“Immediately, directly: none. However, it will serve as an example of an unbiased system of justice. It will maintain the integrity of Salvatora’s Knights and ensure that we can continue to help people. Her punishment is necessary if order is to be maintained. These are the rules I stand by. I cannot act against them, otherwise I am unworthy and the system will fall to doubt and corruption.”
“I see.” KayLenPai’s eyes had gone blue. “I… I understand your decision. And… and I hope you can respect mine.” She lay her hand on Jean’s shoulder.
“I fear, I cannot accept it.” Dojima said. He moved the podium aside. He looked truly astonishing in his armour. It was deep blue and silver. He drew his bō and charged KayLenPai she raised her arm and shot out of blast of ice. He narrowly dodged it and it exploded against the wall of the ship, freezing it solid. He unleashed a haymaker blow that launched her into the crowd. She landed on top of Jack thereby annihilating the seat he was sitting on.
“Jack’s ribs…” Jack groaned.
“Oh, sorry, Jack.” she said and clicked her fingers. Jack’s ribs instantly healed. She stood up and her eyes blazed green again. Her voice lowered and became serious.
“I still have enough Magix to deal with you, Dojima.” Then she clapped her hands together. Everyone stopped. Dojima was frozen in mid-stride, his bō raised above his head.
“Jean’s coming with me.” KayLenPai said. Her eyes turned red again. “Catch us if you can.” She smirked triumphantly. There was one final finger snap, a blinding flash and she and Jean were gone.
The moment they had vanished everyone got unstuck and toppled over each other. Dojima grimaced. He went around to make sure everyone was alright. Some of the underpants wearing knights strode up to him and asked for his orders.
“For now, make sure everyone gets home safely. Then prepare for tomorrow’s sortie.”
“But, Boss! What about the prisoner?” asked one of the knights.
“What about them?” Dojima said levelly.
“Aren’t we going to capture her, Boss?”
” KayLenPai’s magix could have taken them anywhere in the Gnome Archipelago.”
“But, Boss!” Exclaimed the knight.
“Our first order of business is to save people, knight! Or have you forgotten that in your rage.” Dojima said. The knight shrunk back. “Now go make sure everyone is alright.” Dojima looked at Felix, Beardface and Jack and beckoned them with a finger.
They followed him to another room and he closed the door behind them.
“Felix, you didn’t have any part in this did you?” Dojima asked immediately.
“I was stuck just like you, Dojima-san!” Felix said.
“Beardface, what about you?” Dojima pressed.
Beardface was sobbing silently. “My axe.” he moaned. He was clutching what appeared to be a wooden handle, the axe head had turned to dust. Dojima turned away in a huff.
“Wait!” Jack cried. “Where did that wizard take Jean!”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” Dojima said.
Just then an armoured knight barged in.
“Boss! We report no serious injuries aside from the interpreter who was frozen in ice. We are however thawing her as we speak.”
“Good.” Dojima said. He turned back and something caught his eye. “Knight.” he said. “Why didn’t your armour turn to dust?”
“She… she missed me, Boss.”
“Hmm.” Dojima stepped closer. “It’s alright to be afraid, knight. Just make sure it doesn’t get in the way of you doing your job.”
“…You… Yes, Boss. I’m sorry, Boss.” the knight bowed his head low.
“And knight…” Dojima added.
“Yes, Boss?” The knight said, looking up.
“Escort these three to the Fish Hangar. Take them back up to Flotsam Town.”
“Ye… Yes, Boss!” the knight turned to them. “After you, sirs.” Dojima turned away and looked out to the drop-off and open ocean outside. The knight ushered Felix and the sobbing Beardface out of the room. He hoisted Jack onto his back.
“Oh!” the knight said suddenly. “Boss, I forgot to mention. The ice blast also froze the tree painting.”
“A frozen tree? It portends an ill winter.” Dojima said grimly. The knight made to leave; then Dojima spoke.
“Jack.” he said. The knight halted and Jack looked back.
“You understand why I did it, Jack?” Dojima said.
Jack’s long white hair fell over his red eyes.
“Good.” Dojima said. He didn’t look back once. The knight hesitated for a moment and then left.