15 Manta

    All three of them flipped cards over at the same time, Nix shook his head at the younger sister. "That seems like a lot of credits."

    Sharl nodded in agreement, "A billion credits for a binding stone?  What kind of loon would pay that?"

    Ronnie stuck her tongue out at her sister. "We could go in halfsies."

    Sharl laughed and flipped over another card.  "You just answered my question."

    Ronnie watched Nix scoop up all three cards again.  "How come the only card game you know is War?  That's a kids game!"

    "Makes sense since I learned it as a kid."  Nix turned at the slapping noise.  Soup had taken to using a flipper on the floor to get his attention.  "Stop with the racket already."

    "I'll let her out."  Ronnie walked to the door and opened it, Soup scuttled quickly outside.  "Love my new jammies by the way."

    After drinking all of his wine and 'conversing' for a few hours, the sisters had talked Nix into making pajamas.  Sharl, who was always cold, went with red flannel top and bottoms.  Ronnie opted for the smooth comfort of black silk ones.

    Ronnie lay back on the bed and stretched slowly.  "It's a crime to keep such a comfortable bed to yourself."

    "Which is why the two of you are here."  He scooped up the last of the cards and proclaimed the obvious. "I win."

    Sharl was sitting cross-legged on the bed, her dark eyes watching him.  "What's next for you Nix?"

    "Going to investigate the Aquarions a bit."

    Ronnie yawned sleepily.  "Investigate what?"

    Nix remembered back to the Jenza market.  Although the Aquarion had been hostile, it had been very careful not to injure Shana. "They do small raids on cities all across Colonial.  Why?"

    Ronnie's voice was muffled through the pillow.   "My theory is that they eat us."

    Sharl made a face, "please stop talking now sis."  She glanced back at Nix,  "do you have a theory?"

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    "Not really.  Just a lot of questions.  Given the risk they run, it must be very important to them."

    Sharl considered the idea, "try the Provost Marshal Office in Jenza. You might find more information with them."

    "Good tip.  Know where I can hut Mantas?"

    "Sure, there's an entire colony of them in Philly."  Sharl smiled at his confused look.  "Phelinomia. Be careful Nix, they are high-level elites."

    "Another good clue.  Thank you, Sharl."

    Sharl glanced at her sister, who had fallen asleep.  "Fancy a swim?"


    He dropped both sisters off at the Jenza gate a few hours later.  They immediately left for Wisteria while he decided to stay and make some purchases in the Jenza market.  The vendors in the fabric section all knew him by sight, right away they rushed to the front of their carts and started listing their current stock. Usually, he bought a lot.

    After picking up more fabric he headed toward the boutique. Lela was standing in front of the shop, talking with Sosa, a young Tailor they had hired.  Maye had decided that they needed to become self-sufficient and had hired the young man after giving him a few tests. She had also dropped the consignment on Nix's goods down to ten percent.  He waved at the two of them and entered the shop.

    "Morning Nix."  Maye smiled at him.  The young man had come out of nowhere and had saved their boutique. He was now considered family. Not only had they made a lot of money, but it helped reestablish their reputation that had plummeted when Maye could no longer make clothes.

    Nix sat the days' product line on the counter, then pulled out an additional box.  "Thought I would try some new items,  want to take a look?"

    Maye nodded, her eyes showing excitement.  "Let's take a look."

    Nix took out two separate items and placed them on the counter.

    Swimsuit: Malu Aquatic

    Description: One Piece swimsuit

    that features underwater breathing.

    Non-combat only.  Female only.

    Swimsuit: Malu Aquatic

    Description: Bikini swimsuit

    that features underwater breathing.

    Non-combat only.  Female only.

    Maye carefully examined each one.  "Very nice quality Nix.  I'll put them on mannequins in the store window and see what kind of interest there is."

    "Sounds good Maye."   Two small arms wrapped around his waist from behind.  He grinned and helped her up on the counter.

    "This our new product line Nix?" Shana gave him a sweet smile. "I like it."

    "Thanks, Shana."  Nix patted her head.  "Hey, would you mind talking to me about the Aquarions?"

    She made a sour face but nodded anyway.  "I don't mind."

    "Did you hear them speak or say anything?"

    Shana nodded.  "The one who grabbed me said to calm down and that she wouldn't hurt me."

    "Oh, I see.  Hear anything else?"

    "She called me an odd name, Caisong or something like that."

    "Very helpful. Thank you."


    An hour later Nix took the portal to Phelinomia. Like Hispana, Phelinomia was a continent made up of a large cluster of archipelagos.  The Manta colony that Sharl mentioned was located on one of the bigger center islands call Lapu.

    The portal platform was located outside of the city walls, and although Nix was curious to see what the Phelinomia capitol looked like, he decided to hunt instead.  After a thirty-minute jog, he was wading into the knee-deep water that surrounded Lapu.

    The center of the island was dominated by a large volcanic crater.  According to Sharl, it was filled with water and the Mantas guarded it fiercely.

    As soon as he stepped into the water, a huge black Manta surged out of the shallows and started flapping toward him.  Manta's in Colonial were equally at home in the water or the air.

    When it was in range, Nix sent a fire strand at it.  The creature turned suddenly, howling in a pitch that hurt his ears, it fled rapidly while towing him behind.

    A coughing Nix sent a second flame strand at it, slowing its progress to a slow walk.  This gave time for him to get to his feet.  The third strand he sent a moment later froze it in place.  A few minutes after that, it crashed to the ground.

    It dropped a single black pearl.  Nix skinned it and canned the meat.  He looked down at the corpse and wiped the saltwater from his stinging eyes.  "So... two strands right away."

    Nix spent the next three hours slowly making his way to the crater.  There were three kinds of Manta.  The Black ones were the largest and definitely the most aggressive.  The blue ones were faster, they were like the ones ridden by the Aquarian and then there were the white ones.  He had only run into one of them, but that had been enough.  Even with three strands on it, Nix had been dragged around for fifteen minutes.  In the end, he had broken through with a fourth strand and completely bound it down.

    [Your Flame Strands skill has improved to 14]

    The sun was high in the sky by the time Nix grabbed the lip of the crater and peeked over.  The clear blue water was within a few feet of the top and perfectly reflected the clouds on its calm surface.

    He pulled off his armor and stowed it away, then he slipped on the Aquatic suit.  He hadn't tried his speed out since he had earned the 'Badge of Aquarius,' but if that stacked with his Water Mage Ring, he'd be difficult to catch.

    He slipped quietly into the water, keeping his hand brushing the rock wall, he slowly descended.  The first two hundred feet was clear blue water after that small tendrils of plants and seaweed of all shapes and sizes strained upward towards the surface.  His blue aquatic suit blended easily with the surrounding plants making him nearly invisible.

    Near the bottom, he spotted his goal.  He had hoped that the crater was a nesting ground and his hunch had been right.  Clusters of nests were being guarded by pairs of Manta.  He heart thudded in his chest, there was no way he'd be able to even take one without a full group.

    He swam close to the bottom and gave the nesting area a wide berth.  There was another small clearing so he was moving toward it when he saw a movement.  Two Aquarions were speaking in the area he had targeted.  Nix let himself drift closer with small movements of his hands, his body hidden in the weedy floor.

    They were both females, to Nix's untrained eye one seemed much older than the other.  He was just close enough to overhear their words.

    "All four should hatch in the next few days, with the Seas blessing, one of them should be an Aviante."

    "I will let you know when it begins."  The younger one bowed and waited while the other shot toward the surface.

    Nix followed the second Aquarion when it started swimming a few moments later.  She swam fast for a few minutes until arriving at the crater wall, surprising she descended into the weeds and disappeared from sight.

    He moved forward cautiously to the spot where the Aquarion had disappeared.  There he found the entrance to a cave, it was nearly invisible with the weeds covering it. Swimming downward he kept one hand on the wall to keep his bearing as the light quickly dimmed.  After a few hundred feet the tunnel ended in a round room. In the middle of the room was a nest with four eggs. The Aquarion he had followed was circling it leisurely.

    Without stopped to think, Nix immediately sent out three strands.  One hit each arm while the third wrapped around her waist.  She shrieked in pain, but couldn't manage to move.

    He watched as the Aquarion grew weaker, her life force slowly dwindling.  Without reason, he dropped the strands, causing her to collapse onto the floor.  She was too weak to do anything as he snatched the eggs one at a time.  Her eyes were wide in horror when he grabbed the palest egg.

    "Is this the Aviante?  I'll leave it if you answer a few questions."

    Her pale blue eyes stared at him, with effort she managed to prop herself up with one arm.

    "Ask your questions human."

    "Why do you try and take our people? What is the Caisong?"

    "How do you know that word?"    She raised her hand causing it to glow brightly, immediately Nix dodged to one side and shot out a fire strand.  An object she had been holding in her hand dropped to the floor, Nix moved closer and picked it up.

    "Is this a weapon?"  He shook his head at her and dropped the strand again.  "So much for mercy."  He picked up the egg and placed it in his inventory.

    She laughed at him, blood in the corner of her mouth.  "It's too late, I called them."

    Nix activated Deep Blue and chose Lake Cavern.  He smiled at the laughing Aquarion and at the half dozen Mantas that swam into the cave.  "Cya..."

    A moment later the human disappeared, leaving the Aquarion howling in anger and grief.
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