The Beckoning Sky
The world of Praxis has withstood crisis after crisis, the age known as The Renaissance had therefore been a breath of fresh air to the inhabitants. A time to recover, to grow and to reflect. Many of the wonders brought about in the ages thereafter would have their roots in this age when, or so the histories claim, the Principal Goddess took a more direct hand in shaping the world. The floating town of Luminance still attested to this as the Lady Eiraiha museum stood where once her own house had been. In this new age such matters were not considered mere tales of fancy though, as Celestials still dwelt on Praxis according to the laws laid down by Lady Eiraiha to prevent hubris. More than a few of them married mortals who would eventually become immortals, sometimes deities if found capable. One said to be in line for ascension was the current Matrika Beluaine, Maraina vi Alloriel, whom for the past thousand years had led mamonmekind.
One of the last remaining Serebim birthed by Demon Lord Seretique, she had shown wisdom and depth of thought unprecedented in her family. Yet she had spoken of passing the title down to a new Matrika who could better shape the world in this age where people gazed at the sky with longing. One day, maybe not today, they would be able to leave Praxis’ cradle and explore the sea of stars, their anticipation reflected in the fields of science being explored. Though the inland was still verdant green, perhaps more so as its inhabitants migrated to the new coastal habitations such as the partially submerged city of Mu. Continental Zipangu had therefore undergone some changes. The imperial family still ruled, though slightly differently than before as the improved relations with other nations had brought an influx of new ideas and ideals. This was something that Aosagi Mi-fi believed to be for the best, though it did not lessen her annoyance at having to go through these interminable interviews. Sung Kaen was the latest obstacle she would have to overcome.
“…Aosagi, first name Mi-fi. Aced the preliminary tests despite less than optimal bodily proportions for this mission.” The balding man tugged on his pointed stringy beard. “Glowing recommendations from examiners, psychological profile gives a clean bill of health, physical shown as identical.” He raised an eyebrow and re-read the next part. “You’ve even secured a declaration of good intentions from Lady Clover’s temple? And another from Lady Eiraiha’s no less. Even one from Lady Liccitia’s main cathedral. I must say this is quite impressive. I would have dismissed these as outright fabrications had I not been able to verify them.” Mi-fi shrugged, she could hardly care less about his believing as long as things checked out. “I cannot however give the approval without asking you a very simple question.” He slammed a fist down on his desk. “Why would a member of the Empress’ family be so thrice damned insistent on going on what will most likely be a suicide mission?”
Mi-Fi sighed. “My relation to our Empress, may she live forever, is so distant that I barely can be considered to be closer kin than say the nearest Garnet Slime. I have applied under my own family name and do not wish to even remotely imply any interference from the imperial family.” She fingered the MARE in its compartment on her belt, a sign of annoyance that she was unaware of. “As for why? Our kind lost many things when the piercing of heaven’s pearl destroyed our ancestral home on the moon. This mission, the first one attempting to get close-up photographs of the orbital ruins that have circled Praxis since that time, is therefore one that has to be undertaken by a Tsuki no Usako. Those ruins are the unintended tombs of those that died in said catastrophe.” She sniffed, pulling her fan from her belt and unfolding the deceptively carrot-like contraption to reveal a pure rendition of Aillaeah. “As the law states, descendants are given first rights to any ruins they can prove belong to their family, or species.” She fanned herself lightly.
“Yet be that as it may, even with regards to the evidence provided in the form of this… badge from that time.” He sighed. “I still think this is going to be a major waste of your life. The craft can be adapted to your form, but even the Melissae proclaim that it is but a prototype based on theoretical extrapolation. If anything goes wrong and you do not die instantly in a ball of flame, you still will die because you cannot fly or even absorb the impact as some… Slime applicants have suggested. Yet you insist on doing this?” Mi-fi took a moment to consider this, for form and to surreptitiously fan away a slight bit of gas she’d unleashed quietly. “Yes sir. I’ve spent years working towards this mission. I have no intention of backing out now.” Sung Kuen stood up and walked over to the window, where he gazed contemplatively at the cleared land where a lone hangar contained the experimental craft. “Write your will and report to the hangar first thing in the morning. I will not have it be said that you or the craft were not optimally prepared.” Mi-fi bowed in thanks and made her goodbyes. Sung Kuen waited until her soft footsteps faded towards the stairwell before almost ripping the window out of its frame and gulping in fresh air. Though respectful of the Tsuki no Usako in general, the project leader privately wondered how anyone married to a Zenko could stand their occasional smell.
“Yo Mifster~!” Mi-fi had no time to dodge before Natty pounced on her. The Cabbit was her best friend and sister since childhood, yet her exuberant personality was a little hard to bear after such an ordeal. “Uff! Natty, please… It’s been a bit trying in there.” Natty’s grin was rather mischievous. “Uhuh, I can smell it. Even if I couldn’t that greenish guy hanging out of the window would’ve clued me in. Did he say yes? Or does he need another round of carrot ghosts?” She leapt off and landed with a grace that Mi-fi envied, claws extending lightly before retracting as her legs took her weight again. “I resent the implication that I would need to gas him into saying yes.” She did peek upward and coloured red as she saw Sung Kuen draped over the windowsill. “That is completely uncalled for.” Natty giggled and gave a light pat on Mi-fi’s bottom. “Humans. Can’t live without them, but don’t they just make mountains out of anthills, eh?” A slight growl came from her stomach. “Lets celebrate with some carp on greens.” Mi-fi laughed. “Just greens for me, unless you want another carp.” Natty tried and failed to look disgusted. “Aiming low, eh? Cabbits don’t look good with a large ass like you Usako do. A big belly now…” She rubbed her toned abdomen happily.
“Just need to get married for a perfect curve there, sooner or later.” Mi-fi laughed. “You’ll get a big ass then too, count on it. I’m just glad mine’s naturally a touch slimmer than most.” They happily spent the rest of the day talking. Mi-fi really did adore her sister Natty, though of different species they shared more than a few interests and over the years their bonds had gone a bit beyond sisterly friendship. Mi-fi’s mother and father had only recently had more children, triplet little sisters who would have to accept that Natty was their big sis as well if Mi-fi had anything to say about it. Early the next morning she waved goodbye as the Cabbit rode the quadrail train east. Natty had taken a short holiday to support Mi-fi, but as a key technician in the Suszaku-array she needed to get back in time to help with the mission’s coördination. Though a Zipangese effort at the heart, the near-orbital observation mission would require expertise and coöperation from observatories and scientists the world over. The only casualty so far was a ‘scientist’ from the Darklands, who had attempted to steal tech from the project.
Mi-fi had no intention of ever visiting the volcanic continent that, or so disputed histories claimed, had been wrested from the ocean floor by its sole ruler, Renburn Fennich the Deathknight. Yet she could not help but wonder what life was like in that dark fairytale kingdom. She had to rush to get to the hangar on time, being scolded for having but a single line of words in the obligatory will. In the week thereafter she was kept on a strict diet. She was near overloaded with specialized advice by a Komodi who made her sign a bundle of forms beforehand, and throughout this time technicians were measuring and remeasuring her posterior. In the end, this was worth it as her first test-drive of the Tsubasa no Hikari proved comfy. Yet that and subsequent flights were still low to the ground, relatively. She’d put a Lorelie off her singing by barrel-rolling past her, a last ditch effort to avoid the woman. Each and every little mishap led to another round of tinkering, until finally… “We’re good to go, Aosagi-san. Tomorrow will be optimal according to the observatories. Are you certain you do not wish to take more with you though?”
Mi-fi shook her head at the tired-looking Melissae. “No Anki-san. I’d rather preserve that space for a bit of emergency fuel or another air-bag. My book, my fan, a carrot and a bottle of water are all I will take along in terms of baggage. And one change of underwear, for good luck. Was there anything else?” She received a nod in reply. “Yes, we also got this… image from Suszaku-array.” She handed a grayscale print of a familiar bottom with the text ‘Aim for the Rabbit’s Moon’ painted on it. Mi-fi stared at it, then burst out laughing. The term Rabbit’s Moon was not without some controversy. It hearkened to Aillaeah of course, but also to the Tsuki no Usako’s most prominent feature. Hence only close friends could use the term so teasingly, old records stated that nearly twelve centuries ago war had almost broken out over an ill-advised mixup involving it. “Natty is a rather unique personality, eh?” Mi-fi grinned as she nodded. “Definitely, she’s a full sister to me though. I couldn’t love her more if I tried.” They quickly came to the heart of the matter though, with weather conditions being favourable the launch would be tomorrow at dawn. Mi-fi forced her excitement down and slept like a log.
At dawn she was cinching her padded uniform tight, the aircraft had finally been fitted with the intended rocket modules instead of the prior slow-leak water drums and systems check had been a breeze. During the drive to the launching ramp Mi-fi refrained from running more diagnostic checks, instead calming her mind by reading one of the shorter stories in the book she kept close wherever she went. Natty held the only other copy, a gift from their human grandmother to them on her deathbed. To say that they treasured these books was quite an understatement, they contained the stories collected with care over the course of a lifetime. Stories that Mi-fi and Natty had been told as children about a group of kids who went on a series of magical adventures in the early years of the Renaissance. Grandmother Hisana claimed that these children had lived then and, though it being on the far side of the implausibility-curve, their adventures had really taken place. Yet time had erased quite a bit of what had happened, or so it seemed. She’d gathered the stories from across the globe and by comparing them had verified that they were parts of the same thing.
Mi-fi wished almost that she had set out to complete the research, but during school she’d discovered not just a talent, but a love for flying. Anything that needed a pilot to get airborne, she adored. She did get depressed at times over the fact that state of the art aircraft still were less graceful than the average harpy-kin and that she probably would never see something like the sky-ships her ancestors had flown. Yet she had kept her book, as had Natty, maybe one day they would publish the stories, her parents held some incomplete transcriptions they’d made at times. The tale she currently re-read felt incomplete somehow, as if her grandmother had not been able to recover the whole story. Call it a hunch, but the children had gone on a trip to Zipangu to learn the secret of the moon. The story mentioned them going to the Empress of the time… but not a thing more. Tsuki no Usako were habitually obsessive over small details, she knew that, but still every incomplete story pulled at her. A discreet beep sounded outside and she put the book in her small luggage compartment.
“This is Aosagi checking in, over.” A tone sounded from the modified ARE in the dashboard before a reply came. “This is mission control. Aosagi, you are cleared for take-off as soon as you don the helmet, over.” Mi-fi did so. “Helmet in place, ready to go ahead mission control. Sound the warning siren please. OVER~!” Outside the Tsubasa no Hikari a low, raw sound emerged from the inverted cones mounted on poles for miles around. She used her large toes to steer the wheels even as her hands opened the valves for the propellor engine and a familiar whine started up. The engine was unique as the propellor could be retracted mid-flight to allow a glide towards the ground. Or to use the booster rockets. They were the only thing that made Mi-fi uneasy about this aircraft. Three arrays of five tubes that fired in sequence. One mishap and she would be a roasted moon bunny. The testing had been tricky, if manageable, but that had not been with flammable fuel. Still, she guided the craft off the ground and into the sky, towards the pink-streaked clouds with the sun at her back, a vista that could enchant anyone looking at it.
Zipangu’s lush landscape descended below her line of sight and bar a few curious Zvezda in the distance she soon found herself climbing above the heights of natural flyers and into the clouds. The altimeter steadily climbed nearer the mark where she would have to even out. Then a flash of luxurious brown hair and a happy exclamation passed her by. A Goddess out for a tryst in the clouds? Mi-fi giggled, Celestials and their antics had gained quite a reputation, if she had not been on a mission she might have circled the couple for a better view. As it was though, she leveled out the Tsubasa no Hikari and cut the propellor. Small intricate gears whirred to life and slowed the blades, retracting them without a hitch at the appropriate time. Mi-fi pushed on several buttons that primed the first stage rockets and opened the camera dome’s outer shell. Soon she cascading thrum of the rockets reached her ears mere moments before she was pressed more deeply into her seat. The sky darkened as she reached the upper atmosphere and the lunar ruins appeared. They still were but pebbles on the horizon, but the camera would soon take its first photographs.
The device, made in the Solaris Hive Cluster, was capable of recording images quite a bit further away than even an Impundulu or Thoth could gaze. It used crystalline wiring to send those images to a custom sensory stone, something that could survive even a meteoric collision with the ground and then still be able to relay those recordings. “H-how could you?!” Mi-fi turned her head so fast that she twisted an ear, besides her helmet a miniature sending of a slightly tousled Goddess floated. “Not only do you spy on us, but you have the gall to record that? INSOLENT MORTAL!!” Mi-fi shook her head. “I’m not spying on you. I’m on a mission to take as-close-as-we-can-get photographs of the lunar ruins. Something that was communicated to New Heaven extensively.” The miniature woman spat fury. “LIAR! PERVERT!” Her sending exploded and by doing so initiated a cascade failure in the Tsubasa no Hikari’s energy systems. Mi-fi screeched as all the rocket stages seemed to fire at once. A Kaaiman sitting at her favourite outcropping on her home lake many miles below was looking at the clouds while her husband cleaned their home. She saw a massive flash of light followed by a stark line of fire trailing upwards into the sky.
As she went to scold her husband for sneaking her hallucinogenic mushrooms, Mi-fi finally regained control of her aircraft. Too late though. As the rockets puffed out their seemingly last clouds of flame the Tsubasa no Hikari started spinning gently, farther away from Praxis. “Oh pellets on a rotten stick!” She checked the ARE, but it was fried. The emergency air bag was functional, she could breathe normally, for all the good that it would do her. Thinking quickly, she opened the baggage compartment and felt around on its bottom for the MARE she’d brought along at the last minute. Flipping open the cover and hitting the contacts crystal she uttered a prayer that the small device had enough strength left to send at least one more message. “NATTY! Listen, the Tsubasa no Hikari was damaged by an irate Goddess and I’ve been flung out to space! I do not have enough fuel to get back! PUBLISH THE STORIES! I’ll try to send the aircraft crashing down, I’ve maybe just enough left for that. I LOVE YOU, MY SISTER!” The MARE fizzled out. Mi-fi sighed, wishing she could wipe away the tears that flowed from her eyes as the reality sank in. The controls worked somewhat, so when the spinning craft was almost vertically aligned with Praxis, Mi-fi hit the rocket firing buttons and closed her eyes, praying for a miracle.
It should be noted that while Praxis had known a very early form of orbital travel in the Age of Marvels, modern Praxians knew little if anything of the properties of their world’s atmosphere from the outside. The Tsubasa no Hikari shot forward at just the wrong angle and the atmospheric friction was quite enough to bounce it off. Mi-fi screeched anew as the accelerating craft spun towards the lunar ruins. When she hit, there was only sound from inside the Tsubasa no Hikari… A curiosity she noted as her consciousness faded. A shining figure floated towards her… Mi-fi started her journey to wakefulness in confusion. She felt soft, warm bedding covering her naked body and the smell of cooking rice teased her nose. A pen trailed across paper to her left, accompanied by a cheery hum interspersed with the occasional tsk. A gentle, but unmistakably male sound of footsteps approached and a pleasant voice started speaking. “How is she?” The pen clicked as the unseen writer laid it down. “She’s doing well, I think she’ll be awake soonish.” A gentle hand ruffled Mi-fi’s hair. “Its best not to force it though. How is that contraption of hers?” The pleasant voice sighed before answering. “Mostly fit for the scrapyard. I don’t think it was meant as a spacecraft.” A soft rasping sound followed that statement. “Well, you go and have a shave then, and a nap. I’ll stay here a little longer.” A sweet kiss followed and the gentle footsteps departed.
Mi-fi dozed as the pen resumed writing and recalled how often she’d slept while her grandmother wrote down her stories. Natty and she had hogged the rug for that purpose, but as soon as they dozed off, Hisana had always put a blanket over them. Mi-fi rose to consciousness again when her stomach growled. The pen had stopped writing and a wiff of a bad smell permeated the room. “Ahh, you’re awake? Don’t move just yet.” Gentle hands held her head, then checked her pulse on both arms at once. “Sorry about the smell, its a side-effect of pregnomancy.” A mischievous giggle followed and Mi-fi finally opened her eyes. The room was lit by a gentle glow and the woman leaning over her slowly drifted into focus. A finger was moved in front of her eyes and swayed side-to-side. Mi-fi’s eyes followed it at first, before looking at this… doctor? The woman was at the stage of pregnancy where her belly was just a touch pudgy. She wore a dress that complimented her figure and had calluses on her hands distinctive of scribes and magi. A brown-grey tail with almost black bands swished from side to side, catching Mi-fi’s eyes for a moment, before her gaze traversed a milky bosom to gaze at the most inquisitive grey eyes the Usako had ever beheld.
“W-who?” A finger was laid onto her lips. “Hush, no rushing. I’ll help you sit up somewhat, then we’ll see if you can drink a bit.” So said, so done. Mi-fi coughed at the first sip, but taking things slowly eased the dryness in her mouth, though it grated on her to have to wait so long. She snuck more gazes at the woman, white hair with a beautiful luster framed a face that had to be called gorgeous yet gentle. A short braid at the back of her head was decorated with green gemstones and a ribbon. Even while sitting down she gave the impression of barely contained enthusiasm. Bushy pointed ears poked out of the hair, their colours matching the tail. “I know it must be a bit of a shock, finding yourself alive and all after that spectacular crash.” A disarming smile, possessed of pointy teeth, was given. “My husband was working nearby, so he brought you inside and well… Here you are. Hm… I know you have a ton of questions, I’ll answer them as best as I’m able, but I hope you’ll answer a few of mine as well. First though, you need to keep your strength up so I’ll get us some food.” She waved a hand casually and two bowls of rice, one decorated with a carrot and the other with fish bits floated over.
They both ate with a vengeance, Mi-fi secretly glad for the chop-sticks provided. People in other parts of Praxis thought them a charmingly quaint custom of Zipangu, or of Ureonggaksi in the more remote regions. A humorously loud dual burp marked the end of the meal. “That hit the spot, eh? Now then let me do the preliminaries. I am called Rukia of Ishfell-Wayfarer-Saerti. You are in the largest of the lunar ruins where my husband, I and my sisters have shall we say set up camp?” She sighed. “I’m afraid that your… rocketcraft is pretty much a pile of slag. Not that it was fit for orbital exploration in the first place. I’ve salvaged what I could of the equipment, but… let’s just say its not much better. The ARE is completely broken, the MARE is crushed and the glass doohicky is a bunch of shards. But can you tell me who you are? And why you tried to reach the ruins in that contraption?” Mi-fi made a despairing noise before answering. “I’m Aosagi Mi-fi, pilot of the Tsubasa no Hikari. I was supposed to stay within the atmosphere’s upper reaches and take photos with the camera dome, but erh… A Goddess having a tryst amid the clouds thought I was spying on her and caused a massive systems failure that put me outside.. Trying to get back in somehow bounced me away again.”
Rukia nodded. “Hmmm…” Then she leaned in and touched their foreheads together for a moment. “Guirlanaei, minor Goddess of Harvests. Sheesh, what a hothead, I’ll tan her hide for her as soon as I can. Sorry for peeking in like that, but its easier to identify such miscreants that way.” She tapped her fingers together contemplatively before standing up. “You just lie here for a bit, I’ll be back soon. Then we can discuss this~!” She tapped the book lying open on a side table. Hisana’s book that looked oddly enough to be in better repair than previously. A stack of notes lay beside the volume. Mi-fi wanted to get up actually, but her legs still felt rather weak, so she stayed put. The room as she now could see was indeed old. Grey rock covered in… some sort of strange design. If she didn’t know better she’d say it almost resembled a sand sculpture with coarse sand as the walls were covered in tiny, tiny holes. Each hole was filled with something unseen that still gave a different impression than just empty space. “Yeah, those holes were there when we got here. Spacedust goes right through eventually.” A different woman, carrying an egg and trailing a long finned tail had stepped quietly into the room.
“I wish it didn’t, the building must have been spectacular in its time, but thousands of years being scoured by dust has left it a bare pumice-like shade of its former glory.” Clawed hands gently traced the contours of a design set into a plinth. “Rukia’s a genius with magic and I’ve a knack for details, but this is the best we could make of it. The name’s Metala by the way, mrs. of Ishfell-Humblestone-Saerti. Rukia’s checking in on Emmy, so she asked us two to keep you company for a while.” Graceful wings shrugged slightly as blue hair gathered in a loose braid emerged from an elegant beret. “H-hi, I’m Aosagi Mi-fi. A pleasure to meet you.” They spent a while discussing art, interspersed with Metala’s occasional fussing over her egg. Not long after Rukia returned, bringing in another woman who must be Emmy. Soft Dachshundlike ears emerged from a glorious mane of curvy hair. A wide dress was still stretched by the straining dome of a belly. “Heya Emmy, they still keep us waiting?” Emmy nodded. “Hmhm, its a bit of a hassle though. Aered’s checking the perimeter but he should be here s-”
“I’m here.” A small cloud hovered over the head of a handsome young man whose hair was a red nearly as colourful as the rainbows that formed his irises. “We don’t have a lot of time left girls, the impact destabilized the ruins too much.” Mi-fi’s ears drooped. “Its not your fault miss, the old place simply was too far gone as it is for mortal exploration years before you were born. Together my wives and I have kept it… marginally together these past few months, but that’s pure grace time.” He hugged all three of them at once. “I’ll consign the rubble to Praxis’ atmosphere once we’ve left. But where are my manners? I am Aerdayasêr of Ishfell-Wayfarer-Humblestone-Saerti, God of stellar exploration and husband to the three visions of loveliness seated here.” Three hands playfully swatted his rump. “We’re too wide to be lovely, you shameless flatterer.” Rukia giggled. “We can’t take the time then, not now at least, to fully discuss this treasure you brought us Mi-fi.” All four fidgeted slightly. “But we’d thought these stories of our early adventures lost to time and the… malevolent efforts of Fennich and his chums.”
Mi-fi looked flabbergasted. “You are the children from the stories my grandmother collected?” They nodded. “Yes, though the tales are… incomplete and in some cases not entirely accurate. I’ve used the time you needed in recovery to make a few notes. I’m terribly sorry, but since Emmy’s close to delivery we couldn’t heal you instantly as she’s the best healer in our small family. I think I did well enough to repair your body, though…” She removed the blankets and Mi-fi saw a jagged scar running down the side of one leg. “It’ll be a while before that leg works as well as it possibly can. Though I don’t think it’ll be recovering fully.” Mi-fi noticed something else, instead of being fully nude she was wearing- “A nappy?” she tested her injured leg and aside from some stiffness it would hold her weight quite well. “It works fine as far as I can tell. A little stiff, but… why am I wearing a nappy?” They laughed as Rukia coloured slightly. “Old habits just die hard. Its still a good way to make someone feel relaxed and comfy, by my experience. All the better for healing.” She nodded as their husband squeezed her shoulder, her tail coiling around his torso. Two other tails joined hers. “But it seems we’re out of time. Aered will bring you and your rocketcraft down to Praxis and explain the situation.”
Not long thereafter Mi-fi found herself back at the base, where an unexpected and nearly berserk Natty glomped her and refused to let go. The explanation given by Aerdayasêr spared her the brunt of the governmental wrath over the craft’s destruction, and of the imminent obliteration of the ruins. In the weeks that followed she actually received an imperial recommendation along with a hand-crafted engraved set of usu and kine. They were small consolation though, for her damaged leg could not extend as well as before. Dancing was not a problem, walking was fine and she could manage a run… but not so did gymnastics and giant leaps go as before. Thus she would never again fly in experimental aircraft, but she took the book of their grandmother with the bundle of notes given to her and started anew as a writer. Over the years her neighbours would talk about the occasional visits by what they presumed were Celestials. Natty and the husband they shared kept their mouths closed though, but Aosagi Mi-fi’s Munchkin Tales would etch themselves into Praxis history, firmly imprinting upon young minds that anything was possible. The older minds were reminded of innocence and the efforts of those now gone from Praxis who had worked so hard to make their world a better place.
It has to be said though that a moment after Renburn Fennich learned of the books, they were placed on the list of banned works as maintained in the Darklands. The Saerti-clan though immediately championed the books and eventually made Mi-fi and Natty official cousins. Jealous tongues claimed they only did it for the mocchi, but those were quickly silenced.