Author's Note: Oh boy! I'm pretty excited to share this story with you, my dearest readers. I'm really looking forward to bring all of you to a whole new adventure. I enjoy writing this story and hope you'll enjoy reading it. I have been postponing my other stories just to write this. I apologize for the hiatus on Little Lily and A Tale of Woe. I'll get back to them once I'm done with this monstrous fic. I have already written the other chapters, so you don't have to worry about hiatus for this lovely story anytime soon. Again, thank you for reading this and enjoy A Journey to Cloud 9! Slash alert so no flamey please, I don't own a fire extinguisher here.

Journey to Cloud 9

Chapter 1: Sacrifice Mel

By Kalista Jia

(April 1st-3 2011)

Argo jolted out from the same guilty nightmare that he had been having for the past five years. Sure, he had done plenty of wrongs in his life that deserved punishment but this was getting ridiculous. Living the perfect life he had stolen from another man had its benefits but the emotional burden that accompanied wasn't as pleasant as he had anticipated. However as much as he did regret stealing, Argo sincerely doubted that even if the gods were to offer him a chance to undo the wrong, he would accept it. After all, he had come to cherish his loot a little bit too much to the point of obsession.

With a sigh, Argo combed his messy brown hair to the back of his skull, revealing a handsome face adorned with a pair of dark green eyes and a perfect jaw. 'The blessing of the gods' the villagers once called him. Argo inwardly chuckled. Such fools those peasants were. If only they could see the horror hidden behind his handsome charade, they would think twice before associating him to the gods. Demons perhaps. Never the gods.

"Alright, no need to have such solemn thoughts on my birthday." Argo scolded himself just as a melodic tune from the kitchen downstairs drifted to his ears. "I wonder and wonder. If only he knew the truth. What will he think of me then?"

Following the soft humming, Argo eventually reached the source. Chewed down his guilty feeling and took a deep breath, he braved himself and entered the small but homey kitchen. His nostrils flared as soon as he breathed in the delicious smell of pancakes, eggs, bacons and freshly baked cookies. Much to his own embarrassment, his stomach grumbled in a nice tune, earning a smile from the person making breakfast.

"Good morning." Argo greeted lovingly as he hugged his pretty cook around the waist. Mel, his sweet and beloved Mel, the main source of his nagging guilt, wore an elegant, white robe with a red stash around his slender waist. As usual, his light brown hair was tied into a ponytail that cascaded down to his shoulders. Aside from the charming body, Argo found himself utterly mesmerized by the pair of large, baby blues eyes that always seemed to flutter seductively beneath the lashes.

"Did you sleep well last night?" Argo asked in a husky tone while nibbling his lover's flawless milky nape.

"I finally get to sleep alone in my own bed, so of course I slept well." Mel answered bluntly as he turned the eggs over and continued his merry humming.

"Che! I'm hurt." Argo pouted teasingly. "What are you making? It smells so good."

"Your favorite breakfast," Mel grinned as he lifted a slender hand over his shoulder to flip a few strands of stray hair aside. "I was thinking of baking a strawberry cake for your birthday but I'm missing some ingredients. It can't be helped. So I hope you don't mind cookies and some miniature sweets instead. I'll make a superb lobster seafood dinner to make up for it, alright?"

"Who am I to complain when I have a beautiful cook serving my every meal? Don't worry. I'll gladly eat whatever you make." Argo purred.

Mel rolled his blue eyes and pinched his lover's nose. "You're a hopeless romantic."

Wiggling his brows, Argo took Mel's hand in his and blew a tender kiss over it. "I bet that was the reason you fell for me in the first place."

"Aren't you full of yourself today?" The other man chuckled. "Anyway, hurry up and help me set the table."

Planting a firm kiss on his Mel's cheek, Argo reluctantly detached himself from his lover's warmth and did as he was told. He meticulously arranged the utensils in perfect positions and poured two glasses of icy orange juice. "Let's finish the mission today as quickly as possible. I really want to have a good day rest."

"Of course," Mel replied with a worried frown. "Why? Are you not feeling well?"

"No, I just want to spend my birthday evening with you. I remember you promising me something special." Argo smirked as he watched Mel turned red from embarrassment. Although he wanted to tease his lover about the whole blushing business, he didn't push his luck. Instead, he focused on the particular task they had to do. "The reward this time is quite a fortune for such an easy mission, don't you think so?"

Mel shrugged as he scrapped the food from the frying pan onto the plates. "The lord's daughter has been eying on you for quite some time already. It doesn't surprise me that her father is paying you handsomely for a simple retrieval mission."

"Are you jealous?" Argo teased, earning a smack at the back of his head. "Sorry." he whimpered. "Seriously, I'm not interesting in Nawilia at all."

"You better not. There you go, enjoy." Mel set the breakfast on the table and took his seat on the opposite end of the milky wooden table.

Argo smiled at his plate as it was so cutely decorated as a way of portraying the cook's love in his work. The pancakes were perfectly round and thick with scrambled eggs sitting onto of it while being coated with sweet syrup. Along the perimeter of the plat lay three strips of bacons and two brown toasts smudged with gentle layer of chocolate. Colorful toppings such as strawberries, blueberries, kiwis and other tropical fruits enhanced the whole breakfast to a new level. Argo took a bite on the bacon and moaned blissfully. Mel's cooking skill was by far the best he had ever tasted. Argo swore his lover could turn even the most basic dish into a divine meal.

"I take it that you like the bacon." Mel smiled gleefully and popped a strawberry in his mouth.

"I believe 'like it' is an understatement. I am a blessed man." Argo chuckled and gobbled up the whole plate while Mel was just having his fourth bite.

"I heard the pirates on the Northern coast are getting more aggressive than usual. Do you think something triggered that violent reaction?"

Argo stiffened and cursed himself for reacting so. "Let those barbarians be. Who cares if they rot at the bottom of the ocean? Once we finished this mission, we'll leave this small village for the city. With the reward money, I'm thinking of buying a mansion near Earth Park."

Mel pouted almost adorably. "Hmm. That's a lovely place. But isn't it located in the middle of the continent?"

"Well yes, I'll do anything to get you far away from the pirates."

The other man frowned in confusion. "Why is that?"

"Nothing you should worry about." Argo hushed, ignoring the suspicious glance he was getting.

"I had a dream last night. I dreamed of sailing on a big ship, getting far away from here, visiting new places and having an adventurous life. You know. I have always liked the sea." Mel hinted.

Ungracefully, Argo choked on his orange juice, spilling a few droplets on his pants. "You do?"

"Well fair enough. And for some reason, in my dream, you weren't there. I suppose life on the sea doesn't interest you much."

"Come on. My interest matters little as long as you're happy."

Crossing his arms over his chest, Mel glared. "You're still not going to tell me why you dislike pirates?"

"Everyone hates pirates. They are vile beings, stealing people's treasure. It's no secret why I hate them." Argo gulped down the crawling guilt back into his stomach once more. "Alright, let's discuss our mission Nawilia's father gave us, shall we?"

"Of course," Mel sighed dejectedly as he was clearly unhappy to be left in the dark when he knew there was more to it than a typical revulsion. "Personally, I think this mission should have been given to rookies. This retrieval task, no matter the reward, is way beneath our caliber." He paused to chew on his toast. "I just can't help but think that this Nawilia of yours is insulting us. Nevertheless, a job is still a job. Though, the reward money puzzles me. It is either your admirer has too much to brag or there is something dangerous about this mission that we are not told about. What do you think?"

"Well, this task is risky. We are robbing from the goblins at the black market. I have never actually been to the black market before but I heard lots of nasty stories about what's going on there. Imagine what will happen to us if we get captured. Those little buggers will make good use of us. I certainly don't appreciate my liver being auctioned to some rich snob."

Mel hummed in thought and finished his meal. "I suppose we should be careful then. Still, this sounds fishy."

"You think too much. Nawilia won't send me on a job where I can get killed. She'll weep her eyes out if something were to happen to me."

"I hope you will clear up this 'cheating' issue soon. I don't appreciate you getting ogled by some money skunk." Mel scolded while he cleaned the table languidly.

"Yes, sir!" Argo saluted mockingly. "Come on, let's get going. From what I know, goblins are nocturnal creatures. They only wake up when it's time to do their little illegal business at sunset. If we'll sneak in right now in broad daylight when they are at their weakest, this mission will be over in a blink of an eye."

"It's too easy. I'm sure there's more to it than what they told us. What happened if this is her plan of getting us in trouble? You know she doesn't like me. If I get killed, you two will be free to roll in the flower field." Mel hissed angrily despite Argo's attempt to brighten the mood.

"Come on, Nawilia won't do that. She's a nice girl. So don't be paranoid. I promise you that I will reject her advances, alright? She means nothing to me. I only love you. No one else but you."

"Sheesh, you're such a player. One more of this unfaithful nonsense and you'll be sleeping on the street." Mel warned.

"Sure." Argo scratched his head awkwardly and left the kitchen to prepare for their mission.

He strolled up to a vacant room where he stored his weapons of various sizes and uses. As usual, he grabbed his favorite sword, a couple of daggers and a light singled-handed axe. His black eyes scanned the weaponry racks carefully before settling down with what he had already packed. It shouldn't be a difficult task when all they needed to do was to sneak in on sleeping goblins and steal a small ring. If the goblins were aroused from their sleep by misfortunate, a few swings of his blade should solve the problem. After all, goblins were lithe creatures who specialized in commerce and not battles.

When Argo finished packing, Mel was already outside, waiting with two horses. "You're so lucky you don't need to carry these heavy loads." Argo pointed at the mass of weapons he had strung over his shoulder.

Mel chuckled. "That's the advantage of being a sorcerer, mister warrior."

"So smug." Argo pouted as he leaped onto his horse. The beast whined when the pointy edge of the weapons poked its side.

By the time the pair arrived at the busy black market of Lowman, the sun was already burning heatedly above their head. Argo took in sight of the unusual sales the merchants had in their stalls. Of course, none of the products were strictly speaking obtained legally. Strange creatures howled at them from dirty cages, biting the metallic bars threateningly. Argo felt the chill up his spine when his eyes met the stare of a few suspicious men crouching on top of crates like predators watching their prey. Straightening his back and holding a confident posture, the warrior made it obvious to the vagabonds that he was indeed a free man here to do his business and wished to be left alone. Pleased that his appearance dampened the rogues' interest, Argo eased his serious posture a little. He hated the black market to its core. One could never truly feel safe in places where even wanted criminals were free to roam around. Out of the corner of his eyes, Argo's gaze accidentally fell upon three men standing in front of a weapon booth just a few stands ahead and he nearly fell off his horse.

"Jagul?" Argo squeaked unseemly and quickly turned around when one of the three men snapped his head around at the call of his name.

With a large, black bear fur coat draped over his muscular torso, the man named Jagul gave his surrounding a meticulous scan before turning his attention back to his two companions.

"Why is he here? Why? This is bad. This is really bad." Argo muttered furiously to himself while giving his best to escape the other's ominous presence. In fact, most of the people in the black market were slowly creeping away from the three infamous men. It was no secret who they were and what they did for a living. Their fearsome reputation was the main gossip of every tavern in town. Even Argo who seldom frequented bars had caught wind of their recent uprising. He had heard rumors of their crazed rampages and had seen their insanely high bounty that was scary enough to make him weak in his knees. To know that one of the most wanted and ruthless pirates was out searching for him to extract vengeance made his heart clenched impossibly tight.

Throwing a worrisome glance at Mel, Argo sighed in relief when the sorcerer was riding away with his back turned to the particular pirate. Inwardly, the warrior was immensely grateful for the crowd that was in the way. Fortunately, it seemed neither Mel nor Jagul were aware of each other's presence. Things would certainly get out of hands if they were to meet.

Crouching low on the horse's back, Argo urged his horse to flee the scene before his cover was blown. Only after he had successfully put a great distance between himself and the pirates was he able to breathe normally. The breath that he was holding burned his lungs painfully but it was nothing compared to the psychological dread Argo suffered.

Mel gave his panting lover a strange look when he joined him down the path. "Look over there!" Mel gasped as he pointed at the rows of individuals lining on top of a sturdy platform surrounded by eager buyers. "It's a human auction."

True to its name, the pair witnessed with utter horror at regular folks shouting prices they were willing to pay to own another person. There was no empathy of humanity in their voice only the desire to show off their superior authority and wealth.

"Hey, young master," Argo was startled by a cracking voice coming from his right. Peering down at a middle aged man with peculiar red and white hair, the warrior lifted a brow in question.

"Yes?" Argo asked, noticing the worried glance Mel was giving him. "What do you want, sir?"

The stranger chuckled. "I just can't help but wonder if the pretty lad next to you is for sale. I don't mind paying you a handsome amount for him."

While Mel shared the same look of shock as a gaping fish out of water, Argo felt his face twisted in rage. "What nonsense are you spouting?"

"You're not selling him? Such a shame, really." The man shook his head and leered at Mel. "If this pretty slave is mine, I will be putting him in his rightful place on a pretty leash."

"Are you mad?" Mel almost shrieked, staring at the stranger in disbelief. "I am not a slave."

Again, the stranger chuckled darkly. "You'll soon be if you keep parading your cute little ass around here without proper guards. In case you haven't noticed, people are already placing bets on you, pretty boy. It's just a matter of time before you have one of us as your master. Chances that I will have you licking my boot are fairly high, you see."

"Come on, let's go." Argo tugged Mel closer to him. "This guy is demented."

Mel didn't need to be told before he yanked the reign of the horse and rode quickly away from the disturbing man. Argo shot a concerned glance at his lover but said nothing. Instead, he tried to focus on their given mission. The faster they finished, the faster they reached home. Following the map given to them along with their job, they arrived at the goblins' infamous auction house located at the shabbiest section of the black market.

Taking a deep breath, the pair rounded the place for closer inspection, looking for the perfect spot to sneak in. Finally deciding on a hidden backdoor behind the large building, Argo jumped down from his stallion and cracked the lock with expert ease. Successful, the pair quietly slipped down the creaking stairs into the dark basement. Studying the map they had under a weak torch, they wandered further down the corridor.

"I think this is the room. Alright, the quicker we find the ring we are requested to retrieve, the earlier we can go home and call this a day." Argo whispered as Mel scrunched his eyes in an attempt of deciphering the foreign characters printed on the door.

Cautiously, the warrior pushed the door open. Much to their surprise, the room was brightly lit and void with the exception of a crest placed on a table at the far end of the room. Sharing a suspicious glance, the pair walked in as carefully as they could until they were a feet away from the golden crest.

"I'll open it." Argo said.

"I have a bad feeling about it." Mel eyed the white room doubtfully. "I don't think the goblins would display their treasure out in the open without guards. This whole thing is too easy for my liking."

"You worry too much, Mel. First, you suspected Nawilia. Now you suspect the goblins. It's just your imagination." Argo said as he wasted no time in opening the crest. Seeing the golden ring within, Argo picked it up and dropped it inside his breast pocket. "There. Mission accomplished. See I told you it would be easy."

Sensing magic triggered in the air, Mel reacted fast, pulling Argo against himself when a sudden force, naked to the eyes, blasted the startled pair a few feet away. "What was-" the sorcerer coughed as he casted a protective shield over them when a second blast occurred followed by a third and fourth.

Shaken, Argo pulled out his sword, scanning the room for the invisible enemies. "What's going on?"

Ignoring the blood that was ticking down his chin, Mel gritted his teeth as he immediately casted a counter spell.

As soon as the spell was casted, the nonexistent figures reluctantly materialized into grotesque creatures. Aside from the powerful aura emitted, what was truly horrifying was their appearance. It was as though they were born deformed with the same set of genetic error, void of eyes, nose and mouth. Four animalistic legs protruded from their ribs while two arms dangled off their face where the eyes would have been, if they had any to begin with. Their reptilian skin was constantly changing from different hues of green and red. Standing on their hind legs, they possessed a sort of enigmatic intelligence in their movements. With spiky horns lining their backbone and powerful muscles framing their limbs, the nightmarish monsters were truly beings of another world.

"What are these?" Argo cried in shock. He had never seen or heard of such creatures before. Just the mere sight of their disgusting feature was enough to turn his stomach upside down. "Do the goblins own them?"

"Argo!" Mel snarled. The monsters were piling up one after another on top of the protective sphere the sorcerer had created and were on the threatening edge of breaking it.

Snapping out from his stupor, the warrior stabbed one of the monsters reclining on the outer surface of the sphere with his sword. Fire spread from the wound, consequently burning the creature to its gruesome death. Argo silently thanked Mel for enhancing his blade with a fire spell.

Mel hissed when one of the reptilian monsters broke through the protection and slashed him on his back with its sharp claws. "I can't hold on much longer. Do something!"

"What?" Argo gasped. For all the time they had spent together fighting enemies, he had never seen the mage reaching his limit. However, seeing the number of the monsters pressing inward while Mel was forcing the sphere to withstand their heavy weight, Argo suspected that the protective barrier was draining more energy than it normally should.

When the sphere finally collapsed, Argo leaped through the small opening he had created previous when slaughtering the monster. Once freed and saved, he turned back and gasped when he witnessed the hideous creatures trapping the sorcerer to the floor.

"Mel!" He cried in horror.

"You stupid lizards," Mel cursed under the weight, "remove yourselves from me at once!" He shouted angrily as his brown hair flared golden. The burst of magic was strong that it was enough to levitate the heavy monsters up in the air and froze them there. Without delaying his escape time, Mel stood up and dashed towards the exit, pulling stunned Argo along.

"You're amazing, Mel!" Argo said in awe. "Your sound magic is getting better and better."

Mel let out a small smile which immediately turned into a grimace as a force sizzled past Argo and hit the sorcerer in the gut, sending him flying all the way to the back of the chamber.

"What the-?" Argo roared and slashed the air blindly. "There is one more hiding? I can't see it! Damn it! Mel, are you alright?" He turned and caught sight of Mel struggling to get on his feet and failed.

The pool of blood gushing out of the man's right leg was growing by the seconds. However, Mel's injury wasn't their top concern at the moment. Instead, to their horror, the spell that kept the monsters suspended had vanished and they were unceremoniously dumped on the ground. Within seconds, the nightmarish creatures had Mel pinned down with his back of his skull pressing painfully against the rough surface. Argo felt his stomach churned when one of the monsters gripped the sorcerer firmly by the chin and thrust its other hand in his mouth. That disgusting gesture had successfully silenced Mel and prevented him from casting further spell. Argo watched the scene in utter shock as the creature fished out a small shinning globe from Mel's throat. The warrior choked on his breath in recognition. His suspicion was confirmed as soon as Mel's scream came out soundless. Hyperventilating, Argo felt his whole being shivered when he saw tears leaking out from those agonizing blue eyes. Undeniably, the extraction of magic was an excruciating experience.

Fighting to keep his trembling legs standing, Argo unconsciously took a step backward, bringing him closer to the exit. He knew the outcome of it. No matter what they did now, they were doomed. Although Argo was in good shape, he knew he couldn't win. There were simply too many of those monsters whose full potential remained unknown. If they stand a chance together, he would be foolish to think he could prevail alone. Although his mind begged him to fight, his body refused to move forward. He just couldn't bring himself to save the man he came to love without fearing death. Even if he did succeed in freeing Mel from the mess, the sorcerer's wounded leg would be a hindrance. Mel was useless without his magic. In any case, Mel would get both of them killed. Now that the monsters had temporarily forgotten Argo's existence as they busied themselves with Mel, there wouldn't be an even more perfect timing to escape than this. Absentmindedly, Argo traced the shape of the ring in his pocket.

Shooting a glance at Mel who happened to look up at him at the same time, Argo gulped. Although no sound emitted from his lips, Mel called Argo's name with a pleading enthusiast. However, his wishful smile dropped as soon as his lover took another step backward. Argo felt his guilt tenfold when the sorcerer's eyes widened at his cowardice. Nauseated, Argo squeezed his eyes tightly together, blocking the sight of his captured lover shouting his name with a frightened look. Thrusting his hand in his pocket once more, he could feel the ring in his palm, cold and evil. He had acquired what they were sent to retrieve. With this simple ring, he would be rich beyond his imagination. Slowly, Argo glanced at his fallen partner who tried to crawl to him despite the weight of the monsters pinning him down.

You can't do this to me, Argo!

The warrior read the trembling words from the sorcerer's lips.

I trusted you. Help me! Argo! Argo! Please don't abandon me here! Please don't leave me, Argo!

Giving one last, regretful stare at the terrified Mel, Argo pathetically fled. His mind went blank as his survival instinct took over. Without relying on the map, he sped towards the exit leading to the outside while another guilty feeling added to his poor conscience. He paid no mind to the confused look on Mel's horse when it noticed its rider's absence. Without wasting time, Argo untied his horse from the tree and threw himself over the horse's back. Once the stallion galloped homeward with a satisfying speed, Argo pulled out the ring and fisted it tightly in his hand, pressing his fist to his mouth. That was it. With the ring in his possession, his dream of becoming rich may no longer be a dream. He had done it in exchange of a human being. Not just any human being. He had betrayed his sweet Mel in the cruelest ways possible. It just seemed as if he lived his life to sin. First he had stolen Mel from his rightful partner then now he sacrificed his lover to the devils.

Clenching his eyes shut, his ears picked up a strangely familiar shout as his horse dashed through the black market. "Ha! Lost your pretty friend already just as I expected! How much did you sell him for, young mister?"

The cruel laughter continued to taunt Argo. Yet just when he thought he was experiencing the worse, his eyes accidentally met a certain homicidal pirate's. Jagul. Mel's supposedly rightful partner.

- To be Continued -

A/N: Argo is such a dick for abandonning Mel. Don't worry, the mysterious pirate, sex on legs, Jagul will enter the picture next chapter along with equally delectable pirates and their unique personality.

Also, Argo is soooo going to have his ass kicked by Jagul. So stay tune to see more ass kicking and badass, hot pirates on the move. There's nothing more sexy that men on the sea!

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