The Widow’s Blade; July 6
In celebration of our victory–and due to fact that the ship was dead in the water for the moment—the pirates broke out the grog. Feng and a crew-woman, Nanouriza made a huge pot of stew, using Iskaalu’s meat, several of the crew brought out instruments to play, and soon all work had ground to a halt and we enjoyed, for a moment, that we had survived.
The Feshtarken, however, stayed below, though they were not bound by locks or chains, until Cressida fired them up. The moment when they came above deck was a tense one, but they began to dance, the rhythm of their feet and clapping the only music until one adventurous crewwoman, then another, picked up the dance. Soon, all were spinning and laughing and drinking and drinking.
Later that night, I went below to my hammock and saw Lyr’s forehead glowing brightly. Though I was still somewhat unsteady, I copied the mandala as accurately as I could and attempted to sleep.
A short time later, though, Dendera came to me, straddling me. We talked, briefly, and kissed, aggressive, passionate. Her lips seemed to burn and, later, I couldn’t help but wonder again how the poison that courses through her works, but such thoughts were the furthest from my mind.
She broke off after a moment and left. Spinning from alcohol, dance, blood loss, and emotion, I quickly fell into fitful sleep.
Today was spent primarily in heavy labor. Much water still needed to be pumped from below and nearly everyone needed to take a turn at the bilge. Lyr used her magic to help the crew stabilize the hull, patching the most threatening breaks. Snapped lines required mending, sails required stitching, water-damaged cargo was repaired or tossed overboard. A somber moment, a funeral dirge for the fallen crew.
O’Kalon was not pleased, but it was easy enough to persuade her to allow the Feshtarken to assist, though I noted they were primarily given the most menial of tasks. Still, they were strong and capable and, in no small part due to the efforts of Cressida and Sehera, all major conflicts with the pirate crew were avoided.
I was not idle either. It was easy enough to apply much of my training to the tasks of a sailor and I spent much of my time laboring along with the Feshtarken. When I could, I talked at great length with Nanouriza about the sailor’s trade. She had been to nearly every place I could name, and was thus also a great source of information on the world at large, kindling a neglected interest in geography.
When we had a moment to talk, Lyr examined my sketch and recognized it as a protective seal, possibly a spell warning against evil. Peculiar, but apparently nothing we need to worry about, which is a bit of a relief.
As she is now, The Widow’s Blade will be unable to bring us to Akkarid. We are bound toward the nearest port, the island fortress Kyr Limani, a former customs and resupply point on the slave trade which has been rendered largely irrelevant with the Raqaejan emancipation and the development of longer-range ships. While still formally a Milesian outpost, it is in reality a lawless port, haven to smugglers and pirates. There, O’Kalon assures us, we will be able to find passage to Akkarid.
The Widow’s Blade performed better today, though she creaks and groans beneath us in agony, and springs new leaks at an alarming rate. It was an exhausting, but informative day. I have seen surprisingly little of Dendera; she has been hard at work helping the crew maintain the various complex mechanisms that keep a ship like The Widow’s Blade working. I feel like we should talk about what happened the other night, but I’m not sure what to say.
Kyr Limani; July 9
Today, late in the afternoon, we arrived at Kyr Limani. The place was everything I could’ve hoped from a pirate stronghold.
A massive, cyclopean structure of grey stone, it is like a small city encased within a singe building, a warren of corridors and rooms and titanic halls chopped up with shoddy, improvised architecture. It smells of the sea and the waste of sentients and dreams.
O’Kalon led us to a tavern—it seems to me that every third establishment here is a tavern of some sort—and we encountered a familiar face, Captain Nafuna of The Majnoon, whom we had sought to hire in Akkarid several months ago. We negotiated for her services and she eventually agreed to take on us and the Feshtarken for a fairly exorbitant price. If her ship is as fast as she claims, however, it could be worth it; she says she can get us to Akkarid in eight days, which seems laughable but I’m fairly certain she wasn’t exaggerating.
We had until around midnight to prepare for our journey, so we gave, Murcarth, the leader of the Feshtarken money to equip his people (they had only what was on their backs) and set off to the chaotic market.
We found buyers for the loot we plundered from Azu-Makeen’s lair and reequipped ourselves. We all needed new clothing and other equipment. I was able to cut into my debt to the group and to Indira a bit. I’m still uncertain how I will repay her in full at this rate. Hopefully a solution will present itself soon, for I grow weary of living under this weight.
As the evening drew on, we began to hear rumors coming from the docks, The Mara was coming to Kyr Limani and it would be bringing a storm with it.
We regrouped in a tavern, trying to avoid the notice of a noisy gang of trolls, when Nanouriza approached us, holding a scroll case. I thought she might have some message from O’Kalon, but instead, with a strange expression, she gestured towards Indira with the scroll case. Cursing with shock, Indira was pulled towards the scroll case, her legs transforming into vapor, and she was sucked inside.
I rushed forward as Nanouriza stepped back into the shadows and struck. My rapier hit, but the pirate’s skin was shockingly dense. As she vanished into the shadows, I saw her form twist into something monstrous and feline, with twisted, backwards hands. She was gone, and Indira with her.
The trolls thought this a great amusement and attacked us, thinking that a barfight has begun. But a barfight with trolls is a matter of life or death…
Two of them fell quickly, for they attacked Dendara who defended herself with her needles. Both fell, burning to death from the inside. The others were harder to slay; the battle was vicious, but short.
In the aftermath, we looked about for sign of Indira and the shadowy panther thing that Nanouriza had become to no avail. It had used some sort of magic to teleport through the shadows, and could be anywhere in Kyr Limani.
Our hopes quickly faded until I described the true appearance of the abductor; Cressida recognized it as a Rakshasa, a creature of evil and shadow. Dendera recalled that The Mara was helmed by a Rakshasa and it became clear that Nanouriza—or the thing that had replaced her—was likely a servant of this captain. The Shogun’s bounty on Indira must have grown to an astronomical amount to attract such attention.
A moment of confusion prevailed; the bounty hunter would likely teleport back to The Mara as soon as the ship came in range. We had to stop it at the docks, but how could we get there in time?
Fortunately, Feng had been using his time aboard The Widow’s Blade to study, and had learned to teleport. In a disorienting flash, he brought Sehera, Lyr, and I to the docks, near the Widow’s Blade.
It was late and there were long shadows everywhere. Lyr cast a spell upon Sehera’s blade to make is shine like the sunlight and Feng began to set things aflame. The gods were with us, it seems, and Feng immediately turned the Rakshasa’s hiding place into a bonfire. Sehera chased it down with her brilliant sword and Feng encircled us with a wall of flame. Cornered between the fire and us, the bounty hunter fought savagely, but seemed severely handicapped by the light. When it dove through the flames, Lyr caught it with a wall of flying blades, and we cut it down.
The scroll case fell from its belt and tumbled towards the blades. I dove for it, missed, and for a moment my heart stopped as the blades shattered it. But Pelor would not be so cruel; the destruction of the scroll case freed Indira, who was unharmed, save for a sudden haircut…
We found a contract on the bounty hunter, which Indira read silently, with a scowl.
Shortly, the others joined us and one of Captain Nafuna’s crew found us as well; we needed to leave now. The Mara was turning back out to sea and very soon the port would be struck by the storm that follows the black ship’s wake.
The Manjoon is a remarkable vessel. Made mostly of metal, it sits very low in the water, with no sails, and no oars save those few needed to move it about in port. We climbed down into the ship, through a peculiarly designed hatch and were sealed inside.
All labor is done within the cramped inner decks of the ship, and we were soon to discover why. With a shudder and a vibrating moan, the ship moved, angling down, and dived under the surface of the water.
Dendera was ecstatic, Feng was terrified, and most of us were some mix of the two.
We were escorted by an awful little man to a small, cramped room, far too small for the seven of us. After he shut us in the room, Indira—understandably claustrophobic—agreed to pay his extortionary sum for another, larger room. Feng and I took the smaller room for our berth and the ladies shared the other, Cressida keeping in the form of a small, desert cat to save space.
The Majoon; July10
The Majoon is not a passenger ship. With us and the Feshtarken (who sleep in shifts in the cargo holds) this miraculous, sub-marine vessel is cramped and tempers are high. We have little to do save for stay out of the crew’s way; Juma, the troll bosun, found some work to keep the Feshtarken (and myself) occupied some of the time, but it is simply something to keep us from getting drunk and fighting each other. I’ve not met many trolls in my life, but Juma is far more intelligent and capable than any I have heard of…
Feng has spent most of his time studying and doing his best to ignore that we are under water. This has put me in something of an academic mind as well, and I’ve been pouring over a few battered old books I bought in Kyr Limani. Otherwise, nothing of note to report.
Feng snores, or more accurately squawks and chirps in his sleep. It is annoying, but not so trying as Lyr has been, according to Sehera. We have little room to properly spar—the body and mind must be kept sharper than one’s blade—so we have fallen to gossip during our practice bouts. I enjoy talking to Shera; in many ways our temperaments are similar, but her Zythu outlook on life is refreshingly different from my own.
Deprived of the sun, Lyr has grown grouchy and despondent, finding fault with everything and suffering from bouts of anxiety. She contests this, evidently, with a nearly constant stream of chatter and questions, but her naivety—as much a foundation of her personality it seems as a product of her cloistered upbringing—prevents her from fully grasping the answers.
From what Sehera tells me, I suspect Lyr is also needling her on purpose…
This really is a fascinating vessel. It is propelled through the water by a single member of the crew: a water elemental. This entity is not bound or enslaved in any way; the crew speak of it with all the respect they afford a technical officer, or perhaps even more, and it is paid a share, though what a water elemental is paid is beyond me and nobody would explain. They do not like answering questions about the water elemental and only limited crew are even allowed into a section, which seems to be its station. Dendera has tried to get in many times to no avail, though she has been able to talk her way into other restricted areas.
Every few minutes, the ship seems to breathe, a burst of cool, fresh air coming through a series of ducts. I wonder if they also have an air elemental in their crew?
I feel like I should write about this, but I don’t know what to say. The other night, Dendera came to my room. She administered some sort of sedative to Feng (something I wish I had thought of before), then injected me with something, some sort of anti-venom. Then we…
Well, a cousin once boasted that it isn’t a good night if you don’t come away with a few bruises. It was a good night.
I don’t know what to make of this, what to think. My mind and heart and body are at war with each other. I do not trust Dendera entirely, but there is an attraction that transcends that. If she would open up about herself, it might be easier to think but I can tell she doesn’t want to. I will respect that because what else can I do? But it is frustrating. She is frustrating. But also enticing in a way I have never encountered.
To make it all the better, I am entirely certain my father would not approve.
Being aboard The Majnoon, imprisoned in its narrow halls, has made me get creative in my training. A rapier is a narrow weapon, I must fight in straight lines, as opposed to Sehera’s curves and turns. One would think this would be an ideal weapon for these corridors, but the length is a problem. The crew carry short blades, slightly curved with a single, heavy cutting edge, a blade that can be swung freely in the closest quarters. It has been instructive to think more on the limitation of my weapon, a reminder that I am not bound to one style of combat.
The greatest challenge, though, has been the limitation on movement. But, as I grow accustomed to them and the random shudders of the ship, I find moving easier, ways of turning corners faster, incorporating the walls in my movement. I look forward to getting off this ship and applying what I am learning.
I am so tired of this ship.
Tomorrow, Akkarid. The excitement among us and the Feshtarken is palpable, and the crew is looking forward to being rid of us. Lyr sent a message ahead to Ramal that we were coming in on the evening tide. It is good to know that he made it back intact. I look forward to seeing him and Lydra and our other friends. The Majnoon was as good as the Captain’s word and we have shaved four days off our intended journey. This is good. Hopefully we have a little time in Akkarid to prepare ourselves for a journey to Zarjasz Al-Ulaq, maybe enough to actually enjoy being in the city for a few days.
But, of course, I cannot forget that we have a deadline. We will need most of Chalazias’ four months for our mission, and to get back. We cannot count on having a ship as fast as The Widow’s Blade, let alone the Majnoon, for our return.
I have spoken much to Dendera the past few days. We have a common interest in history and stories of the strange and unusual and it has been fun to share tales. She speaks so little of herself which, as Sehera bluntly pointed out, is the opposite of me. I don’t think of my stories as being about myself so much as they are about my family but contrasted to Dendera—I don’t even know her parents’ names, or even where she was raised—I am an open book…
Akkarid at last!
After debarking, we gave a short farewell to the Feshtarken. They plan on living in Akkarid for a time, working at the docks. I’m sure this will be a challenging existence for them, but if they work together, I hope they will be able to afford a ship soon. Maybe their time amongst other races who are not keeping them in cages will help curb some of their aggression and make them accustomed to the hierarchical life a ship demands.
Or maybe they’ll steal the first ship they get their hands on and set out to sea, never to be heard from again.
Our first stop, where I write this now, is a bathhouse, the best we could find at this hour near the docks. For what was a reasonable enough cost, we are being treated luxuriously. After the tension and headaches of the cramped Majnoon quarters, this is exactly what we needed.
While we were luxuriating, some of the city guard came for us. From the description, it sounded as if they were Honor Guard, likely in service to the Provost, but we kept them waiting for a few minutes. If there was to be trouble, we would be in control of the situation.
In the end, there was no trouble and the guards were what they seemed. We were led to the library—and allowed to keep our arms—then to the Provost’s tower. Sehera and Cressida raced each other to the top, but the rest of us proceeded at a more leisurely pace.
At the top, the doors were opened by Barlan, Claudia Lestoue’s husband, and Lyrda. It was good to see Lyrda, though slightly jarring to see her out of armor. A moment later, Sartaj, looking as healthy and full of life as ever, came barging through us and made off with Indira.
Chaim was there as well, and he was speaking clearly and intelligently, far more that we had anticipated, and clambering over him was Lillian, Claudia’s precocious daughter. Though we had barely the time to get to know Chaim or Claudia and her family, it was good to see them.
We settled quickly into our story, letting Claudia know, in rough detail, the events since parting with Ramal and Lydra. We were far more interested in what they had discovered from the records taken from the Cobalt Crown.
I have made notes and will try to come back and reorganize them when I am able.
link: Asha Druj’s Journal
Our heads spinning from these revelations, we sat in silence for a moment. Not silence, there was a whirring noise from my pack. I pulled out the Tenrashinban and it was spinning. After some confusion we realized what was happening. The needle indicating the southern spirit of the winds was unable to determine where to point. Apparently, it can tell us the locations of the spirits, or at least the direction they are in. This will be useful. But there could only be one reason it did not know where to point; the incarnation of Suzaku, the red phoenix spirit of the south wind, was right above us.
We ran to the top of the tower and in the garden, there it sat, larger than a peacock and radiant in the dark, a phoera it was called. Not a true phoenix, but something else, what becomes, apparently, of Ramal’s people after they die. We were entranced by the creature’s magnificence.
A voice spoke from the shadows, a glint of steel, and before we could react the bird fell and died.
A man stepped forward from the shadows, clad in the colors of night, and taunted him. We have heard Feng speak his name in the bitterest curses, Kage Okosa and with him a familiar face, a white kenku, Miyuki No-Shi, the Silent Snow of Death…