Chapter Seven – The Amethyst that split the sky part 2
“Lady Emerald, you have a visitor.” The voice of her guard sounded from the outside. These underground halls made the sound travel quite well, so she was already aware someone was walking this way. She donned her jester mask with the green emerald embedded into the forehead and hid her hair beneath her hood. When she was satisfied with her appearance, she replied. “Let them in.”
The door opened and into the room stepped a middle aged woman with a gnarled staff in one hand. She had dark blonde hair that was tied up in a bun and her eyes had a hint of yellow to them. She had a warm smile on her face as she sat down opposite her. “I’m so glad you could make time for me,” she said. Her staff was leaning against the desk.
Lady Emerald stood up and walked to the corner of the room. “Tea?”
“If you’d be so kind.” The visitor looked around the room. “I expected something more downtrodden, but this looks like a proper hideout.”
She returned with tea and put down one of the cups in front of the woman who thanked her.
“These hideouts tend to be temporary, so the valuable stuff is elsewhere.” She grabbed a scroll from under her desk and opened it up. “Who might you be and how can I help you?” She looked up, her eyes being just barely visible through her mask.
“I am an admirer of your work. When the empire fell, I expected the Emerald Jesters to go down with it, but you’ve managed to keep everything going strong.”
“We have nothing to do with who’s in charge, why would you think we’d fall alongside the empire?” There was now a nervousness to her tone that wasn’t there before. She took some deep breaths to recenter her mood, but the visitor had probably caught on already. They seemed like a cunning person.
“Because when the empire fell, they executed the royal family. I assumed this would include the oldest daughter and heir to the throne, Scarlet Fyrston. But here you are, in the flesh, continuing your little side project like nothing’s changed.”
Lady Emerald stood up and reached for a dagger that was on her hip.
“Calm down, I mean you no harm. On the contrary, I’ve got a proposition for you.”
Accipiter was trudging through the rainy streets of Viras. It was an early spring morning and the weather was absolutely dreadful. They had business in town that day, but he couldn’t wait to be back on the open seas again. He’d never been a city person. He grew up in a small town up north of Viras and before taking off to sea, he had never been to a big city. With Layek and his crew they’d visited big towns along the Karetia coast from time to time, but he’d often opted to stay aboard the ship or in an inn near the docks. This time around they had a meeting with an informant in town and Layek had requested him to come there as well. Before heading there they split up, so Accipiter was now wandering the crowded streets of Viras on his own. He heard the thunder in the distance once more and shivered in his wet clothes.
“Get your fresh bread here, it’s still hot so get it fast!”
“That sounds like a good plan,” he said quietly to himself, before pushing through the crowd and making his way to the bread vendor.
“Long time no see,” a familiar voice next to him said right as he was paying for two pastries.
He looked to see Lisanna, one of his captain’s close friends. “You’re here for the same reason as I am, presumably?”
She nodded. “For the fresh bread, I’ll have three, please.”
“No cutting in line, lady,” someone said from behind her, but she ignored it and quickly paid for her pastries. The two then walked off to a nearby bench to sit down, only to quickly realize that in this weather any bench would be completely drenched. “Want to go straight to the Mirage Tavern?” Lisanna asked.
Accipiter nodded. “Let’s do that.” That was the tavern where he and Layek were supposed to meet the informant. And apparently Lisanna was here for that as well.
The two of them made their way towards the east side of town, paying attention to the large puddles that were everywhere. “Not the best weather, is it?”
Lisanna laughed. “It’s been worse, but a storm is definitely brewing.”
“It’s been a little while, what have you been up to?” Accipiter asked her.
“Not much, I had something come up that was of interest up north and I’ve been staying away from the big cities a lot. It’s very chaotic out there right now.”
“I can imagine, it’s not every day a generation-spanning kingdom falls.”
“I also went to a library deep in the Celeran Canopy.”
Accipiter had heard of this library before but didn’t really know all too much about it. He never learned how to read, so books didn’t particularly interest him. Layek had suggested he learn it eventually, but he wasn’t interested so he’d been pushing the idea aside. The only thing he learned were some numbers, but anyone who likes money will know the basics of counting.
“And now you’re here.”
“Back in this dreary old place.”
“Are you staying a while?”
Lisanna nodded. “That’s the plan at least. Not super long, I have some things to attend to in early summer, but that’s still a little while away.” She looked up. “And it feels even longer away.”
They arrived at the Mirage Tavern and took their places in a booth in the back.
“Accipiter, Lisanna, so good to see you!” The two had only just gotten their first round of drinks when in walked a middle aged human with long black hair. A thin moustache covered his upper lip and he was dressed in clothes that could only be described as someone who desperately wants to appear like a sailor. In Layek’s defense, he was in fact a sailor, but it still made Accipiter smile every time he saw the jovial man. Next to him was another human, a lot smaller in stature. He was wearing fine leather and had short cropped brown hair that was very well kept. He was like a polar opposite of Layek and the two couldn’t look more out of place together.
They both sat down on the two remaining seats where Lisanna and Accipiter were already sitting.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” the other man said. “I am Rekir, I am with the local merchants guild and I’m here today to talk to you about the,” he paused, “event taking place tonight.”
Accipiter nodded and quickly introduced himself as Layek’s first mate. He’d been with the crew for a very long time at this point and he’d climbed his way up the ranks. When he first joined, Lisanna had been the first mate for a while, as she was travelling with them. Apparently they had a shared goal that Accipiter was never made aware of. But Lisanna was always going to leave the crew, since she’d been working with a wizard friend of hers for a very long time. When she left them definitively two years ago, Accipiter was offered the empty spot of first mate and gratefully accepted. Now she just came back from time to time to help out, but wasn’t a big part of the crew, and a first mate is best when they’re actually around.
“Now then, I’m sure you all know what the wares are going to be tonight, so we don’t really need to talk about it too much. What I can give you as information is the amount, the time, the location and the pricing.” He removed a scroll from below his fancy coat and handed it over to Layek. Layek took a moment to read through it before rolling it back up and handing it to Rekir. He then grabbed a pouch of gold and handed it to the man as well. “This is useful, thank you again.” He took a sip from the drink that just arrived. “I have another question, hopefully you can help us with this too.”
Rekir put away the scroll and the pouch. “Ask away, if I can help I will, and if I can’t, I won’t.”
Layek drank some more before putting the mug down. In a low voice he asked. “Are there any places outside of town where we can put the ship? After the market I want to leave town as quickly as possible.”
Rekir thought about it for a moment.
“Shouldn’t walking through town be alright though, seeing as the town nobles are turning a blind eye to this and one of them is actively supporting it?” Lisanna asked.
Layek nodded. “That’s what it looks like, but I’m worried that the guard will step in. If these guys can grab a bunch of money and then the guards come in and round up everyone, then they can use the,” he paused and looked around, “merchandise to work for them and not the people spending money.”
Accipiter sighed. “This entire situation is so messed up.”
Layek looked at him and nodded. “I know, and if it was a happier world we wouldn’t be here.”
“There is one place I can think of. It’s sort of a smuggler’s spot in general, but the empire was aware of it. I don’t know if the new regime is also aware of this location. Regardless, it is probably not as monitored as the regular docks.”
Layek smiled. “That’s all I had to know, thank you for your time.”
“And thank you for your coin. Now if you’ll excuse me,’ and Rekir got up and went back through the rain.
Back on the ship, Accipiter found a nook to sit down and settle his thoughts. He’d gone over the plan with Layek a million times. They had a plan, it was a simple plan. They just didn’t see eye to eye on the slavery part. Layek wasn’t happy about getting slaves, but he argued that the ends justifies the means. If they could get some cheap labor they could then ensure afterwards that the people they bought would go back to a somewhat normal life. Accipiter was of the opinion that this was the same as buying slaves. You could paint it in fancy colors all you wanted, you were still forcing other people to work for you for free. He looked around at the bustling ship. A lot of the crew members were human, the captain himself included. They were mostly decent humans and Accipiter loved all of them as brothers and sisters, but they looked at the world differently from elves. Lisanna was the only one who was really on his side, but she was less bothered by it than he was. Admittedly, Lisanna had been around for a lot longer than he had and she’s definitely met a lot more people. The ship was somewhere in between chaotic and well organized right now with everyone getting ready for later. Boxes were moved to the side and tied up so they wouldn’t fall off and the area below deck was freed up. After buying the slaves they would leave for the nearby island of Cevello. Cevello used to have people living on it a long time ago, but after the island flooded, the survivors decided it wasn’t safe and left. Layek had considered it as a place to build a town for a long time. Accipiter still didn’t understand why he wanted to build a town so badly, but he wasn’t opposed to living on an island. There was also an old story that fishfolk used to live there, but there was no proof of that being true or them existing in the first place. The only proof was strange architecture that was found on the island, now in ruins. It was a good spot to build a village, and to do that, you need labor. Layek’s slave idea was their only one. Most carpenters or other workers wouldn’t work for pirates and smugglers unless you threatened them and at that point it would just become slavery with more risks added. But it still didn’t sit right with Accipiter.
“Don’t let it get to you, at the very least we’ll treat these people better than most others there would.” Zalán, a fellow crewmate and one of Accipiter’s friends, sat down next to him.
Accipiter let out a deep sigh. “I know.”
They both sat there for a little while until the boat took off and Accipiter had to get to work. Directing people wasn’t much work since everyone aboard knew what was expected of them. Within an hour of slow sailing and avoiding the shallow places in the water they found their way to the little cove that Rekir had pointed out to them. It showed some signs of being used by other smugglers or traders, but there was nothing that pointed at it being used super recently. There were some broken crates and other flotsam strewn about, but that was the extent of it. A trained eye could spot the path up the cliffside. It would be climbable without too much effort, but it wouldn’t be a fast trek. And it looked like the way down was a lot easier, since there were several places you could jump off without issue. Accipiter hoped they wouldn’t have to get down in too much of a hurry at any point, but he doubted that. They anchored the ship and started to get people onto the little beach. They set up a sitting area where they would have dinner and wait for evening. Lisanna sat down with Accipiter and Zalán. “Nervous?” She asked. Lightning was still in the air and the rain showed no signs of stopping.
“Yes, you can say that.” He stared out at the open water. “I don’t like it, but I’ve been saying that for weeks now. At this point I just want to get it over with so that we can move on and go back to sea.”
“Well, after tonight it should all be behind us.” Lisanna said, as thunder struck in the distance.
“The weather disagrees with all of this.” Zalán remarked.
They all looked at the lit up sky before it quickly turned dim again. “I suppose the gods are angry at the fate that has befallen this land.” Layek said.
He walked up from behind them, plate in hand and sat down next to them. “Everyone knows what they need to do?”
They all nodded. Most of them didn’t have much to do. Just stay among the crowd, keep a low profile and help bring the slaves to the ship as quickly as possible once the transaction had happened. It should be simple, in and out. But Accipiter had had a bad feeling about it for a while now and it wasn’t going away. Not only that, the weather wasn’t helping. He finished the last bit of his drink right as Layek did the same. He looked at the three of them. “Let’s get going then, shall we?”
They arrived at the front gate of the estate. The house belonged to a noble lord by the name of Sebastian Jeselra. Supposedly a lower lord back in Zanian, the kingdom up north that the human usurpers had come from, he was given this city after the empire fell and he took over the old estate as his own. Not much had changed, it had only been a short time since the empire had fallen. Not that any of them had ever been inside the premises, but still. The area was dimly lit with torches throughout and there was a cloth laid on the wet ground that they could walk on to reach the pavilion. The pavilion had a few tables and chairs set up for the richer folk, but overall it was just a standing area with no protection from the elements. As sailors they weren’t bothered by this at all, but Accipiter could hear several of the merchants and other folk complain. They spread out amongst the crowd. Layek would do the bidding and Accipiter and Lisanna were staying near the front of the crowd where they could keep a good eye on what was going on the stage. Lightning struck again. It had been creeping ever closer for a little while now. The crowd was talking but quieted down for a little while when the auctioneer took the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen and other races, welcome to the auction! Tonight we have a large haul of capable young elves for you to choose from, so I hope you all brought your savings.”
The crowd started laughing. The auctioneer looked exactly like what you’d expect. Shady to the core. “Let’s start off with these young, capable men.”
Groups were rolled out and Accipiter could hear Layek place bids here and there. He wasn’t paying much attention to the bidding itself and more so to the movement around. They were worried about the local guard interfering for their own gain and it was up to him and Lisanna to see if they could spot any sign of that near the stage. During all of this he was starting to get more and more nervous. The weather seemed to be worsening and he even saw some of the people leave the premises because of it. The bidding was still going and lightning struck once more as the next group of slaves were led onto the stage. This time it was a group of young women, all around his age or a little bit younger. One of them looked strange though. Her eyes seemed to be pulsating strangely and her face was getting red. Her brown eyes then locked with someone in the crowd near him and lightning slammed into the center of the stage, exactly where she was standing. Accipiter could just see her eyes turn bright pink for a moment before she collapsed onto the stage. And then it was utter chaos.
Accipiter didn’t know what propelled him to jump forward, but he found himself at the center of the stage in about a second, shortbow in hand. He loosened an arrow in the direction of the auctioneer and it landed at the man’s feet, sending him scurrying back. The girl with the pink eyes had collapsed onto the floor and several of the nearby slaves were screaming. A hand tapped his shoulder as he lifted the girl from the ground. “Accipiter, we have trouble.” Zalán said. “The town’s guard is here.”
“As if things couldn’t get any worse. Help me out here.” He looked at the rest of the slaves.
“Those who want to live, get your asses over here and follow me.” A loud recognizable voice yelled from across the busy area. Most people had made a run for it already. The guards were very slowly trickling in. From his vantage point on the stage Accipiter couldn’t see more than two, one of whom was being held back by Grezek, one of their crewmates. The already heavy rain got even more intense as a downpour started. The lightning didn’t let up either. Accipiter lifted up the girl even more and they started running. A sizable group of slaves followed after them, with another group trying their luck at escaping on their own. Accipiter jumped through a back gate and a mad dash to the ship ensued. He saw Layek and Lisanna run amongst the group of captives, who were still bound so running was quite awkward for them. He heard the yells of the guard. Crossbow bolts started whizzing past eventually and a few of the slaves went down with yelps of pain. Accipiter had no time to wait for them. He rushed along the wet cobblestone, almost falling over here and there. The adrenaline was keeping him up and he quickly reached the outskirts of town and the small gate they entered through. Luckily it still wasn’t guarded, maybe no one had thought they’d come from this direction. With the pursuers hot on their tail, he made it to the edge of the cliffside.
“Set sail,” he yelled to the people who’d stayed behind.
“You heard the kid, get off your asses,” Layek’s voice sounded in the distance.
Even though he was carrying the unconscious girl, Accipiter was the first one who made it down the cliffs. Luckily it wasn’t too steep, but it would still slow them down. The gangplank was laid out and he made his way aboard. He handed over the unconscious girl to someone else and took out his longbow. Now that he had more space and distance to cover it was time for something more effective. At first only members of the crew and slaves came into view, and with the ship being below the cliffs the angle was awkward. When the first guard came into view, trying to slash at one of the escaped slaves, Accipiter immediately loosened an arrow and hit the guard in his thigh, sending him crumbling onto the ground in pain. It was slowly dawning on Accipiter what had just occurred and it annoyed him greatly.
Arrows started flying back and forth from the pirates to the town guard and back at the pirates. Eventually they got most of the slaves aboard and departed. The ship was ready to go, so it didn’t take long for it to start moving. There were a few casualties on their side, but all things considered they managed to make use of the chaos well enough to get out of there. Zalán had an arrow lodged right near his shoulder, but he would probably be okay with some rest.
“You did good out there, kid, I’m proud of you.” Layek put his hand on Accipiter’s shoulder.
“Did you see what happened?” He asked Layek.
“Lightning struck the stage and then you decided to jump onto the stage in the ensuing panic.”
A voice sounded from behind Layek. “There was more going on than just that, that wasn’t natural.” Lisanna stood there, soaked by the rain. “Let’s go inside, we need to talk about this.”