“So you said you have a proposition for me.” Scarlet motioned to an empty chair. “Speak, let me hear it.” Her mind was still racing. How did this woman know who she was? Why did she come here, how did she get here without anyone warning her until the last moment. Scarlet sat down herself and tried to calm down as best as she could.
Meleorana had a smile on her face, seemingly pleased with the situation as it had progressed.
“My associates and I have been watching the situation here unfold for the past few weeks, and after the recent collapse it’s become clear that this new rule isn’t working for the people of Fyrston. Not only that, I have some personal problems with Zanian’s ruler, and now that they’ve come right to our doorstep I think it’s time to start collecting some debts. I was hoping we could work on this together.” She rested her chin on her hands, waiting for Scarlet to reply.
“I mean no disrespect when I say this, but I don’t know you. Why should I trust you?”
Mel nodded. “A fair question to ask, and one I was prepared for.” She stood up. “There’s some jewelry I’ve been unable to find that has great value to me personally. One of these pieces is in the hands of Zanian’s ruler. I need your help in finding all three pieces of this jewelry set.”
“And what’s in it for me?”
Mel reached into the sleeve of her shirt and pulled out a glass orb, placing it firmly in the air in front of Scarlet. She waved over it with her hand and something appeared inside the orb.
Scarlet watched it intently as a smile crept over her face. “And if I help you find this jewelry you’ll guarantee this for me?”
Mel nodded. “A favor for a favor, it’s only fair.”
Scarlet nodded as well. “I look forward to working with you.”
An hour into their journey away from shore everyone let out a sigh of relief. Fortunately no ships seemed to be following them. Accipiter sat down on the deck of the ship, finally finding a moment to rest. Lisanna came towards him.
“What the hell was that all about?” he asked as she approached.
“You saw it too, right?”
“What do you mean you saw it too, I saw you lose your damn mind out of nowhere.”
“The girl’s eyes? They turned bright pink out of nowhere? You had to have seen it too.”
Accipiter nodded. “That was strange, but not as strange as your behavior immediately after.”
She gave him a confused look. “You were the first one to move.”
“No, you were telling me to move?” Accipiter felt a bit confused, he didn’t remember her saying anything, but in the moment it felt like something told him he had to move.
“Definitely not. I moved after you.”
“Accipiter, Lisanna, my quarters, now.” An angry Layek sounded from behind them.
“This should be fun,” Lisanna said. They walked together to the captain’s quarters, where the girl was laid on a spare bed, still unconscious.
Layek was standing on the other side of his desk, back turned towards the door. “You two better have a damn good explanation for what happened there.”
He turned around to face them, neither of them having a response. “Well?”
Lisanna sighed. “Something went strange there, you have to admit that too.”
Layek uncrossed his arms. “There was more lightning than normal, sure, but that’s not enough to start a riot. Everything was progressing just as we’d planned, and a moment later we were running through the streets with the guards up our asses.”
“There was something strange about the girl as well, it was as if she was a lightning rod.” Accipiter said.
“What do you mean?” Layek asked.
He paused for a moment. “I’m not sure, but it seems like the lightning was moving for her, as opposed to just randomly striking. And then suddenly there was a bright flash in the sky, her eyes turned bright pink and she collapsed. Before we knew it, we were on the stage.”
Layek looked at the unconscious girl in the corner of the room. “Now I have a ship full of slaves that have a wild array of expectations from us, not to mention a girl that possibly attracts storms. Do you have any idea how dangerous that is on a ship?”
Accipiter nodded. “It won’t happen again.”
Lisanna laughed and Layek responded, “Of course it won’t happen again, where the hell are you going to find another human lightning rod you imbecile.” He looked at Lisanna. “You think this is funny?”
She nodded but her expression shifted back to a more normal one. “I’m no expert on magic, even though I’ve studied it for much longer than either of you ever will. I do know that strange things are rarely a coincidence. Someone made this happen, and the best way to find out why and who, is to go straight to the source.”
“And why is this something we want to bother with?” Layek asked.
“Are you kidding me? A girl who can summon lightning and has magical eyes is worth so much more than any amount of unpaid labor.”
Layek considered this for a moment, seemingly over the worst of his worries. “So who do you think might be behind this?”
“That’s something I have to think about a bit more. For now, shouldn’t we focus on the problems at hand?”
Layek nodded. “You’re right, let’s inform the people about what’s going to happen.” He got up and left the room, leaving Accipiter and Lisanna behind.
“That went well,” Accipiter said.
Lisanna let out a deep sigh. “Things could be worse, Layek is understanding enough.” She motioned him to follow. “Let’s see what he has to say.”
“I’ll keep this short, since this isn’t quite the situation I was hoping to be in right now, and I don’t want to waste time. I commend all of you who ran with us for doing so. I’ll be blunt. We were there to buy cheap labor. Don’t mistake what I’m about to say for us being good people. My name is Layek and I’m the captain of this ship. We’re sailing towards an island that’s four days off the coast from the mainland. There we are planning to set up our home base. I don’t feel bad telling you this because its location is less important than its natural defense. When we get there, I need all of you to help us build up a livable village and some proper defenses along the cliff. Work with us for three months, and then we’ll drop everyone off at a port town on the mainland afterwards. Consider it a reward for being quick thinkers.” He looked around. “Any questions?”
One woman raised her hand.
“What is to become of those of us who aren’t fit for physical labor?”
Layek thought about this for a moment, and before he answered Lisanna stepped forward. “Efficiency is the most important thing for us. We’ll see where each of your talents lay and try our best to use that to our advantage. We’re not going to force people to do work they’re bad at, that’ll just jeopardize the quality of what we’re having you build. Some of our crew members will be there to keep an eye on everything and work alongside you. Speed is of the essence in this project. If you’re unfit for physical labor, we might be able to use you in the kitchen or to plan out schematics or something. This all came together faster than any of us could have expected, so we’ll have to work with what we have.” She looked around and then at Layek who nodded approvingly and said, “Anyone else with questions?”
An older man stood up, probably in his late 500s. “You said you’d drop us off on the mainland after three months, but we’ll have no money whatsoever when we get there, how are we going to resolve that?”
Layek thought about this for a while. “I don’t have an answer for that, but we’ll figure something out. I don’t want you people to die when you get back here, that would be bad karma.” He chuckled. “Even more bad karma than we’ve already got.”
The man nodded. “Can I propose something?”
Layek looked at the man amused. Accipiter was impressed that someone was so quick to speak up. “Talk to me, I’m open to ideas.”
“What if you extend our stay here a little longer? From my experience as a carpenter there’s no way you can get an entire village with defenses built in three months by mostly inexperienced workers. You can get a good start, but not a complete project. If you let us work for an extra while, perhaps you can pay us a proper wage, and solve two problems at once.” The man looked around. “I wish not to speak for all of these strangers here, but my village was burnt to the ground so I have no place to go back to. I’d rather land on shore with enough money to survive a while than completely broke.” He looked at Layek and the crew members that had slowly gathered behind the captain. “I don’t mean to speak out of turn of course, and I apologize if I’ve offended you with this suggestion.”
Layek waved his comment away. “I appreciate honesty and quick thinking, so you don’t have to worry there.” He exchanged a glance with Lisanna. “I think that’s a good suggestion. Perhaps we can work out the details when we reach the island. For now, follow my men’s commands and get set up in your quarters. It’ll be cramped and uncomfortable for a couple of days, but on the island there’ll be more breathing room.” He looked at the man who’d spoken. “What’s your name?”
“Very well Robert, we’ll speak later about this idea of yours.” He waved them all away and returned to his quarters.
“That went better than expected.” Accipiter closed the door behind him. He looked at Lisanna and Layek who both looked back at him and at the same time, as if they planned it, let out a deep sigh.
“Ever the optimist,” Layek said. He sat down behind his desk. After a moment he ruffled through a pile of paper before finding what he was looking for. “We’re going to need to do some proper planning. Before we reach the island, I need to speak with this Robert personally, to develop a plan. I also want a head count of how many people we have and where we think we can use them best. If we’re going to do this, we need to do this as efficiently as we can. Can I count on the two of you?”
Accipiter nodded and Lisanna smiled. “For a while, at least.” She looked at the girl in the corner of the room. “You should really move her to a proper bed, she can stay in my room for the time being,” she suggested.
Layek thought for a moment. “I suppose that would be best. Will you keep an eye on her and warn me when she wakes up?”
“She’s just doing that to avoid having to do a headcount of the slaves,” Accipiter said.
Layek looked at him. “And what do you know, it’s working. That’s your task now.”
Accipiter let out a deep sigh. “Fine, fine, I’ll get to it.”
He left the captain’s quarters and went back to the deck, where most of the people had already been moved to below deck. He spotted Jacsen, one of the newer members of the crew. Jacsen was still young, with barely some peach fuzz on his chin, but a bright smile and bright green eyes that you didn’t find in the more experienced folk.
“Are you doing alright, kid?”
Jacsen looked at him and wanted to retort but changed his mind. “I always forget you’re so much older than you look, it’s weird being called a kid by someone who looks my age.”
Accipiter laughed. “Most of you are human, after all, I’m the exception here. Well, myself and Lisanna.”
“Yeah, I’m doing okay. It was a bit touch and go there, but I was in the back of the crowd keeping an eye on the door, so I was able to get out safely. Is it always this chaotic with this crew?”
“This was definitely extreme for our standards, but it’s not uncommon for our plans to not quite go as, well, planned.”
“Well I’m glad everyone seems to be okay. Mostly, at least.”
Accipiter nodded. “So am I.” He patted Jacsen on the shoulder. “I best be going, I think Layek’s still mad at me, so if I don’t do my job properly now he might yell at me.”
“Good luck,” the young man replied, going back to his own work.
Making his way below deck, he passed several other crew members putting measures in place. They’d prepared for a large group of people, but some of their supplies had to be tied down in a different spot to make room for everyone. Four pirates were put there as guards, but as of now none of the slaves seemed to be causing any trouble. There was some murmuring amongst them, but when Accipiter approached it quieted down. He spent the next few hours talking to every one of them, and putting down notes. He wished more of the crew were literate, so he could share the burden, but for now he had to do it all on his own.
By the time he was done, and went back to Layek’s quarters with Robert, the rain had slowly settled down and only a light drizzle hit the deck. Jacsen and a couple others were still hard at work with brooms to make sure the deck of the ship wasn’t covered in water. The sails were taking in a ton of wind and they were speeding in the right direction. He knocked on Layek’s door and found the captain just about finishing his dinner. “Come on in.”
“I’ve brought Robert,” Accipiter said as they both entered the dimly lit room. It had a small window, but at this time of day no light came through it anymore, so the lantern on Layek’s desk would have to do. He’d been working all day as well, as evident by the shrunken pile of paperwork that Accipiter put his own findings on top of.
“You asked for me, sir?” Robert asked.
“Yes, have a seat, Robert was it?”
“Drop the sir, we’re pirates. Call me Layek.”
“Robert, you seem very calm considering the situation you’re in.”
Robert shrugged. “This is not the first time I’ve gone through hardship, I’m taking it as it goes. It was also my first time running through a city in a mad dash to a pirate ship, so that was different.”
Layek smiled. “That’s a very nice attitude to have in life, I command you for it.” He unclasped his hands. “I called you in here because I liked your idea, and I want to discuss the details. I like to think of myself as a reasonable person, even though the situation might make that tough to believe.” He looked at Accipiter, who was leaning against the door behind Robert. “I’m a reasonable person, right?”
Layek let out a deep sigh. “It’s so hard to get good men these days.”
“Regardless, you look like a tough fellow, what did you do before you were enslaved?”
“I was a carpenter, led a decent sized company of workers up north, built many a house, interior, ship, whatever you may name, we’ve probably built it at some point.”
“Excellent, that’s a skill we could definitely use.” Layek looked at Accipiter. “Looks like your talks of bad karma might be wrong after all.”
“Give it time,” Accipiter replied. “Things can still go horribly wrong.”
“What do you mean by bad karma?” Robert asked. “If I may.”
“Accipiter over there seems to think that because slavery is bad, it’s going to anger the gods and bring misfortune upon us. I don’t think the gods really care about what one pirate captain does.”
He looked at Robert. “What do you think?”
“You can be a bad person without being the worst type of person around.”
“So you think we’re bad people?”
“You certainly don’t appear to be good people. No offense meant of course.”
“None taken, I like your honesty.” he sighed. “Robert, I have a proposition for you.”
“We’ve told you about our plans to build a base on an island. We need a place to wind down, now more than ever. We need someone to help oversee the project, and we think you’d be a good choice for it. You’re not one of us, so people will feel more at ease with you, and you seem to have some experience already.”
Robert nodded again. “And what’s in it for me?”
“We’ll pay you for the full time you work for us. Regular wage.”
Robert thought about it for a while. “It’s not like I have too much of a choice. I accept.”
“Excellent. I hope there’s not too many hard feelings, we weren’t the ones who burned down your village, and we’re giving you your freedom back, don’t forget those parts.”
“You’re trying really hard to make yourself feel better,” Accipiter remarked.
Layek glared at him. “Enough out of you, leave my office.”
“Fine, fine, I’ll go.” Accipiter knew he’d pushed his luck and left the office, going back to his own quarters for a nap. He hadn’t slept since they left shore and he was quite tired after a chaotic day like that.
A little over three days later, with the wind being fairly favorable on their way there, the ship made it all the way to the island. Accipiter found Lisanna standing on the bow of the ship looking towards the island. “What are you thinking about?” he asked.
“Many things, all at once, it’s not very productive.” She turned around to face him. “Things are strange right now, the world is changing at a rapid pace and I’m not sure I like it. What happened the other day with the girl is not something that should normally happen.”
Accipiter laughed. “It’s a woman with color changing eyes who can summon lightning, I’m pretty sure that’s just par for the course.”
“You joke, but in all my years of studying magic and other phenomena I’ve seen nothing like it. I’ve been racking my brain over who could be responsible and I’ve come up with a few solutions, all more crazy and concerning than the ones before.”
“Well, that sounds like a lot of problems way above my paygrade.” Accipiter stared out towards the island. “So that’s home from now on, looks kind of desolate.”
“Wouldn’t make much sense to put a stronghold on an island with a lot of people coming and going, would it?”
“I get that, but it just looks so boring.”
“Don’t worry, you’ll still mostly be sailing around.”
“I guess.” He leaned against the railing. “Do you think Layek will be okay?”
Lisanna sighed. “I’m not sure, he seems very unhappy about our current situation. Having this girl with us might paint a target on our backs, and visiting the mainland is probably a lot more dangerous from now on. At least for a little while. He doesn’t seem too angry at us, and understands that things had to be done in the moment, but he’s definitely not happy about it.”
“And the girl still hasn’t woken up, which is worrisome. Soon it will become a problem.”
“I hope she wakes up soon as well, she hasn’t eaten for days.”
“It’s still three days only, that’s fine right?” Accipiter looked at Lisanna. “That’s fine right?”
“Fine is a strong word. It’s doable, but I wouldn’t advise doing so.”
Accipiter nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever unconscious because lightning struck me.”
“Good.” The ship reached close enough to the shore for the anchor to be pushed out and a small boat went out to make sure they wouldn’t hit anything in the last bit of the journey. Having cleared the area, the ship pushed towards the shore and a plank was laid out for everyone to make it to the sandy beach. It was a tricky road, but they’d have to build a pier eventually.
“Welcome home,” Lisanna said to Accipiter, as they landed on the seemingly empty island.