August 16, 2022

Chapter 14: The Far Shore

For two and a half days Risawal and Ja’eshuk managed to sail across the sea without much incident. Around noon on the third day a bank of ominous grey clouds appeared on the horizon. That night a tremendous storm blew in, the crashing waves and howling windblown rain threatening to overturn the boat.

Ja’eshuk manned the tiller and struggled to the ship upright. Risawal bailed for their lives with an old mop bucket he was certain had a hole in the bottom. For hours he battled against the water, pouring it back over the side. As the night dragged on the ship’s timbers began creaking in a worrying way. Before it could sink them, however, the storm began to lift. Freezing and soaked to the marrow, Risawal collapsed at Ja’eshuk’s feet.

By the dim morning light, she spotted a harbor in the distance. She guided them towards it, falling asleep moments later. They were jarred awake when their boat crashed into the beach. There the ship expired, the waterlogged timbers giving way and falling apart on the sand. They two rose shakily to their feet, standing in the shifting surf. Not far up the shore they could see the outskirts of the port town.

“Do you think this is a safe harbor?” Risawal asked.

“Only one way to find out.” Ja’eshuk sputtered, advancing towards the huts. “I only wish the ship was still intact. That could make things needlessly complicated.”

Risawal scanned the port for signs of life. Then he came to a stop. “Uh, I don’t mean to jump to conclusions…”

“But you did anyway.”

“…erm, uh, I don’t think this is a safe harbor,” he said, pointing towards the flag over the dock. It was black and bore the skull and crossbones.

Ja’eshuk frowned. “That’s less than ideal. I knew parts of these islands were pretty lawless, but to have that out in the open.” She shook her head. “Maybe we should retreat to the…” She broke off as four seedy men approached; greedy expressions on their scraggy faces. Ja’eshuk affected a helpless pose and expression.

The men were bulky and smelled as though they knew not the concept of soap. “Ehehe, look what we’ve got ‘ere boys!” The lead one boomed. “Two ‘alf-drowned rats washed up in our fair port.”

“Oh, and that one’s a fine woman!” Another called. “I got an idea on she could earn her keep.”

Ja’eshuk raised her hands. “Please, don’t hurt us.”

“Aw c’mon, Okshigni! She looks too skinny to be worth the effort.”

Undeterred, the one apparently named Okshigni reached for Ja’eshuk. She dodged sideways and drew her short sword. In a flash Okshigni’s hand flew through the air. A stunned silence fell before Okshigni fully realized what had happened.

He began screaming incoherently, desperately fumbling for his sword with his remaining hand. Another swing and Ja’eshuk had relieved him of that hand too. The sword clattered to the rocks. Instinctively Risawal dove for it, feeling an exhilaration course through him as hefted a sword again. Okshigni screamed in agony, stumbling away.

“Grahh!” he cried.

Ja’eshuk produced a stiletto and hit Okshigni in the throat, silencing him. “Who’s next?”

The three glanced at each as they hastily backed away. One looked over at Okshigni’s twitching corpse, tears in his eyes, before shouting at the top of his lungs.

“Mahlapren spies!” he shouted.

At least a dozen more men emerged from the nearest building. The twelve charged with their weapons drawn. Instinctively, Risawal balanced himself and prepared for the assault. When they were five feet away, Ja’eshuk sprung up, deflected two swords and spun in mid-air, decapitating them. Risawal met three swords, catching them on his blade, before shifting his weight to carry the chargers right past him. Off balance, they stumbled into waves.

He then spun back to catch another two swords diving towards him. With a skillful trick he flicked them from them their owner’s hands, the swords falling harmlessly into the sea. Both men cursed and bid a hasty retreat.

The original three men turned and began running for their lives. Ja’eshuk produced three shurikens and hit each one in their leg. They toppled to the beach as the remaining men fled in all directions. Out of the corner of his eye, Risawal spotted a man emerging from the nearby building. He held a bow, and was taking aim right at Ja’eshuk while her back was turned.

Without thinking, Risawal took a mighty leap over a still squirming pirate as the arrow flew towards its mark. “Get Down!” The sword flashed like lightning as he came down and bisected the arrow. Eyes wide, Ja’eshuk produced a fourth shuriken sent it right into the bowman’s head.

“Not bad for a monk.”

“Oh, you’re welcome, my lady,” he said awkwardly. For a moment, Risawal believed he had at last touched her humanity. Then Ja’eshuk approached the three downed men who were still alive. “Now, what should I do with you three?”

The first one tried crawling away. “This is for causing needless violence,” Ja’eshuk spat, driving her sword through his heart. As he expired she turned to his still squirming comrades. “You two, I’m looking for a ship.”

“W-we’ve got one, it’s small but seaworthy.”

“Shut up Osokwi! We can’t let her have our shi…” Ja’eshuk slit his throat, cutting the man off permanently. Then she put the bloody blade against the last survivor’s neck.

“W-wait, please,” the last man begged, eyes staring at the rolling head. “I’ll take you to her.”

“Smart boy,” Ja’eshuk said. She reached down and hauled him to his feet. “You might live a little longer.”

Osokwi gulped and started limping in the lead. With a sharp poke at his back the man limped quicker, leading them into the small port town. Fearful eyes poked out of windows and doors of the mud huts lining the harbor. At the docks were several ships of varying sizes. The pirate led them to the smallest one, a double-masted ship around fifty feet from stem to stern.

“This is the Verdant. She’s not much to look at, but she’s got it where it counts.”

“This will do nicely,” Ja’eshuk said, looking around the craft.

“Good, can I leave?” he begged, stumbling towards the gangplank.

“Osokwi? Is that you?” Said a female voice form inside the cabin.

Ja’eshuk leapt through the door and came upon a young girl chained to a chair, looking intently at the doorway. She was thin, with long disheveled blond hair and clad only in a tattered robe. Her eyes were filled with sadness. She held out a hand in confusion. “Who are you? Are you the ones they sent to pick me up?”

Furious, Ja’eshuk spun around and glared at Osokwi. The pirate turned white and tried to flee. A knife struck him between the shoulder blades. He staggered and slipped overboard. Ja’eshuk watched him fall to his watery grave in disgust. After his body had vanished from sight her face softened, and she turned to the girl.

“Hello, I’m Watul, and this is Risawal,” She said as she fished through her pouch for a tool.

“I’m Kialiki, and uh, thank you for, for getting rid of him.”

Her eyes were desperate, having endured a living nightmare at the hands of the pirates. Ja’eshuk found what she was looking for and quickly unlocked the girl from the chair. Kialiki smiled at them.

“Oh, thank you both so much,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Uh, there’s one more thing. Could you please pull that thing from the boards?”

A small metal square was nailed to the roof of the cabin. Ja’eshuk grabbed it without hesitating. An electric buzzing ran down her arm as she touched it. Curious, she held it to her eyes and looked more closely. It was inscribed with tiny symbols and shimmered in a strange way. Kialiki grabbed it from her hand and chucked it into the sea.

“Perfect,” she said smiling, sitting back down in the chair. “You’ve done me a great favor. What might you ask in return?”

“May I ask two things?”

“Depends.”

“Will you help us sail this ship?” Risawal asked, butting in. “We must reach Kagnank Island.”

“Why I would be delighted.”

“What was that thing?” Ja’eshuk asked suspiciously.

“Oh just a nasty little toy those ruffians got a hold of.”

“And what did this nasty toy do, exactly?”

Kialiki raised her hand, the sleeve of her robe falling back revealing several glowing blue glyphs tattooed into her skin. A radiant aura appeared around her fingers as she brushed them through her hair, straightening it instantly. “It kept me from using my fun little tricks.”

“Ah, interesting.”

“Don’t worry, I’m a nice sorceress.” Kialiki assured them, a good natured smile across her face.

“That’s what I’m worried about.” Ja’eshuk muttered. “Oh well, I’m sure you’ll come in handy. Now, monk, let’s get ready to sail.”

-#-

Virpan peered through the fog, a pulsating light growing stronger in the distance. The lighthouse of Port Ilvrin guided them towards the port. Huge ships came into view, birthed at docks as long as Virpan’s village. They glided past the giants, finding an empty dock. Laikau expertly guided the ship against the pier. While securing the boat, a clean shaven, bespectacled man approached them. He wore a dark colored tunic with a shiny badge affixed near his collar and carried a large ledger book.

“Name, duration of your stay, and reason for coming,” he said in a dull monotone.

“Laikau, staying just a few hours and picking up supplies.”

“Very good,” he jotted it down in his ledger. “The fee is eight pennies.”

“How about two pearls?” he asked, laying a pair of shimmering spheres into his hand.

“I’m not a jeweler boy,” he said, dropping the pearls back into Liakau’s hand. “I’m noting a one penny fee for not having proper payment.” The official jotted down the infraction before tearing out a slip of parchment and offering it Liakau. “Take this slip to the harbormaster before you leave.”

“But, but, that’s not fair,” he said, “Those pearls are worth at least that much.”

“Listen boy,” the dock man said, his voice lowering, “This has been really, really long day. I’m just doing my job. If you have a problem, then take it up with the harbormaster.”

Virpan and Howngthirr walked up behind Laikau, who appeared deflated. For a few moments they stood in silence. At last he sighed and stuffed the paper into his pocket.

“Welcome to Ilvrin,” he murmured, starting down the dock.

The three marched down the dock and onto the harbor road. The buildings lining the harbor were an odd collection of timber storehouses, squat mud huts topped with leaves, and whitewashed stone edifices standing in-between. A few milling dockworkers eyed them as they passed. Once on the road Liakau began searching for a place to sell the pearls. After passing several eateries and drinking establishments Laikau found what he had been looking for. It was a two story shop made of stone bricks.

Inside was a den of oddities. Shelves of spices, rows of intricately carved wooden figures, boxes containing dried fruits of all shapes and colors. The large man at the counter greeted Laikau jovially and promptly looked over his offering. The two pearls reappeared in his hand and the man looked over each one with an expert eye. Virpan wandered down another aisle where she found a young woman with long black hair sweeping. She looked up as Virpan approached, considering the new patron.

“Hello,” she said quietly, turning back to her work.

“Um, hello, are you a native?”

“Why?” she asked suspiciously.

“I heard someone say something,” Virpan said, realizing as she spoke how stupid she sounded. “I mean, I heard words, but not in a language I’m familiar with.”

“And you think I’ll know it?” the girl muttered, shaking her head. Virpan blushed and swallowed gathering her resolve.

“Please, what does Kila Siwali mean?”

The sweeper girl blinked. She put down her broom and looked at Virpan closely for the first time in their exchange.

“Kila, means come here or approach,” and Hiwali is a name, though, it is a bit archaic. Why, where did you hear it?”

“From that man.”

“Him?” She asked, pointing at Liakau, “Hah, he’s an interesting one.”

“Why, what are you talking about?”

“Always pays in pearls,” she replied, “I think he’s a pirate, or at least, he cashes goods for them.” Virpan frowned. The idea of Liakau as a pirate did not seem right to her, yet she didn’t know what else it could mean. While considering the sweeper girl’s words, she noticed a rather familiar sight. Sitting on shelf near the back of the store were a pair of miniature sarcophaguses which looked exactly like the one from the Weeping Maid’s tavern.

“What’s this?” she asked, carefully picking one up.

“Ah, that’s a continental style jewelry box. It’s symbolic of Valtor, though, I’m not exactly sure how. It’s a very popular design with some sailors. Would you like one?”

“Sorry, I’m broke.”

The girl shrugged and returned to her sweeping. Virpan stood still for a few moments. Someone tapped her shoulder. Laikau stood behind her with a hand full of coins. Deciding she would solve the mystery later, Virpan followed him back out onto the street. The fog had begun to lift, the noon sunlight piercing the grey sky.

They walked down the road until they reached the harbormaster’s office. Laikau sighed before pushing open the door. Inside was a hive of activity, officials running to and fro with stacks of paper, as a group of angry people waited in line. At the head of the line were two red faced men shouted at each other. Virpan listened in, wondering what was going on.

“…and I already told you,” the official at the desk roared, “You’ll have to pay to have the cargo offloaded, end of story!”

“I’m not paying one bloody coin!” the captain roared back. “Get your boss out here, now!”

“Eshtothr is quite busy, sir, so I am the one you shall have to deal with. Now, dumping is strictly forbidden, so you’re going to have to have the cargo offloaded and disposed of properly.”

“You are never going to get me to pay to unload two hundred crates of stones! This is fraud!”

“If you think you have been defrauded, you’ll have to lodge a formal complaint. Until then, you either pay to have it offloaded or you get your ship out of Port Ilvrin!”

“I won’t leave here with that ballast! We nearly sank coming here! I’ll have them thrown into bay!”

“You are not blocking my harbor with seven tons of stones!” the official shouted, throwing the paper at the captain. “By Hroki, the one with casks of seawater wasn’t this much of a bother.”

The captain threw a handful of coins across the desk before storming out.

“You forgot your change!” The official bellowed before slumping forward against the desk, burying his face in his hands. “Next.”

Virpan sighed, smelling Zhar’oth’s doing. Slowly the line petered out and Laikau reached the desk.

“And what’s your problem?” the official asked, looking disheveled and exhausted.

“Oh, I’m here to pay off my fine.”

“Oh thank Nlitprig,” he said, relief washing across his face. He looked Liakau’s parchment. “Nine is the fee, let’s have it.”

Laikau reached into his pocket and pulled out the payment. The money slid around in his hand. He fumbled for a moment, finally dropping the coins on the desk. One bounced off, rolled away down the floor, and fell through a crack. The official stared at the spot, then looked back to Laikau as he rifled through his pockets. When his hands came up empty the official slapped his own face.

“Uh.”

“J-just go, get out of here!” the official sputtered, pushing the payment into the drawer. “Hyuthsim, get me a drink!”

The three awkwardly filed out as a young woman poured the tired official a large portion of liquor. Outside the sun was starting to sink from the sky. With hours wasted, they returned to the boat as quickly as their feet would carry them, casting off without a backward glance.

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