Chapter 15: Minor Damage

Virpan was fascinated by the strange world she had entered. She gazed toward the shoreline where a jungle of unfamiliar trees awaited. The ship bobbed up and down with the swells, a sensation she was still getting used to. Around a large boulder a breakwater and a pier came into view.

Nearby stood a small hamlet of partially collapsed buildings surrounded by overgrown pathways. In the center was a pale statue of Valtor, his arms missing and creeping vines covering most of his lower half. With a sigh she turned away, knowing this sight all too well. The boat began slowing, the bow pitching towards the pier. Virpan turned to look at Laikau.

“What’s going on? Why are we slowing down?”

“The fee was higher than before. I didn’t get as much for the pearls as I hoped, either, so, we’re stopping here for some repairs.”

“Repairs?”

“One of the beams got damaged in the storm. I was going to have it fixed in Ilvin, but, it’s too expensive there. The people out here have, shall we say, more competitive prices.”

“Oh no, will it take long?”

“Shouldn’t, I just need to get it patched for now.”

“Where did you get those pearls from?” Virpan asked, trying to sound innocent.

“From the ocean, where else?”

“Really, so you gathered them yourself?”

“No, I know someone who does,” he said quietly, “let’s just say, I have my sources, and leave it at that.”

Knowing she wasn’t going to get anything more out of him, Virpan sighed and nodded. The ship pulled up to the worn dock where several ragged looking men helped pull it. After she was secured, Laikau lead the way into town.

A few dismal looking huts lined the shore, wanting eyes peering out of broken windows. A pair of men prowled the dockside, each armed with a bow. At the end of the dock stood the only remotely decent building in the entire town, an old watchtower studded with flapping banners attached in a suspicious pattern to the sides. A thin, balding man stepped out and greeted Liakau.

“What are you after?”

“I need a patch job on my boat,” he replied, pulling out a pearl.

“That ought to be no problem,” the man said, snatching it from him.

“How long will this take?”

“Couple hours, probably.”

“Great,” Virpan muttered, walking toward the centre of town.

She stopped before the once grand statue of Valtor. The face was completely destroyed, chisel marks over the surface hinting that this was not merely weathering. Something about the sight bothered Virpan, though she couldn’t pin down what it was. Several nervous children emerged onto the square, their mothers appearing behind them moments later.

Virpan sat on the statue’s base and watched as the three youngsters approached each other. One dropped a ball to the ground. The three took to kicking it around the square, their mothers close by. Strangely unsettled by the sight, Virpan moved back toward the dockside.

“Hey, Howngthirr, you getting a weird vibe from this place?”

“Not really, it just looks like a dump. These people should really take better care of their town.”

“You think maybe they can’t?”

“Why couldn’t they?”

“I dunno.”

She trailed off, glancing back towards the statue. The children were gone. Virpan approached the area, spotting the rubber ball abandoned in the street. She picked it up, wondering why it had been abandoned.

A shout rang out from a nearby hilltop. She snapped her head around, spotting a group of men appearing from the woods. They where clad in masks and grass skirts, waving spears and shields above their heads. Most distressingly several of them had shrunken heads strapped their belts. Horrified, Virpan dropped the ball and raced for the dock. Near the repair shop stood Laikau and Howngthirr, both of whom seemed to be oblivious.

“Raiders! Raiders!”

“Not these jokers again!” Laikau shouted. “Quick, back to the boat!”

Needing no more prompting, the trio ran to their ship. The repair crew abandoned ship as the raiders approached. Once onboard Laikau tried to make them ready to sail before their time ran out. Behind them the men crashed into houses, screams emanating from within. A party of five sprinted up the dock coming right for them. Virpan grabbed a bow and let her first arrow fly.

The lead man fell, though his comrades were undeterred. Desperate for any assistance, she turned and looked for Laikau. He was leaning over the side of the boat, clattering something around in the water.

“What are you doing?!”

“Attracting sharks!”

“They’re getting closer,” Howngthirr exclaimed, a stone sailing over head.

Virpan dashed into his cabin and pulled the harpoon from the wall. She clutched the weapon and dashed back outside. The raiders had reached the ship. Howngthirr smashed the first one with his hammer, but his partner swooped in and clubbed him from the side. With a mighty lunge Virpan impaled him through the chest. He fell to the side, allowing a dazed Howngthirr to get back to his feet.

Before she could act, something heavy slammed into the side of Virpan’s head, sending her to the ground. Ears ringing, the next few moments played out as disjointed images. Men jumped onto the ship. She was pinned down. Laikau jumped over the side. Howngthirr smashing at them with his hammer, one fell, and another, then a third overcame him and dragged him to the deck.

She felt her hands being tied and one of the ruffians dragging her from the ship, perceiving everything as though she were hovering miles above the waking world.

-#-

Risawal pushed through the cramped bilge, crawling over barrels and around improvised beams. The boat rocked gently in the waves, the strange movement hampering his progress. At the prow of their new ship he found the leak he had been searching for. He knelt down and patched the newest hole, banging a cork plug into the weeping saltwater sore. The moment the water was sealed off, he felt water begin pressing against his knee.

With a sigh he moved back a pace and sealed the new hole as well. Risawal took a moment to admire his handiwork. The boat rocked, sending a creaking tremor through the timbers. A third leak appeared between the two he had just fixed. Deflated, he continued his quixotic work across the leaking bilge until he ran out of plugs.

Risawal tucked the mallet into his belt and clambered back onto the deck. A pleasant breeze was blowing off the ocean, whipping both the sails and his clothing. He walked over to the railing, taking in the beauty of the sea.

“Oh thank goodness you’re here,” Ja’eshuk called, sounding relieved, “I need a break.”

He obeyed the unspoken request, taking the tiller from her. Somehow he kept the boat on course, feeling a nervous exhilaration as he kept the tiller barely under control.

“How did your patching go?”

“Ran out of plugs,” he replied as a swell washed over the back of the ship, soaking him to the bone.

“This is what they call sea worthy,” she grumbled, pulling off her dress and wringing it out. “My clothing is more water tight.”

Risawal blinked, noticing that Ja’eshuk was clad only in a few strips of fabric. He felt his face turning red. “Uh, would you please put your clothes back on?”

“They’re wet,” Ja’eshuk said, smirking. “Besides I could use a little sun.”

She leaned back and stretched as if to taunt him. Risawal blinked, realizing he had been staring at her. Horrified, he quickly averted his gaze, trying to put the image out of his mind. With all his strength he replaced her with Valtor. The planks creaked just a few feet away. Hesitantly, Risawal opened his eyes. Jaeshuk was approaching him, a wide grin on her face. She placed a hand on his shoulder before leaning in close. Risawal inhaled, releasing the tiller as he stepped away.

“You’re funny,” Ja’eshuk said, taking the ship back under her command.

Risawal leaned against the gunwale and pointedly stared out across the sea, wondering if his journey was a test of some sort. When he could no longer tolerate Ja’eshuk’s snickering, Risawal bid a hasty retreat. He found Kialiki not far down the deck, not clad in much more than his other companion.

He consciously forced himself to look at the blue glyphs tattooed onto her body. The squarish shapes ran in twin columns from her ankles to her shoulder blades then twisted out along her arms. As she turned towards him, he noticed a similar pattern on her front.

“Those are some interesting tattoos you have there.”

“Think so?” She ran her finger down her arm. “I think they’re a bit garish myself, but, that’s what it takes.”

“They suit you,” he said, taking a closer look. “Hang on, is each one unique?”

“I think my initiator got lazy in a few places; these two here look identical, for instance.”

“What’s that on your hand?” He gently took her palm, noticing blue lines under her fingernails. “How’d you get them there?”

“Quite painfully, as you can imagine,” she replied, “still, it gives me greater control.”

“Huh, there are five on this hand, but three on your left.”

“I-I just couldn’t stand going through it all the way,” she replied, pulling her hand back. “Eight was enough for me.”

 

“Hey, we’ve got company!” Ja’eshuk called.

Risawal dashed to the stern. There he spotted their company. Two ships were closing in on them, bearing the flag of the Mahlapren Kingdom. A terrible thought struck him. He looked up at the mast, a cold sensation washing over him. They had neglected to remove the black flag. He raced to the mast and pulled the banner down, even though he knew it was too late. By the time the black cloth was in his hands the Mahlapren ships were within shooting range. An arrow struck the deck a few feet away.

“Raise a white flag!” Ja’eshuk called, turning the tiller.

“Wait, what?!” Risawal exclaimed.

“A sheet, papers, your drawers, just get something white up there!”

“We’re surrendering?”

“We’re trying to get them to stop shooting at us,” she cried as several more arrows fell around them.

Hoping she was right, Risawal searched for something white to run up the pole. After finding nothing, he looked down at his pale shirt and let out a sigh. He pulled it off and hoisted it to the top of the mast. He looked back, Ja’eshuk giving him the sign of approval. The arrows stopped, though the ships were still drawing closer. They were now near enough that he could see a boarding party gathering on the nearest vessel.

He began trying to adjust the sails to get more wind. After fumbling around with the rope, Kialiki hopped over, and yanked it away from him. Shortly thereafter they began picking up speed. He watched as she fine tuned the angle on the sail, neatly tying off the line when she had finished.

“I don’t think it’s enough,” Ja’eshuk called, glancing back at their company. “Any other bright ideas?”

“Look, an island!” Risawal shouted, pointing at a shape in the horizon. “I think that’s land over there, I think.”

“Get to shore, and then lose them in the jungle, that’s our plan,” Ja’eshuk said quickly, swinging the tiller.

“Great, well thought out and all that,” Kialiki said, stepping up to the stern.

“You gotta better idea up your sleeve?”

Before Ja’eshuk understood what was happening, Kialiki began glowing blue. The glyphs on her body shimmered as she focused her hands onto the water. A great force erupted from her palms slamming into the water. Ja’eshuk and Risawal were nearly bowled over as the ship shot forward at three times their previous speed, a circular wave carrying them towards the island.

Their pursuers were battered by the same wave, the lead boat listing heavily to port as it veered sharply off course. Kialiki looked back at them and smiled, the glow quickly fading away.

“Did I do a good job?”

“I could kiss you,” Risawal said quietly.

“Me too,” Ja’eshuk said, stunned. “You never let on that you were capable of something like that.”

“You never asked.” She swayed on the spot.

“Are, are you alright?” Risawal asked.

“Peachy,” she replied, leaning heavily against the railing, “Just need a, ah, moment to recover my strength.”

“But of course, whatever you need,” Ja’eshuk mumbled, adjusting the tiller again. “Looks like we should make it to the shore well ahead of our company.”

“Good, we’ll lose them in the jungle,” Risawal said. “Looks pretty thick, too.”

“And I can introduce you two to some amazing people who live there.”

“A tribe of magic wielders,” Risawal said, “I’d like to meet them.”

“Erm, they’re not magic wielders, actually. But they’ll be able to fix our boat.”

“We’re going to be leaving it behind,” Ja’eshuk said loudly.

“Oh, then I guess we can borrow one. I doubt they’d mind.”

“I hope not,” Ja’eshuk murmured, checking behind them. “Or we’ll just have to take one.”

“What did you say?”

“Those Mahlapren ships seem to be getting back on course, though I can’t imagine they’d catch us now.” A loud pop reverberated through the ship. A jet of water blasted Risawal as a leak reopened. “Unless something like that happens; get that fixed! Kialala, er Kali, you, help him bail the water!”

“Aye, aye, captain.”

As they set to work, Ja’eshuk looked back at the royal ships, feeling their speed dropping. She patted the tiller, urging the boat on. The shore was close now, and if they could make it a few hundred yards they might be able to swim the rest of the way. Timbers groaned as the crack grew larger. With a veritable fountain now crashing over him, Risawal threw down the hammer and took a bucket from the cabin.

Behind them the pursuit ships had recovered and were now nearly within shooting range again. With a jerking lurch the ship came to a nearly complete stop, a torrent of water pouring through several wide gaps onto the deck.  Now up to his waist, Risawal tossed the useless bucket aside and looked to Ja’eshuk.

“Swim?”

“Swim.”

With a sigh, Risawal stepped up to the gunwale and looked out over the deep blue stretch of water separating them from shore. A shiver traveled down his spine. Unhelpful memories of tales involving sea monsters bubbled up in his mind.  Reluctantly, he pulled off his boots, knowing he would miss them later. At the last possible moment he jumped into the water.

He was surprised at how warm it was, the night of the freezing storm now seeming out of place. The momentary relief vanished the moment he began paddling through it. Within a few strokes he was cursing his mountain upbringing. His clothes became heavy with water, but the fear of freezing in the night air prevented him for shucking them.

Something bumped against his leg. He gasped, the image of a great serpent flashing through his mind. When he looked back he spotted only a piece of driftwood. After what seemed an hour of swimming Risawal opened his stinging eyes to see how far he had come. It looked as though he had barely moved from where they had begun.

Dismay washed over him, his fatigue becoming more acute. He realized that he faced the real possibility of drowning. Another glance revealed that Kialiki and Ja’eshuk were well ahead of him, meaning that he might slip away without either knowing what had happened. Risawal forced himself on, knowing that Valtor would not abandon his champion.

A nightmarish eternity of struggle followed. His arms and legs burned with ache while his lungs seemed to be slowly filling with water. The sound of waves crashing against the shore urged him onward. Exhausted, aching, he at last felt sand under his hand. Risawal carefully let himself slide under until he found purchase. He waded the rest of the way to shore, collapsing the moment he felt dry sand between his toes.

“You look tired,” Kialiki said, leaning over him.

“What did you expect?” He murmured.

“Come on hero, we’ve gotta vanish, pronto,” Ja’eshuk snapped, grabbing his arm. “They’ll come looking for us, we need to go.”

“Just a minute for resting?”

“Grr, oh, fine,” she muttered, glancing out to sea. “Looks like they’re still inspecting the wreck, that’ll buy us some time. I’ll start looking for anything useful. You be ready to leave in five minutes, got it?”

“Got, mm, it.”

Dazed, Risawal spread himself out on the sandy shore, a friendly tree shielding him from the worst of the sun. He peered out from their shady cove, watching as their ship slipped beneath the waves. For a time the pursuit ships lingered over the wreck. Then they turned and headed west, giving up the chase.

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