It had been three days since Liren and his crew hauled the Kaua up from the depth. Three days of pleasant seas and squid entrails. Even though hardly any of the colossal beast had been thrown back to the waves, there was no sign of the Kaua on the deck anymore. Every part from the arms to the beak had been cut up and divided into various barrels and pots that now mostly filled the crew cabin. The only sounds being the gentle lapping of the waves and the murmured thanks being given by the crew as they diligently performed the gruesome task. With the exception of the boy, the crew were seasoned and did not need Liren to tell them what to do. They all had their own strength and courage to draw from and this is why no one was lost to the Kaua this time. Hunting on the Atebean Sea was always dangers and losing men was unusual, but not unknown. Such is the way of life for the Rahuri.
Ever since the hunt, Liren had been uneasy and even before they were within sight of the village, he knew something wasn’t quite right. Manchu was his neighbor who always fished by himself in this part of the bay and his tiny boat was nowhere to be seen. And there should be a cloud of seagulls circling high above the dock as the fishermen clean their catch all day. Liren growled “Get the oars men. We need to get back to the village now.” It was the first thing he had said all day.
When they were two miles out, they could see that most of the buildings were gone. All that remained were burnt skeletons of the frames. The lack of smoke told Liren that whatever had happened here occurred days ago. They rowed facing backwards but every man on the crew crew strained their necks to glimpse the ruined town. A bit closer and they could see that most of the ships were missing. Only a few of the smallest ships remained tied to the docs. Liren pulled the oars as hard as he could but could not resist the urge to steal another glance over his shoulder at the village. This time he saw two figures waiting for them at the end of the dock.
As they pulled their ship up to the dock they were met by a young woman that Liren recognized from the village and her boy. Liren approached them but he gathered what had happened before she said a word. “They took them in the night.” the woman said.
She told the hunters of how three nights ago, a huge foreign vessel arrived in the bay with the name “Resolution” written on her bow in huge red letters. The villagers were wary as foreigners generally trade with the port city to the south. As the strongest hunter in the village, Yacachu gathered the warriors together to meet the foreigners at the docs. They were not expecting a fight, but traders still told tale of slavers raiding Borquen villages. The ship lowered longboats into the bay and the tension grew among the warriors. You don’t need three longboats to trade. As the long boats made their way closer, the first explosion hit the dock and sank an empty fishing ship. The canons continued to rain fire on on the town as most of the villagers fled into their houses or into the jungle. The warriors fell back from the docks, but as the longboats hit the beach, the warriors descended on them with a stunning fury.
The woman said that the fighting was fierce and many of the foreigners were killed, but in the end they tied up the remaining villagers and began taking them back to their ship. Once that was complete, the ship left on a course eastward back to the Serpent Sea. Only about a dozen villagers remain among those that fled into the forest. Liren shook his head and noticed the rows of newly dug graves on the beach. Liren walked over to them in a daze and the woman told him who she had buried in each grave. She named the village elders first. Liren barely noted that he now the oldest survivor of the village and thus the new village elder. She named a few others who had resisted the slavers and then listed all of the warriors that fell in battle, ending with Yacachu. Fully half of the villagers rested in the graves before him and were now travelling to Soryana, the land of the ancestors.
The woman placed her hand on Liren’s shoulder and added, “On the night after the attack, Yacachu and the warriors took a ship and left to follow the slavers.”
The breath left Liren and he fell to his knees in the sand. It is not uncommon for the spirits of the dead to remain for a while before departing for their journey to Soryana. Almost everyone knows someone who has received a message from an ancestor. These are usually delivered through tree frogs who whisper them in the night. Sometimes the ancestors return directly to help with a hunt or complete unfinished business. These things are well known among the Rahuri. But the departed hunters were pursuing the slavers into the Serpent Sea. Any ancestors who leave the Atebean Sea soon go mad. His friends and comrades would be lost to wander forever, surely a fate worse than death.
Liren was not a man prone to rash action, but he knew something must be done. Someone must find the slave ship Resolution and someone must bring home all of his family, both living and dead. As he knelt in the sand, his path began to crystallize before him. He must find a ship worthy of sea voyage. He would take a fishing boat and sail it to Port Borquen. Once there, he would find a ship and leave the Atebean Sea. Because Yacachu was chasing the Resolution, he would follow both at once and he with a cold knot of certainty he knew he would pursue them to the ends of Thea if necessary.
“No coin, no grog!” snarled the barkeep. He was an ugly, twisted man who spit whenever he spoke and Liren could hardly hear him over the din of the surrounding crowd.
“This is going to be a problem.”, thought Liren. Although he was aware of the concept of money and had even coins to trade at various times in the past, they were not typically used in his village. In his haste to pursue the Resolution, he had not considered what the rest of the world readily accepted, that you need money to get anything done. He paused a moment and asked the barkeep, “I have a ship tied up out back. Can you tell me where I can sell it to get some golders?”
This set the barkeep off on a fit of laughing and coughing that continued for far too long to be genuine. “You mean you had a ship, grandpa.” and pointed out the back window. “I don’t see nuttin’ out there now. Maybe you left your guilders on the boat? Hahahaw!”
Liren ran out the door and around back to the pier. Indeed the fishing boat he tied up a mere three minutes before was now nowhere to be found. He felt his anger growing. How could this happen? His quest was noble and must assuredly be blessed by the ancestors. Unless… maybe he was wrong. Maybe they were trying to tell him to return and attempt to rebuild the village. To leave his kin to their fate. He inhaled deeply to calm himself, but even here on this dock, he could not smell the sea, only the wretched stench of “civilization”. When he exhaled it sounded like a profound sigh.
“Excuse me.” It was a young Atebean man with an eyepatch who stood alone behind Liren on the dock. He wore the clothes of the foreigners, but seemed to have a light to his smile. “My friend here told me to buy you a drink. It looks like you need it.” In one hand he extended a full mug of ale out for Liren. “My name is Osro the Drunk” he stated, although he was clearly sober. With his other hand he placed a small green tree frog on a nearby railing and when Liren saw it, he knew this man was a part of the ancestor’s plan.
“Many thanks to you and your ancestors.” said Liren as he took the mug and drank deeply. “I am Liren and this has not been a good day.”
“So tell me your story Liren.” said Osro with a smile, “The little guy was a bit short on details.”
Osro calmly listened to Liren’s story, although he scowled and spat when he heard the name of the slaver ship, Resolution. “Your story is not as uncommon as you might think my friend.” remarked Osro at the end. “Walk with me.” And with that they headed west to where the great shipping vessels were docked. Osro continued, “I’m sure the tales of slavers has reached even your village, but you may not know that they are but a small part of a very evil organization. The Atebean Trading Company, known around here as ATC, has a long history of stealing our people with one hand and selling us goods with the other. Sometimes it’s just fishing ships that disappear in the night, other times it’s entire villages packed up and sold to the highest bidder. They prefer to take people from isolated places so that the news doesn’t spread as quickly. They have an image to uphold after all.”
“If this is known throughout the islands, how can they do business with the Boriqua?” asked Liren with genuine confusion.
“Some of us cannot believe the tales of their treachery as they have never known true evil in Atebean men. Others take wealth from the outsiders and choose to look the other way. They choose to believe that the ones who are taken are “primitive” and no longer suited to the modern world. Other times we choose to fight. I choose to fight.” Osro said with a grin. “And I am not alone. Together we are known as the Riroco and we fight the Company whenever and wherever we can.” His face began to beam with pride as he continued, “Their ships are mighty and nearly indestructable at sea, but we find their crew when they make port and show them the error of their ways. Sometimes we find allies to infiltrate their ranks and sabotage their ships from within. Do you see that?” Osro pointed off into the bay where a prow of a ruined ship could be seen jutting up from the waves. “That was me. Well, it was us. But mostly me. I did the hard part.”
He slapped Liren on the back and gave a hearty laugh. “And now the ancestors have delivered you to me. When we need new allies the most. Can you swing that sword old man? Together we will cut them down all across the Sea of Monsters! We will make them shake when they say our names! Liren, we will have revenge for your people!”
Liren stopped in the street and looked out over the sea to the east. The sun was setting and the vast horizon knew nothing of what he had endured. “I care nothing for revenge. I understand your calling and I wish you valor and glory against your foes. But my people will only be lost if I stop looking for them. I must go east to the Serpent Sea, to the lands of the foreigners. I must follow the Resolution wherever it may lead. I must bring the living back to our village and bring the dead to Soryana. And although I have never killed a man before, I fear I may kill many on the Resolution.”
Osro smiled, “I liked that last bit. Well, we can fight the same battle even if we do not fight together. Maybe that blasted frog brought me to you and not the other way around. I think I can help.” He lead Liren down the docks in the dying daylight, before them loomed a massive 3 masted galleon. It flew the Vesten flag and the bow read Snelheid. It was far, far larger than any ship Liren ever sailed.
“I could fit my whole village in there.” said Liren before the irony of the statement had dawned on him.
“Not all of the foreigners are devils. Some just want trade with us. It turns out that the rest of the world doesn’t have sea creatures as large and as tasty as ours.” They reached the gangplank and Osro lead the way up. “The captain is a friend of mine and they are bound somewhere back east. Perhaps you can continue your chase there? He’s looking for crew. Can you sail a ship?”
For the first time in a long while, Liren smiled.
The rest of that day was a blur. As quickly as the town’s fire team had organized a bucket brigade to battle the smoldering building; Jan had been set upon by lawyers, administrators and city officials. With the death of his parents, not only had he inherited the family tailor and seamstress business, but he also became the Carl of Krag, a small town just northeast of Vendal on the coast of Grumfather Bay. As such he was not only the merchant/economic leader of the entire town, but also its representative with a seat on the Vendal league.
The continual buzz of questions and platitudes that were thrown at him were a blur to the young man’s numb mind. At some point, he had been lead away from the wreckage and brought to his father’s office in the factory building where artisans and apprentices worked to create the clothing that had been designed by Jan and his late parents.
Unfortunately there was much to do that would not wait for an appropriate period of emotional recovery. The assault of questions and assignments continued through the day, with Jan going through the motions of nodding and signing documents in mechanical detachment. It wasn’t until the sun began to set, and the workday ended that the small crowd of managers dispersed and left Jan alone.
He sat in the dark office for a long while before he finally choose to stand and grab his coat. He hadn’t eaten all day and the emptiness in the pit of his stomach was beginning to become a bit more literal than metaphorical.
He left the office and shuffled down the street. Most of the city recognized him and mumbled condolences as he passed. But for the most part, everyone left him to his grief, not sure what to do in the face of knowing that nothing could be done. Most just crossed to the opposite side of the street, or changed the course of their evening stroll to avoid the confrontation.
And so, he found himself quite alone when he was suddenly grabbed harshly by the back of his coat and slammed against the wall of an alley. The movement was such a sharp contrast to the gentle soothing well wishes that he had been hearing all day, that Jan immediately snapped to full attention.
Magnus Thorgelvild, a large red bearded Vesten, towered over him and sneered down into Jan’s face. Magnus ran the government of Krag as its Jarl, the city’s leader of everything non-commercial. As such he had spent the last several years in, often violent, conflict with Jan’s father Daar, the previous Carl of the city.
“We’re going to talk,” the big man growled.
“You are the last man I wish to converse with today,” Jan struggled against the powerful grip, “Unless it’s to see you convicted for murdering my family.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Magnus’ gravelly voice went low.
“I suppose you’ve come to finish me off now as well?” Jan spat, “Or do you only let your Raider friends up in Eskjo do your dirty work for you?”
“You’re in morning, so I’ll let that slide just this once. But if you ever make those kind of accusations to me again, you better be prepared to answer for them,” Magnus leaned further into the struggling man. “As to whether I let you live or die is dependent on the answer to this question… Where is my daughter?”
Jan’s eyes suddenly flew wide. He had completely forgotten about Bera. Through all of this, he hadn’t seen her at all. Surely if anyone would be there to offer him comfort, she would have found a way; if she was able. Then he remembered that he was supposed to have met her aboard the Windrider.
With a startling burst of energy, he broke out of the big man’s grip and began racing for the docks.
Jan charged into the office of the dockmaster, a small man by the name of Klaus (no one knew his full name). Klaus was a small stocky man whose grey hair sprouted from a number of odd places around his head and body.
“Where is the Windrider?” Jan exclaimed as he pointed out a window at the empty berth.
“Oh, Master Daarson, I heard about what happened,” Klaus got up from his chair and walked around his desk. “I’m so sorry about your parents.”
“Yes, thank you,” Jan waved him off, “but what of the Windrider?”
“You see, we heard about the tragedy. And we were all shaken up. Really we were,” Klaus stated. “But we realized that you would surely be stepping into your father’s shoes and taking over operations.”
“Yes, yes. But what about…”
“And all of us, especially Captain Graulik, decided that we needed to keep the business flowing so that you wouldn’t have a mess to clean up when you took charge.”
“Are you saying that Captain Graulik took the Windrider?” Jan said.
“Yes sir, he knew you were planning on joining him, but we figured you were going to be busy with other stuff, if you know what I mean,” Klaus nodded sympathetically. “I guess life never quite goes the way you expect it to, does it? Anyway, he didn’t think it would do to hold his delivery until you got through everything you needed to do. So he took it upon himself to sail out so he could complete the delivery on time.”
“Did anyone disembark from the Windrider before she left?” Jan didn’t think his stomach could sink any lower until that point.
“Oh no sir, after what happened, everyone was very determined to do their part to help you. To do right, if you catch my meaning,” Klaus stated. “There wasn’t a single deserter.”
Jan ran his fingers through his hair and began to pace. “They’re probably half way to Deschaine by now.
“Deschaine?” Klaus exclaimed, “I hope they aren’t heading for Deschaine. That port is under quarantine. There’s a blockade of Montaigne ships guarding it.”
“Quarantine? Do you know about the quarantine?” Jan turned, this was the second time he had heard about the situation in Montaigne.
“Supposedly there’s something big going on there, but the Emperor’s people are keeping it quiet.” Klaus sounded apologetic.
Jan began to pace again. “Which of our ships are currently available?”
Klaus consulted a ledger and counted the names off on his fingers. “Well, none of them is quite ready to go, but there are a few of them that only have minor repairs left to do on them. There’s Hulda’s Pride, the Troll Seeker, Le Cheval…”
“Le Cheval!” Jan spun at the name, “the Montaigne blockade runner?”
“Yes sir,” Klaus looked skeptical, “what are you thinking, sir?”
“Have Le Cheval stocked and provisioned. We’ll leave in the morning, with the tide!” Jan began to stride toward the door.
“But sir, the day’s over. Everyone’s gone home.” Klaus called after him.
“Call them back. Work through the night.” Jan called over his shoulder. “Le Cheval leaves at dawn!”
The snow had started to melt, so the small remaining clumps crunched under his feet as he trotted through the woods behind his family home. He didn’t want to keep her waiting.
He got to the agreed upon spot and spun around. It didn’t seem like she was here, until he heard a whisper from behind a tree.
“Jan,” the soft voice hissed.
He turned to see the shadowy figure of Bera Thorgelvild. Even in the faint starlight, her blond hair glistened. She was the daughter of Magnus Thorgelvild, the Jarl of Krag, and they both knew that neither of their parents would approve of this clandestine meeting.
“Bera,” Jan exclaimed, “I’m so glad you could make it!”
“Shh,” she cautioned, “You know how much trouble we can get in for meeting like this?”
“Obviously,” Jan lowered his voice, “otherwise I’d of suggested that we meet someplace more romantic.”
“And why did you ask me to meet you tonight?” she asked suspiciously. “You don’t have any devious motives, do you Mr. Jan Daarlson?”
“Well of course I do, Miss Bera Thorgelvild” Jan said with a twinkle in his eye. “But the point is that I’m getting tired of just catching these brief glimpses of you. I want to spend some real time with you.”
“You know we can’t do that,” Bera sighed, “If anyone were to see us…”
“They wouldn’t, not if we snuck out of town for a while,” Jan said excitedly. “I’m taking my father’s ship, the Windrider, to Montaigne tomorrow. I have to make a delivery of new outfits for the summer, I also get to pick up some new fabrics to bring back and use on some new Vesten fashions. You could come with me and we would have the entire weekend together.”
“And as soon as someone saw me stroll on board your family’s ship, my family would come charging to the docks with torches and pitchforks,” Bera answered pragmatically.
“But no one would see you, not if you snuck aboard at night. Tonight in fact.” Jan’s enthusiasm continued to drive him to speak faster. “Then you’d already be there when I board in the morning.”
“And where is it you plan on taking me?” she asked.
“Deschaine,” Jan answered.
“Descaine? But Descaine is under a quarantine. Haven’t you heard?”
“A quarantine?” Jan asked, “A quarantine for what?”
“Supposedly some kind of disease, but no one knows for sure.”
“Well then, we have a mystery to solve,” Jan said dramatically. “Now you must come with me, for only together will we be able to discover the quandary of Deschaine.”
“You’re mad,” Bera laughed.
“But you’ll come with me?” Jan asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Bera finally said after a long pause, “I’ll head down to the dock tonight and slip aboard the Waverider.”
“Great! I’ll meet you on board in the morning. Just stay out of sight until we ship out.” Jan gave her a quick kiss and slipped back into the woods to sneak back home.
He tried to remain as stealthy as he was when he left the house, but his enthusiasm was too distracting. He grinned wildly as he pranced through the melting snow.
Finally he was back in sight of the house. Here he paused and refocused on his subtle approach. This was where he really didn’t want to be noticed and caught. Watching the windows he saw no sign of light or movement. It looked like he was going to make it.
However, he didn’t take more than a few steps from the tree line before the house lit up. The blast and force of the explosion threw him back and the enormous ball of flame singed him.
Jan Daarsen staggered forward as he watched his childhood home, where he knew his parents had been sleeping, enveloped in flames.
The darkness was absolute, but Liren could clearly smell the smoke and hear the crackling of the flames. He could feel the heat searing his skin but could find no source of the blaze. He pushed through darkness and called out, but there was no answer. After an eternity of wandering through the scorching blackness, he felt a presence and spun around. He instantly recognized the figure that stood before him as his friend Yacachu.
“Thank the ancestors you are here! But where is this place?” Liren implored, “Please tell me what is happening!”
But Yacachu said nothing. Liren looked into his eyes and saw a burning hatred unlike anything he had ever known. Yacachu turned and walked back into the darkness.
“Chief, wake up!”
Liren shot upright with a start gasping for breath and bumping his head on the low cabin celing. The startled boy took a quick step back and would have fallen entirely if the crew cabin had been large enough. “Sorry chief, Batea spotted the medusan and told me to get you. He says he spotted them off to the… sir, are you feeling alright?”
Liren was out of breath and covered in sweat. Liren always dislike the term Chief as it reminded him that he was old enough to be a village elder now. It is an honorific avoided along with it’s responsibilities in favor of the salt air and sea beasts. “I’m fine. It’s a hot night. I’ll be right there.” The boy nodded sheepishly and spun out the door and back to the deck. Liren cursed himself for being so out of sorts over a dream. At 62 years, he wasn’t that old. Yet. He got out of his hammock with a practiced ease and grabbed for his machete that was leaning against the wall. Ever since Yacachu taught him how to use it on a hunt years ago, he never went anywhere without it. Liren was present when Yacachu had been born some 30 years ago and he would never have guessed that squalling infant would grow into a young man who could effortlessly disarm him with a blade. If the ancestors had chosen to gift him with a child before his wife had fallen ill, he would have hoped that child would be like Yacachu.
As his hand closed on the hilt he felt something cold and wet. He dropped the blade to the floor and swore again at himself. A tiny green frog hopped off to some unseen corner of the cabin. He grabbed the machete and stalked out into the cool night.
Batea was right, although it would be hardly possible to mistake trail of the medusan on this moonless night. In the distance Liren clearly saw a long green plume glowing under the gently rolling waves. The medusan were tiny jellyfish that glowed in the depths and were the favored prey of the hunter’s real target, the great Kaua.
As they drew closer to the luminescent band, the crew hurriedly made preparations for the hunt. Liren hardly had to speak a word as every member of the crew knew their role and they readied bait, furled the sails and gathered their weapons. The boy who woke him handed Liren his Harpoon and then stared with fraught brow into the depths below. “There she is, men.” said Liren softly and he pointed the harpoon at a subtle swirling of the lights in the depths. He was certain that down there the enormous Kaua was snatching jellies with it’s 10 long arms and feasting on them with its razor sharp beak. He was equally certain that before this night was through, they would be cleaning preserving the meat from the magnificent beast on this very deck. This was far from the first time they hunted the Kaua and Liren never returned to the village empty handed. It would take at least three days to get back the small fishing village of Ipani on the island of Boreqen. Three days across the vast Atebean Sea. The thought of returning home filled Liren with a curious dread.