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.