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!”