Their visibility was low. It wasn’t just the darkness of night that impeded sight; it was also the fog. A thick blanket wrapped the Hawesford, a large privateer ship with unmarked, white, sails. It was a ship built to intimidate, with a dozen cannons on the sides alone. The crew was well organized and usually reacted well to surprises, considering their line of work.
The wind was low, so any forward motion was minimal. The waves moved enough to lap loudly against the wood that separated the crew from the sea. They hadn’t been to sea for long before the winds died down and the fog set in. They spent the daylight hours moving slowly, trying not to get turned around so close to land, lest they run ashore.
Captain George Wens stood behind the helmsman, overseeing the deck below. He was a tall man, with broad shoulders and thick arms. He wore a long black coat that hung over a white shirt that looked too tight for his massive chest muscles. He had pants that matched his jacket in colour and in style. His long grey hair was tied in a single strand at the back of his head, which was topped with a black captain’s cap.
The captain’s eyes travelled over the ship, and back out to the fog. He had many eyes watching for danger, but he was not the sort of captain to leave everything to his crew. Wens preferred to be more involved.
A multitude of oil lamps moved about the ship, guiding the crew at least a little in the low light. The fog was so thick that parts of the vessel were not visible to the captain, so he was relying on steady messages passed along from the crew further down.
Motion caught the captain’s eye, and he followed it to the sails. Something small and bright had moved near the sizeable central sail, and it only took a moment for him to realize what it was: a flaming arrow. The sail lit up like a bonfire, much to the surprise, and horror, of the crew.
‘The sails were wet!’ was the first thought captain Wens had upon seeing his sails catch fire. His second thought was spoken loudly.
“Detach that sail before the others catch!” He bellowed.
White shirts surged in unison, cutting ropes as fast as they could while others fetched buckets of water to douse the flames.
A third thought spoke inside the captain’s head. ‘Where had the arrow come from?’
He turned to the sea as the fog parted, revealing another ship at spitting distance. It was a small vessel, from what he could see, about half the size of the Hawesford; that wouldn’t make a difference at this range. He’d been taken by surprise. Wens didn’t have time to load his many cannons. No, this wasn’t going to be a naval battle. Looking up at the smaller ship’s black sails, he knew he was about to be boarded. Not having time for any complicated orders, captain Wens thought quickly for proper wording; he needed to defend his ship.
“Pirates!” He shouted.
The crew stopped what they were doing, but any that were close to the side had little time to react to the wave of blades and bodies that made their way over the vessel’s edge and dropped in from swinging ropes. Clad in black, they flowed over the privateers, not even letting them draw their swords to defend themselves.
Captain Wens and his helmsman drew their swords and entered the fray, as the initial surprise wore off. The crew that were below deck rushed up wooden steps toward the attackers, battling below burning sails. The privateers had the advantage of high numbers, regardless of the initial surprise.
Wens’ confidence in his advantage began to wane when the pirates pushed forward, hard. He couldn’t believe it. Despite being outnumbered ten-to-one, they were pushing forward steadily. The deck was enormous, so if they kept pushing toward the center, they would end up being surrounded.
‘This tactic is foolish,’ he thought. ‘Or am I missing something?’
The battle slowed to a stop once the pirates were surrounded; about a dozen formed a circle in the center, back to back. The captain had to admit, these were skilled combatants. Only a few of their own had fallen by this point, but many white shirts lay bleeding and motionless. Taking a closer look at them, the captain could see steel and fire in their eyes, not literally, but he imagined it.
These were hardened men. These were killers, plain and simple. They had fought for survival at sea for all their lives, doing what was necessary. Each had reached the pivotal point of killing for their own survival and had become harder because of it. They may not have enjoyed the death they brought, but they saw the necessity. These men were broken, but rebuilt as iron statues, with swords in hand, automatons, built for war and death.
‘But who commanded them?’ Wens thought. ‘Where was their captain?’
From both sides of the ship came gunfire. While the privateers had concentrated on the dozen or so pirates on the deck, the remainder of the pirate crew had climbed along the edge of the ship to take up shooting positions. At the perfect moment, they all rose and cut the white shirts to pieces with fire and lead from their pistols. The privateers died so fast, they may as well have been lined up for execution. The few moments they had left to decide which target to attack was wasted.
They were too far away to strike at the attackers on the sides of the ship, but they were not currently coordinated enough to strike at the dozen in the center circle. So, they died in their confusion, leaving piles of white and red on the dark wood of the deck. Captain Wens didn’t fare any better than his crew. He took a shot to the chest before he could draw his own pistol.
He fell to his knees, shock taking all control of his muscles. Before he closed his eyes for the last time, he noted two things: first, a woman stood on the edge of the ship, pistol in hand, with hair as green as seaweed; second, his sails had burned entirely black.
Captain Sarah Chartimands holstered her gun, surveying the bodies to ensure they were all dead. After looking through the Hawesford Captain’s pockets, she drew a small iron key. Satisfied, she nodded at the tallest of the remaining men from the inner circle. He followed her below deck, around a few corners and down a ladder. They came to a locked door. With a turn of the freshly acquired key, the door swung slowly open.
Past the door was a hall that stretched to the right. It was lit by hanging lamps that swayed with the rocking of the ship. They walked down the short hallway, passing an empty cell with the barred door swung open. The second of three cells had an occupant. At the end of the hall was a small wooden desk, pressed against the wall. The desk had a simple chair for a guard to sit in if needed. A barrel sat next to the desk, with a bucket on the floor in front of it, the seawater within rippled with the gently rocking ship.
Sarah looked through a few of the drawers in the desk and drew a set of keys. She looked through them and picked a key, darker than the first she had used, then opened the cell door to the tune of creaking metal. She stepped past the bars, the other man with her staying just outside.
The man in the cell was bound in tightly wrapped chains, keeping him from moving his arms or legs at all. His mouth, ears and eyes were covered in clean white leather patches, held by straps. Besides the mask, he was wearing linen wraps over his privates, and nothing else. His moderately built body was tinted by many days in the sunlight, and tangled black hair hung down to his shoulders, dripping wet, like the rest of his body. This was no doubt due to being splashed with water frequently to reduce any magical talent he retained; despite being at sea.
Sarah crouched and went through the keys once more. She began the unlocking process, removing chains as she went. Lastly, she removed the leather covering his face. He blinked a few times, letting his dark, brown eyes adjust to the light, as he had been in the dark for a long time. His eyes stopped on Sarah, assessing her danger level. He cleared his throat before speaking.
“To whom do I owe the pleasure?” His voice was fluid and professional.
A corner of her mouth twitched, wanting to smile; she resisted. Remaining crouched allowed her to observe the specimen in detail. With a slight upward tilt of her black captain’s hat, she looked him over. She noted a lack of facial hair, not even stubble, despite prolonged captivity.
“Oh, I have not changed that much, have I?”
He grinned at her, tipping his head down slightly and to the side. “I am simply cautious; it is part of my line of work, after all. Also, it would be impolite to converse without a proper introduction.”
Giving in, she smiled. “Captain Sarah Chartimands.” She reached out a hand.
He took the hand. “Maestro Clark Sinpowit.”
Sarah pulled him to his feet, giving him a moment to balance before releasing her grip.
“You’re a captain now.” Clark nodded approvingly, “You have been a busy young lady.”
“As have you, old man. You went from a teacher to one of the biggest bounties in the kingdom. What did you do?”
“Another story for another time.”
“So, this is the big haul you were after.” Her first mate was now leaning on the metal frame to the cell door, arms crossed. He had his black hair tied in a knot at the back of his head. His tanned face was accented with a ring of black hair surrounding his mouth. His pale blue eyes watched Clark with disinterest.
“Yes,” she said. “This man is invaluable.” She gestured a hand, toward him. “He can get us into the largest underwater safe this side of Legion territory.”
He stood up straight, and his eyebrows twitched skyward.
“That’s impossible. It’s at the bottom of The Pit. There’s only one way in, and that’s through half the soldiers in the Legion.” He looked back and forth between Sarah and Clark. “That’s the King’s gold you’re talking about. You want to rob the King?”
“Yes.” She replied simply.
“You’ve been chewing, Lutewood.”
“Gren, I have a plan,” she stated slowly, “I will explain once we are aboard the Lady Flotsam.”
With that, she gestured for Clark to exit the cell. He brushed past Gren without hesitation, avoiding eye contact. She followed behind, and Gren trailed at the end of the line. They climbed the ladder one by one, but Sarah and Gren framed Clark as they walked up the last set of steps to the deck. Her crew had already returned to the ship and were lowering long oars from holes in the side of the black ship. The trio made their way across a plank that had been extended from the privateer ship while they were below deck.
Once they were aboard, she yelled, “Let’s move!”
Oars reached out like feelers and pressed against the privateer ship and pushed, slow and steady. Once they were far enough away, long oars dropped into the black waters in unison, rising only for a moment before dropping again. Captain Sarah Chartimands took the helm, directing the ship into the fog.
Once they cleared the mist, Sarah relinquished the helm to one of her crew and headed below deck. She found Gren and Clark on the mess deck, enjoying a meal at a long table. Sitting beside Gren, which was also across from Clark, the captain set both her elbows on the table and placed each hand together, forming a double-handed fist.
Upon finding a comfortable position to lean her chin, she spoke: “We have much to plan. But first, I sense someone needs convincing.” She looked at Gren.
“I may be able to relieve some of your distress with a demonstration.” Clark injected into the conversation.
“We’re at sea, wizard. What can you possibly do?”
Both Sarah and Clark grinned. In a blink, the room seemed to shift slightly. Barely noticeable, but with that shift, a few things changed. Clark’s clothes were different. Instead of the black rags, he was supplied, he was draped in dark green robes, tied with what looked like thin twigs. In his right hand was a twisted wooden staff with, what looked like, a three-fingered hand reaching palm upward, at the top.
For a moment, Gren didn’t react. He blinked a few times, the transition was smooth enough to make him consider that maybe he had simply incorrectly remembered what he had seen. A few more moments passed, and he said something.
“Did we pick you up in that outfit?”
“No, but the confusion is understandable. Summoning items near non-magic users can have some interesting effects on the mind, as it tries to understand what it just saw.” Clark responded.
Gren blinked a few times at Clark before nodding, clearly not following what he was talking about.
“Now that I have my staff, a demonstration seems to be in order. Non-users love when I do tricks.” Clark took the appearance of a young boy, about to show his father some trinket he had created for him.
Clark stood and casually picked up a wooden mug with his left hand. He then, without warning, splashed its contents violently at the seated Gren.
Gren twitched in surprise, expecting the water to hit him in the face. It never happened. The water was floating, like a glass helmet over his head. It was far enough away that it wasn’t impeding breathing. Gren maintained his composure, and simply said, “Neat trick.”
“Magic is difficult to manipulate when so much water is nearby because the water absorbs and washes away any nearby energy.” Clark started.
“Everyone knows that,” Gren responded.
“However, not everyone is familiar with nature magic. It’s a carefully guarded secret. Mostly because it isn’t bound by the same rules. A nature magic-user is fueled by the flows of the sea, storms, wind, and so on.” With a gesture of his staff, the water returned to the mug in his hand.
“So, that little trick was nature magic,” Gren stated plainly.
“Yes.” He answered. “The trick required to get into the king’s vault, on the other hand, will need be far more complex.”
“Sounds like you planned this out already.”
“We did,” Sarah interjected. “A long time ago, before I was a pirate.”
Gren’s face showed surprise, but he didn’t voice it.
She continued. “We did not have the people needed to do it until now.”
“Ok.” Gren seemed satisfied with that. “What’s this trick we need you for?”
“I will be sinking your ship over the vault,” Clark stated cheerfully.
Gren blinked at him, looking unimpressed. “What?” He stated after a moment.
“Once your ship is positioned over the vault, I will convince the sea to swallow your ship, and settle it on the seabed above the vault. From there, we can use explosives to open a path to the vault, bring the treasure on board, and have the sea return us to the surface once we are done. It’s incredibly straightforward, but will require a great deal of concentration on my part.” He looked at Gren. “You look distressed.”
“I’m not sure where your mind is wizard, but you seem to be forgetting; we can’t breathe seawater.”
Clark gazed at Gren for a moment, unsure if he was jesting. Once he was certain Gren wasn’t, he said, “I certainly wouldn’t let the sea drown us if that’s what you are thinking.”
“Well, you see, there are energy fields linked to abundant sources of natural magic. These are so powerful they seem to have become almost self-aware”
“That’s enough, Clark,” Sarah interrupted, standing up and walking over to him, “you can teach lessons later. We have explosives to acquire.”
“Right,” Clark stated, glumly. He rather enjoyed explaining magic to others. “I suppose you want me to speak to my contacts about procuring the amount needed.”
“Sounds like my information was good.”
“I see you are as patient as I remember.”
She leaned her face in close to his, playing with the fabric of his robe, near the neck. “I may be a pirate now, but I’ll always be a princess.” She winked at him. “Now, go do your wizard thing and find me something I can blow up.”