Chapter 2 Earth

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The marketplace is empty.

Marpidium’s usual center of trade and gossip greets the foggy morning air with silence. Tables and large baskets normally filling the space are stored safely away. The crowds usually milling about are gone with no signs of returning.

Standing close to the center of the marketplace are four figures. Captain Almuran Kostia, his quartermaster Maris, Ari Flandine Gurek, and Kemp Romijn stand close together. The cool morning air sends a shiver through the small group.

“Are we early or is everyone just late?” Ari asks.

“Meeting at dawn means different things to each person. It won’t be much longer,” Kostia says.

Movement in the fog ahead of them proves Kostia’s words true. Four groups walk towards them. Each group had four people and Ari’s thoughts return to Kostia’s lessons about the pirate laws.

 


 

“Each captain is allowed to bring three men with him. One must be either his quartermaster or first mate. The other two can be whoever the captain chooses. They can be part of his crew or not,” Kostia says.

“That’s weird. Who do you usually bring besides your own crew?” Ari asks.

“Some pirates hire men for added protection. Smaller, rogue pirates or mercenaries. It’s rare, but not unheard of,” Maris answers.

“The two men are to be protection for the captain and quartermaster or first mate. No fighting may occur during the negotiations, but the journey to the decided location and from are fair game. Many negotiations end before they even begin.”

Ari stares at the thin book in her hand. Maris gave it to her. It held the vague outlines of pirate law. Some were expected: Every man shall obey civil command and his commander in all respects or he shall forfeit his share of the expedition. Others surprised Ari: Any man found gambling his share, be it dice, card, or any other form of game, shall be punished with accordance to the articles or by vote amongst his peers. The ultimate decision shall be made by Quartermaster or, if he cannot deem appropriate punishment, by Captain.

The laws were vast, but vague. At the beginning and end of the book, were added notes by, Ari assumed, previous captains. Guidelines, no laws be found here. One especially caught Ari’s eye. Sail true to heart and the laws shall be child’s play.

“I hear your man Kemp has a unique magic,” Kostia says, breaking Ari’s thoughts.

She meets his eyes and nods. “He does. Is that why you requested he be one of the two?”

A smile forms on Kostia’s lips. “Maybe. Have you put thought into who I might choose for the second?”

“It’s your choice. I could make a suggestion, but—”

“You. I want you to be the second.”

Squeezing the book in her hands, Ari slowly nods her head. “I had a feeling.”

“Do you want to know why?”

 


 

“Let’s see how well you paid attention,” Kostia says in Ari’s ear, pulling her from her memories. “Can you identify who each captain is?”

Ari stares across the marketplace at the approaching pirates. Her eyes bounce from each group to the central figures of each cloister.

“Farthest left, the big guy,” Air says nodding her head in the direction of a large man wearing a vest. He consciously takes smaller steps so the three around him can stay close. “That’s Rim Cruudler, captain of Three Blades. Sailed with Audra the longest and was given his own ship to captain the latest of those vying for the title. He knew Audra when she was still only captain of a single ship. He’s originally from a small island off the north shores of Deirak and was one of the few of her crew who opposed her fighting in the Blood Wat with my parents.”

“Good. Next?”

“The woman wearing…a men’s uniform? That’s Cerise Bobeto.” The woman in question is surrounded by three other women. Scars on the right side of her face are covered by her hair as a gentle morning breeze moves across the marketplace. “She’s the only woman besides Audra who rose through the ranks faster than a man. She captains the only all female pirate crew on the seas. She views Audra’s title as an opportunity to prove women are superior.”

“I’m impressed.”

Ari looks at the next in line. A tall, gangly man with leather straps across his face. He walks as though usually he carries a large weight on his back. “The man with his face covered is Babin, no last name. No one knows where he came from. He is stronger than he looks and his weapon of choice is a large double bladed axe on a change. His goal is to bring the fear of pirates back.” Ari looks at Maris and smiles. “I know you said, bring the glory of pirates back, but everyone I’ve ever heard of use that term really means fear.”

Maris nods his head in agreement. “He is the enigma of those wishing to claim the title. He’s never shown interest in it until recently.”

“And the last captain.” Ari stares at the man dressed in the finest clothes she’s ever seen. The hat on his head has a large feather that twitches at every movement of his head. He’s the only one smiling out of the four and the men behind him keep a good distance. He meets Ari’s gaze and a strange look comes over his face. She recognizes it as intense curiosity and a chill runs through her. “That…that is Aisling Ophius. The only member of Audra Sellin’s crew who actively tried to murder her but was never punished for it.”

The groups stop in front of them as the fog lifts. The four stare at Kostia each with a different emotion in their eyes.

“Fine morning to you all. It’s always grand to see you Rim, Babin, and Cerise.” Kostia says. He turns to Aisling. “Can’t say the same for you, Aisling.”

Aisling nods his head at Kostia. “I understand your apprehension, Kostia. But I do hope the negotiations will go smoothly…without any interruptions.”

“I hope for that, too.”

Aisling’s eyes move to Ari and Kemp but linger on Ari. “I see you chose not to bring your crew. Who are these two?”

“My protection.”

“Ain’t that sweet,” Babin says, crossing his long arms across his chest. His eyes trace the scars on Ari’s face. “None of your crew wanted to protect you so you had to go find two strangers?”

“Two people who don’t know what you did to us?” Cerise adds. “What you did to Lady Sellin?”

Kostia eyes Rim. “Anything to add, big guy?”

The large man takes a deep breath and avoids Kostia’s eyes. “Their eyes are, eh, the eyes of those who have, eh, lost much.”

“Does that include their voices?” Babin asks.

“We choose to remain quiet since we are unfamiliar with your rules and don’t want to inadvertently say something that will escalate the negotiations into fighting,” Ari says, her eye meeting Babin’s.

Something she hadn’t noticed when she first saw him was his eyes. The leather straps distracted her. Babin’s eyes are a strange pale brown, but that isn’t the strangest thing. Each eye has multiple pupils. True some are deformed, but there are clearly two pupils in one eye and three in the other. Ari expects him to look away as she stares at the abnormal eyes, but he doesn’t. He seems proud of his strange eyes the way he defies her expectation to look away.

“Who are the ones vying for the title of Pirate Lord of the East?” a voice thunders over the gathered group. Everyone turns to a large walkway leading up to the center of the city. A woman stands in the middle of the walkway, her arms crossed over her chest. The towering ship in the distance behind her almost seem to shrink in her presence.

The groups walk towards her, stopping in front of her in a line with the five captains standing separate from their comrades. The woman wears a dress, but she stands as though she wore pants. “My name is Ethela. I served as Lady Audra Sellin’s Quartermaster before her death. Today I shall be the neutral party to these negotiations. Who vies for the title of Pirate Lord?”

“Captain Almuran Kostia of the Black Heart Pirates vies for the title of Pirate Lord of the East,” Kostia announces.

“What is the basis of your claim?”

“Lady Sellin declared me her successor in front of fifty men and women of her flagship, the Broken Corral.”

Ethela eyes the others. “Can any confirm this declaration?”

Maris steps forward. “I can confirm the declaration.”

Three others step forward, Rim and two of his men. “We can confirm the, eh, declaration, but disagree with the decision.”

Nodding her head, Ethela’s eyes move from face to face. “Who else vies for the title of Pirate Lord?”

“Captain Aisling Ophius of the Bloody Corral Pirates vies for the title of Pirate Lord of the East,” Aisling says, bowing his head.

“What is the basis of your claim?” Ethela asks, her eyes narrowing.

“The combined vote of all those who sail beneath Lady Sellin’s flag. Minus Captain Kostia and his crew.”

“Can any confirm this declaration?”

Babin, Cerise, and Rim step forward. “Aye,” they all answer in unison.

“Captain Babin of the Death Axe Pirates relinquishes his vie for the title to support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”

“Captain Cerise Bobeto of the Siren Queen Pirates relinquishes her vie for the title to support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”

“Captain Rim Cruudler of the Three Blades Pirates, eh, relinquishes his vie for the title to, eh, support the claim of Captain Aisling Ophius and, eh, denounce the claim of Captain Almuran Kostia.”

Kostia and Maris both stiffen. Ari senses the shock and surprise in the two men. They never expected the others to so easily relinquish their claims. Even less so to give their full support to Aisling.

Ethela glares at the groups. “Am I to understand this is now a fight between the desire of the Late Lady Sellin and the, apparent, desire of all pirates under her flag?”

Aisling smirks and looks at Kostia. “Do you see the futility of seeking the title, Kostia? Even if you win, none of her ships will sail under you.”

Maris steps forward to stand beside Kostia. Ari and Kemp, not sure what to do, mimic him.

“Well, then I guess,” Kostia starts before raising his eyes to Aisling, “I’ll have to find new ships and crews deserving of sailing beneath the Pirate Lord of the East’s flag.”

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Chapter 1 Earth

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“Toss it,” Syrah says, grabbing handfuls of left out food.

“But look at it! It’s gotta be worth something,” Rone says, holding the bracelet in such a way it catches the early morning light.

“Won’t be worth much if you’re dead.”

Rone stares at his sister with wide eyes. “Why would I be dead?”

Stuffing her dirty bag with as much as she can, Syrah shushes him. “Not so loud. Don’t you even know why every body’s hiding in the big ship?”

“I know about the pirates. Everyone’s been talking about their big fight,” Rone grumbles, throwing the bracelet over the side of the walkway into the water below. “But they’re fighting each other over some stupid thing.”

“Have you ever met a pirate?”

“No.”

“They’re murderers. Wouldn’t think twice about killing kids. And if they don’t kill ya, they take you away as a slave.” Syrah ties her bag tightly and heads off down the walkway.

Rone hurries after her, grabbing a bruised apple from the left overs. He turns it over in his hands, his stomach growling softly. “That doesn’t sound too bad. Then you get to be a pirate.”

“I didn’t say what kind of slave, did I?” Syrah says, glancing at her brother over her shoulder. Her dirty hair falls over her face and she blows it away with a quick puff of breath. “I’ve heard stories of pirate captains chaining small boys to their beds for nightly duties.”

The blood rushes from Rone’s face. he didn’t need to ask what she meant by duties. When times were really bad, he’d heard of many dock rats doing whatever it took to find a meal. Syrah always promised no matter how hard times were she’d never do that to him. Though she never said anything about herself.

They walk in silence through the abandoned city. The only sounds are the water hitting the docks below and birds searching for food above.  The homes were dark, empty. Everyone escaped to the center of the city seeking shelter from the coming pirate war.

All were welcome to the large ship at the center of the city during the dangerous time. Including dock rats, the many abandoned children throughout Marpidium. Some were abandoned when their families died from illness, murdered, or were lost at sea.

Syrah and Rone weren’t truly brother and sister, but Syrah found Rone floating in the water when he was a baby. Another dock rat thrown to the sea. His mother could’ve tossed him in the water out of shame or he could’ve washed into the city from a shipwreck. Syrah took him in. Perhaps because she was lonely or she saw an opportunity to add a second set of hands to scavenge for food.

Syrah was abandoned after her parents ventured out to sea for wealth. All they found was death and never returned. Or maybe they found the wealth they sought and simply chose not to come back for their child.

The truth of dock rats would always be the lack of knowing why they were doomed to be abandoned. But Rhone never felt abandoned. Syrah raised him on the docks and they were lucky to have one another.

Though he didn’t understand why, though she spoke of all the dangers of pirates, they weren’t with the rest at the center of the city. There was supposed to be lots of food and shelter from the sea air. Syrah claimed this wasn’t actually available to the dock rats, but he didn’t believe her.

There were no other dock rats scavenging for food on the city docks. As far as he knew, they’d all gone to the safety of the larger ship.

Rone walks into Syrah’s arm. He stops and looks up at her. Her eyes dart back and forth, her tongue pushing out her bottom lip. Rone recognizes the look. Syrah heard something. Something that meant danger.

Without a word, Syrah grabs Rone’s hand and drags him down a small alley. Stacked boxes make an easy ladder to the roof of a nearby house. Syrah climbs quickly, dragging Rone behind her. He tries to keep up, having trouble with only one arm available. Syrah nearly pulls his arm off as she lifts him to the roof. She lays down flat on the roof, placing the bag of food next to her. She motions Rone to do the same and he does.

Laying on the roof, Rone strains his ears to listen for any sound. He wants to ask Syrah what she heard, but knows he’ll only get a finger to the lips. When Syrah hears something that convinces her to move to higher ground, Rone knows it means trouble.

“You followed?” a voice asks below.

Rone’s blood runs cold. They’d almost walked right into pirates. How Syrah heard them…thank the gods she’d heard them.

“Nah. No one left in this, eh, city. They’ve all, eh, holed up in the big ship.” The second voice is deeper, an accent thick on the tongue.

“I ain’t worried about the locals. Last thing we need is our plan reaching the wrong ears.” The first voice is gruff, reminding Rone of someone with a sick throat.

“Are you insinuating I can’t scope out perfectly good places to meet?” a third voice, a woman asls angrily.

“I’m insinuating we ain’t all perfect at making good decisions.”

“Enough bickering,” a fourth voice booms over the others. “We’re here because tomorrow is a big day.”

Syrah turns her head enough to meet Rone’s eyes. She motions with her head forward. She wants to move closer.

Rone furiously shakes his head. There are too many, one of them will spot them for sure. He reaches out and takes a handful of her shirt. He tugs on it gently, trying to urge her further from the voices.

She hits his hand away and slowly crawls forward. She abandons the bag of food and Rone grabs it for comfort. He watches her move carefully up the hump of the roof. She stops at the top, only allowing her head to peek over.

Rone squeezes the bag in his arms tightly before following. He struggles to be quiet and bring the bag with him, but his fear of it rolling off the roof overwhelms him to keep it close. He maneuvers his way next to Syrah and carefully peers over the top of the roof to see the owners of the voices.

“Our dear friend Kostia is still under the impression he is the rightful heir to the Pirate Lord of the East title.”

The fourth voice belongs to a man dressed oddly for a pirate. Oddly to Rone at least. His clothes are cleaner compared to the other three standing around him. He wears a large hat with a scarf hanging from the back and a large feather that dances at each movement of his head. A sword is on his hip, poking out the back of his coat.

“From what I’ve heard, many of late Lady Sellins’s men believe it, too,” the woman says. Her hair is cut short on one side. On the other she keeps the long strands braided and tied on the side. Her clothes are big on her, and Rone realizes she’s wearing men’s clothes.

“The same men who ain’t staying on to serve under him.” The owner of the first voice sits with his long legs hanging off the dock. He leans against a large double-bladed axe buried in the wood. He traces his finger along carvings on the blade. A chain rattles at his movements, one end wrapped around his right arm and the other end attached to the axe. The man’s face is wrapped in leather straps covering everything except for one eye and his mouth.

“They are, eh, too loyal to Lady Sellins to, eh, continue serving under another.” The man with the accent is the largest of the four. His arms bulge with muscles and this vest barely covers his chest. He wears three swords on his hip, two on his right and one on his left. Two of the swords match in design, but the second on his right hip is shorter.

“Too loyal to not pick sides, you mean,” the woman adds. “We all agree under no circumstance should Kostia be allowed to inherit the title.”

“That ain’t why I’m here,” leatehr straps says, tapping his fingers on the blade of his axe. “I’m here cause if I fight this war fair, I’ll lose. I understand the need for alliances.”

“And if we cut the head off the sea serpent, the rest will stand down,” the woman says, a smile growing on her face. “Then we can properly divvy up the territory as it should’ve been all along.”

The clean man rests a hand on the hilt of his sword and nods his head, the feather on his hat twitching at the movement. “And I make that promise to you here and now, as the one who will inherit the Pirate Lord of the East name. But if any of you betray that promise, I’ll be sure nothing remains of you, your crew, or any part you played on this day.”

“The threats are misplaced,” the woman says.

“We would never have, eh, come here if we weren’t, eh, prepared to follow you.”

“Big guy ain’t lying. What purpose would it serve to betray you now?”

“Then does everyone remember their role?” clean man says.

“Aye,” the group responds.

“Good. Before the fighting even begins, Kostia will meet his end.”

Syrah grabs Rone’s arm and pulls him back down the roof, away from the pirates. She stares at him with wide, terror-filled eyes. “We heard something we shouldn’t have.”

Rone nods his head. He wishes they were inside the large ship at the city’s center. What good does the extra food do them now? If they’re caught having overheard scheming pirates, they were both surely dead.

A loud sound echoes through the air. Syrah and Rone nervously glance back towards the group. They can’t see the pirates over the top of the roof, but something else catches their attention.

Moving straight into the air is a chain. It takes a second for Rone to understand why a chain was hanging in the air. Syrah grabs him and drags him off the roof, sending both falling onto the boxes they used to climb up.

The large double-bladed axe lands where they’d just been laying, burying into the roof of the house. The chain falls to the roof before going taut as someone climbs up to the roof.

The man with leather straps reaches the roof and stares down at Syrah and Rone. He easily picks up the large axe and rests it on his shoulder. “Just some kids, huh? Eavesdropping ain’t very respectable, little rats.”

Syrah leaps to her feet and again drags Rone behind her. He trips, but manages to stay on his feet as they run. Syrah darts down branching paths. Even Rone can’t keep track of where they are, hoping that means the pirates can’t either.

Turning a corner, Syrah slams into the massive body of the accented pirate. He tries to grab both Syrah and Rone with his large arms, but both duck under his legs, Rone kicking the one place he knows to be sensitive to men. The large man doesn’t flinch, but instead tries to grab for Rone’s leg. Syrah pulls him quickly out of reach and they continue running.

They round a corner and see the large ship at the center of the city. They have a clear path to it and push their legs hard. The doors may be closed, but Rone is sure Syrah knows of another way in. She taught him many times, nowhere is completely closed if you look hard enough.

A loud sound from behind catches Rone’s ear and he turns his head to glance back. “Don’t look!” Syrah yells.

Rone’s foot catches on a warped plank of wood and he falls to the ground. He feels a great rush of air above him and Syrah’s hand releases his. He tries to grab for it, but when he looks at her his heart stops.

Buried into the walkway ahead of them is the large axe, a dark liquid rolling down its large blade. Syrah stands frozen in front of Rone, a similar dark liquid pooling at her feet. Rone’s eyes stare in horror at Syrah’s face, staring at him with empty eyes from the ground in front of her body. The axe cut her diagonally from where her neck and right shoulder meet down to below her left ribs. The portion still standing falls to the wooden dock with a terrifying thud.

The chain of the axe rattles as the man with leather straps walks up next to Rone. He winds the chain up his arm and sighs. “I was hoping to just hit her neck, but these walkways make it hard. Ain’t got a lot of time to straighten the shot. And you two moved like rats fleeing a sinking ship.”

Rone feels warmth between his legs and tears fall from his eyes. If he hadn’t tripped, he would’ve been dead. Syrah was dead. They were so close to safety.

The man with straps walks to the axe and picks it up. he wipes the blood from the blade with the bottom of his torn coat.”Now, what’re we gonna do with a piss smelling dock rat?”

“Kill him. He heard our plans. He might warn Kostia,” the woman pirate’s voice says from behind Rone.

Slowly sitting up onto his knees, Rone glances behind him at the woman. Standing close to him, he notices small scars and burn marks on the right side of her face.

She glares at him and kicks him across the face. “What are you staring at?”

Rone is thrown to the ground by the kick and his eyes spy someone watching from one of the close-by houses. He pleads with his eyes for help, but the eyes only watch in fear.

A sharp pain in his back brings a gasp to his lips. The pain intensifies and cuts through him. He tries to lift himself up, but somethign stops him. He turns his head and ses a sword buried into his back. The woman holds the hilt of the sword and pushes it further in.

Rone’s breath grows shallow and everything around him slows. He stares back where he saw the eyes only to be greeted by darkness.

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