18. The Welcoming Party

Chapter 18

The Welcoming Party

I awoke in the middle of the night, or possibly early morning, to the feel of warm hands trailing along my body and slipping under my large night shirt. Some part of me wanted to respond – especially when my back made contact with a familiar chest – but I knew I couldn’t let Satel get away with this much.

“Is the week up yet?” I inquired groggily, trying hard to sound stern, but failing.

“…No,” he admitted sheepishly before begging me, “I can’t stand another night without you! Please let me stay- I only want to hold you. I think I can resist mating now.”

My heart broke at his tone, but I knew I had to stay strong for both our sakes. I felt like this was unnecessary torture, but he told me that it was important, and that I couldn’t let him break it for any reason.

I let out a sigh, struggling within myself to maintain calm. “No, ye can’t stay. Ye have ta stay away ’til the end o’ the week, so follow through wit’ it,” I replied before I tried to encourage him some. “Come on, yer stronger than this- get through this an’ ye can hold me all ye want.”

He paused at that, then slowly slid his hands off my body. “…Y-you’re right. I’ll overcome this,” he whispered. He then took in a deep breath before he said, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

He vanished after that, and I assumed he went back to his lodgings in one of his territories. Immediately I felt cold in the places he’d been touching me and wished that he could come back, but I steeled myself. This had to be done.

On the morning after his birthday, Satel told me that because of his hormones – and how far along he was in his puberty – we were basically ‘addicted’ to each other and needed to limit our previous interactions. The falucite had very realistic views when it came to managing such things and Satel had a regimen to practice in order to control himself.

The first thing we had to remember was that while mating wasn’t ‘wrong’, engaging in it so often was too risky. We weren’t aiming to stop it altogether- just moderate it to a reasonable number a week. But first, we had to go a week without seeing each other- a clean break, so that I could recover from the excess hormones he’d given me. I didn’t think that would be such a big deal, since he avoided me once before, but now that I had more in me, I felt the effects of withdrawal pretty hard.

That one week was torture, and I could only imagine how insane Satel went as he suffered through it as well. When it was over, I had more strength to resist him again when he wanted to mate, but I was too weak not to keep him from staying by my side for the next few days. Being together wasn’t really a problem, but if we were alone, he would have trouble keeping his hands to himself- hence why sleeping together became dangerous to his recovery.

As of the moment, we could see each other all we wanted during the day, but we had a schedule as to when he could sleep with me at night. Since it was cruel and unusual to stop mating altogether, we had twice a week to do what we wanted, and two days for him to practice restraint. The remaining three he had to find somewhere else to sleep. Well, this was the ‘official’ schedule, but he gave me full permission to ‘punish’ him should he be unable to restrain himself.

For any day out of the ‘practice’ ones he’d slip up, I’d add to the days he had to sleep elsewhere, and conversely (though it hadn’t happened yet) for every time he behaved himself, he’d get an extra day to sleep next to me- but no mating. Unfortunately, he was having trouble with restraint still, but the hope was that eventually, he’d be able to resist his urges and someday resist the call of my body when I restarted my cycles.

Of course this was just the effort to control his mating instincts. The rest of his puberty involving his emotions had to be done on his own. Interestingly enough, that was easier for him- all he had to do was stop his investigations on the Fodaren clan and truly relax. Though he wouldn’t admit it, he’d been tracking down Delar in hopes of running into him for another fight. He had to let go of both his obsession over me and Delar.

Though the other information he’d found was legitimate enough for a full investigation. I decided that his last act as my ‘agent’ was to negotiate with Naia, then retire for as long as it took for him to help Cegil build a house on our island. Since I was so close to Naia anyway, I could take on the mysteries myself, as long as I avoided parts of Rynrir.

Also, we both agreed that the sooner Cegil and his family could move out of the homestead the better. Though we wanted our house to be built first, we weren’t in as much of a hurry to live there. It was better to make arrangements for Cegil so that he could watch over our land while we were away. In a way, this project was a blessing because it offered a peaceful distraction for Satel, and, provided it might take him so long to control himself, it would offer my mate a place to sleep when he’s not doing so well.

Maybe his emotions were better in check now, but I held no delusions that our little ‘mating addiction’ was going to be resolved within the next few months. It was hard to stop flirting after having done it for so many years- and it was hard not to take that flirting to a heated level.

The fact that he was so… desperate right now proved that his hormones still had a little more control. Though the process was natural, he was acting like he had the sickness of addiction and was struggling with his resolve. Hence why I had to be the strong one- I wanted him to get through this and support him all the way.

I was actually surprised with how vulnerable he had become- never before had he ever begged anything of me… save for forgiveness, of course. I could see that abstaining from what he wanted to do could make him a little nutty, but I didn’t think he would get this bad. I wasn’t sure how or why he was becoming so needy of my presence when I could recall one time he was stubborn enough to stay away from me- that time he went to see Tiata’s priestess.

Maybe it was because he both wanted to help me and prove me wrong that he was able to focus and ignore his hormones. I couldn’t say for sure, but it was obvious that replicating that resolve wasn’t going to be easy. Now that I knew what was going on, it was almost impossible for us to get into an argument again. But then, he did come see me a lot when he thought I was asleep- maybe he kept his distance, but he couldn’t last too long without seeing me.

Who knows what happened then? All I did know was that Satel was barely coping with his puberty, and all I could do was keep my distance. It was hard for both of us, but I had faith that it would be worth it in the end. All falucite eventually got over puberty, so Satel would, too.

After waiting a few minutes to ensure he wasn’t coming back, I closed my eyes again to catch up with my sleep. These late night visits of his were not helping.

********************

About a week after that incident The Cruel Whore was approaching the sea border to Naia. I almost felt bad for taking my time through Anatil, because it was so peaceful. But the pirates of Naia seemed to need me far more, and while Satel’s last few reports before his retirement indicated that everything was settling down, there were still a few lingering issues.

Those kidnappings Satel had heard about months ago seemed to have stopped- either because the plan wasn’t working, or Bardam finally picked a bride. I hoped for the latter, as it should mean that it was safe for me to show my face around Rynrir again. Not that I was ever afraid of that idiot prince- I just didn’t want to provoke his master while Satel still had some kind of blood grudge with him.

But now that I was almost there, there was one thing that was still bothering me about those strange happenings- what ever happened to those Tau? Satel wasn’t able to confirm that any falucite dealt with fire people- at least his elders didn’t. It seemed that if we were going to get any answers, then he would have to get it straight from the Fodaren elders’ mouths, or the Daedeleth, if he could find a way to ask them without revealing too much.

I would have to assume that with the warehouse gone, and with the pirates unable to get the forbidden technology, then they were no longer needed to infiltrate the ships. If they had no other tasks from their ‘masters’ or whatever, then maybe they went back home where they belonged. …Or perhaps only the one ones in Naia were gone- when I thought about it, Satel learned that there were probably two kinds of them from the different islands.

Actually, the kidnappings happened in the Elati region of Rynrir, so there was a good chance that they were not related. Some part of me always suspected that the Elati region problem was a ploy to get my attention and lure me back. I couldn’t be sure if it were truly a falucite machination, or something Bardam came up with, but I didn’t believe anyone was truly in danger- they just wanted me to think it.

If that much was true, then I had to be doubly careful- all because things have quieted down didn’t mean that they’ve given up on me They might just be trying to think of new ways to get me to come back- or they were preparing what to do if I ever did come calling.

For now, Jadari was completely safe for me, and I was heading towards the the land, still too close to Rynrir since crossing the border. As for any raiding ‘help’ I could give the pirates, I figure some tidal waves sent over to Rynrir’s shores might help- if I could get someone to send a warning at the right time so not many people would get killed from it. As long as I didn’t touch the land, no Fodaren had the ability to personally contact me- and with the way things were, they might be trying to look for the opportunity.

After some getting used to the separation, Satel began focusing more on work for our island, and had been limiting his daily visits. At first he’d appear at the crack of dawn (after a couple of late night visits) and wake me up to spend the day with me, but now he was starting to show up later and later. I felt that that was a good thing, even though I liked his presence- I didn’t really want the space from him, but I also didn’t want him chained to my side with nothing to do.

Today, I wasn’t that worried that he was getting late in appearing. It meant that he was working hard with Cegil and was getting responsible enough to not put it down just to see me- something he knew he could do later. It wasn’t like I couldn’t take care of myself, and I didn’t think there was going to be any real trouble where I was.

…Or so I thought until I began to hear the mermaids sing. It was the song of warning- a sign that something was breaking through their ranks and heading for us.

“Wot a pretty sound… Wot does it mean Capt’n?” Rohje asked as he looked over to me.

“It’s bad news,” I replied, not surprised that he didn’t know it. It wasn’t often the mermaids would sing out a warning- I’d only heard it once before, when Cyirlie was coming for an angry visit. I then turned to Hammer, who was appearing uneasy. “Ah know- ye have a bad feelin’ don’t ye?”

“Only ’cause they’re singing,” he admitted as he jerked his gaze away from me. Fair enough- they may be singing in a pretty tone, but it’s only one note, and it had an eerie chill to it that proved that it wasn’t meant to be entertaining.

“So then wot? Wot’s goin’ ta happen?” Rohje inquired, uncertain if he should be wary or not. Before the noise started up, there was no evidence or reason for concern, so even Hammer couldn’t predict what was supposedly coming.

“Give it a second- there’s actually a message hidden in that song, an’ one o’ the mermaids will come up an’ tell me-”

“Lord Rutan!” a mermaid shouted, interrupting me. That was fast.

Surprisingly, the mermaid chose to climb up to the quarterdeck, rather than making me meet her on the main deck, where it would’ve been a shorter distance for her- this must be urgent.

“Aye, wot is it?” I called out to her, letting her know that I was listening.

“Some strange humans on a small rowboat approached on the outer edges o’ our circle, but then managed ta slip by us wit’ a strange smellin’ powder. Ah think they’re headin’ this way,” the fish demon told me, sounding both confused and angry. I suppose that would be a good reason to get upset- I never heard of any human getting the slip on the likes of them.

And what was that about them being on a rowboat? How could they possibly get around fast enough on something so small? I would imagine their arms getting tired long before they got to us to be of any threat. …But I knew better than to underestimate foes. I better take this seriously and see what these ‘guests’ want- if they honestly had any business with me, that is.

For all I knew, they could be just passing by, and the ‘powder’ was their way of warding off mermaids. I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to get eaten.

“Right…” I muttered before issuing out some orders. I glanced at the mermaid first. “If ye see them, let them through, but be at the ready fer me signal.”

“Aye!” she replied before dropping back to the sea to relay the news.

I turned to Rutan, who was sitting on the rail in front of the helm. “Rutan, go get yer shinies an’ take them ta me cabin. Ah want ye ta guard our treasures wit’ yer life,” I told him, hoping to distracting him from wanting to stay out and fight. He did care about his treasure, but if he had reason to believe that I would be in trouble, he’d rather protect me- and he was not ready for that yet.

As of late, he’d been going off with Satel to visit the island, but unfortunately today had to be the day when he chose to stay behind. What timing…

“Aye Ma!” he replied cheerfully, before he used a rope he had tied to the railing to jump down to the main deck. On one hand, I was glad he didn’t sense anything serious, as it kept him from getting in the way, but on the other… It was getting about time for him to get involved with the more serious parts of pirating. His ninth birthday wasn’t too far away, and he was improving very well with his fighting.

“Rohje, go down there with Rutan, barricade the door an’ guard Rutan wit’ yer life. Don’t come out ’til ah tell ye,” I continued, “On yer way down, tell Fishguts ta protect the kitchen an’ keep anyone from reachin’ the lower levels.”

My quartermaster saluted and then rushed off to do my bidding. Actually, he should remain out and lead the men should something happen to me, but I felt it was better to have Rutan protected at all costs. Besides, as powerful as I was, there was no point for me to hide.

“Wot ’bout me? Do ah stay here an’ fight?” Hammer asked, trying to hide his cowardice. As he had told me many times before, he was a ‘lover, and not a fighter’, but when I needed him most on attacks and raids, he was one of the more capable fighters I had.

“Stop bein’ a lass an’ gather a team o’ ten,” I snapped, “Ah want ye ta go down ta the hold an’ protect Doc.”

“Right, ah can do that,” my boatswain responded before saluting and going off to do my bidding.

That should take care of all weaknesses and secure both the future of the ship and the man who could heal us. There were currently a total of forty-one men – not counting me, Rutan, Satel, and Doc – and about fifteen of them were sleeping in the forecastle cabins to prepare for the night shift. I sent someone to go wake them up just in case it was going to get serious. It’s not right to have them caught off guard and potentially get killed in their sleep.

I waited anxiously as everyone else ran out to the main deck and looked around. The mermaid’s song changed in pitch to call out new orders, then quieted down. As I held the spoke of the wheel with one hand, I checked my gun with my other hand and made sure it was ready to use, if needed.

“Capt’n! Enemy spotted on the-!” I looked up in time to see the two men up in the crow’s nest slump down as if they had been shot. I didn’t even get the chance to worry if they were dead or alive before several small bag-looking objects sailed over the port side of the ship and landed on all decks. One managed to land near my feet.

Instantly some kind of dark purplish smoke emitted from the bags, causing us all to cough as it got into our lungs. I felt my eyes burn and water as I waved away the offending mist. There was no smell to it, but it was hard to see for a moment. The sea breeze soon dispersed the smoke, allowing me to see that everyone on the main deck was now laying down- sleeping, not dead thankfully.

Whatever it was, it apparently had the ability to knock out ordinary humans. But since I was modified and immune to most human drugs, I didn’t feel the effects at all- only some irritation in the eyes and lungs. I wonder if the stuff reached Rutan and Rohje- or even Hammer and the others down below…

I decided to chance everything on a hunch and let go of the wheel. I then approached the railing where Rutan had been sitting moments ago and knelt down before it. If they were going to use tricks to get on board, then that meant either they weren’t very strong, or they knew they were outnumbered. As long as I had the element of surprise, I could probably defeat them on my own.

But before that, I might as well pretend to have passed out so I could see what they wanted. I carefully draped my head and arms over the flat top of the railing to appear that I had fallen asleep leaning against it. Then I angled my head just right so that I could peer out unto the main deck from under the bar.

It seemed to take a while for the intruders, but eventually three black clad men pulled themselves up from the port side and glanced around. Only three… how embarrassing.

They were covered from head to toe in black, with form fitting trousers and shirts. The only visible part of them was their eyes, as the rest of their head and face was covered with some kind of black scarf. Had the mermaids not already identified them as humans, I would’ve thought them to be some other creature.

I watched as one of them silently approached the nearest body and gently prodded him with a foot. He then turned to his companions with a nod to confirm that everyone was deeply asleep. After that, they slowly made their way towards the quarterdeck, strolling around as if they owned my ship! Cocky bastards.

“This does appear to be The Cruel Whore, ship of the Living Legend,” one of them spoke when they were close enough for me to hear. His voice was lacking a seafarer’s accent, and yet I could detect an unusual, almost cultured tone to it. They were not seafarers, but they didn’t seem to be ordinary land dwellers either. …Could these people be the Tau I’d heard about?

But more importantly, it’d been a long while since I last heard myself referred to as the ‘Living Legend’. These days it was just ‘Lord of the Sea’- all mentions of the Hels Meyuun had become lost to human stories. If they were truly fire people, then I wondered what tales they told in their lands?

“I am glad the stories I had heard were greatly exaggerated. With the way our master spoke of him, I was anticipating some difficulty in subduing him and his crew. Even the mermaid army was far too easy to slip past,” a second one said as they reached the stairs. “Now we can not only tell him that the target has entered the waters, we can also deliver him unto our master. He will likely be surprised.”

What ‘master’ was he talking about? Since they were referring to a ‘he’, then it couldn’t have been Delar- he wanted me specifically so I could be used as breeding stock to his inbred moron. But then, no human seemed to bother recognizing that there was actually two of us- if the master was indeed Delar, then they could be making assumptions just because I was called upon by title.

I stayed still and quiet, wanting to hear a little more information. Before the three could reach the top step, the third man stopped them as he made an unusual request.

“I know this might be beyond our mission objective, but would it be possible to commandeer this ship? Perhaps we might trick the Catorrcie, as they would recognize and obey their pirate king.”

“You fear for the maiden? I am not sure how far that man has sailed since our last encounter, and we can only keep the men asleep for three days before their bodies need food. Furthermore, I do not believe just the three of us can sail this ship on our own- the size of it alone implies that we might need a handful of men to sail.”

“No, I mean to hide ourselves from their sight and wait for the Catorrcie to come to them. I know we were told to report the Hels Meyuun’s return immediately, but delivering him should make amends. This would be a good chance to steal away both the captain of this ship and rescue the young maiden- we have the advantage, and no one will know we are here,” he persisted.

Since I couldn’t turn my head, I couldn’t tell who was talking, but what I was hearing was enough to make me worry. The Catorrcie was Savage’s ship, and unless he’d kidnapped some women they like, then the ‘maiden’ had to be his daughter, Rosie. What in the five hells did they need with her? I could see why they might think she was a captive, but what’s it to them to ‘save’ her?

As the first two began to plan and bicker, the remaining man walked over to me, likely wanting to confirm that I was the Lord of the Sea. But before he reached me, I heard him gasp and then rush over to my side.

“This is not the target!” he called out to his companions, getting their attention. “It’s a woman.”

The other two ran over to us as the one nearest me pulled the upper part of my body to his lap and cradled my form gently. Though I didn’t like being touched by strangers, I kept my eyes closed and tried to keep the act going for as long as I could. This was probably my only chance to figure out who they were and what their goals were.

“Do you think she is another captive?”

“Disgusting pirates…” the other grumbled venomously. Hmph… They were starting to sound like the stupid ‘gentlemen’ types who believed women couldn’t do anything and that it was their job to protect and care for us like household pets. Never mind the fact that they didn’t think I was the Lord of the Sea- they couldn’t believe that I was a pirate of my own freewill or that Rosie was the beloved daughter of a pirate captain.

“We cannot leave her here- better to take her with us before we go,” the one holding me said, keeping his words neutral to the debate that was happening moments ago.

“I wonder how many women these vile savages have captured? I hope she is not being used for…” he trailed off, and I could imagine him cringing at whatever thought he was having.

It was really hard keeping still and listen to this slander- who were they calling ‘savages’? Did they even know that I restricted brutality to women, let alone allow any of my men to force themselves on the unwilling? And what exactly did they think I was here for? Ugh… something told me that I didn’t want to know.

There was a pause before the man holding me said, “Maybe we should leave while we have the chance. Our objective is simply to inform of his arrival- and it is not as if we cannot sneak aboard the Catorrcie again to save the girl.”

“Why would you say that?” one of them asked angrily.

“Look around- we thought we caught the Hels Meyuun off guard, but he’s not here, and I doubt he’s one of the men below. He might be waiting to spring a trap on us. We better not tempt the Fates- I say let’s take this young woman to Ralishaera so she’ll be safe. …Let’s do this before we see if those rumors of him are true,” the man holding me replied. Ralishaera… the fire island of Ralishaera- so they were fire people.

“Perhaps you are right.”

…Damn. It seemed I wasn’t going to get anymore information this way. I had to change tactics, since I had no plans of being taken from the ship. I carefully nudged my hand to my gun holster while they were distracted and waited until the hands holding me were about to move to my legs to pick me up. That was when I opened my eyes, pulled out my gun, and placed the barrel under the man’s chin before I rolled out of his lap, keeping the gun in place.

His eyes widened in surprise as he and his companions froze in place.

“What? How are you still awake?” one of the standing men inquired in alarm.

“Ah’m askin’ the questions here,” I snarled, nudging the gun up slightly to remind them what was at stake. “Wot are ye here fer, an’ who sent ye?”

I suppose there was little point in asking why they were here, as I got the general gist of it already. But I didn’t want to give them any indication that I had been unaffected by their little trick- it was better to let them think that I had simply recovered quickly rather than learn that I had been awake the entire time.

It took them a second to process what was really going on, since I did move suddenly and catch them off guard. The one on the left soon raised his hands and gestured for me to calm down as he ordered me in a soothing voice, “Please, put that down- you have no idea what that might do-”

“If ah pull this trigger, it’ll fire an’ splatter yer friend’s brains an’ blood all o’er the deck,” I responded crossly before giving them a scowl. “Stop bein’ a brainless moron an’ tell me who ye are.”

Honestly! Where did they get off telling me that I didn’t know what my gun might do?

“We’re friends,” the other man said, still mistaking me for someone who wasn’t a pirate, “We can rescue you from this place, and away from the Lord of the Sea.”

For a split second, my eyes darted over to my men as I prepared my next question in regards to them. I wanted to make sure they would be okay, or if I needed to coerce an antidote out of them. The one who was just addressing me followed my gaze and assumed I was worried for different reasons. “Do not worry about them- they are just sleeping and will recover within the hour. That should be more than enough time to make our escape.”

Then the other one contributed as my captive remained silent. “We can take you to a place where you will be safe and cared for- you will not ever have to worry again.”

I scoffed before I pulled back my weapon and stood up. I then gestured for my hostage to stand with his friends, making sure the gun was still pointed at them.

“Ye three are as clueless as ye are brainless- if anyone needs rescuing, it’s ye three,” I told them as I leveled a glare at them. “Ah’ve no interest in leavin’, so tell me wot ah want ta know an’ mebbe ah let ye go. Who are ye workin’ fer? Tell me so ah know who ta disembowel- or would ye rather take yer boss’ place?”

The first two were bewildered to see a woman threaten them, but the third – the one who had held me – gained a calculating look in his eyes as he worked out what was going on.

“Just who are you?” he inquired suspiciously.

“Kind o’ ye ta ask,” I said in mock cheerfulness as I tipped my captain’s hat at them. “Ah’m capt’n o’ this ship- the current Lord o’ the Sea. An ye all trespassed on me ship an’ drugged me men. Ah should put ye in the brig fer that.”

The man I was answering didn’t seem surprised, likely already having come to that conclusion before my confirming it. He quietly muttered, “So we were misinformed…”

But the other two could barely wrap it around their minds. “But that’s impossible! You are but a delicate woman.”

“An’ yer a dumbass fer insultin’ me,” I retorted. “Wot does it matter if one’s male or female? A seafarer’s a seafarer, an’ if ye can’t accept that, then get out o’ our oceans.”

…I actually wanted to say ‘get the hell out’, but since they could be from one of the five hells, it would’ve been a poor choice of words- an awful pun at best.

“Now tell me who sent ye. Surely ye three ain’t that stupid ta come here o’ yer own volition- not wit’out someone else ta make it worth yer while,” I demanded, wanting the answer to that. Even if this ‘master’ of theirs was Delar, there was nothing I could do about it since Satel didn’t need to get involved, but I did want to know once and for all who was behind it. It might even shed some light as to who was in charge of that warehouse…

The man in the middle shook his head defiantly before he expressed some remorse. “It saddens to subdue a woman, but we have no choice- we cannot speak the name of our master, nor can we allow you to remain among these barbarians any longer.”

“Ye think ye can subdue me? That’s a laugh,” I replied loudly as I straightened my gun arm. “Ah’ll tell ye again- ah ain’t goin’ nowhere. If anyone’s goin’ anywhere, then it’s ye ta me brig.”

“It’s three against one. Perhaps you might be stronger and more resourceful than the average woman, but even you cannot fight all three of us at once,” the former hostage told me, showing himself to be a rather pragmatic man. I believe he just recognized that I wasn’t someone to ignore- at least it was only a small acknowledgement to my prowess.

But I just smirked at them. “Who said ah was alone?” I asked before I summoned up a few waves, carrying some mermaids up unto the outer edges of the quarterdeck. Though they were slow out of water, they were still dangerous- particularly when they had their prey surrounded at all angles.

The black clad men looked around to assess the situation, then they finally decided to take me seriously and abandon all notions of kidnapping me. But my idea of capturing them and getting information out of them was not going to happen either. Before the mermaids could close in on them, they each threw down some object that immediately exploded on contact.

A hiss was heard as smoke quickly filled the area, but, thankfully, this didn’t seem to be one of those sleeping gas bombs- it was just a regular smoke bomb. I fired my gun into the air, more to scare them than actually hit. I didn’t want to accidentally hit one of my own while I was temporarily blinded.

With one hand waving away the clouds, I rushed over to the port side of the quarterdeck and was able to see that they were already in their boat and was making a quick escape. Instead of oars, they had some kind of metal box attached to the stern with a small metal pole extending into the water. Bubbles formed under the box as whatever it was propelled them through the water at a fast speed.

“Oh no ye don’t!” I snarled as I jumped onto the railing and summoned my magicks. “I ain’t goin’ ta let ye go that easy! Get ’em ladies!”

I raised a wave before them and made the water flow backwards so as to slow them down for the mermaids, but the tiny box seemed to have the power to cut through all of that. I was able to see one of them dump what appeared to be fire charms into the side of the box, while another poured water into the top. The last man was holding some handle that appeared to steer the vessel.

I wasn’t sure what that contraption was, but it was a struggle to slow them. They were already far enough to where the mermaids couldn’t yet reach them, but if they managed to crest my wave, then they would be able to zoom off. If that happened, then they would be too far to me to use my magicks without killing them- I wasn’t very precise when far away, so I was far more likely to break their necks than just capsize them. It didn’t sit right with me to kill those who were humane enough to just put my men to sleep, rather than poison or kill them.

During our tug of war on the sea, an errant swell violently rocked their boat, sending one of the men tumbling into the sea. It was the only chance I had- I quickly grabbed him with a water rope before his companions could get to him and swiftly pulled him back. Unfortunately, it allowed the others to break free and escape, but I only needed one of them for information. They looked back at me with hate in their eyes, but they sped off as fast as they could, the mermaids hot on their heels.

Though I had a fear that the demons wouldn’t be able to capture them- that meant their ‘master’ will eventually be warned of my arrival. Well, the plan was still the same- I was still heading for Jadari, so even if we were speaking of a falucite, they couldn’t get to me.

I yanked the remaining man back up to the quarterdeck and made sure to throw him none too gently unto the hardwood. I wasn’t sure which one he was, so I couldn’t be too careful- one of them seemed to regard me as a threat, so he could possibly attack.

The man was silent as he reached up to check his mask, then, as quick as lightning, he rolled over onto his feet and charged me. I barely registered the long, slender dagger he had in his right hand as he swiped at me. I barely managed to side step him before he swung at me again. I had to hand it to these Tau- they were fast. I managed to match him step for step, but barely by a hair.

It was through my own skills – and, perhaps, my natural ability as a dancer – that kept me unharmed until the end of his attack chain. Only then did I have my chance to fight back. I surged forward to grab the wrist of his weapon hand and pulled him forward so that his belly could meet my knee and wind him. I then placed my hand at his shoulder and flipped him over, making him land against the starboard wall.

He was slumped over for a second, then he gripped the railing and acted as though he was going to jump overboard. But he then let out a groan and bent over, wrapping an arm around his stomach. I probably hurt him a little more than intended- or perhaps he was already injured before I got to him.

“Don’t bother jumpin’- ah’ll jus’ drag ye back up,” I told him, trying to dissuade him in case it was on his mind. I didn’t know why he would anyway- his ‘allies’ had long since disappeared from sight. I detected a twinge of fear in his eyes at the reminder of how I moved the waves and plucked him from the sea. They were powers no mere human had- and the fact that he couldn’t land a hit probably had him thinking that I was no low level enemy.

“You’re a monster!” he growled, his eyes narrowing at me as I slowly approached him. I faltered for a second- it’d been a long time since I was last called a monster…

“Wote’er- ah’ve been called worse,” I muttered to myself before I inclined my head up and stared down at him, “If ye value yer life, then behave an’ tell me wot ah want ta know-”

I was cut off when he suddenly pulled down his mask and revealed his face. I was surprised to see a clean cut handsome face behind that black material. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to see out of a Tau, but he looked as human as any human I had ever met.

He looked angry and determined as he pulled out a brown, spherical pill from his pocket. “I never expected that the Hels Meyuun was a lady, or had such evil powers- my comrades will not be so misinformed the next time!”

Hearing that made me doubt that the master was Delar- I just couldn’t believe he would send men out to search for the Lord of the Sea and not mention that he was actually a she. But then, if their goal was to just ascertain that my ship reached these waters, then they didn’t need to know that, would they? Perhaps I shouldn’t rule him out after all…

“You will not learn anything from me!” he vowed before he popped the pill into his mouth. Before I could even fathom what that was about, he stood up and fell backwards off the ship.

“Hey!” I shouted, thinking he was trying to escape again. I ran over to the side, only to hear a loud splash, followed by a muffled boom, and then a tower of water jumped as high as the main deck.

I glared down at the watery surface, watching as blue turned to red, and as various pieces of debris began to float up. I grew horrified as I realized that the man had committed suicide just so that I wouldn’t learn anything from him. I soon felt sick and raised a hand to cover my mouth. That was too extreme- why did he need to kill himself? What did he need to protect so badly that he couldn’t allow even a piece of him to remain intact?

I was definitely dealing with a culture far different than mine- at least seafarers valued their lives. If we had something we didn’t want to reveal, then we’d endure torture and, if so extreme, even take it to the grave. I couldn’t even fathom a person having the guts to do as that man did…

I was a little shaken from this, but soon I remembered where I was and what I needed to do. It was a tragedy that it had to end like that, but he wasn’t the first person I’d seen die. I had to get over it and tend to my men. This ship couldn’t be sailed by me alone- and since no one was manning the helm all this time, we’d probably drifted off course by now.

I ran down to the main deck, taking care not to step on anyone, and kicked the lever to release the anchor. I then eased the waters around us so that the ship wouldn’t jolt violently from the action. I wanted to check up on Rutan and Rohje, but the hatch was closer to my position, so I headed there, lifted the lid, and stuck my head down.

“Anyone still awake down there!?” I bellowed before I waited for an answer.

“Aye Capt’n! Wot happened!” Hammer answered back, bringing me relief. I was glad I sent down a good number to be spared from the smoke. They should be able to handle the ship until the others came to.

“The danger’s passed but e’erybody up here has been knocked out. Get Doc up here an’ the rest o’ ye get up an’ take care o’ the ship,” I yelled back down to them.

I didn’t wait for a reply, as I immediately got up and rushed toward my cabin. I would’ve thought Rutan would try to sneak out and see what the commotion was the moment I fired my gun, but he wasn’t out here. I was getting worried that maybe the vapors of the sleep gas drifted into the cabins and got to him. I hope this stuff wasn’t lethal to children…

But as I reached the corridor, a body appeared in front of me and I ended up crashing into him. Immediately his arms grabbed mine to stabilize me before I was crushed into a warm, protective hug.

“What’s going on, ‘Tia-dear? Are you okay?” my mate inquired frantically as he took in the sight of nearly half my men laying unconscious on deck. It did appear as though we had just been through a trying battle, though thankfully there was no bloodshed.

…But I was still embarrassed to admit that my crew had been bested by only three men with sleeping gas. That was one tale I was not telling my fellow captains at taverns- even if they couldn’t do any better. I could now see why Savage and the others were so spooked when it first happened to them.

“Ah’m fine,” I replied, after having to regain my wits about me. In the back of my mind I was both a little dismayed that it took this long for Satel to show up- and another part of me was grateful, because his appearance would’ve ruined my information gathering. “Ah think those ‘disappearin’ men’ Savage mentioned paid us a visit.”

Satel pulled me back by the shoulders to look at me in surprise. “You mean the Tau? What did they do? Did they take anything?”

“Ah’ll explain in a minute, but first ah want ta check up on Rutan an’ Rohje. Ah sent them ta our cabin before the ambush, an’ ah don’t know if the sleepin’ smoke got ta them,” I replied, giving him a slight hint as to what happened.

The blond nodded before he saved me a trip and teleported us to the cabin. It was probably a good thing, because I could see that Rohje barricaded the door and seemed to be barely awake. Rutan was already passed out, and my quartermaster managed to lay the boy across my bed so he would be comfortable.

“Capt’n,” Rohje mumbled groggily as he got up slowly and saluted on swaying feet. “Is e’eryone alright? A few wisps o’ some mist got in here an’ ah began ta feel sleepy- Rutan lasted mebbe a minute or two before he fell asleep. Can’t imagine wot happened out there.”

I suppose that meant they got a smaller dose of the stuff compared to everyone outside. It was a good thing that it happened- since Rutan was smaller, it shouldn’t take much to knock him out. I would worry that a full blast might put him in a short coma.

“E’eryone, ‘cept those ah sent down below, have been knocked out by some kind o’ sleepin’ gas. Only ah wasn’t affected, so ah managed ta chase the cowards out,” I told him before giving my mate a brief glance. “Ah want ta hold a meetin’ ta discuss wot happened an’ wot we should do next, but mebbe ah should let ye get a nap in first.”

“No, ah think ah can stay awake,” Rohje replied stubbornly.

“Aye, but ah don’t know ’bout Fishguts- he might be in the same state as ye. An’ our first officer is out cold o’er there. Ah’m thinking this might be the day ta allow him ta sit in on the meetin’s,” I announced before I gave him a stern look and placed my hands on my hips like a mother, “Ah’ll take care o’ e’erythin’ while we recoup. Ye jus’ go take a nap an’ recover- that’s an order.”

“Aye, aye, Capt’n,” the red haired teen responded reluctantly. I could understand his frustration- he was the type that didn’t like to take naps during the day, while there was still work to be done. He was probably feeling that he failed me somehow by getting exposed to that smoke.

Satel moved the barricade for Rohje with his magicks before the blond walked over to Rutan. I watched my quartermaster as he slowly opened the door and then told him, “Ye did good lad- ye protected Rutan, jus’ as ah ordered. Jus’ think o’ the nap as a reward fer a job well done.”

He didn’t answer me, likely due to fatigue rather than disrespect, but I think my words cheered him up a little.

When I turned back to my boys, Satel was lifting Rutan off the bed, letting the child rest his head on his shoulder. “He’s starting to get heavy,” my mate muttered as he arranged the boy to be supported in his arms. “I’ll go tuck him in his bed.”

“Ah’ll go wit’ ye. Once that’s done, let’s go up ta the quarterdeck so ah can watch o’er e’eryone. Ah’ll tell ye wot happened up there,” I said, walking over to the door so I could hold it open for him.

“Good,” Satel replied in a dark mutter as he passed me, “Because I want to know everything about the bastards that threatened my sirsa.”

I let out a quiet sigh as I followed. Telling him without setting him off on a rampage was going to be as challenging as prying a shiny from Rutan. But, unfortunately, I had to tell Satel everything I could, even though I wanted him to rest.

Maybe I wasn’t in any danger, but the threat had been made, and I couldn’t ignore it. The ‘master’ knew I was here, and Satel was probably the only defense I had against him. I had to be prepared for anything, lest I fall just as my previous Rutan did.

To the Next Chapter

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