Burning Harbor

Idorsus Cragfin watched with horror as the scarred pirate tossed the torch underhand and it flew, trailing smoke and dripping tar, across the deck the Merry Mollusk, where it landed amid the vessel’s powder barrels. Time stood still as the flame licked at the barrels, then his world exploded into a fiery maelstrom.
The force of the blast hurled him over the railing, and he landed hard on the rough wood of the dock. Burning timber dropped around him as he pushed himself to his knees and pulled the splinter from his bleeding forearms. He turned to see the damage.
The scarred pirate hadn’t survived, Cragfin decided. Of course, nothing else had either, but he liked to focus on the positive. That meant looking past the fact that his ship was a blazing pyre, the flames licking at the night sky. At least the scarred pirate was getting a funeral pyre. His family would probably be happy about that.
The Merry Mollusk wasn’t the only blazing ship in the harbor. Almost the entirety of the northern docks were aflame, and the fire was spreading was spreading.
“Captain!” Cragfin’s first mate, Kovin Drake, was running towards him, the fire reflecting off his bare sword.
Kovin was a slight, wiry man with hair short short and uneven. His face stuck in a permanent frown, but it was even deeper now. “The pirates are pushing south into the city!” he yelled. Cragfin could barely hear him over the ringing in his ears.
“Where are they exactly?” he asked. He thought he must be yelling.
Kovin gestured with his sword. “They’re pushing through the Iron Quarter.”
“And the crew?” Cragfin had given his crew the night off to entertain themselves along the waterfront. He had stayed behind to go over the ship’s ledgers, which were now ashes. He may have just lost a fortune, but at least he had less work to do.
“I pulled them out of the closest alehouses and tried to smack the drink from them,” Kovin said. “They aren’t in prime shape, but they should be able to fight.”
“Good.” Cragfin had made a good hire with Kovin. The man was extremely useful; it almost took his mind off the hundreds of thousands of dragons worth of deals that had just gone up in smoke. “Onward, my good sir.”
Kovin led him though the burning waterfront and into the Iron Quarter. The houses were built close together, but Cragfin kept his sense of direction in the warren of alleys by keeping the burning harbor at his back.
Before long, Cragfin began to hear the sounds of battle. He stepped ahead of Kovin and turned a corner into a melee, drawing a massive broadsword as he did.
The pirates were fighting a group of guards and sailors in the Steel Square, lantern-light flashing off their blades as they traded blows around the Crystal Fountain.
That was something to seize upon. The square was slick with blood and strewn with bodies, but the fountain itself was beautiful. Water ran from the maw of a marble dragon and trickled over shinestone. The shinestone, which had been created by some wealthy alchemist, cast light through the water and gave it a glassy sheen.
If he hadn’t needed to fight, Cragfin could have watched the fountain all night, but duty forced him to strike at the nearest pirate with a wide sweep of his broadsword. The pirate fell in a spray of blood, and Cragfin ran to his next foe.
The arrival of Cragfin and Kovin lent energy to the sailors, and Cragfin’s crew began to make short work of the pirates. Genne Porter spun through the fray, her daggers flashing, and Durgum Wurs waded after her, laying about with his massive hammer. The twins fought back to back, and even the Iron Guard redoubled their efforts. It wasn’t long before the final three pirates fled the square.
Cragfin sped after them, with Kovin close behind him. Cragfin’s hearing was mostly back, and he thought he heard the first mate call for the crew to follow. Either he was imagining it, or his sailors were still too drunk to follow orders, because when he reentered the alleys around the square, only Kovin was with him.
As he ran, Cragfin noticed that the pirates were fleeing east , which was odd. The pirates’ ships were to the north, where their attack had come from. If it hadn’t been for the constant light of the burning harbor to his left, he would have thought himself mistaken.
“Where the hell are they going?” Kovin asked as they ran.
“No idea!” The Iron Quarter was already on the northeastern side of the island. The only thing to the east were coastal bluffs and a few small inlets.
Cragfin burst from the Quater and onto the bluffs. The fleeing pirates were less than thirty yards ahead, easily within reach, but he came to a sudden stop.
Kovin almost crashed into his back, but managed to stop in time. “Why are we-” his jaw dropped. “Oh shit.”
Moving stealthily towards the cliffs was a black fleet, nearly invisible against the dark sea. The attack on the harbor had merely been a diversion. This new fleet was twice as large as the crown could muster on short notice.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Kovin was muttering.
Even Cragfin struggled to find a bright side.

 

This is Part 1.

Part 2//Part 3//Part 4//Part 5

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The Cove

Billus crouched at the back of the little boat, his will focused and his hand outstretched, and the water rose up at his command, propelling the small craft across the sea. His face was hard, and even in the dark Tasson could see the disappointment etched across his face.

His brother, Farus, stood beside him, ensuring that the winds remained favorable. As he manipulated the air, filling the sail, he turned to Tasson. “We won’t be to the meeting place for another half hour at least,” he said. “The route we’re taking to avoid the Seaguard is a rather roundabout one.  Don’t wake Garus until we get there.”

Garus—Farus’s twin and the third of the four elemental brothers—was curled up at Tasson’s feet, snoring softly.

“He’s already slept for an hour, how tired can he be?”

“You fail to understand the energy it takes to split stone as he did, Tasson.”  Billus looked up from the waves. “He needs all the sleep he can get.  You never know when he’ll need to fight.”

“Calm down,” Tasson said, waving his hand, “we got away.”

“From what? The entire thing was a setup. Suleth was never in that castle, and you barely got out alive. I won’t be happy until we pick up Axus and make it safely to a safe house.”
A new voice came from the prow of the boat. “And I won’t be happy until I get my money.”

The Panther sat up against the side, running a rag over her dagger.  “I was promised gold, and lots of it.”

“You’ll get your gold when I get Suleth.”

The small, dark-skinned girl tossed the rag aside and slid the knife into her boot.  “I’ll get my gold now.  You hired me to get you in and out of Shoremont—which I did—not to hunt down your friend.”

“You’ll get your gold-”

“Now, Tasson.”

There was a tense moment as the Panther stepped forward; her face now just inches from Tasson’s chin.  As short as she was, she was more intimidating that he would have cared to admit.

“I don’t have it.”

“What?”  The Panther shoved Tasson and sent him stumbling.  She was far stronger than she looked.  “What do you mean you don’t have my gold?” she shouted.

“Keep your voice down!” Billus hissed.  “Loud noise carries on the open ocean, and we’re trying to avoid the Seaguard, not bring them down on us.”

“Where in all ten hells is my gold?” the Panther asked, her voice now low and threatening.  “If you can’t give me a good answer I will slice you into beef.”

It must have been a strange sight, three grown men so intimidated by such a slight girl, but Tasson had seen her standing over the three bleeding guards.

“I never keep my gold on me,” Tasson explained, raising his hands.  “I have resources in multiple safehouses, but Jasker knows their locations.”

“And Jasker is this mysterious informant who sold you out?” Farus asked.

“Yes.”  After months of planning and secret correspondence, Jasker had betrayed him to the Seaguard.  Tasson meant to have his head for that.

“How are you planning to pay me, then?” the Panther asked.

“One step at a time, Panther,” Tasson said, standing up straighter as he sensed the tension fading.  “Let us reach the cove and pick up Axus, then we can worry about recovering my gold.  You aren’t the only one who needs it, you understand?”

***

“I’m not leaving!” Billus stood, arms crossed, in front of the boat, which Garus had pulled onto the shore.

“We have to, Billus,” Tasson said.  “We waited overnight, and it’s already midday.  Axus isn’t coming.”

The party had arrived at the cove as the sun rose and pulled the boat up onto the sand.  They had set up a camp on the beach, fully expecting to be waiting a few hours at most, but the sun had set and risen again, and Axus was nowhere to be found.

“He will show up! He has to.”  Billus’s sweat was hovering off his skin, as it did when he got anxious.

“He’s a day late.  At this point, he’s either hopelessly lost—unlikely, since I gave him a map—or the Seaguard has him.  And if the Seaguard has him, they also have his map.  I don’t have to explain what that means.  We’re leaving as soon as Farus returns.”

“It means I’m not getting my money anytime soon.”  The Panther came up behind Tasson, her pack shouldered.

“Shut up about your money!”  Billus was red in the face.  “This is my brother we’re talking about.  He may be a prisoner and all you can talk about is the gold that you didn’t really even earn because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the job was a failure!”

“Don’t lecture me!”  The Panther drew a dagger.

“You rotten thief!”

“You aren’t on the right side of the law either—last I checked, there was a bounty on all of our heads, not just mine.”

Before Billus could respond, Farus landed among them in a gust of wind.  “Seaguard!”  He was short of breath, but his eyes were wild with worry.

Billus’s face darkened.

“They must have found the map,” Tasson said, running past Billus and tossing his pack into the boat.  “We have to get out of here.”

“Not without Axus!”

Garus had leaped onto the boat and was using his earth powers to push it out to sea.  “He’s been captured,” he called to his brother.  “You have to get on this boat.”

Seaguard had appeared on the cliffs overlooking the beach, and arrows began to sink into the sand.

“Get on the damned boat!” Farus yelled, knocking arrows away with gusts of wind.  Seaguard had begun to make their way down the cliffs, their swords drawn.  “You won’t do him any good by dying here!”

Billus hesitated for a moment more, then ran and joined the other four on the boat.  Garus swept his arm through the air, and a wave of sand launched the vessel out to sea, where Farus immediately filled the sail with wind.

The beach and the Seaguard slowly faded into the horizon.

“That was close,” Tasson said, addressing his companions.  “We’ll have to put some distance between us and the guards before we can start looking for Suleth again.”

“No.”  Billus stood with Farus and Garus on either side of him.  “Look, Tasson, I love Suleth as much as you do, but Axus is my baby brother.  I’m dropping you and the thief off at the nearest port, and then I’m going after him.”

The three brothers stared him down, and for once even the Panther had nothing to say.

 

Read the first part here.

 

Together, They Fight Crime

He’s a paraplegic sorcerer with a bag full of used knickers.
She’s an obese barbarian possessed with the uncanny powers of an insect.
Together, they fight crime.

Charles placed the bag just inside the fence and then wheeled away as fast as his second hand wheelchair would carry him. There was a cacophony of barking, and then three vicious-looking mastiffs burst around the corner of the warehouse and fell upon it, biting and tearing at the canvas.

“What is in that thing?” Susan asked as she pushed her bulk through a hole in the chain link fence. With Charles being and a wheelchair and her weighing upwards of three hundred pounds, breaking and entering was hardly their strong suit. At least, not the entering—they were perfectly good at breaking.

A purple glow emanated from Charles’s hands and the bag, glowing similarly, lifted from the ground and began to float away. The guard dogs bounded after it. “Heavily used knickers,” he responded.

“Heavily used?”

Charles nodded. “It wouldn’t do to use knickers that someone just sat around the house in. No, these were worn by marathon runners, marathon joggers, and even marathon walkers.”

That made sense. Susan owned a few such pairs herself.

“Do you think they know we’re here?” Charles was looking up to the second floor windows of the warehouse, through which they could see light, but no movement.

“That was a lot of barking.”

“Then is it time to throw caution to the winds?”

Susan unslung a massive double-bladed axe from over her shoulder. “Charles, have I ever voted on the side of caution?”

The little sorcerer shook his head. “No, of course not.”  He gestured towards the windows.  “After you, buggy.”

Susan crouched, her legs straining under her weight, and leapt towards a window. She soared though the air and, with a swipe of her axe, burst through the pane. She landed into a roll and came up amid a shower of glass shards and wooden splinters.

The mobsters in the room looked up, stunned, and then began to reach for their guns.

Behind her, Charles rose through the air, his limp legs hanging even as his body glowed softly. He reached out a hand, then clenched it and ripped it backwards through the air. As he did so, a huge length of the wall was torn from the building. He glided into the warehouse, greeted by more stunned mobsters.

“Wasn’t that a tad unnecessary?”

Charles brought his hand through the air and a glowing purple hand choke slammed a monster to the ground. “I just figured your bug powers let you make all the dramatic entrances.”

The purple hand grabbed another mobster and sent him crashing into a group of his allies.  “I wanted my turn.”

It was understandable.  Susan did have a knack for obliterating walls.  It (and ice cream) was the reason she became obese in the first place.  She had the strength of an insect, and certain insects could lift up to fifty times their body weight.  Now, she was no math genius, but Susan knew fifty times three hundred pounds was at least triple fifty times one hundred and fifty pounds.

“I suppose it was your turn,” she said as she decapitated a mobster.  “Now shield me.”

The mobsters had found their guns, and were aiming them at the odd pair as Susan allowed the rage to overtake her.  She suddenly saw red, although that may have been the spray from her earlier axe-swinging.

As Susan leaped into the midst of the mobsters, her great axe turning the group into a crimson melee, Charles hovered up against the ceiling, his purple hands nimbly snatching bullets from the air just before they struck.

Within minutes, Susan had cleared the entire warehouse.

“Where are the records on the mob’s activity?” she asked as her rage subsided.

“Who cares? Leave that to the police.”

Sirens sounded from outside.

“Speaking of which,” Charles continued, “I need to get back to my wheelchair before they arrive.”

He made a pulling motion, and one of his purple hands dragged the wheelchair to him.  “Push me?” Charles asked as he settled down, and Susan pushed him through the back door of the warehouse.

“Should we leave some sort of calling card,” Charles asked, “something to let the police know someone was here?”

“Perhaps they’ll figure it out when they find the front of the building three blocks away.”

“Perhaps.”

 

The Blizzard

4167152-lgLarekien pulled his hood low to ward against the biting cold and pressed on into the blizzard.  The snow was falling heavily, and his every step sunk deep into it.  Even worse than the snow was the wind, which drove the snow nearly sideways and chilled to the bone.

Ahead, Larekien could see Roost flitting through the trees, fighting against the wind.  The large raven was only just staying in the air.

See anything?

It took a moment, but Larekien soon heard the bird’s response in his mind.  Roost has seen nothing yet.  This wind may prove to be too strong for Roost.

Don’t push yourself too hard.  I’d rather have to search for shelter by myself than have you hurt yourself.

Roost will press on.

Larekien pressed on as well.  Although he wanted to lower his head against the lashing snow, he forced himself to keep it up.  He had to find shelter, and soon—the heavy wool under his armor could only protect him from so much.  The cold cut through it, biting deeper than any blade might.

I have a surprise for you.  Roost had perched on a low branch and was using the trunk to shield himself from the wind.

Shelter?  Larekien struggled up to Roost’s tree and gazed through the dim grey of the blizzard.  He could see a yawning cave mouth lit by a soft orange glow.  This is a surprise.

Roost cawed happily and settled onto Larekien’s shoulder, his talons clutching at the heavy cloak.  Onward, servant.

Larekien gave the raven a sharp glance.  I take back what I said earlier.  I’d much rather you hurt yourself.

Leaning on his heavy mace, Larekien made his way to the cave entrance.  With his goal in sight, he moved much more quickly.

The glow that Larekien had seen from the forest came from a ring of torches that circled the cave, which itself was rather small.  Beneath the torches were stone slabs.

Larekien spread his cloak out onto a slab.

Roost isn’t so sure about this.  Maybe Roost and Larry should leave.

If you want to go back out into that blizzard, be my guest.  Larekien leaned his long-hafted mace against the slab.  I’m staying here.

Suddenly, with a splitting crack, a skeletal hand burst from the stone slab and grabbed Larekien around the throat.  Larekien grabbed it and tried to break the hold, but the grip was deathly strong.

Gasping for breath, Larekien could see through his dimming vision skeletons rising from each of the six stone slabs.  He wrenched at the hand, but to no avail.

With a cry, Roost pecked sharply at the joint holding the skeleton’s arm to the rest of its frame, and the bone cracked.  Larekien leaped from the slab and grabbed his mace, bringing it down on the armless skeleton and smashing it to pieces.  Thanks.

Humans are dumb.

By now, the other five skeletons had risen fully.  Their bones were yellowed, flesh still clinging to them.  Their eye sockets were filled with a swirling gray mist,* and they pointed rusty swords.

I’ll take the left.

Roost cawed his acknowledgement and darted towards the skeleton on the right, swooping past its blade and scoring his talons across its skull.  Of course, Roost wasn’t able to take the skeleton down, but his evasive antics distracted two skeletons.

Larekien took advantage of the moment, leaping forward and bringing his mace crashing through the leftmost skeleton.  There was a crunch, and it collapsed into a pile of bones and dust, the grey mist leaving its eyes and creeping towards the center of the cave.

The next skeleton fell similarly, Larekien’s mace shattering its shoulder and then its skull.  The old brittle bones snapped easily, and soon Larekien was left in a room littered with sundered skeletons.

The gray mist leaked from the broken skulls and pooled in the center of the room, swirling clockwise and gaining speed.

Roost hovered out by the mouth of the cave.  Roost is thinking that this blizzard is a good option.

You may be right for once, you old featherbag.  Larekien pulled his cloak back over his shoulders and hurried back out into the snow.

Behind him, he could see the skeletons re-forming as the gray tendrils of mist knit their bones back together.  They tried to follow, but the mist couldn’t leave the cave, and any bones that entered the blizzard dropped immediately to the ground.

You can look for shelter this time.    Roost had settled back onto his shoulder.  I’m not sure I trust myself after that.

What a fantastic excuse to sit still.  But Roost had already tucked his beak under his wing.

Larekien pressed back into the lashing snow and howling wind.

Still Turnstiles at Station 6

The woman was halfway through the turnstile at Station 6, her dropped burrito frozen in the air just as she was frozen in space, reaching for the tokens that had spilled from her purse.

The man in the pressed suit was frozen mid-sprint, his mouth open and his eyes fixed on the train ahead, which was stuck halfway out of the station, the smoke it emitted hanging suspended in the air.

I slipped past the businessman and through the still turnstile, the soft staccato of my footsteps the only audible sound.

This was an issue for me.  It would be much easier for me to sneak onto the train now, but stowing away tends to be more effective when the train actually moves.

In front of the train, the air shimmered slightly, and I could see grass swaying in a light breeze, taunting me with their movement.  As I leaped down onto the tracks to investigate it, I heard another set of footsteps behind me.

“This is impressive.  I didn’t think the time stoppage would be so complete.”  The voice was deep, and contained a measure of surprise.

From where I crouched on the tracks, I raised my head and peeked back onto the platform in an attempt to see the speaker.  In fact, there were two people approaching the train.

In front was a tall, broad shouldered man, his black clothes tight over bulging muscles and his hair and beard closely trimmed.  A poorly healed scar ran down the bridge of his nose and cut a cleft into his chin, marring his chiseled features.  It was his heavy boots that created the ringing footsteps I had heard.

Behind him walked a slight woman, dressed simply in a loose green dress that fell to her knees.  Her feet were bare, which accounted for her silent movement, but that wasn’t the strangest thing about her.  Her eyes shone a brilliant white and her hair, also glowing, floated around her head as if she was underwater.

“I don’t know what you expected, Travis,” she said.  “I informed you of my abilities.”

“Forgive me for being skeptical when you told me you could stop time.”

“My demonstration hadn’t convinced you?”

“It did, but it is rather impressive on this scale.”  Travis snatched the burrito from the frozen woman’s hand and took a bite.  “How long can you keep it up?”

“As long as you need to grab that diamond shipment.”

Diamond shipment?  This brought to mind all sorts of questions.  Why was someone using a public train to ship diamonds?  How the hell could this woman stop time?  And finally, why hadn’t it worked on me?*

I crouched further down as the bandits passed me and entered the train.  Perhaps the time stoppage wouldn’t be as inconvenient as I had thought after all.  Diamonds could pay for hundreds of train tickets.  My days as a stowaway seemed to be numbered.

The interior of the train was dimly lit, but I followed closely behind Travis and the witch, using her glowing hair as my guide.

“The door is locked, Thyra,” Travis said as he came to the final car.

“You’re the thief.  Deal with it.”

From where I hid a car down, I could hear metal scraping on metal, and then a soft creak as the door was pushed open.  I glanced around the corner in time to see Thyra disappear into the room.

Now was time for a plan.  I had seen a gun on Travis’s hip, so fighting him was out of the question.  I would need to find another way.

I hurried out of the train and began to strip all of the frozen passengers in the station.  Every article of clothing, once removed, I piled on the tracks just in front of the train.  When that was done, I grabbed an old man’s cane and hid behind a trash can.

When the bandits emerged from the train, Travis and Thyra were both smiling wide, each hefting a black leather pouch.

“What the hell?” Travis stopped in shock.  “Is this some side effect of your spell?”

Thyra seemed just as confused.  “This has nothing to do with my magic.  Where did all their clothes go?”

After a minute they noticed the huge pile of clothes on the track, and Travis hopped down to investigate.  As he did, I began to creep up behind Thyra.

As impressive as her magic was, it apparently didn’t warn her about homeless men sneaking up on her.  I slammed the cane into the back of her head, and then everything happened at once.

Thyra collapsed to the ground, and the world around me leapt into motion.  Everyone in the station became aware of their nakedness, and the train splattered Travis all over the tracks.

I scooped up Thyra’s diamonds amid piercing screams and shuffled away unnoticed.