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-”
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.