|In his quarters
on the Black Ship, Cruz also slept.
They had ridden the monsoon for eighteen hours; the five older boys proving to be an asset as a makeshift crew. The vessel was thrown scores of miles off course. Farther and farther south they were battered.
Cruz hadn't raised the sails when it broke. He had to sleep, he felt like he was dying. His left leg throbbed where it had been chewed. His arms felt like stone from gripping the wheel and he was coughing up an alarming amount of blood.
He smiled though, as he flopped fully clothed into bed by the princess. His beautiful black schooner was made for nights like this. He slept like a corpse.
Princess Lowthian, over the course of the storm, had slowly worked her hands free. When Cruz fell asleep she crept over him.
Her body ached from being tossed by the gale. Her throat was raw from thirst and she was famished. She went to the galley and opened a can of black peas. Eating them with her fingers, she went up on deck.
It was a beautiful day. Perfect sky. The Black Ship looked no worse for wear, and she was stunned. The storm had terrified her. The crashing waves made the entire craft shudder and groan. Sometimes they had been sideways - she had been sure they would all be drowned.
boys were on the bow, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. They watched her.
She turned and went back down to the crew's quarters. Empty. Then she
heard muffled crying from the cargo hold. She let the captive children
out of the dark, smelly place.
The boys on the bow flicked their butts into the water. They felt good. They felt like men. Working through the storm instead of hiding in the hold with the rest of the captive children. The tallest of them was Zeke.
He had an easy smile and a shambling way of walking and talking that made him seem slow. He had cultivated this affectation in the slave markets communal cell. People left you alone if they thought you were retarded.
Zeke had run away from home six months earlier. He had heard rumors of incredible fortunes to be made selling drugs. Two weeks after arriving in D'Merici he was working as a whore. Drinking himself falling-down drunk whenever he could, he started having blackouts. Then one day he woke up in ‘The Pit.’ He sat in there for three weeks before Cruz bought him. Now Zeke figured it was fate.
He loved this boat. He wanted to stay. He'd heard stories about the Black Ship on the wharf where he worked. The exploits of Cruz were infamous. In Zeke's eyes, Cruz was a legend.
we're gonna go sleep, Zeke’ said one of the boys.
Zeke sat next to her and looked through the stack, reading the titles. Sort of a mix of alchemy and porno. She was so beautiful, he was tounge tied.
maybe I could read some later, I'm gonna sleep for awhile.’
He looked back at her as he walked toward the galley. Her hair so long it reached the deck behind her; like a silky cape, he thought smiling.
as night was falling. No princess. He got up just as she walked in carrying
Cruz woke Zeke and the other boys and put them to work hoisting the mainsail. Time to figure out just where in the hell they were.
Vekna stared into the mirror. Yellow and glowing slightly, his new cat eyes stared back. Vekna could now see in the dark.
being axed in the face. He remembered the pain. He remembered hearing
his skull crack. Other than that, his memory was sketchy. He knew who
he was and knew where he was. Home. He vaugely recognized John as his
apprentice and some of the other servants. But when he tried to think
any further than that he felt a dull throb across his eyes.
entered carrying a limp woman.
Vekna took a long thin tube from a drawer. It had a hollow, pointed end elongating to a funnel. He pulled the body forward so her limp neck dangled off the table, then placed a large silver bowl under her head.
Quickly and easily he inserted the tube into the flesh below the chin, piercing the jugular. John untied her bodice and pumped the heart with his hands, pushing rhythmically on her chest. The bowl slowly filled.
did she take her life?’ Vekna asked. He thought he recognized her.
was full. Vekna took the tube out of her neck and put it in the small
cauldron for cleaning. He stared at her face.
He picked up the bowl of her blood and set it on the round altar on the north side of the tower.
you want anything else from her body, master?’
‘I want her heart, Vekna thought for a moment. And her skull.’ Vekna placed a thin white cheesecloth over the bowl and lit black candles on either side of it. He felt so tired.
‘You can do this yourself, John. I have to rest. Come wake me when you're done.’
John stoked up the fire. He hung a large kettle over it and filled it with water.
Then he lopped off Bissa's head with one easy stroke of his longsword. He picked it up by the hair and placed it gently in the pot. It would take hours for the flesh to boil off.
As he removed her heart his mind reeled.
What to do. Should he let Vekna remember on his own? Or tell him now, or wait a few more days? What? He kept hearing the deep whispery voice of the demon, Tamat. His flesh crawled. What had he done, opening a gate to her? He was having serious regrets.
He placed Bissa's heart on a small silver plate and brought it to the northern altar. Then it hit him. This preparation, Vekna was planning on calling forth a demon. Oh, they used blood in so many different spells and potions that it was second nature to drain bodies.
But a heart was diferent.
There was a particular demon Vekna summoned that asked for a heart as a sacrifice. John assumed it would be tonight; He had to talk to him before he did this. He covered the heart with a little square cloth and went down to the library.
John poured himself a glass of whiskey and sat by the fire. He imagined he could see her there in the flames, smiling at him.
Cruz sat in the crow's nest cracking his knuckles. Serenity. They would have to go to Serenity Village. They had been closer to Chem, but he was wanted for murder in Chem and with no manpower it would be folly to land there.
So be it. Saria was a fairly large city down the coast and about a half a mile off her shore was a medium size Island that he owned. On that Island was an adorable little village called Serenity.
He had the island off of Saria, which included Serenity Village, the vineyard and 2 thousand acres of undeveloped land. That was just good luck on his part, he mused. Right place at the right time.
He had been carrying an unusually large surplus of gold and it seemed foolish to try and make it all the way to Ahktav with that much money on board. Pirates. Can't fucking trust them.
He had stopped in Saria, looking for real estate and found the whole Island up for grabs. A few years earlier, he had purchased a hotel/brothel in Moorheart. Somewhere along the way he had picked up a thriving horse ranch in Loring Plane, tenement’s along the wharf in D’Merici and a private home in Ahktav.
That was his haven. He'd been looking forward to going there. Oh well. Serenity Villiage it is, with a little pit stop in Saria. It was really going to irritate him to sell the children there, knowing they were worth so much more in other ports.
He trained his binoculars on the slit of land on the horizon. They would be there by midnight if the weather didn't change.
Princess Lowthian stood in front of the mirror in the Captain's quarters brushing her long pale hair. She glanced around her. She had done a lot with the place. It looked good.
She had decided it would be easier to just do what he asked rather than argue with him. She had filed all his sorcery and alchemy books in alphabetical order, washed all the jars and test tubes and reorganized the shelves of the small laboratory. She'd hauled the rug out and cleaned the floors; this menial labor she always assumed was beneath her now gave her a small sense of pride.
Cruz had lightened up a little, too. He had stopped scrutinizing her and questioning her every move. He treated her like a simple cabin boy. Zeke followed her around like a puppy when she was on deck. Now it would end. She had woke to the sound of Zeke's voice yelling ‘Land Ho!’
She hoped there would be some way to escape in port. There was no way she would allow herself to be sold to another man. The thought of it made her feel physically ill. She had thanked the gods more than once that Cruz wasn't attracted to her.
Being a captive here wasn't completely unbearable.
thought of her family. She would love to kill her father for his treachery.
And her mother, that cold unfeeling bitch. She had left them when Lowthian
was just a child. She barely remembered what her mother looked like.
Cruz yelled from above. She went up to him.
‘Alright,’ she said, staring at him distrustfully. What was he up to?
‘Now round up the children and bathe them. You can haul up seawater with the pails in the galley. We need them looking good for the market.’ He smiled at her. He ruffled her hair. ‘Good girl.’
‘What the hell is he up to?’ she thought. She went to find Zeke. He'd wash the children for her, she hated to touch them.
Cruz watched her walk away. Yeah, he'd sell the kids and then go over to the vineyard for a few weeks. He had plans. Big plans. That little elf was going to solve all of his problems.
John met Lord Hectal at the drawbridge to Vekna's castle. Hectal had arrived unannounced, the sentinel had seen him galloping up the western pass. He was accompanied by two body guards.
Hectal, always a pleasure, sir.’ John extended his hand and Hectal
‘Of course, sir, we'll tend to your horses and I hope you'll stay for dinner. Unfortunately, Vekna is gone. I don't know where, or for how long. He doesn't often tell me these things.’
I understood that he was convalescing from an injury.’
John smiled and asked if Hectal wished to leave a message. Hectal said he'd wait around a wile to see if Vekna showed up.
They left his men at the gate house and walked across the courtyard to the reception hall. Lord Hectal was a striking figure in his black riding gear and John was reminded of his age. For all his years, the elf must have amassed an immense wealth of knowledge.
A timid servant brought them snifters of brandy in the dining room.
know John, I remember when this structure was a monastery. I played here
as a youth.’
But John did know. He knew that the monastic order was annihilated when Northern Barbarians invaded D'Merici over 500 years ago. The thought of it was staggering.
it changed much?’
A muffled thudding came from somewhere above them. Hectal looked quizically at John.
have always admired your home, Lord Hectal,’ John stammered.
his brandy and stood. ‘Vekna told me he was planning some renovations
to the east wing. Why don't you show it to me?’
They walked back out through the courtyard and down the cavernous granite hall to the east wall garden - through the empty ballroom to a huge spiral staircase on the far side of the room.
‘Vekna has been refurbishing a suite of rooms for Lowthian, but I don't think they're finished yet.’
Up in his western tower, Vekna watched them in the smoke from his cauldron. Lowthian. Yes that name sparked a faint recollection. He could picture her. A fair elfin child. A guest? A servant...No, his new toy, a mistress perhaps.
What had he done with her? Killed her? He didn't think so. Vekna walked to the altar and looked at the rotting heart of Bissa, sitting on a silver plate.
John had stopped him from summoning his familiar. Vekna knew he could get answers from the demon Mardock, but John had reasoned, sensibly, that in his diminished mental state Mardock may take advantage of him, possibly cause some trouble.
Mardock was a nasty, greedy little demon, but as far as supernatural entities went, he was easy to manipulate. Vekna had always had a knack for controlling demons. He decided to do it.
John entered the enormous, airy suite of rooms on the second floor of
the east wing.
him off with a gesture.
Hectal noted the flicker of interest in John's eyes.
‘Come with me, I want to look at something.’ Hectal said walking out of the suite.
Lord Hectal led John to the far southern wall of the garden. The walls were almost covered with vines and rose bushes. Hectal picked up a large rock and began to pound the cornerstone of the stairwell. Inch by inch it was driven in until they heard a hollow clack; the top stair folded in.
still works, imagine that,’ said Lord Hectal smiling.
He stepped over the open pit and descended to the lawn; John followed. Around the side, wild rose bushes grew eight feet. Hectal pulled his sword and hacked away at a section of them.
clanged against metal, and he pulled away the shredded foliage to reveal
a large rusty wheel. He gripped it and strained. John helped him and finally
with a lurch it screeched around.
when they went back up top, the step was closed, the cornerstone back
what we talked about, John. If you need a change of venue, come see me.’
Had Vekna continued to watch them he would have been enlightened indeed. Vekna had never known of the tunnel's existence.
However, he was busy at work conjuring his demon familiar.
Mardock arrived cloaked in his usual thin blue flame. He usually took the form of a child, a boy of five or six; and he normally laughed and capered like an idiot, running about the tower like an epileptic schoolboy, setting small fires until Vekna could cajole him into doing his bidding.
Mardock merely smiled and shook his head from side to side.
see everything more. More color, more depth. I see farther and clearer.
Why is that?’
over to it and took a bite.
This is so
easy, thought Vekna. Why is he being so co-operative?
‘Well…’ Mardock began... and screamed.
The room went dim, then the tower rocked as if in an earthquake. Mardock disappeared in a red flash of light; and slowly, slowly, the demon Tamat materialized.
She floated in a supine pose. Sleepy, eyes closed, she smiled.
stunned, but he found his voice. ‘Leave this place,’ he demanded.
‘No,’ her soft voice was liquid, gravelly.
She floated over to him and cradled his face in her hands. They were warm and soft.
Down in the courtyard John felt the earth shake. He looked up at the western tower and saw red light glowing through the windows. He fainted.
‘How are you here?’ Vekna asked. He knew he was out of control, he could feel the power eminating off this being. How had it gotten through? His head was swimming. She was hideously beautiful – and her eyes – they were his.
here to comfort you, wizard. You mean the world to me.’