- September 12, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 6)
“Friends? Who needs friends when you have so many enemies to entertain you?”
Henry Lockley, the Bard of the Song, 447 A.C.A.
“Now what?” Lucy asked.
“What the fuck do you mean, ‘now what?’” Jack asked. He gestured to their world burning behind them, “We just lost everything, everyone we knew, everything we built, and you’re asking ‘now what?’”
Lucy didn’t shrink, her nostrils flared, and Quintus made the judgment call to step between Jack and Lucy.
Jack turned away from Quintus, but Quintus had to hold Lucy back to stop her from continuing.
We’ve been on the run for five minutes, Quintus thought to himself with a shake of his head. Lucy was still eying Jack as they took separate parts of the boat.
“What happened to Harry?” Andy asked as they huddled around the center of the ship, staying out of the way of the crew.
Save for Quintus and Andy, they all had people around them, people loyal to them, trained by them in some way. Then there’s Andy, standing alone.
“What makes you think we know?” Malum answered with a question.
“Malum,” Quintus answered as if to curb his neverending coldness, before turning to Andy.
“He called for the five of you, didn’t he?” She asked the question as if Malum hadn’t told her all she needed to know. “Who else would have any idea where he is?”
Quintus approached her with a steadying hand on her shoulder, to help her save face here.
Quintus gestured to the people who owed Andy their lives, “Bring her something to sit on.”
“I don’t need to sit, I want to know what the fucks going on with Harry.”
“Nothing’s going on with Harry, that’s the truth,” Lucy told her, leaning up against the railing, with her arms as crossed as if Andy was going to set her sights on the pirate next. Lucy seemed to go on the offensive before that could happen, “And who are you to order our guys around?”
Why is everyone so threatened by each other?
“She saved the lives of everyone on this boat,” Quintus snapped at Lucy, “and did so half-drunk, so shouldn’t be a problem for someone here to get her a place to-”
“Here,” Malum said, holding a barrel, making Quintus jump and screech in the process.
“Ya-aahh!” Gotta put a fucking bell on him.
Malum practically slipped the seat under Andy’s legs. Her mouth opened to yell, but the moment she was seated, she stopped.
Malum kneeled next to her with his hand on her shoulder. “Harry wasn’t there when we got there. Only some warlock and her acolytes looking to ambush us, I swear to you.”
“We wouldn’t have left him there if we were with him,” Jack told her, “bit insulted you would imply otherwise.”
Andy stared at Jack for a moment, before uncrossing her arms to rest her head in her hands. “That’s… that’s not what I intended…”
“Isn’t he like, from some big house? Like Jack’s?” Lucy asked, with a flick of her hand.
“Yeah, House Thorn,” Jack explained, “if anyone was taken alive, it would be him. Raydorn’s not going to let one of the big five houses go extinct, and Harry’s the only one left.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Andy muttered to herself, “yeah, the-they… they would… hopefully.”
Quintus took a deep breath as he looked over them. This feels like a weak lie to make her comfortable, but so be it. I won’t be the one to tell her to lose all hope.
Malum left Andy’s side, letting Quintus take it.
The assassin walked back to his charges, their presence utterly opposed to everything they were supposed to be: exposed.
Malum seemed unfazed by it, unlike his flock who clung close together, trying to appear as small as possible despite having nowhere to hide on this ship at the break of dusk.
“What do we do now, Master?” Malum’s right hand asked him, but Malum did not respond as quietly.
“Who knows,” Malum said, growling under his breath as he grasped at his chin. “Never should have humored Harry, this was a foolish idea.”
Does he not realize we can hear him or is he such an ass that he doesn’t care?
“It was not as if we could have known what would happen,” his right hand continued in her hushed whispers.
“Debatable, the whole event was to flaunt our prowess, what fool wouldn’t expect the response we received?” Malum said, speaking ill of the man who brought them together. “Greed, that’s all this was for, Harry’s greed has killed our brothers-in-arms, killed us all.”
“We are not dead, brother,” Quintus called to him, “you would do well to remember that as we float down a river with no destination.”
Quintus muttered to Andy, “Would you mind if I took charge for a moment?”
Andy gave him this slight look over her shoulder before she shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”
Quintus patted her shoulder and he stood up, naturally drawing everyone’s attention.
Yes, they all tend to look to the one they view as a threat first, he thought to himself.
He opened his arms to his fellow leaders and their followers. “What happened, happened, we need to look forward to what we can do next. We still have ourselves and each other to care for,” he said, before looking pointedly towards Malum, “in case you’ve forgotten.”
Quintus could not see the assassin’s eyes, but still, he felt them.
“I haven’t,” the assassin answered him.
“Good,” Quintus said, before stepping up and gathering a lot of people around him. They all had gifts to offer and parts to play.
First, Quintus pointed to the pirate who raised her head as if she were a queen.
“Now, Lucy, can your ships keep us ahead of Raydorn’s and Susanna’s?”
Lucilla Indu Nero smirked, and nearly tipped her hat.
“Old Lappy here can sail circles against any boat the crowns shit out,” she said, “and the others can follow our sails well enough I guess.” While she shrugged off some concerns, she stood and walked up to Quintus to voice others. With her hands on her hips, she reminded all on her ship of the problem as she sees it. “But it doesn’t matter how fast we go if we have nowhere to go.”
Quintus nodded his head in agreement. I’d hardly call endlessly sailing a life. We need a place where we can rebuild, and there are about three countries we can knock off the list.
“That’s a good point,” Quintus muttered, before looking at the drunk on her barrel, “any ideas, Andy?”
“Hmm?” Andelyn’s eye peeked out from between her fingers. She heard his question, but she hesitated to answer.
“Yes, yeah,” she struggled to say, groaning as she stood to her feet, “there are a few places we can go where we can find help.”
As she paused, she found herself watched by the collective.
Quintus reached over placing his hand on her shoulder, his sheer mass giving her a good shake. She was muscular, but he made most appear lithe by comparison, and it seemed to get her head where they needed it to be.
You can always count on Andy.
“Uh,” Andy said, scratching her head, slurring her sounds as she tried to think through the fog, “I can think of few places… there are… Black Legion troops in two places near us. There are our men at the Vile Line in Seca, neither army would dare take them away from their job.”
Return to my home? An appealing prospect…
“This is true,” Quintus added, “the Great Nations won’t want to defend the Vile Line in our place.”
Malum stepped in to point out, “Knowing all that, our troops at the Vile Line would have been the first they would have went to. They couldn’t have afforded to betray us if those at the Vile Line weren’t turned to their side. They need them.
“And let’s not kid ourselves,” Malum chuffed, as if to make them feel worse about it, “we’re mercenaries. We would turn on each other for money, and if anyone needed to be turned, it’s them.”
Jack, seemingly lost in thought, muttered, “Not all of us would turn.”
“Tell yourself whatever you need to.” The assassin pulled no punches and received the look of the grave in return.
Lucy did not hesitate to agree with him for one reason or another though.
“Outside of what Mal’s saying, there’s also no rivers big enough to get our ships to the Vile Line. We’d have to cross Seca’s savanna or desert or whatever to get to it.” Lucy wiggled her arms at her sides as she warned them, “I don’t know about you, but I ain’t feeding people my octopus arms here.”
“What of Artis?” Malum asked.
“What about Artis?” Andy asked back. “That’s the worst choice. That’s a trade port for all three of the nations we’re trying to avoid. We go there en masse, we’ll be sold down the river.”
“It would be child’s play, we could easily take over a place like Artis,” Malum argued, “it’s lawless, with no standing army. We could control anything and everything going in or out, cripple trade between the three nations, control Krone’s slave trade, they’d have to leave us alone.”
“Or they come together and crush us again.”
Malum tilted his head as he stared at Andy. “We’d have a city to defend from within.”
Quintus tilted his head and stared at Malum in turn, until Malum turned his gaze to him.
“Have you ever been to Artis?” Quintus asked him.
Malum was more than a little slow to answer that question. “No… why do you ask?”
Quintus crossed his arms, as he refrained from shaking his head at Malum. “I’m from there, but it only takes one visit to know that Artis is a city only in name. Its buildings are made from clay and scrap, I repeat, buildings of sheet metal and garbage from all over Gronina make up every building and ship. It has no standing army because there’s nothing to defend. Save for a few buildings and boat ports, Artis could be taken down and rebuilt within weeks, that’s why it moves up and down the coast. We’d have nothing to defend.”
Malum’s head leaned back, raising with his breath. There was an audible exhale that made Lucy shake her head and Andy roll her eyes.
“Alright, what else is there then? The ocean blue?”
Malum may have meant to mock, but at that moment something snapped behind him.
“Yes… yes! Yes, the water!”
This time Malum snapped completely around as the weather worshipper chanted. They watched as her followers started to squat around her to hang onto her every word.
As those who had so easily ignored Astrid began to collect around her, Astrid ignored them, her eyes seemingly looking through them.
But it took some a moment to realize.
“Astrid, I was being sarcastic,” Malum told her.
In return, Astrid ignored him, chanting the words, “Ah woo, no me gey dun.”
“Oh, they’re not… they’re not talking to me,” Malum muttered.
“I wish we weren’t talking to you,” Andy told him as she walked up next to him.
Malum turned to stare at her for a good few seconds, and Andy didn’t even flinch. Then he turned back towards Astrid.
Sometimes I can’t tell if they’re friends or not, Quintus thought as he joined the growing crowd around Astrid.
“Is… is she having a vision?” Lucy asked.
Quintus poked at Lucy as he asked, “Aren’t you a follower of Lapis too, shouldn’t you get these kinds of visions?”
Lucy immediately crossed her arms, looking away to avoid Quintus’s eye. “Me and Lapis have a private relationship, sorry if we don’t all flaunt it like her.”
Quintus stared at her with this blank face as she continued her charade. He shook his head as she avoided looking him in the eye.
Catching them both off guard, Astrid’s followers stopped chanting with her and stood to their feet. They began pressing the rest of the Legion away from Astrid.
Does she need to be alone? Quintus thought at first, as he immediately stopped watching and started helping to press the others back.
Most started to get away at the insistence of the believers, save for Lucy.
“Don’t touch me, get off of me!” Lucy snapped at them up until Quintus placed his hand between her and the three followers likely to see their noses broken.
I’ve been getting between too many people today.
“Let’s give Astrid her room, Luce,” Quintus asked her, and the pirate gave him an acidic glare. Before she said anything, her eyes were ripped towards something far stranger.
Mist seemed to gestate from Astrid’s skin, and it wasn’t cool to the touch. In fact, it was so hot that her followers were instructing everyone else to protect themselves.
Suddenly, Quintus found himself believing he needed to rectify his mistake. No one else can help her.
Quintus left Lucy where she stood, and pushed past the followers who warned him away, and walked through the mist.
The whole ship could hear the sounds of the mist sizzling against his bare chest, yet he remained unfazed. He walked right up to Astrid and reached for where she sat on the railing. Then he was met with the true product of his mistakes.
Before he even laid a finger on her, the mist exploded his face.
There was a loud BOOM! One that shook the ship and sent everyone down to its decks. The ships sailing along with them could feel the ripples in the water from the shockwave, but the S.S. Lappy seemed none the worst for wear. It only rocked back and forth a little.
“Quintus!” Lucy called for him, looking around the ship as a bunch of them were thrown from the shockwave.
The mist took a moment to clear, long enough for Quintus to groan and for his eyes to flutter.
He found himself flat on his back, holding his head to his healing chest. Then he opened his eyes to find Astrid standing over him, bent over with her face in his.
And she was smiling.
She looked at the skin healing on his chest, then to his eyes.
I was careless, he thought to himself, and now I am revealed.
Then Astrid winked at him.
Before the lines could finish forming between Quintus’s eyebrows, Astrid yelled in his face, as if in melody. “The sea, the sea, we’ll live off the sea, and we’ll feast on the sharks!”
She threw her hands up to the sky as she pranced about the deck, yelling and singing about the sea and sharks, again and again.
Her followers began to follow around her, throwing their hands up and chanting along with, forming a line of singing people.
All the while, everyone else laid down and stared, save Quintus.
Quintus laid on his back, closed his eyes, and let out a sigh.
It had to be Astrid.
Lucy sat halfway up, with her head tilted and her jaw dropped watching Astrid and her fellow followers of Lapis collectively celebrate whatever just happened.
“It’s finally happened,” Lucy said, nodding her head harder and harder each time, “she’s lost her damn mind!”
“No wait,” Andy said, as she sat up on her butt, words that made Astrid stop and point to her.
Andy rubbed the bridge of her nose, as if in some sense of realization. “I think she’s actually onto something…” Andy muttered, and Astrid threw up her hands and cheered again.
She screamed and repeated, “We’ll feast on sharks!”
Those not chanting and dancing turned their eyes from Astrid to Andy almost immediately, as if she spoke ‘fanatic.’
Andy gestured to Astrid with a shame-filled wave and explained, “She’s talking about the shark mermaids of the Icy Pearl Isles. I had forgotten that we have a base there. The locals have paid us in pearls and jewels for a few centuries now. They make them from their clams and we have a battalion that lives there. They kill the shark mermaids who like to kill their fishermen.”
“I haven’t heard of this place in a long time,” Jack mumbled as he turned to get away from this mess.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Andy yelled at him, tapping her head, making a flinging motion with her fingers at him, a gesture equating to ‘fuck off.’
Quintus sat up and looked at Andy over his shoulder with a big one-eyed squint. “Why wouldn’t he have heard about it? Nothing bad I hope.”
“The Starshields tried to buy it and take over the island,” Andy told them as they all started getting back to their feet, “but the Thorns got to it first and petitioned some old king to give them ownership of the land. It was their first chance to really make some money as a mercenary house. The jewels that the Black Legion earned there built the foundation of our creed, and we’ve kept soldiers there regularly. We replenish their numbers when they get low, but we send soldiers there to stay.”
“Would Raydorn even think to look for us there?” Lucy asked.
“Would anyone think of it, is the better question,” Malum added.
A smirk slowly found its way across Andy’s lips. “Those chasing after us likely would have forgotten all about the Isles,” she said with an almost devious nod of her head. “Outside of their jewels, there’s nothing there anyone would want, and House Thorn worked hard to make sure everyone forgot about it.”
Malum gripped his sword and said, “We could go and take it over.”
Quintus held up a finger, holding the thought back. “Or, we could make allies of people who are not already our enemies.”
“And if they are?” Malum asked him.
Astrid jumped in with her steel rod raised and burning, making everyone but Malum jump. “Then we make like the sharks and eat them!”
Malum tilted his head and asked, “Were you talking to me that time?”
Quintus clapped Astrid on the back as he told her, “Good to have you back, it’s… creepy when you go away like that.”
Lucy leaned forward with her hands on her knees, as if she needed to take a breath. “So it’s settled, theses Icy… Pearl Isles then?”
“It seems like it,” Andy said.
Lucy let out a sigh as she leaned back as far as her spine would let her. “Okay, then I’m gonna get out of here before something weirder happens.”
People quickly separate, moving into their roles. They have a goal now, find sanctuary, and until then, they have something to worry about.
It’ll help to keep people’s minds off of the day. Fear lingers under the skin and follows us in the darkness of our shadows.
Quintus found himself among a small group of people who had neither a group of their own nor a purpose. While Andy had set to work caring for the wounded, Malum and Astrid set to organizing their students and followers. Lucy had both a job and people to lead, and Quintus had neither.
Quintus’s eyes roamed around the ship to find that Jack had put himself in much the same position, or at least it seemed.
Young warriors, with and without magic seemed to find themselves lost in the shuffle, taking to the corners of the deck, recoiling into themselves. Some came together to panic, questioning what the life of a mercenary had gotten them.
They came to learn from Jack Starshield, the man who would teach anyone what the Pain saved for a chosen few. What did they have to show for it as he sat and wallowed?
Leaders are never in a position to break down in front of those who follow them.
For that reason alone, Quintus made a beeline for Jack.
The once noble lord sat with his back against the wall, just below the sailing master. His face grew as red as it did sweaty, and his jaw twitched and shook without the wind to chill him.
It wasn’t until a large shadow cast itself over him that Jack had any notion he was being approached.
“You can’t sit like this,” Quintus told him as he squatted down and began to inspect him. Still, he towered over the lord.
“Are you ill?” Quintus asked him, “Wounded?”
Jack shook his head and press his sweaty palm to his face. “I’m fine, nothing that won’t heal. My skull pulses but…”
“It’s not what keeps you off your feet,” Quintus surmised.
“Whenever you need it, my shoulder and my ear are yours…” Quintus offered, with a caveat that quieted Jack, “once we get to sanctuary. Until then, you cannot wallow here, you cannot appear on the verge of tears as young men and women sit around you… men and women who consider emulation.”
Jack remained silent, unmoving and unbreathing.
“Am I not allowed pain? Am I not human?” Jack questioned Quintus.
“Leaders are not human, not while there are those following them. Leaders act and do until their dead. We are at a crossroads, Jack, we are few, we are weak, and we are going to be hunted. The young ones, they are scared, and when they see you as you are, and they become terrified. It is a terrible thing to say and to make you do, but it must be done.
“Buck up, we do have the privilege of lesser men, we have to survive.”
Jack’s brow furrowed, his lip continuing its worsening twitch. Josanger could have been the cause, but whatever it was inside Jack that maligned his face fell away. His expression gave way for one not too different from those around him.
“How… *huh*… how am I supposed to do that?” Jack asked him. “How am I supposed to do that without him-? Because of him?”
He is unyielding to me, Quintus thought, because he has yielded so fast to his love.
Quintus rolled his tongue around his mouth. He looked around as others started to peer at them, but no one of singular consequence. They were only consequential when counted together as one.
Quintus placed his arm in the way of Jack’s face.
“I could tell you a great many things, Jackson Starshield, I could tell you to turn to hate, but that would be a short-term fixture- a pyre even, from which you could burn from the inside out.
“I could tell you to let go of that which eats you alive, but that would only make you hollow, a skeleton, a dead man walking. We have no energy to be carrying around corpses.
“You must find something in you that gives you strength other than your love for a man who may or may not have betrayed you. If you cannot find anything of the like, if you have nothing that allowed you to wade between the waves of life, then throw yourself from the ship, and someone will hopefully make a martyr out of you. It is your choice.
“Make it soon.”
Quintus stood, leaving Jack where he laid and turned away.
Quintus did not turn back until he was nearly on the other side of the ship.
He went to Andy, as she wrapped a bleeding man’s wound, to offer her assistance, but just before he turned around, he saw that Jack was in his huddle no more.