- October 24, 2021
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 9)
“What use is being the better man? Lapis was the better man, the bigger man, the patient and forgiving man, and then the scum sun killed him. The better man turns his back and the worse man lives to tell the tale about it.”
– Astrid, First Disciple of Lapis, 448 A.C.A.
“The plan is simple-”
“No it’s not,” Lucy interrupted Andy almost immediately.
Andy slammed her hand on the table as she yelled back at the pirate. “Yes it is! It’s just taking over one trade boat! It can’t be guarded by more than one platoon!”
Lucy threw her hands up in the air as she yelled back, “Then why are we planning out every detail! You want us everywhere, in these pinpoint locations to maximize affection-”
“Effectiveness, they don’t even rhyme!”
This was their first time on a mission since their grand betrayal. This was the first time they had to lead a mission together. And this was the first time they were undertaking mission for themselves.
It was all on them.
“Why are we over planning like this?” Jack questioned them. “We’re going to be on them in the hour, we use the ship’s ram, board the boat, free the slaves, and ask for some of their food.”
Jack’s stubble had begun to grow in, and he looked several years older to Quintus. The Pearl tribe on the isles could have given him a number of tools to shave with, but he opted against it.
It appears my… harsh words had not gotten through to him, Quintus surmised as his comrades argued amongst themselves. He had stepped away from their small table. It was far too cramped in the captain’s quarters of the ship. Instead, he stood by the window, glancing out at the open sea.
The ocean waves hit the glass, and Quintus heard thunder. He shuddered as the clear blue sky turned gray, and his hand against glance grew smaller.
But it was only for a moment.
Water hit the glass again, and Quintus was grounded in the reality he lived in. The storm wasn’t there, and neither were the waves he thought would swallow him up, ones he watched swallow others.
It all remains the same.
Quintus turned back and listened to them fight, glad that the sailing master could steer and follow Andy’s instructions without them.
Quintus heard Malum say something strange, drawing his attention to the assassin and his mask. “We’re asking for the food?”
Jack leaned over the table to question Malum in turn. “You want to take it from them?”
“Not if I don’t have to. What if they say no, what if they don’t want to join us?”
“They have nowhere else to go but Artis,” Andy reminded him, “where they may end up being captured and enslaved anyway.”
His cloak may have hidden his arms, but Quintus could tell that Malum had crossed them under that cloak. “So we’re preying on people with no real choice but to join us?”
Jack asked, “Whose side are you on?”
“Hmph,” Quintus chuckled but no one seemed to notice. Devil’s advocate is more like it.
Quintus’s eyes fell on Astrid, standing across from him, being ignored by their compatriots too. She sat on her knees, chin on the table. She stood like a child between them as they argued like bigger children.
The little woman matched his eyes and made a talking hand gesture, mocking the would-be adults around her. She stopped and looked at Quintus, who smirked in return. She pointed her talking hand at him, and Quintus waved her off, assuring her with a shake of his head.
I don’t need to join this… calling it a discussion sounds misleading.
Astrid rolled her eyes at him.
“Would you rather us leave them in chains?” Andy asked Malum.
“I think we should consider the morality of what we want to do,” Malum said, which made more than a few arch their brow. “What these people do after we free them will decide far more than any of you are considering.”
“There it is,” Jack commented, quickly pointing at Malum.
“We are freeing them,” Andy reiterated as if Malum didn’t know.
“That’s not the question,” Lucy jumped in against Andy. “The question is what we do after that, instead of overplanning on how to kill people. We all know how to do that, it’s simple. We board them, we overpower them, we win, we have the manpower and the strength to do it with just a handful of my crew to back us up.”
“Better to just kill them all,” Malum suggested.
Andy held up a finger, “Hold that thought, Mal. I think the answer to what we do with the people we free is simple. We split up the food between them, the Krones meant it to feed them, they should have first claim. The ones who join us add to our stockpile. It’ll help with what little the Icee have been able to give us.”
“And the ones who don’t?” Jack questioned.
“We take them where they want to go.”
Lucy raised a pointer finger to add, “Within reason! We can’t sail just anywhere they want.”
Andy rolled her eyes, taking more than a pause before she agreed, “Fine, within reason.”
“Have any of you ever thought to ask someone who knows what these people are going through?”
They fell silent at Astrid’s first words. It was fitting that they could talk in circles and agree on nothing but Astrid’s one contribution.
As they all turned to Quintus who was staring at Astrid, the ax-wielder muttered in complaint, “White people.”
“I’m not white,” Malum said.
“Neither am I,” Lucy added.
“You both act like it.”
Andy struggled to wave them down, appearing no longer sure before them in whether she had a point. “She’s right, Quintus… we should have asked you what you think first. I’m sorry.”
Lucy scratched the back of her head as she said, “Yeah, I’m sorry too.”
“That’s our bad,” Jack added, “what do you think?”
Quintus made a quiet whine as he took one large step towards the table. He stood over the diagram of the ship they were supposed to be attacking and ran his hand across it. He started rolling it up as soon as his finger touched its edge.
“I think you’re all overthinking it,” Quintus told them, “I appreciate how sensitive you’re trying to be, but it works against you. Andy’s way of thinking sounds best to me, offer them sanctuary with us, where they have to abide by our communal rules, or we take them where they want to go…” He crossed his arms as he trailed off, giving the slightest turn of his head towards Lucy, “… within reason. Though I appreciate the apologies.”
“I didn’t apologize,” Malum reminded him.
“Yeah, but you’re a dick, who expects you to?” Jack insulted him.
Malum looked up, and he had this defeated slump in his shoulders. “Ugh… I miss my wife.”
“Get ready to brace!” Lucy called out to her crew, as she stood with the others ready to board.
The leaders, Jack, Astrid, Andy, Malum, and Lucy stood with a soldier or two to follow them onto the ship. Each of them hung to the rails, just as they were about to hit the barge, save for Quintus.
The sigil of Krone on the barge’s sails, the Dragon God Driega, did not faze Quintus. He’s faced worse than the quick burn of the Black Death.
Lucy looked over at Quintus as he walked across the deck towards the ship’s bow. With shock and awe, she yelled at him, “What are you doing?!”
Just before the S.S. Lappy rammed into the Kronish barge, Quintus ran up the bow, leaped off the front. His gigantic frame cast a shadow over the Kronish slavers below, and when they looked up, they thought a Death rider was upon them.
The S.S. Lappy rammed into the Kronish barge in its bow, as to minimize risk to the people held below. Quintus came down as the ships connected. He landed on a man as that man fell on his back.
The man’s ribcage caved in as Quintus landed on him, and the Kronish slavers scattering the barge around him all turned and stared. They watched in mounting terror as this beast of a man stood up bare-chested, with his chest and face painted white in the art of skeleton.
I’m not one for spreading terror, Quintus thought to himself as he lunged for the closet slaver, swinging his large rungu club towards his skull, But these people deserve it, they deserve to be afraid. He splatter the man’s jaw across the deck as his comrades joined the fight.
A dozen warriors pounding onto the deck felt like thunder below Quintus’s feet. His body pulsated as he walked through death, between Malum taking life with a swing or Jack breaking a man’s back with a blast of the Wind. A man jumped Andy only to be cut down by her sword, and another burned under the cleave of Astrid’s ax. Even choosing when between crossing Quintus’s path, and facing a woman with tentacles growing out of her body, they chose death by a monster than by Quintus.
Fear may be what they deserve, Quintus thought, as he grabbed a slaver by the back of his neck. He lifted the man above the ground, then hit the man’s sword hand with his rungu club, shattering it. He watched as the man looked down at him in terror, like a wild animal chopping at the bits. He looked at the fear he had for Quintus, and Quintus couldn’t help but think, But do I deserve the way they look at me?
Quintus could not maintain the mask of rage. Even under his war paint, his face softened in a way that the man dangling in his arm could see. Should I give them the satisfaction of appearing like the animal they claim me to be?
Quintus’s thoughts were interrupted by the first man brave enough to attack him. Quintus didn’t see him before he ran Quintus through with a lance.
“Raah!” the warrior yelled, garnering the eyes of the pirate captain.
“Quintus!” Lucy screamed, not believing her eyes. She set herself to finishing off her attacker, as Quintus finished off his.
He threw the man in his arm across the deck, sending him through the barge’s railing, then bringing his arm down on the lance’s staff. In seconds, Quintus tore out the blade and set to cracking the man’s head open with his club, spraying himself in the man’s blood. Quintus made an effort to wipe that blood over his wound.
Hide the proof, he repeated to himself in his mind.
“Quintus!” Lucy was screaming as she ran into him, her hand going right to his wound, making no mistake of where it was.
But then she felt nothing.
Quintus thought to make a joke, something along the lines of, “Hardly the time,” or “I didn’t know you felt this way,” something she would say in the same circumstance, but could not.
I don’t want to make her think she’s crazy.
“It wasn’t as deep as it looked, if you searched more you’d find the wound,” Quintus told her, and she searched, only to find her hands covered in blood. “I promise, most of the blood is from the lancer that lays dead.”
“I thought he…”
He patted her shoulder, assuring her, “The blood already there must have played tricks,” as he hoped his warpaint hid his expression. Thankfully for him, she failed to look at his face.
As another ran at them, Lucy turned on her heel and sent her tentacle arm out. She plunged her saber straight into his chest, the force of her stab sending the corpse flying across the deck.
“Cover my back, I’m going below deck,” he asked her.
“Lot of ground to cover,” she joked, which made him smile. His eyes did not linger long enough to see how her smirk faltered.
But she followed close behind as he ran to the doors on the deck’s floor, with their chain and lock on them. Lucy fended off one man, but there few left. The Legion had made short work of most of them. Less than a dozen lived to surrender, but that was only those on deck.
More nightmares await below my feet, Quintus knew as he wrested his hands on the lock and chain before pulling. The doors stretched as he pulled, and the wood gave way before the steel chains did.
Lucy ducked and called Quintus’s name as the doors flew around him. He threw them away quickly to keep the loose pieces from hurting her.
Quintus didn’t have the chance to take a breath before someone rushed up from below with a spear. This time he was ready. A quick bob of the head saved him a nick across the cheek. He then grabbed the spear’s shaft, and in one motion, pulled it up as he thrusted his club down. He sent the man to the bottom on his back.
Quintus dumped the spear before he jumped down, skipping the stairs. He landed on the man’s pelvis this time with both feet, shattering it much like the ribcage of his first kill. This man survived, letting out a shrill gasp before fainting from the pain.
Lucy followed him with her sabers, but without her tentacles. A better choice when dealing with people who anyone could assume were afraid. Before she even lifted her eyes, she couldn’t help but cringe at the sight of the man Quintus landed on.
Quintus told her, “I was aiming for his chest.”
“He got what he deserved, I just didn’t need to see it.”
They first found themselves surrounded by food, but the sound of chains and hushed mutters drew them forward. It didn’t take too many steps for Quintus to find the people the Kronish Empire wished to use like cattle.
They were behind bars, chained both to each other and the ground. Their captors left them little room, packing them behind the bars on both sides. The way they pushed themselves back had Quintus believing that they were chained to the walls as well.
Lucy placed a hand on her shoulder, telling him, “This must be hard…” but not quite finishing any sort of thought.
Over two decades on this earth and she has nothing quite right to say.
Quintus didn’t either. “Yes.”
As he moved to the closest chain door, Lucy continued her lacking attempts of empathy. “To see your people like this…”
Quintus let out a sigh that could be defined as audible. “These people…” he began as he ripped the bar doors open, “were not of my belief, these people are the Hotun tribe.” He turned to Lucy with a black eye, “I am of Share, a city of many people. These are not my people, these are not even my mother’s people.”
“Yeah, but they look like you.”
Quintus arched his brow at her, and she immediately rolled her shoulders in embarrassment, looking away from him as he asked, “Is everyone who looks like you, your people?”
“Well… when comparing me and you to me and them… yeah?”
The arch in Quintus’s brow took on a more questioning than judging form at that. “Seems like a pointless comparison.” He walked past her to the next door as she apologized.
“Sorry, I guess…” she ran her hands through her hair, struggling with her words in ways she hasn’t before, for reasons Quintus does not know. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay since it was people who looked like you in chains, and not people who looked like me or any of our friends. I… figured that could bother someone.”
“Hmm…” Quintus muttered as he opened another door, and the people inside shook at the sight of him, not Lucy. The first door he freed had still to even stand to their feet.
My face is as similar to their enemy as the ones I have killed to get to them. Quintus turned back to Lucy, actually gauging her appearance for the first time. They’ve likely never seen someone who looks like her before, and her pirate clothes hide her muscles and whatever tattoos she may have as a pirate or a Kronish domina. They may take to her before me.
“Lucilla,” he called her full name, gesturing to the people inside the cell, “they may be more trusting of you, can you free them for me?”
Lucy’s head picked up, “Yeah, sure, of course, let me see if that man had the keys on him somewhere.”
“Lucy,” Quintus called to her again, and she whipped around to look at him. “You’re right, that… could have bothered me… it did bother me, my apologies for seeming aggressive when-”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said, flashing him a smile, “I can word things better, I’ll be back in a sec.”
Quintus watched her go to the corpse he left, and then struggle to find the key on his person. As she started searching, the sound of Uzuri, or at least a similar dialect, came from the cells.
“<Does she know what you are, rider?>”
Quintus turned his eye toward the voice with a glare, one made only more horrifying by the war paint on his face.
“<Are you going to devour us too>?” another said, this time a child, rather than the adult that spoke to him before.
For the child Quintus saw in the shadows, he answered as best he could, some of his words lost in translation. “<No, never, I’ve learned to control my curse, I will not… I cannot hurt you, the shadows have made sure of it.>”
The first of the imprisoned Hotun, an old man, the one who spoke to him first, stood to his feet, and told Quintus, “<Then you are doomed…>”
Quintus did not bat an eye before agreeing. “<Yes, I am doomed…” and gestured to Lucy as she returned with the key, “<but I can help you before I go.>”
As Lucy walked, she went first to unlock the chain that connected them all to the wall. The individual cuffs on their arms and legs could be removed on the deck. As she did so, they would not leave the cell until Quintus had taken several steps back. Lucy did not fail to notice.
As the two of them walked to the opposite cell, Lucy asked Quintus, “Um, hey, Quint, why do they seem to be so afraid of you?”
He turned to them walking behind him, doing their best to stay a foot away, some even cowering.
“I tried to assure them I was not of the same tribe that defeated and sold them,” he told her, a half-truth, one that caused her to make an expression of recognition.”
“They thought you looked like their enemy?”
“These are not the warriors who fought the enemy day after day, they did not learn the faces of those who defeated them, nor their war paint,” he explained. “They only know the faces of those that assailed them in the night and locked them in chains, the ones that gave them nightmares. Anyone who appears to have power can be a nightmare to someone traumatized like that.”
Lucy nodded her head with the smallest understanding his words offered to her.
“I can see them out, Quint,” Lucy told him, “better you go up top where they can see you better, might make them less jittery around you.”
“Probably, but it could.”
Her retort almost made Quintus smirk, but he hid it appropriately, before taking her advice. “I’ll hear you if you holler.”
“The whole country will hear me if I holler.”
It feels almost inappropriate to laugh. What does that say about a friend who still wants to make you happy in a place like this? All kinds of things.
The Hotun people made way for Quintus, letting him up the steep steps first. Before he got to the top, he could hear the voices of his compatriots arguing already. I’m starting to understand how their whole continent could be at war if these people can’t get along.
Quintus greeted the light of the sun with thanks, much like the freed people around him. Not everyone was so enamored, but the light appeared to make their freedom seem real. While some more keys had been found to start freeing the Hotun of their chains, they weren’t quite so fast, and so Quintus didn’t blame the Hotun for not being quick to believe.
I’m sure the white people fighting doesn’t help.
Jack’s voice somehow rang across the boat, despite not being raised quite so loud. “I don’t know what your people did when there was a legion, but Harry’s not here to allow it. You will not kill an unarmed man.”
Quintus found Jack standing between Malum and the Kronish soldiers who surrendered.
Malum took a step and Jack put his hand to his own sword, anticipating that Malum was doing the same under his cloak. Malum tilted his head and offered, “Then give them a sword if that bothers you so much, I’ll kill them one at a time.”
“Not until they’re dead. We send them on their way, they will tell their superiors what happened and the circle within which they look for us will have become that much smaller.”
Malum has a point, it may be more a matter of safety than morality, Quintus thought. The best way to let the world know where the Black Legion was hiding, would be to spare those who have seen their faces. The flag of Iron Rock flew with their sails, there was no mistaking it.
Yet, Quintus bit his tongue to listen to his more talkative compatriots. They always needed the chance to throw out their bad ideas before they got to a good one.
Andy approached the Kronish captives herself and tried to test her Kronish on them. It’s not terribly different from Rayne, just a few more letters. Raydorn was spawned from Kronish refugees.
“<Who do you report to?>” Andy asked, with her group easily understanding her, though Astrid did chuckle at the pronunciation.
“Heavy on the ‘r’s,” the ax woman teased her.
Andy was giving Astrid the side-eye when the Kronish captive spit in her face.
Andy’s face tightened as the large loogy dripped down her nose. When it touched her mouth she was quick to wipe it and quicker to open her eyes. She was on him in the next second, hands around his throat, “You dirty little shit,” she called him.
Malum and Astrid did nothing but watch, Astrid even chuckling at the sight. Malum could have been as well, but Quintus had no way of knowing.
Jack alone ran to Andy. It would have been safe to assume he was trying to protect the guard from her, but the guards on their knees were moving around her. Jack saw it before Quintus could notice.
When Jack was there, the Kronish captives turned their heads away as if they weren’t moving to do anything. They tried to look as indifferent as possible as Jack came and pulled Andy back by her stomach.
“Andy stop!” Jack yelled at her as she struggled in his arms.
“Don’t touch me, Starshield!” she yelled back as she elbowed him in the face. “My foot is about to get lost in your ass!”
His head whiplashed a bit, but in his own anger, he threw her to the ground. When she stood to get back up, he made a rather insulting flex of his arm, blowing enough wind to undo her ponytail.
That left her cold on the ground, staring her hate at him rather than the man she was just strangling. As the two had their own staredown, they could hear someone clapping. It didn’t draw away Andy’s glare, but it did grab Jack’s attention. He could help but form a peculiar expression as Astrid laughed and clapped.
“She throws a mean elbow doesn’t she?” Astrid asked him.
“Yes,” he agreed, “yes she does.” Jack never stopped looking bewildered as he lowered his arm as he would a sword.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have stopped her,” Astrid suggested, which only garnered a glare from Jack. “Just saying, then your nose wouldn’t be broken, and if your nose wasn’t broken, then it could smell, and if you could smell, you’d smell all the horseshit coming out of your mouth.” Jack stared harder as she just shrugged. “Just saying.”
Jack ignored her as he touched his nose, assuring himself that it was only bruised, not broken.
Quintus sighed as his friends did more damage to each other than the enemy did. He raised his voice and they listened, “Let’s worry about our captives another time. We have people to save.”
“<How long before you speak about us?>”
Quintus turned around as an old man was pushed forth toward him, first from among the newly freed to stand and speak. Why is it always the old who step up? Especially old men? As if they know anything about the world that has watched them go by. Quintus looked to the younger amongst them, the adults with their children, and their children shaking in their arms, all at the sight of him. It took Quintus a moment before it dawned on him.
Because they are old, they have little to fear for themselves. If I am the monster they think I am… if we all are, better I beat an old man than a young one.
“<What do you want from us?>” the old man asked.
Quintus tried to speak but found himself speaking in Rayne, as he had grown accustomed. It’s… strangely easier to speak in my old tongue when I’m angry.
“<We would like to… offer you a trip home,>” he told them, nearly slipping back into his common tongue, “<whether that be back to Seca… or with us to our… base. We’re recruiting for our army, to protect ourselves in the coming war, but you don’t have to join.>”
The old man arched his brow. “<Why would we want to join with you?>”
“<We would treat you as fairly, you would have a place to live… away from those who first enslaved you, and those who tried to buy you. You could live or fight alongside us to your own whim, for the same pay as anyone else.>”
“<Pay? Pay with what?>”
Quintus had to keep from shrugging. ‘Pay’ is not the same for them. Most tribes aren’t exactly using money… if only Share had conquered this continent by now.
“<Well, nothing right now…>” Quintus said, “<we are a mercenary band and we are paid to do violent work.>”
“<Do we seem like warriors? Heartless demons of violence?>”
His words made Quintus wince. “<No, and we would not make you into one, but even an army needs people who can learn to farm, and build, and keep company… all for equal pay. You would be free men and women.>”
The old men turned to his people who had begun whispering amongst each other. Quintus could understand the dialect difference one on one, but he struggled to no avail amongst the whispers. The old man did not have the same problem. It seemed his hearing had not gone with his age.
“<We don’t have much of a choice,>” the man said.
Malum spooked Quintus again, appearing at his side, speaking his language, “<Of course, you have a choice.>”
Quintus’s brow furrowed. “<You… know our language?>”
Malum’s mask may have covered his face, but his cloak did not hide the shift underneath. So when he spouted his next words, “<I have been over the world,>” Quintus nearly slapped the mask off him.
“<Yet…>” Quintus spoke, with his voice dropping an octave, “<you made it seem as if you had not been here.>”
The old man coughed as if surprised that these two mercenaries would break into a personal conversation at a time like this.
Quintus looked away from Malum, trying not to scratch his head in embarrassment. “We’ll discuss this another time,” he told Malum.
The assassin only responded with one word, “Sure.”
Quintus apologized to the old man, “<Apologies.>”
“<We are at your whim.>”
“<You are free to interrupt me, to be as rude as you like, if not ruder than I have been.>”
The old man did not seem so intimidated by Quintus anymore. He raised his hand towards his chin as if it were his default thinking position. The goliath in front of him was just… too cordial.
“<Yes, that has been made clear,>” he muttered to himself, “<but… that is not what I mean. We don’t have any choice but to join you. We go back, our enemies will put us in chains again, then we will find ourselves setting sail to Lato again.>”
“<Lato?>” Malum asked, turning around just as he had turned his back. “<That’s no place I’ve heard of, though Krone is a big place.>”
Quintus on the other hand had a look of death. They weren’t… they couldn’t be going to him, he wouldn’t be so close to the war effort.
“<How… how did you come to this name?>” Quintus asked him, and the old man finally saw something that broke Quintus’s facade. But who could have expected to see fear?
The old man shared what he knew nonetheless though. “<Our captors repeated it, again and again, and our slavers said we were going to Lato. Is that not a city of the pale men?>”
Malum shook his head. “<Not that I’ve heard of, how about you? Quintus?>”
“<I… no, no never.>” Quintus found himself shaking his head, his hand to his face, as he found himself flashing back to the past yet again.
Just before nightmarish versions of the past could follow him, he found a small hand on his bicep. He lowered his hand from his face to find Lucy rubbing his arm, being an anchor.
Quintus shook his head, and let his hand hold Lucy’s as his arms were crossed before his chest. “<Does…>” he began to ask the old man, “<this mean you’ll come with us?>”
“<We have nowhere else.>”
“<Well, I’d like for it to be under better circumstances, but… we’re all the happier to have you all with us. We will treat you fairly, and do our best to protect you, and train you if you wish.>”
“<Train us…>” the old man repeated it, “<then we could protect ourselves.>”
“Yes,” Quintus answered, but then realized he said in the wrong language and repeated himself, “<yes.>” No one spoke of it.
“<If we were better trained, maybe our rivals would be here on this ship rather than us, or maybe more of us would just be dead. Maybe now we can assure that it doesn’t happen again.>”
Quintus looked between Lucy and Malum. The assassin nodded his head, and Quintus turned to Lucy.
“I can ready the planks,” she said, so they could start boarding the S.S. Lappy.
“There’s still the issue of our own captives,” Jack reminded them, stopping them in their tracks.
“Kill them,” Malum suggested almost immediately.
Quintus muttered to Lucy, “Go ready the planks, we don’t both have to listen to this.” She mouthed her thanks in response.
“Ugh, for gods’ sakes, no,” Jack told him, “we’re not gonna kill these people in cold blood when they’re defenseless.”
“They would not show you the same mercy.”
Jack threw his hands up in the air, yelling, “So?! Do I not want to be the better man?” His point may have been damaged by how emotional he grew compared to the stone-faced ghoul he was yelling at.
“The better man?” Astrid questioned, yet to have got up from her seat on the barge’s railing. “What use is being the better man? Lapis was the better man, the bigger man, the patient and forgiving man, and then the scum sun killed him. The better man turns his back and the worse man lives to tell the tale about it.”
“This isn’t a tale, Astrid,” Jack barked at her.
“Not yet, but it will be.”
As she gestured for the planks, Lucy groaned and whined at them, “Can we just put it to a vote or something? It’s just about the worst idea to sit here on open water just chatting about it.”
The old man, who had become the de facto leader and sacrifice for his people, had walked up to Quintus. Now comfortable standing beside him, he asked Quintus, “<What are they talking about?>”
Quintus’s first word was in Rayne again, and he had to think through his words. “<The fate of your slavers.>”
The old man pursed his brow. “<Do you need help deciding how to kill them?>”
Quintus sighed, understanding the turn of voice. “<We haven’t decided if we will.>”
Malum was quick to snipe at Jack in a language he couldn’t understand. “<Some of us have too much pity for too many people. It’s admirable in a way, but naive.>”
The old man was an even quicker sniper. “<Why are you making this decision? Are we not all people? Did they not hurt us?>”
Quintus was speechless, “I…”
Malum was not. “This man just made an excellent point,” he said, pointing to him.
Lucy, put her hand on her hip, waiting a bit before shrugging. “You want to tell us or do you just want to keep sounding smart?”
Malum turned to her as if to glare. She just shrugged at him again and stared back. “They are these people’s victimizers, should they not decide their fate?”
Andy spoke in a hush, her clear preference being their murder, “That sounds fair to me.”
“I just want them to make it quick,” Lucy said, “I was serious about not hanging around on open water.”
“It is something rare,” Astrid muttered, thinking to herself as the idea brought a wide crazed smile to her face, “to make something so fair!”
“We’re not talking about meat, Astrid,” Jack muttered under his breath, before coughing, and seriously agreeing, “though, yeah, this sounds fair to me.”
Malum pointed out to him, “They want them dead.”
“Ugh…” Jack groaned, finding his moral ground to be, well… mute. “At least that’s an easier pill to swallow than a death at your hands.”
Have I missed something?
“I misunderstand,” Quintus asked Jack.
“Malum is a trained assassin, a killer, he does this for sick fascination, why else act as if it’s a game? But it would be justice for the victims to decide the fate of their victimizers.”
Malum added, “This sounds arbitrary.”
“Morality often is,” Jack admitted, “doesn’t make it unimportant.”
“Isn’t that the point of arbitrary?” Astrid pointed out.
“No…” Jack said rather quickly, before thinking on the question, “at least, I don’t think so?”
Quintus turned to the old man, “<What is your name so that I may know your thoughts as you speak for your people?>”
“<Alabaster,>” he answered, “<but call me Basta, and our answer while you convinced yourselves to live up to your word, is death by our hands.>”
Quintus’s eyes flared at that response, but it is not surprising. I may understand that forgiveness is for the one who forgives, but that is a hard pill to swallow for victims such as this.
Still, Quintus asked Basta, “<Is that really what you want? Would sparing them not make you the bigger man? The better man?>”
Basta’s eyes narrowed, and waved his arms in front of him as he asked Quintus, “<What is this… this talk of better and bigger men? If they live, they go on unpunished, they get to do evil again, and by sparing them their evil becomes our own. If killing them is also evil, then I will take that evil upon myself. I will to go to their level to save the souls of others, but I do not believe it will be like that. Our shadows follow us, they see context even where we do not. I believe the Tani will be disappointed only if I go easy.”
To that, all Quintus would say is, “<I hope you’re right.>”
Basta offered his head towards Quintus, to ask a favor of him. “<Will you allow me your weapon, brother? Or would I taint it?>”
Quintus handed him the rungu club without hesitation, telling Basta, “<All weapons are made to be tainted, and this is no different.>”
Alabaster approached the Kronish captives wielding Quintus’s wooden club, which already had the blood of their comrades on its end. This would not be a quick death, the wooden ballpoint at the end would take many swings to kill in Alabaster’s hands.
Death by the sword would be quick; a stab through the chest, a slit of the throat, or even a beheading would all be quicker deaths. I wonder if Jack regrets not letting Malum cut their throats when he had the chance.
And as Alabaster raised his club, the Kronish man below spouted out what he could. “You walk as if we have a choice-”
Alabaster may be old, but his swing was mean. He knocked a tooth out and made the man bite on his tongue. It wasn’t pierced enough that he was going to choke on his own blood, but it was a horrifying sight to those watching.
Many began to board the S.S. Lappy at Lucy’s instruction, not looking to watch what was to happen to their captors, but enough stayed. They seemed to even line up as if waiting for their turn.
The Kronish man spit out blood as Alabaster readied the club again with a shaky hand. His first swing took much out of him to do the damage it did. Again, the man tried to speak before Alabaster could hit him.
“You think we all have…have…”
Alabaster went to swing before he could finish, but a hand held it at bay. Alabaster turned and found himself face to face with the helm of Eritusi. “<You can spare your vengeance a moment, he was saying something interesting.>”
Alabaster let go of the club and nearly stumbled back to the ground in horror of Malum. He may not be as tall as Quintus, but he still stood with an opposing figure of his own.
Malum also then offered the club to the rest of the crowd. “<Furthermore, who said only you should be able to beat them? I think the others should decide who gets to go next while I hear what this man has to say.>” Then he tossed the club at the feet of the Hotun, who looked to each other before speaking to themselves.
To the Kronish man, Malum asked, “What were you going to say before we kill you?”
“I… I said…” he spoke between his breaths, before falling forward onto the floor, unconscious from the previous blows to the head.
“Oh,” Malum huffed, “a shame.”
“He was going to say we have families,” another spoke up.
“Oh, another can speak, good,” Malum said as he and the Legion turned their ears to the next.
“Do all of you think we do this job because we enjoy it?! We have to put food on our tables just the same as everyone else here, so we do the dirty work the silk-robbed hags won’t!” Andy was the first to scoff and roll her eyes. She was the first the man locked eyes with. “You want to judge us? Those people you think you’ve saved were trying to do the exact same thing to their own enemies! But they’re innocent because they lost? Tell them! Tell them what you would have done if your tribe hadn’t been defeated!”
The eyes of the legion slowly turned towards the many different Hotun still on the ship, waiting to kill the Kronish soldiers. Quintus’s eyes fell on Alabaster alone.
“<He’s saying that if you had defeated your enemy, you would have sold them as they sold you,>” Quintus said, the question implied.
Alabaster hummed as he thought on it, and the man proved himself no liar. “<He’s not… he’s not wrong.>”
“He’s agreeing isn’t he?! Admitting to it!” the Kronish man yelled. Since death was going to be soon upon him, why should he hold back? He went so far as to say, “He knows he’s no better than us! That’s why he hates us so much! Why he wants to beat us with his club like the savage-!”
The man was silenced as he found a small nick on his neck. His eyes tried to see the blood he felt trickle down his skin, but they found himself on Malum instead, as the assassin was already sheathing his sword.
“Well, there’s one thing that makes us better…” Malum suggested as he watched the man’s veins turn black, and spread throughout his body, “we won.”
The paralysis was quick and set the man’s body on fire, locking him in place on his knees. Quintus had not seen Malum’s poison blade up close, and while he didn’t expect to like it, he’s more disgusted than he had anticipated.
“<Come on,>” Malum said as he gestured the first of the Hotun to come and raise the club, and one did.
She came with the club towards the man paralyzed in place on his knees, and she made it quick.
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