- January 22, 2023
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 38)
“A rose by any name… still has thorns.”
Princess Derilla of Raydorn, 439 A.C.A.
“<You know that archmage of yours is going to poison your coffee every chance you get?>” Andelyn told Lord Weisheng.
“<So do all of my sons, but I’ve developed a tolerance for poison and a nose for bullshit.>”
The two of them share a good laugh below the S.S. Lappy. At the same time, merchants were coming to fill it with gold, silver, spices, and everything else that can be used for money.
We did good, Andy thought to herself. We came, we saw, and now we’re leaving with a fuck ton of money. No more rationing food, hoarding weapons, or skimping on quality beer and wine.
We came for nothing else, nothing else at all.
She maintained the air of diplomacy with the lord, who due to this victory, just became a very powerful man in the newly empowered leading Regalic of Susanna. Basically, he just became the best person to have as a friend in this country.
“<Ah well, I bid you safe travels with your gold and your freedom,>” he told her as he took her hands in his, “<so that we may meet again both richer!>”
She matched his glee as he bid her adieu, and returned himself to his guards.
Finally, that’s over.
As Andy turned around, she couldn’t help but take notice of Malum and several of his black cloaks. Sure, the merchants would never notice, but how could Andy not?
Malum was the only assassin who came on this mission.
She watched them, her eyes staring straight at the three masked individuals, one small enough to be a child, all conversing as if they were inconspicuous. For trained assassins, you can always pick them out of a crowd with that getup.
But, when they do take it off, you never see them coming. That must make Malum the worst one of the bunch.
Soon, the taller one who wasn’t Malum locked eyes with her. He nodded to Malum, who in turn looked her way, just as she was crossing her arms.
He led them over, but just before he came to talk to her, the other two broke from him, and onto the ship.
“Who are the stowaways?” Andy asked him.
“My spies, I’m taking them home, can’t trust the archmage not to kill them.” Andy couldn’t help but giggle, making Malum tilt his head. “I don’t see what’s so funny.”
“You, that you think I’m that stupid or lazy to believe you, or that you think it was a good lie, you used to be so much better at it.”
Without missing a beat, Malum snarked back, “Did I get bad, or did I just start spending too much time with you?”
“Do you not like my company?”
“You’re not as agitating as most, but that doesn’t mean you’re not.”
Andy just waved him off. He’s not worth the headache, I’ll find out who the new guys are soon enough.
“Just make sure your refugees don’t stir up any trouble, on the boat or at home,” she told him.
“I told you they’re my assassins.”
“And let me tell you,” she said, stabbing her finger in his direction, “the day I believe you don’t have eyes on every crown, is a day when you’ve been dead for years.”
Malum slowly raised his hand to his chin, as if he was deeply thinking about the hypothetical. “Useful even after death, I think I’ll take that,” and take it he did as he walked up the ramp.
As the merchants finished paying the Black Legion what they were owed, Andy knew it was time to go home. It was a trip well worth the risk, but as any gambling addict can’t say, we should leave before the house makes us.
Andy walked up the ramp, the last one to get on the S.S. Lappy before some crewmates prepared to push the ship off the dock. Andy was immediately met by Malum, waiting for her at the top.
“Don’t look at the captain’s quarters,” he told her as he pulled her to a quiet corner of the ship, “pretend you’re talking to me and listen.”
She didn’t need to be told twice as she saw out of the quarter of her eye, Lucy’s first mate talking to the captain herself. It was obvious as she stood out of sight that she was avoiding the light.
Malum positioned himself between Andy and the two talking so Andy couldn’t see so much. Worse, even with how quiet this side of the ship was, she wasn’t able to listen to what they were saying.
“Fuck it,” Andy said before pushing Malum out of the way to walk towards the door.
Malum’s hands slumped to his sides as he looked up into the air and groaned. “Why do I ever expect someone to follow my lead?”
As he tried to catch up, Andy pulled the door away from the first mate to look at Lucy but she was covering herself in her blanket.
“What’s wrong with-”
“Fuck off,” Lucy told Andy when she tried to speak to her.
When Lucy tried to slam the door in Andy’s face, Andy made the mistake of trying to block it. With Lucy’s strength, the door nearly knocked Andy back, and the once-medic now-businesswoman had to shove it back with all of her might.
Andy ended up pushing Lucy back into the room, forcing the sea captain to stumble.
I shouldn’t have been to do that, Andy thought, looking at her biceps before waving it off. Nah, something’s wrong with her.
Lucy turned around and moved toward her bed in the smallest corner of the room. Andy stepped on her blanket long before she reached it.
The blanket unwrapped around her, and the snap of it whipped Lucy around. It made sense considering the sea captain was still wildly unbalanced.
“Lucy, what the fuck is your…” Andy was saying as the blanket fell away, and she could see Lucy in her sweat-ridden nightshirt, bloodied by healing wounds, nasty black bruises showing through her clothes, and-
“Where the fuck’s your arm?” Malum gasped as he appeared in the hallway.
“Get out,” Lucy growled.
Andy’s eyes remained unable to stop looking at Lucy. “What happened to you…” Andy said as she moved to touch Lucy, but in doing so, she overstepped.
Lucy responded by throwing her shivering fist straight into Andy’s chest, sending her flying back into Malum.
As Malum held Andy up, the medic stumbled to her feet, struggling to stand on her own. Lucy gave her no quarter, whipping out her arm, turning it into an octopus tentacle, and swinging it at them.
Malum pulled Andy right out of the captain’s chamber, just in time to miss the blow. Lucy slammed the door shut behind them in the same motion. As Andy clung to Malum’s arm and cloak, they heard the loud stomping of footsteps and the sound of the door’s lock clicking.
Andy and Malum stood frozen, looking at the knob as she still held onto him for dear life. “Well, I guess you’re not sleeping in there tonight,” he said.
“Fuck off, what was that?!” Andy said as she shoved him, or really shoved herself off him. “We were gone for what? A week? Couple days? What the hell happened?!”
“I would know this how?” Malum asked.
Andy rolled her eyes and looked around at the crew, and seemed to find no one. It wasn’t that no one was there, so much as no one would meet her eye. What did they do?
Andy moved to grab the first crew member she could, with Malum too slow to stop her. She grabbed him by the scruff of his shirt and shoved the man against the railing.
“Hey, hey! What gives-oh?!”
He didn’t have much to say after Andy slapped him and gripped him by the shoulder. Lucy may have easily manhandled her, but Andy had more than enough arm strength to stop this common man.
“What happened to your captain? In a week, she’s down an arm and no one will look me in the eye?”
The man trembled under the hateful gaze of her eye, able to produce nothing but stutters. The crew members watching feared how she would make him shit his pants, but thankfully it did not go on much longer.
“Leave him be, he didn’t do nothing,” the first mate called out to Andy as he approached.
The man’s arm went to grab Andy, and it seemed like she was about to let him until the arm of shadow thrust itself from where it laid in wait, and stopped him.
The first mate had seen the mask of Eritusi more than once in his time with the Black Legion, but never did it stare back into him.
“Unless you plan to tell us what happened, you won’t be stopping her,” the assassin warned the first mate, as he slowly lifted his arm, and stopped just before the twist.
Ignorance was ironic that it inspired both fear and bravery, typically to a pointless degree. In Andy’s case, ignorance led to the first mate risking his life, and in Malum’s case, ignorance led him to shut his mouth.
The truth is, in either case, he was bound to get a broken arm if he proceeded further. It didn’t matter who it was from.
But Malum inspired fear, so the pirate gulped as if he were staring down the shaft of a cross-bolt. He mustered up the fear to tear his arm back, step back, and speak.
“She was kidnapped, snatched right from the docks.”
“By who?” Andy asked as she let the ship hand go and scurry off.
“Don’t know the specifics,” the pirate said through the droll of his accent, spitting with every word, “some folk from home, where she’s from.”
“Krones?” Malum asked, and the first mate shook his head.
“From home before home, don’t remember the name.”
“Endica?” Andy asked, with this shocked expression on her face. They’d have to have crossed Gronina itself, through Krone, or sailed around Seca… both trips take years…
“I guess, they had her for a week, tortured her, took her arm. Some boy came and told us, and we helped her get free by setting the warehouse she was in on fire.”
“They outnumbered you by that much?” Malum asked.
The first mate shrugged before he crossed his arms, hiding his prized wrists from view. “Could have been, I supposed, didn’t get that inclination.”
“Then why didn’t you go in?” Andy asked. “Why trap her in a burning building, she was probably traumatized enough already!”
“Not to mention you could have killed her with that fire,” Malum added.
What the first mate said then, made Andy’s blood run a bit cold at first. The way his head twisted so slightly in confusion, just before he spoke, was not enough warning. “Risk our necks for her? Why? She wouldn’t do that for us.”
It took mere moments for Andy’s frozen blood to begin to burn hot. She didn’t know when her hands had taken the form of fists, nor when she took her first step, only that Malum’s arm was there to hold her back from this crew member.
The first mate stumbled back from the look in her eye alone.
“Get out of our sight,” Malum told him, “we want to be out of here the moment all of our payment is on the ship.”
The first mate rotated his jaw at the sound of Malum giving him an order. “You’re not my captain.”
“Surprised that you care about that,” Andy spat just before Malum pushed her back, trying to make her turn around, but breaking eye contact would not keep her from turning back around.
Malum ignored her as he told the pirate, “I just got us all that gold, so if you want to live long enough to spend it, do as I say, or I can throw you overboard…” then, stepping out of Andy’s way, “or I can just let her have at you.”
The dead stare of rage, made the first mate blink. It didn’t matter that he was twice her height when he was sure he wasn’t twice her weight. The way her shirt fit so tightly around her arms told him enough.
But that did not deter the disdain in his voice when he obeyed. “We’ll be on the sea the moment they’re done.” Then he was gone before Malum could tell him to get out of their sight a second time.
As he left, Malum turned to Andy, who looked at him. She couldn’t hold a gaze with him longer than a second before she moved to the railing. Her arms hung at her sides, and then they were over her head, just before slamming down into the wood.
Her arms trembled as the wood threatened to crack under her blow.
“This… this all…” She struggled to speak as her hands trembled.
“What, what’s wrong?” Malum asked, moving behind her in a way that his tall form shrouded them from the rest of the crew.
Her fingers dug into the wood, the points of them getting between the cracks and applying pressure as she spoke with a nasty growl benefiting of an animal. “This… all of it… is really starting to boil my piss.”
Then the wood gave way.
Sigma’s attempts at espionage have been proven in the field time and time again. She’s spied on kings, emperors, and princesses from the places they held most private, even with their trust. From her lips, the most private of secrets have been whispered into her master and mentor’s ears.
That’s what must have made it so confounding to her that she couldn’t seem to spy on anyone on the fucking Icy Pearl Isles.
First, was Quintus, the real-life giant if there ever was one, who snuck up on her. Then several times, Astrid called for her to come out, driving her to slip away. She tried to sneak up on Andy several times only to be offered a drink. Even Jack once threw a spear at her head, causing her to fall and somersault off a cliff.
The mermaids almost had her that time.
What was it about the Black Legion that made them immune to the tricks of the light, the silent footstep, and the innocuous bystander? The most well-worn bodyguards fell for tricks that the children of the Raze did not.
Sigma thought they would today, that she would finally catch the cult leader in the act of indoctrination, that which her master told her she would attempt on the kids.
She followed them as the cult led the kids down the beach, towards caves where they could all speak in private. The assassin followed from above, crawling full prone across rocky tunnels made by small animals for small animals. It led into the same cavern, letting her overwatch the group.
All logic would dictate that they didn’t know she was there.
Sigma made her way as she followed the humming children and the chanting believers. Below her, there was a bit of a pathway that allowed her to move faster as she overlooked the cult. She dropped down, making not a sound, and moving as if something without form. If not for the drastic difference in height, no mortal could have told the difference between her movements and that of her master.
As she crept over the edge, she saw them start to gather around this light. There was one lone hole in the ceiling, shining over this bit of sand. It was the perfect setting for a ritual for some dead sun god, or to call for vengeance upon his floating corpse.
Then, as they all got together in circles, some of the cultists set down a table and some stools on either side.
Sigma was quiet, despite the many thoughts running through her head.
Her eyes grew wide as she saw Penance Prim step from the crowd, dressed down to a sleeveless shirt and short shorts. She looked around as the crowd watched her, and she lifted her arms over her head.
“YOU’RE GOING DOWN!”
“PENNY PRIM! PENNY PRIM! PENNY PRIM!”
As all the kids started cheering, Sigma’s head tilted.
Then a man among the cult came out, shirtless, hard-chested, and a foot taller than Penny. When he walked into the circle, the cult cheered much the same as the children.
“Is this a fighting ring?” Sigma couldn’t help but whisper, as she watched the two in the circle hype the crowd up, and make their way to the table. “But, how can they…?” Sigma couldn’t think of anything other than questions as Penny Prim sat down across from the cultist… and offered him her hand.
The cheers only got louder until the cultist sat opposite of her… and clasped her hand.
Then the crowd exploded.
They began to cheer their champions’ names, the kids versus the cultists, each of them slack-jawed as they tried to out-scream and out-cheer the other, looking as intense as the contestants themselves as they tried to outmuscle each other in a…
“Are they arm-wrestling?” Sigma said to herself, her own voice masking the footsteps approaching her.
Sigma didn’t notice until the shadow made her feel a bit colder.
“Uff!” was the sound Sigma made as she was dragged back by her feet and scrapped against the ground in way that was less than dignified.
All she saw was blackness and random shapes as she was pulled to her feet and slammed against the nearest pillar, just out of sight of the arm-wrestling contest going on.
Sigma was dazed, but she tried to fight back, raising her legs to kick, but her own cloak was twisted into a noose around her own neck. Sigma’s attacker used it to manuever her neck and make her look at her.
“Astrid?!” Sigma questioned as she looked down at her shorter attacker.
“Hello, shadow,” the ax-wielder taunted her as she pushed the assassin harder against the wall.
Sigma was forced to look down at the cult leader’s smirk and focus on it despite all the noise behind her. The assassin looked around, trying to find where Astrid could have come from, but there was nothing but darkness… and a well-worn path… one that led all around the cave.
“You knew I would be here,” Sigma realized.
“There were only three good spots you could be without being seen, it’s why we host the arm-wrestling tournament here.”
Sigma repeated under her breath, “Tournament…?”
“It’s fun for the kids,” Astrid said, twisting her grip on Sigma to tighten the cloth around her neck.
“You… you knew I was following you,” Sigma said.
“Uh yeah, I always know, your tricks don’t work on me, I’m not some fat bureaucrat.”
“But… but why lead me here?”
Astrid threw Sigma to the ground, leaving her to roll a bit over the jagged rock. Sigma wrapped herself in her cloak, but her cloak couldn’t hide the way she winced in pain. The shadows failed to hide Astrid’s smirk just the same.
“Why lead you here? Plain and simple,” Astrid said with a shrug, “to fuck with you, or really, to fuck with Malum. He thinks I’m crazy, and… well, I have no problem letting him believe that. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of me, so tell him I played you, or lie to him, say that I’m as crazy as he thinks.”
Astrid walked over to Sigma and made sure to place her shoe just inches from Sigma’s fingers, but Sigma didn’t flinch then.
Astrid looked down at the assassin as her kids and her followers became uproarious, cheering the name of their victor.
“PENNY PRIM! PENNY PRIM! PENNY PRIM! PENNY PRIM!”
Astrid kept her hands behind her head and stared down as all the shouting seemed to vibrate Sigma’s body in this enclosed space. It was like they were trying to send her organs into overdrive. The first signs of it could be felt coming up her throat…
…and she wore a mask.
“I’ve made a fool of you both now,” Astrid said as she looked towards her flock, throwing their hands in the air in celebration and trying to throw a laughing Penny up and down, but she was a bit too heavy for the smaller kids.
Those kids crack me up.
The so-called cultists came and helped so Penance could crowd surf and the kids could help as much as they could.
‘They can be nice when they want to be.’
“True,” Astrid said, which made Sigma go ‘huh?’
At the sound of Sigma’s confusion, Astrid turned back to the assassin who dared not escape her. “Now you have to figure out, Miss Pole… is it better to shame yourself before your master, or let him play the part of a fool. I’m interested to see, to say the least.”
Astrid walked to the edge, prepping to jump the story to the sand and rejoin her flock, but just before she did, she made a comment out the side of her mouth, one Sigma heard well enough.