Dark Deeds and Maddening Echoes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a story about Diana, a traveler-merchant, who unwittingly gets involved in a conflict between the vengeful and the greedy, where she eventually turns of both sides.
This is a story about revenge but in a sense that what if, it was looked though someone from the sidelines, and what if said person had greater agency than those who perpetuated events, expected. A wild card in a sense.
The conflict itself is quite small, nothing world changing but with repercussions that reach father than it seems to the characters in the moment.

Submitted: June 13, 2019

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Submitted: June 13, 2019

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Dark Deeds and Maddening Echoes

 

“Karma at its core is a simple concept: Thought, action, consequence. But the man of greed and lust and rage and pride are blind to these simple fundamentals and will remain wilfully ignorant of their mortality. An evil mind, an evil sword, an evil act will inevitably invoke the disrupting ripples that will create an inevitable backlash, a counter action if you will. So remember this: The Karmic debt will have to be paid with your blood or your atonement.”

- Tiberius Varius Nonus - Ninth of The Lost Thirteen.

 

Part I.

 

Pale Harbour was a small but well kept settlement, despite its size, it flourished under the supervision of the Pearl-Counts. But no city was truly safe. On these murky streets stumbled through the wanderer-merchant Diana, albeit this is not the name, she calls herself for the most time, on this place, she saw no reason to fake it, though the merchant was only a matter of income, not true profession. Head light and walk serpentine from the rum, white shirt unbuttoned, deep enough to make mothers and fathers disapprove. She hummed snippets of a tune in between lifts of her precious jar. She walked, initially towards her resting place, a room she rented on the east corner of the town but in the moment, she cared little whether if she finds her own bed or not.

Suddenly, she had strong, bare arms wrapped around her shoulders, she felt being lifted and soon the coarse wall against her face. One hand held her while the other worked rapidly, tearing at her shirt and trousers. Instinctively she snapped her head back and hit something solid with it, a chin or a nose. The grab weakened and with both legs, she pushed against the wall. Not being pinned down, she was able fight against the attacker until the hold became weak enough for her to slip out and with a wide swing, break the jar on a masked face.

She laughed as her opponent, unbalanced and surprised, fell on to the cobble stone ground. She felt his pain bursting, flowing out, invigorating and arousing her. The wicked hunger in her, slumbered no longer for torment fed her and her appetite was hard to satiate. She jumped on the man punching, clawing at him, her blue eyes shinning with cruel indignation. “Go on, you wanted me. What’s wrong now?!” She snarled as he flailed at her.

Somewhere in the distance, knockings of boots echoed. Her attention disrupted her attacker had the gall to deliver a punch on her cheek and push her off of himself. Quickly she found herself on her butt, dazed and confused. The knocking came closer and with it shouts, dog barks and tiny lights. Shapes formed in the night, two man clad in white with lantern and a slim, light brown furred dogs. “Seize your disruption!” heard the shout.

She looked puzzled at them as the world spun and twirl around her. Her hand on her waist, she was looking for her sabre but found nothing there, though she herself had no idea why did she wanted to draw it, otherwise. “Who are you and what are you doing?” The two towered over her.

“I… I… “ Words came heavy to her mind. “W… Where is my sword?! Where is my hat?!” She looked around but suddenly she felt the gag reflex in her throat and puked on the ground. “Take her inn, she is done.” Said one of the man.

 

In the morning she woken with a sour headache, as if a hot metal rod was inserted behind her eyes. When she opened her eyes, she was welcomed the far too familiar, welcoming sight of prison bars. Beyond them were a dusty, dimly lit room with large tables and piles of paper on them. Pearl Guards- the city guard all dressed in white uniform with bright gold buttons and red waist sashes. None of them seemed to pay attention to her except one. A dog, brown, short fur with patches of white, long pointy ears and eyes, brown, full of curiosity. She smiled at the little sentry who tilted her head left and right. “Did you found something interesting there, Mimi?” A man spoke with considerably more finesse than most people she met here. He came to the bars, gave a good scratch to the dog while deeply inhaled from his pipe. Average in height and a little wide at the waist, he was a man somewhere in his fifties. Black hair, short and tidy, moustache, pointy, amusingly pointy, to be precise. “I guess she likes you.” He said.

 

Diana pushed herself on to a sitting position, face buried in hands. “I suppose I’m glad she does. Why am I here?” The man took a deep draw from the pipe and exhaled a thick white cloud. “I am Constable Arwel. The town guard took you in, last night. You were waisted, you were in a fight with someone. We though to put you here for safety measures.”

“A fight? Yes, I… I think I remember… but it is blurry and vague. I don’t know…” She mumbled then looked at her torn cloth, touched her bruised cheek and slowly the realization kept crawling up in the back of her neck. The hands, her laugh, the flesh against her flesh, the flesh under her nails. She tried to push it down, bury it under cold resignation. “I’m fine, he said I’ve been in a fight. I’ve been in a fight and nothing more.”

“Can I leave? Did anyone saw, who I did fought, where did that happened? Where is my sword?”She asked.

“I see no reason to charge you but as far as I have heard, no one saw who was the other. I’ve been told that he looked like a man in all black, probably wore a mask and as far as I know, you had no weapon on you. What do you think you would do anyway, my dear?”

 

Her glance fell on her bloody nails.“I’m not decided yet.” She forced a smile on her face. “I suppose I would tell you and you would act, according to the law.”

The Constable shook his head slowly, his eyes glittered with playful amusement. “Nonsense, you are trouble, I can see it from far. Comes with the experience, you know. But yes you may leave Lady… Uhm…”

“Diana, just plain, simple Diana.”

“Ah yes, Lady Diana. You may leave but try to keep out of trouble’s way, we will conduct the investigation.” The cell door opened -apparently it wasn’t even closed- and the Constable helped her on foot, kindly. Feeling uncomfortable, Diana shifted her weight from one foot to the other, until she found her balance. “Is this necessary? If it was only some brawl, there’s no point in pursue.” She wondered.

“Perhaps but it certainly gives me the opportunity to stretch out my old bony legs, take a good walk and get away from the pile of papers, I condemned to work on.” The man had a cheery tone and a loose tongue so Diana was hardly surprised when he flung himself into a tangent. “Back in my days, some fifteen years ago, this place was a filthy and dangerous place. Pirates, bandits, savage tribesman, Sobekan skirmishers and many more. I was part of a mercenary group, hired by the Pearl Counts -although that’s not how they called themselves, then- to bring order to this primeval land.” He looked at the piles of paper with a somber irritation in his eyes. “Apparently we did our job, little too well.” He said.

Diana sighted heavily, she knew what it is to be in battle, to be drenched in soil and blood and filth, once a pyromancer, a priestess of Kyrodan, she faced many foes and did not missed the experiences, no matter how much her heart yearned the bloodshed.

Still, thinking better than to ruin the Constable’s mood, she decided to meekly smile and thank him for his services, albeit when she left, he made a somewhat snide remark of her stench. On foot, she went back to the inn, she had her room rented, asked for a hot bath and some food. A few tomatoes, bread, butter and cucumber.

But as she sat in the water, she merely stared at her own reflection on the water, The blonde hair, the blue eyes, the spiral mark, burnt on the left side of her face. She had no appetite only the memories crawling up on the back of her neck.

Eventually she snapped out of this wallowing state and decided to conduct her own investigation. She dressed in clean clothes with back up sword and dagger, hanging on her hip. She inhaled deeply, picking up a colder demeanour. Normally she had no special affection to most of her weapons other than a few special ones. They were merely tools, adequate or in-adequate, depending on context but there was one crucial rule, she’s been taught from early on, a rule she failed to upheld, last night: Never-ever be disarmed!

 

She strolled down the crowded streets, filled with all manner of people, feeling more like a hive than the orderly monastery, she grew up in. The people swelled around her, tides smashed against the shores of clay and wood structures and in there she was but the mere pebble, carried by the currents. She made her way to the tavern named: The Drunken Dwarf, the place where she spent the last night, or so she assumed for it was the most popular of all. It stood separate from other building, on its own right there at the edge of the harbour. A large two storied building, once a grain storage turned into an easily to access, albeit rather expansive entertainment place. The outside was a patchwork of miss-matched planks on the grey wooden walls and black roof. The place has seen better days for sure and was in constant need of fixing and carpentry, still the front door of finely carved ebony, stood with poise and pride. Probably the most precious part of the tavern. It is a smaller miracle it has not been stolen yet, she noted.

She heard a bark from behind, and she found that it was the same or at least similar dog of brown and white, she saw at her cell. The beady eyes shinned with excitement and the long tail wiggled wildly behind her. She patted the dog’s head, scratched her ears and wondered where’s the owner of this happy little flea bag.

“She likes you.” She heard the familiar voice. It was the Constable, uniform unbuttoned at the neck puffing grey clouds. He took a deep draw from his pipe then wiped the sweat from his forehead with a napkin. “What are doing here, good Constable, still investigating?” She wondered.

“Ah, I merely probing around, wandering, asking some questions, here and there. And you, I though you could not bear the sight of a tavern for a day at least.”

“Let’s just say, I conduct an investigation of my own. You see, I had a sword that I lost last night, I want to get it back.” She said.

“Strange, I see you already have another. What’s the matter of that peculiar sword, is it souvenir or perhaps even magical of some sort?” He said playfully.

“No, it is just a sword, still I must find it, I broke my rule to never be disarmed, I dishonoured myself. Getting it back, is the least I must do.” She let her frustration glow through her words, despite her attempt at politeness.

“A strange sense of honour, I say, but I shan’t be judgemental of it.” He chuckled then waved at the door. “Ladies first.”  

 

The Drunken Dwarf was livid and noisy. The establishment had enough space to entertain dozen upon dozens of people. Sailors and travellers and mercenaries drank themself to the ground, played dice and card games, postured and loudly told their, no doubt exaggerated stories. Courtisanes circled around man who yearned for their services while musicians and bards tried gather some fortune for songs and poems. The place had no shortage of less than savoury people, however Diana had some experience with such kind, even though it is not something, she would announce loudly.

 

Through the miasma of flesh, sweat and odour of sea and rum, she and the Constable made their way to the bar where an obese middle aged women, shout and laughed loudly. Long black hair held in tight knot, face like a fat wrinkled dog, tiny green eyes, a thick neck continuing down to wide shoulders and chubby arms. A tall, slim man of thin beard and hear had said something inaudible to her to which she responded with a heavy slap that knocked the man back at least a feet or two.

As she looked at Diana, at first somewhat confused but then motioned to her cheerfully.

“Ah, you are back sweetie, time for another round?”

“Do you know me?“

“Whoa, could I forget someone like you?” She laughed and slapped the wood under her meaty palm. “You sang and danced on this very bar, ha, ha! Broke a few jars on the stinking heads of seamens. Ha, Ha!”

Embarrassed and furious, Diana could not look into the eyes of the woman nor the Constable or anyone else, her eyes fixed on a cup, nearby, she forced an apology out. “I will compensate you for the damage, I caused. That I promise.” But the bar keeper waved it away with a bellowing laugh.

“I would like to know something, I’m looking for my sword. Did I had it on me, last night? Did you saw someone took it from me?” Diana asked but to her disappointment the fat lady just spread her arms and shrugged. “I don’t know, ask the one you were with. He’s a pretty boy, look he sits right there!” She pointed at a table in the corner, where handful of people sat. Without hesitation, she thrust through the crowd, with an almost reckless momentum. One of them, a man- blonde hair flowing from beneath a black sash, un-shaved but handsome features, under a pair of smoky quartz- smiled at her, an arm, wrapped around a brown haired girls shoulders, while the other raised a bottle at her. “Came back for more, little bird, or you prefer older meat, today?!” He made a remark at her and Constable Arwel. Diana cared little for his word but the Constable took it badly, though. “Careful now, for you, I could arrange that the only meat you ever see is fish. At least for a year or two.”

The sailor smiled, palms held up as a sign of dishonest surrender. “You won, my good friend, Constable.”

“Do you know him?”

“Gustav, the captain of the ship: The Merry Horn-bill, but I supposed, you know him better.”

“Oh, she knows me, very well.” The man winked at her, which she welcomed with a flat expression. “I’ve been told I was with you last night, did I had a sword, do you know where it is?” She asked.

“Oh, yes I remember, you had one, a fine curved blade. I think it’s in my room, if so, it must be still there.” He said.

“Why would you have it there, did you snatched it from me, while I was drinking?”

“No, not at all. You left it there when we… well, spend our night together.”

Diana’s eyes narrowed, her frown contorted from indignity and frustration and shame. “You took advantage of me?”

“Me?!” He said, much more offended than, she expected. “You jumped into my arms, whispering dirty in my ears and demanding to do it like the rabbits.”

She gasped heavily, slowly shaking her head. “Just let me have my sword back.”

 

They left their little corner, moving upstairs with an urgent pace to Gustav’s quarters. In there, cloths and blankets lied around, crumpled, wine, grog and quite likely body fluid stained. The air was filled with the smell of chestnut from the smokes of incenses, with and human sweat. The memories begun the take shape now. There was an strange sense lingering in this room. She remember how she crawled on her hands and knees, like a wolf, hunting to satiate her primal needs. Somehow it felt so distant, so alien, as if she was never there and yet, her mind and body she knew it was true. Suddenly she realized the captain in front her,with her sword in hand.

There was noise coming from outside. Apparently in the room, next to his, there was a some kind of confrontation. She and Arwel went out, searching for more to hear. A large black man came out, shouting and angry, his dread locks, flailing in the air. He pulled out a smaller man by the arm, bald and shorter, sunburnt skin and a goatee, fined into a point. Behind them came a girl, not much younger than herself but blonde just like herself. She was bleeding from the mouth and purple on her left eye. “You can’t use my girls without pay! Get out, you midget!” The black man shout. The short one, twisted himself free, made a long line of obscene remarks and strolled down the hallway, right towards the Constable and herself. Then she saw his right arm filled with deep scratch marks. With steely fingers, she grabbed his wrist, her blue eyes staring down into the bewilderment pair of grey. “You attacked me?” She asked and his surprise gave way to a sense of revelation. A fist came quickly at her belly but two decades of training and experience drilled into her muscles, allowed her to soak up the damage, with relative ease. She kicked at him, in response and to her surprise the man avoided it, with a cat’s finesse, smashed his body into hers and darted into a sprint. Recklessly and ruthlessly, she pursued him, down to the hall, cutting through the crowd. He called out and two sailors appeared between Diana and him, with a threat. She pulled out her dagger, slashed at them, though only to scare, not to kill. The move worked, the backed away, giving her path but it was too late. When she got out to the streets, when she tried to fight through the people in chaos out there, she found the grim realisation that she lost him. Even Mimi, the dog was helpless, she did not know his smell enough and there was too much of it on the streets.She went back inside with fury.

The two sailor was sitting on the ground, moaning from pain their face and arms bruised and darkly spotted. She looked questioning at the Constable, standing over them. “They resisted.” He said, bemused and calmly.

“You!” She spoke to one of them. ”Where did you friend gone?”

“He’s not our friend, we don’t know.” Said one. “He ain’t our friend, that I say, little we know of him!” Said the other.

“Lie. You came to aid him when he called. You know something and you will speak!” Sternly, she glared down at the two, heart beating in her chest, loud and fast, in her ears, in that moment, she was willing to do anything to get what she wanted. Eyes, narrowed, she drawn her dagger, slowly and threateningly. “I will cut it out from you, one layer at the time.”

 

The Constable’s eyes thrust deep into her own, surprised and weary, yet his voice assured and confident. “Go, now, My Lady! Take a walk and a deep breath.” And when she ignored him, he stepped between her and them. “I insist!”

She gave in, subdued, sheathed her weapon and left. She walked down to the harbour, her mind clouded by anger, the crowed seemed to divide in front of her, as if they could sense the boiling venom, behind her eyes. Eventually she found herself at the edge of an empty dock, staring into the great azure-turquoise sea, as it’s gentle waves limboed, back and forth, but tranquillity, she could not find. “Had he know who and what I am, they would’ve not dare to act like that. Had he know the names I rejected, he would fear to lay eyes upon me. Had he know the blood I spilled, the dead I piled, the torment I spread, he would cower and snivel in terror! They all would do as such, the stinking, uncivilized, dribbling herd. A cattle that’s mine to slaughter!” She thought. And then she recognized the all to familiar feel: The shaking, the sweat, the incoherently flailing heartbeat. She looked at her palm, bitten deep by nails and forced to conclude that she is loosing control.

How foolish, she felt. She had been through worst, she had faced foes far more powerful than these, she saw more death than these people did - much of it was her folly. The memories kept crawling up on her spine, they coiling, sticky tendrils, reaching up to her mind. “Go away!” She said to herself. Eyes closed, she breath deep, yearning for the scent of sea to wash her mind pure, to wash away the dark deeds and maddening echoes of once was. And failed.

Boots were knocking behind her, the Constable Arwel with her sword in hand and his dog by his side, his expression inquisitive and hardly cheerful. “How do you feel?” He said coldly.

“Boiling.” She spat

He sighted heavily. “Where are you from?” Initially surprised by the sudden change of subject, she eventually saw the opportunity of diverting her thoughts to something more pleasant. “Carynthi.” She said. His eyes widened, pleasantly. “You got very far from you homeland. Now I remember where did I heard that accent, still you speak Sailors’ Siren well.”

“I learned it from my… Love.” She said somewhat mellowed but still stiff. “A husband, who’s the fortunate?” The Constable smiled.

“A Pirate Lord, we weren’t married.” She shrugged. “Long story.” She returned his smile.

“And the rest of the family? Parents, siblings?”

“In Carynthi, our relationship are not the most ideal, they weren’t particularly thrilled by my choices in life. Still, I love them and I believe they love me.” She said and it was true, if only to a certain extent. “Father gave me his glaive when I left. Mother was… somewhat less gentle.” She sighed deeply and gave an apologetic look to the Constable. “I’m sorry, I lost control of my temper, in there.”

“You are restless aren’t you?”

“I ashamed myself! I lost my weapon, my dignity, honour, I’m a drunk and a whore.” She said.

“Now, now, no need to be so harsh on yourself, you slipped, made some mistakes. It is not all that bad.”

“I made far more mistakes, than you’ll ever now.”

The Constable hummed, understandingly. “This is not about what happened, there, I suppose.”

She said no more, only folded her arms and turned towards the sea. Moments passed in silence, grinding, moving slowly, until she broke it. She looked at the Constable and smiled an artificial smile. “I’ll be fine. Did they tell you something?”

“They said, he once talked about a smaller island, south, few days from here. But that’s not under our jurisdiction nor any ships there. He will probably go and lay low for a while but we cannot follow.” Now he stood square on to her, expression darkened into a frown. “The two said, he did talk about his… friends. Smuggling activity is quite alive beyond our boarders and smuggler often business with pirates.” He said.

“Do you suspecting pirates? Can this harbour defend itself, if they attack?”

“On it’s own, not. Our peace and prosperity has been secured by the reputation of the Pearl Counts, not the size of our forces. We can build many strong ships, we can hire lot of skilled warriors but the system is slow and the Counts are avaricious. They won’t spend, unless it is utmost necessary and if I’m wrong, they’ll have my head.”

Immediately, she understood the implication. “You need a scout.”

He nodded. “And I can persuade Captain Gustav to give you a free trip there.” He smiled, warmly. “I don’t know how’s your relationship with your gods but there’s a small shrine up there on the hillside. You are not the first Carynthian, who came here. Met us here, midday.” He offered the sword, which she took with a shaking hand, a detail, he no doubt recognized.

“Thank you.” Her smile was earnest this time, though not because of what he said but because he believed it would help her soul. These small gestures of compassion were always too rare and she wanted to saviour it.

 

But she did not go to the shrine, it did not seemed right, she felt her presence would taint it. Instead she walked back to her apartment, relieved herself of the armour pieces, boots and upper garments. Thus she did the one thing that always trusted to bring tranquillity: Drilling. The curved blade, steady in hand but not clutched moved slowly first, her breathing, deep and measured, her barefoot easy yet confident on the wood. Thus she moved through the first set of sequences of her chosen form: The Emerald River.

A fencing form taught amongst the ranks of military, nobility and The Scions of Kyrodan- The Priesthood. The preferred form of the School of Cornelia a subset of the Scions.

According to the lore it was devised a hundred and fifty years ago by the Centurion-Sword Master Antonius Kaito Vitus when he had to attend to an important duel to settle a dispute, of which details are interpretations vary, perhaps nobody really cares about it, at this point. What matter is that for many nights, he was restless, tormented by dreams. His opponent - Rin The Stone-heart- was known to be a vicious and uncompromising opponent with strength and speed and aggression few could withstand. But he was no unskilled fool either. To defeat him, Vitus needed an edge. A day before the duel he went out fishing to the nearby river and there he was found by a profound revelation. And the concept of the Emerald River has born. Needless to say, in the end he defeated Rin with the new techniques, battered and injured but he was victorious.

She begun to move quicker, breath sharper yet still consistent as her sequences increase in pace and complexity.

The form emphasised, crispness and precision with swords. Not to be the fastest or the strongest, or to be the unstoppable or be the unmovable but to be where one should be, in the moment when one should be. To flow around the opponent like river currents. The emphasis was not solely on the technical cut and thrust method but carried the purpose of achieving a state of mental purity, where the practitioner’s mind was not contorted by fury, desire, desperation, doubt or fear of failure and any other distracting thoughts. To strip down one self to nothing but a force of nature. Of instinct and untouchable perfection. To defeat one’s enemy, not by crushing them like a rock but to drown them like water. Grace, finesse, artfulness.

Her own personalized version was more insidious in approach. She perverted it with the goal of targeting the opposition’s mind instead of achievement of internal beauty. Break, confuse, and erode the enemy’s composure, defeat their spirit before they engage in body. It was a necessary “addition” to her skill-set, for without the ability of pyromancy, she had to take advantage of her, newly developed affinity of leeching on the torment of others. Against more than two or three well skilled opponents, even the greatest swordman run an enormous risk, a single, slip or momentary lapse in judgement can end in a quick demise. But such holy- or in her case unholy- powers can decide a contest of one against many.

She stopped, suddenly, blade standing still in the air, her hand shook no longer, as it had been before, the drill cured her anxiety and with it came the realization. It was not the fight that upset her so much but the intent behind it. He did not attacked her because some unhinged primal desire, he did it because he wanted to humiliate her, to break her, it was quite simple, really. Why would there be any more complexity behind any of it, after all? With solace in her heart, she knew what will she do now, there was no anger nor lust for vengeance in there, only calm conscious. “You will not escape me, this time.”

 

The sun shined bright over the harbour, its honey like pathways trailing down on the blue and turquoise satin of the sky and sea. Like a jewel in the green and bone-white shell of an oyster, the city was in-bedded into the island’s mouth. That jewel was pierced by at least a six tiny, brown needles and many smaller ships, like flies. At one of the docks stood three figure, apart from the surrounding crowd. After they finished their conversation, one of these ships had departed, it sailed on the silky waves with a swift momentum. For the most, Diana spent the travel in her small and minimalist room. The way she usually like it. She interacted little with the others, even Captain Gustav, who she had her affair. She saw no reason to do anything with it. It would be just another distraction. And during those days a particular sensation begun to overcome her, like a distant echo of a familiar sound, or a scent she knew she felt before, and on the fifth day, she woke with certainty.

Even from the ship, from where the seamen could only see smoke and fire. She could feel the sharp, invigorating sensation and when she laid foot on the island, it was as if she was to be washed away by the intoxicating madness. The island was ravaged. The fishing village was burned to the ground, it’s inhabitants were brutally tortured and murdered. The ones who died by the sword were the lucky ones but the rest? They found men who were skinned and mutilated or impaled on spikes, woman and children were beheaded or being burned on a stake. Gustav and his crew were horrified, some of them even threw up. Apparently the smuggler’s stomach is not strong enough to handle this sight. She felt like walking in a gloomy swamp where dark tendril of corruption crawling up on her legs to her mind. “To do such is requires to be a gleeful madmen or a detached executioner. To order such is requires to be an indulgent savage or a cold hearted criminal. Either way, Karmic Justice, will find its way. Through me or through us or someone else, it matters not.”

“We will bury them. That’s the least they deserve.” Gustav said and Diana wanted to agree but she feared they will waste valuable time. Whoever did this was not alone, were not lightly armed and certainly was not hampered with a small ship. This was the doing of pirates of some sort, on that the two agreed but while he wanted to do the honourable, she wanted to get away as far as she could. This place was tainted by the pain and suffering, occurred, and she felt, she will soon become drunk on it, which she was desperate to avoid. It is too dangerous for the people around. “I will scout the rest of the area. Maybe I can find survivors.” She said.

“Very well.”

The vegetation was thick, trees with thin trunk reached high above her, their leafs and branches meshed into a thick but spotty jade cover from the sun, where the light fell through the holes forming pillars of blissful gold. However she found smaller pathways through the forest, probably used by the villagers. She wondered if there’s another one established deeper but no survivors. She found something else, however.

One large mansion and a stable, abandoned and empty. Their wooden roof grown rotten, the stone walls turned grey, green grass and vines crawling through the gaps between. She found corpses butchered the same way as in the village. Dragged out to the open, tied to the ground or burned at the stake, though she only found five, this did not diminished her repulsion. But at least the taint was less intoxicating. There were stakes hammered into the ground in same way she saw on the beach but there was no body. She walked up to the front door, double winged with iron framing but the door was broken and bent, wood splinters inside. “Somebody has broke in.” She deducted.

In the great living room on the floor, she found a shattered harpsichord, couches with torn fabric, painting frames without picture. At one part, where the carpet was thrown aside, . Diana moved up to the second floor, the filthy planks, moaned and screeched under her feet. Meticulously searching through the rooms. Most of them were roughed up in the same manner but on the end of the hallway there was one that particularly pained her heart. A room with a toppled cradle in it, a doll, thrown in the corner, the furniture destroyed. She picked up the doll, carefully. Its blonde hair was dirty and partially missing, its once bright pink clothes were stained with black. She examined the cradle

 

She returned to the beach where the crew still worked but loud shouts begun to stir them up from their monotonous activity. A ship on the horizon, merely a speck at first but it was closing in fast, growing bigger and bigger until she was able to saw its flags, bare eyed. A silver circle on black on the main and a smaller yellow and blue flag above. She was unfamiliar with both but according to Gustav, the yellow and blue meant, initiation to communicate, the other was meant for identification but of whom, he did not know. Quickly they jumped into their boats and returned to the Merry Hornbill.

In shallow water, the arriving hulk stood parallel to their own and dropped its anchor. On the deck stood a man, close in age to Constable but clean shaven, hair, ashen grey. His eyes were inquisitive and cold like a reptile. Features, gaunt, sunken almost like a sickly hawk. His clothes were all black with no trinkets or ornaments, visible. There was cold smile on his face and ill intent in his eyes. He called out. “I want to talk to your captain!”

The stranger came over to their ship. He was accompanied by a large, heavy built man, bald and pale, a dedicated body guard, probably. ”I am Leon Drovan, captain of the Silver Eclipse. I am the Iron Wolf, pirate. And what happened there was our doing.”

Gustav seemed to taken a back from this blatant admission at first. “And I’m captain Gustav of the Merry Hornbill. How may I serve you, fellow captain?” He forced out an artificial smile, under which Diana could feel the anger and intimidation. He was no doubt thinking of his crew. Or his own skin, she could not tell.

“I suppose you are familiar with Pale Harbour and the Pearl Counts, I want you to deliver a message to them. I want the city surrender in seven days, you get five days of travel, one day to discuss the, and one day to give yourself in. To resist is to risk severe consequences, if you obey we will be merciful. Our goal is your fortune, not your lives.”

“I can deliver if it’s necessary.” He shrugged. “No problem for me but I’m kind of a curious man. Why? Why do you do this and why did you destroyed this village?”

Leon scoffed and spoke irritated. “My motivations are my own and what happened here is a the warning. You will submit, your city will submit, now go and be a good little errand boy.”

She felt the sense of worry disappear in Gustav and being replaced with a colder, grimmer realization. “As you wish.” He said then turned on heels and left. “A cold hearted criminal.” She thought as threw one long glance at Captain Leon. Diana followed Gustav back and did not stopped at the ship only. She followed him into his own cabin, which annoyed him more than anything. “Leave me, I have to think.”

“What is that? ” She asked.

“Do you know why did I chose to be trade ship captain?” He asked but Diana could only answer with a blank look. “Pirates doesn’t have a very long life expectancy, go quick, get rich, quit while you can. I am a trader because it is safer, better connections, longer life. That man is simply too old to be a regular pirate.” He said.

“Maybe he is better than most pirates. He seemed cold, calculating, he probably thinks before move, carefully choosing the path of least resistance to his goals.”

“Maybe, maybe he has connections and powerful backers, that ship of his is military design, lots of guns, little cargo. It demands a large and disciplined crew, pirates are hardly known for the later. No, he is not a pirate, that I’m sure of. He’s probably employed by a rival of the Pearl Counts: The Hdvarjin Colonist or the Meridian Trade Company. Or someone else, I’m not sure and probably better not to know.” Gustav said.

“What are you going to do then?” Diana asked, although, she herself did not know what answer did she expected or what answer was reasonable to expect.

“I do what he said and pray for the best. The rest is up to the Pearl Counts, they have to money to amass some good ships but under two days, it won’t gonna happen.”

“And nothing will stop him. Is that it? You don’t do anything?” As silly as it seemed, she still hoped for an answer that would help to stop this captain Leon. Some kind of clever plan to thwart him.  

“What should I do, my forty men against his hundred or more?! Don’t be silly.” Diana felt his anger, anger that- by her own estimation- derived from his inability to do something. She felt his angst but not saw no sign of cowardice only worry. “But the thing is, that the Pearl Counts will probably wont give in, anyway.” He said.“They will rather let Pale Harbour burn and everyone in it.”

She understood the implication why they would do such and in a sense, agreed with them. If Gustav did too, she did not know but perhaps she could give him a sort of reinforcement or understanding of their position. It was cold, ruthless position to stand for. “To yield is to show weakness, if they do so, their rivals and many pirates would grow bolder. More and more vultures would start to circle around their heads, waiting for their opportunity. And eventually, they would pick the Pearl Counts apart, bit by bit. But if they refuse, the eventual tragedy would show their enemies, that they rather let hundreds burn just to keep their reputation intact, and it would give them ample reason and justification for a ruthless retaliatory attack. I see.” She said.

“I did not expect those words from your pretty mouth. How do you know this?”

“I don’t know it but in their position I would do the same.”

This quite surprised Gustav, shifting his balance here and there. “You are a strange woman.”

“I’ve been to war.”

“You?! In war? Who let you go to war?”

Diana did not answered right on, for she wondered if she should tell about her past of the priesthood but eventually decided against it. “It is a long story and a rather personal one. I do not wish to discuss it here.”

Gustav rolled his eyes, dropped himself in his chair, put two wooden cups on a simple plank table and opened a bottle of wine. “Well if you’re to war, then perhaps you got some ideas of what to do.”

Diana sighed heavily, arms folded, her eyes looking away in the distance. She bit her lips. “If we can’t hope to get help from the Pearl Counts, then we better abandon Pale Harbour. Get the people out as quickly as we can. Save as much as we could.”

“Under two days? It will be chaotic, people will panic, turn on each other.” Gustav fell silent, his chin rested on his fist. “Why are you so invested in this anyway?” He broke the silence.

“I do not see the value in senseless butchery.”

“You just said you would do the same in their position.”

“But I am not in their position, I am right here, right now. Besides I begun to regret those words, I regret to have that side, that cold and calculating side, but I can’t get rid of it.” She shrugged.” Not sure if I would, I guess I fear I would become less.”

“You are a strange woman, I preferred the other side of you. The one I’ve met back in the Harbour.” He said.

A half smile appeared on her face. “From what I can recall, you’ve seen many sides of me, that night.” But the smile was gone quickly, replaced by frown. “I have a plan.” She said.

 

Part II.

 

After she shared her plan, Diana went back to her cabin, searching through her package, fishing out incenses, scrolls, a mummified bat, a human tongue in a bronze frame and a black disc: The Black Stone Disc of Leeches. She set up her room to be a small shrine, not for Kyrodan The All-Father but to Gorgonara The Dark Goddess of Decay and Misery. It was not an act of worship on her part, in any way, she was and will always be a faithful servant of Kyrodan, just like her parents, the Scions, the country and the divinities. And she could not truly be a servant of her, for Gorgonara was slain by Kyrodan himself at the River Hebinas, eons ago. However her power was derived from the teachings of the dark Goddess, what little remained of it at least. She sat cross-legged on the floor, around her, the candles and incenses burned in a half circle. In front of her laid the stone disc. With a ritual knife, she cut her wrist, lightly, let her blood flow on the black stone and bandaged the wound. The disc begun to throb, as if it was alive, and the room around her begun to warp and bend, defiling the rules of physics, like a contemptuous beast of the supernatural tearing into the fabric or reality. And there she sat in the centre, weeping eyes turned hollow, body swaying and sweating, mind out of its shell, flung into the dark. Meanwhile her consciousness reached out in space and time, searching for a breach, a trepidation in the fabric of the cosmos.

 

And hereby, I Kyrodan, The Primordial Man, All-Father of the Carynthi, I declare my victory over the Dark Goddess for all the gods to see. We shall no longer be the prey to her hunger. We shall no longer suffer her cruelty. We are free under the sky, the day and the night, where the cycle can now turn freely. I shall quarter her twice, now come to me my children! Bring your dogs and lions and beasts and let them feast on her bloated corpse. Devour her as she devoured our anguish.”

- The Scrolls of The Great Triumph. Number three.

 

She was squirming, weeping, salivating on the floor, the world was spinning with her, her heart drumming in her ears, her body was burning from within and freezing from out. But with time the sickness was passing.

This was the source of her power, to drawing on crude ancient powers, the way she created her talismans, the way she unlocked knowledge. Gorgonara might be a dead god but her power remained, her blood seeped into the earth, the waters, forever poisoning mankind with cruelty and hate. But poison can be resisted and the cure was faith and honour. She may lost her honour but faith remained, that she did not let go of, yet. She may not possess the Divine Flame but she can put the arcane powers into a noble use.

The Tongue of The Madman, whispering terror in the mind of those around her, strengthening her talent. The Mummified Bat, connected to her mind, it can track those filled with dread and fury without actually seeing them. These two combined allowed her perceive and track her the foes much more easily. These talismans she used with great restrain and rarity, preferring to avoid combat, overall, or at least fight without reliance on them.

Eventually she recovered and the only things on her mind was to eat, drink and mate. The first two she gleefully satisfied by pillaging the fish and rum stock but on the third one she decide to go back to Gustav’s cabin and exercised a farewell of her own kind. He was not happy though, in the end. He disliked her plan, he disliked the possible outcome, he disliked consequences it might bring. Nor that she would do all that for the people, who likely never knew her name. It matters not.

 

The silver disc of the moon hung high on the tapestry of the night. Its light cast a dim, laconic feel to the vibrant beauty of the turquoise sea. The two ships parted apart, before they slept together Gustav gave the order to sail out immediately, thus Merry Hornbill was moving lonely and slowly. Diana collected the weapons she deemed the most sufficient: a blackjack, bone knife all of which she bought so she could fight in environments, that would erode conventional steel weapons, and the two talismans. She also left a letter behind about what to do with her possessions in the case of her death. She had no assurance if they will do it but she trusted that if no one else, Constable Arwel, will handled it, adequately. She knocked out few of the sentries, stole a small boat and rowed back to the island. The warship was still there which made her feel as much lucky as terrified, although it was not fight alone, that scared her.

From the island, she was swimming, carefully, only coming up for a snippet of air. It was still risky, if she time it wrong, the sentries could see her and shot her dead with their crossbows, don’t even mention the rest. But she was able the get in close, right under the rows, her heart was pounding, muscles aching, breathing short and deep, mind numb from the exertion. Diana steadied herself with long, drawn out inhales.

When she was ready, she put a black mask on, that hid her hair and face and climbed in through one of the rowing holes. It was complete dark in there: A benefit and an issue, both. She could move with greater safety but had to be very careful, not the step on some of the sleeping crewmen or topple something that would make a noise. She stole through the decks like feline, silencing those who are in the way. Eventually she made it to the captain’s quarters. In there he lied, under the white blanket, in the gentle, milky cloud of slumber, she smiled under the mask, for she knew, he will die with the sudden, terrifying realization of his doom. There wont be shouts, whispers, not even a gasp, only the glaring eyes of a dying man. Oh, how sweet, it will be, she thought.She crept through the room with knife in hand, slowly and lightly she stepped, savouring the moment. Every inch, every step to the relief that’ll come, as one hand reached out slowly while the other lifting the knife, head high.

 

Suddenly the sleeping man woke up, moving with unanticipated speed. The blanket was thrown in her face, in her confusion, she dashed back, ready to strike again. But the incoming strike she did not expected, she was out of arms reach, she knew but a weapon, she did not expected. She was struck by a heavy blow from a stick, straight to her stomach. For a second she frozen, as she stared at the body guard in anger. It was so close and they took it away. The sound of boots came from outside and Diana knew, she have to be quick and deadly, right here, right now, more than ever. If she kills the body guard, she could still win. Thus she darted at the man with ruthless precision, for in this small place, the knife gave her the advantage. However said advantage has been met with a physical might and surprising skill of the bald pale giant, who moved with depth and speed, deceptive of his statue. He nearly cleaved her skull in and her response was evasion and a lunge at his chest.

Narrowly missing him, her wrist was suddenly caught in an iron grip and a strike to her side knocked the air out of her lungs. Using this opening, he wrestled her down, arms and legs, pinned to the ground. She was coughing and gasping while in her mind she was cursing herself. Things happened so quickly, she had no time draw on her powers and now, they can kill her without much trouble. “You have failed, you fool.” She thought. She heard two pair of boots, one moved closer and she could see that it was the one, who attacked her back in Pale Harbour. The sunburnt one with the goatee and the foul mouth. He had a satisfied smile on his face and ill intent in his gaze. “You won’t going to need this any more, sweet wench.” He said as he twisted the knife out of her hand. “Relieve her of her weapons and put her on the chair.” Said the other voice, she recognised. Captain Leon Dorvan.

 

Such as they did and she found herself facing the captain, who sat at the opposing side of his table. On its corner leaned the sunburnt man and on her side stood the body guard. One smiling, smugly, the other silent and unreadable like a rock. “How much?” The captain asked. Wondering in surprise, she asked back, transparently. “How much?”

“How much you have been paid to kill me?” Captain Leon asked again, uttering his words slowly and deliberately as he was talking to a child. “I wasn’t paid, I’m not an assassin. Not yet at least.”

Leon raised his eyebrows but his expression was more of bemusement than surprise. “Is that so? Ah, I see. I suppose you are one of those noble types, who risk their life for a cause. What cause is that, hmm?! Selflessness, loyalty, morality, religion, to help the weak?” He looked deep into her eyes and smile at a realization of his. “Revenge.”

“Karmic Justice.” She replied quickly, her voice trembling as the words burst out of her.

“Karmic Justice.” He tasted the words, delicately. “Infantile illusions, just like the rest. Justice is but a form of vengeance sanctioned by law. It exists to create order while maintaining the illusion of decency. Lies, girl, sweet lies, man love.” He stood up, poured two cup of wine, one for himself, one for Diana. She accepted it, but did not drink, yet. “Fear and intimidation is what allows us to achieve what we want. Whether it is our own fear for our life or our enemies and allies fear of consequences. There are no greater truths nor divine intents and rewards, only fear. It is that simple.”

Diana snapped at him. “Are you trying to bore me into submission with this?! I’m not much of a philosopher so spare me from this theatre of self actualisation. If there are not greater purposes in life then what is the reason, you do any of this? Money, title? Who do you working for, old man? Hdvarjn Colonies? The Meridian Companies? No reason to hide it from, after all, I am as good as dead, now!”

“What makes you think, I work for anyone?” He said with a hint of frustration in his voice and heart. Then, he spoke out a little louder and prouder. “I am independent, I stand alone and cower in front of none!” But she kept pressing her initial point. “Then why?!”

The moment of silence weight heavy on the room, for a short moment and in the back of her mind Diana begun to connect back to one his words. “Revenge.” She though back to the mansion and decided to throw it in. She was not entirely certain but she would’ve lose, she thought. “Back on the island, I found a mansion. Is that anything to do with you?”  

 

The captain grew uncomfortable in his chair, his eyes glaring furiously at her. “You are meddling in something that caused the man to die by the dozen.”

“And women and children. Yes, your handiwork speaks for itself.” She said.

He smiled, cruelly at her surprise and his voice became cold, emotionless. “I was one of those, wealthy lords who reign over the islands of the south. But unlike them, I did not sat behind, milky, marble walls, in safe, cushioned rooms. I led war against pirates, beat down raids of the tribesman and repelled Sobekans, doing all that from the front line. And how was I rewarded? With schemes and back stabs and when they were done, they split up my wealth amongst themselves. On that day, I learned the crucial lesson about the importance of fear. Had they feared me more, than our competition, they would’ve not dared to turn on me. It took me fifteen years to rise up again, amass enough money for battleships and a skilled crewman and put my plan in motion.”

“If this is about vengeance, then why did you wanted Gustav to give them your ultimatum? Why don’t you just attack the harbour, straight?” She wondered but the captain said nothing, only stared at her, and in answer begun to seep to into her mind. “It was never your intention. You wanted him to carry the news of your deeds to create fear and confusion, hence you no longer have the advantage of surprise. Now you want the Counts and the rest of the world to know what will hit them and who will hit them.” Her eyes narrowed. “You will not going to wait for their answers.”

The captain nodded, satisfied like a well fed cat. “I shall wipe out the entire city.” He said, his expression was but a bemused smile at her horror.

“Thousands will die. How could you sacrifice all of them for your petty revenge, while they are defenceless. Not a shred of honour or humanity has left in you?!”

“Tell me why is it more honourable to kill man on the battlefield than in their bedroom?”

“You can lose!”  

“Enough!” He snapped out. “Listen now wench! You managed to sneak aboard my ship, right into my room. Impressive and for that skill, I can pay very well. I know where the current governor keeps his fortunes. After I plunder the harbour, I will to be much richer man and I could use a good assassin.”

“As I said, I’m not an assassin.”

“Pity.” He said, remorselessly. Then he spoke to the sunburnt man. “Take her to the cells and make sure, she remains untouched. The eastern pirates pay lot for healthy, blonde haired women. Prepare to sail out in the morning.” Said he but the other grew insolent, in sudden. “But boss, it was my plan to catch her, the plan that saved you! Can’t we have a little fun her at least?”

The captain’s eyes were flaring. His anger, nearly flooding out and for a fleeting moment, Diana smiled as it flown through her, only to be disappointed when he shut it down. Then the captain was calm again. “Your reward is that I won’t going to flag and hang you for exposing us. If it is not for you, we would’ve already raided the harbour by now. When I send you out to scout, you will scout and nothing else! And now you will be the one who guards, you better have the discipline to do it adequately.” He said.

She was carried away by the two, out from the captains quarter to a lower deck on the other end of the vessel, behind bars of a cell, barely big enough for two or three person. If they intend to take many salves, they would shove them in there, a torture of a kind, that would be. Unarmed and helpless, she knew she had to cooperate but made no attempt to hide her disdain, she was afraid and nervous. It could’ve been done so swiftly, so easily. She needed only the captain dead, she could’ve used the panic and confusion to gain more time for the harbour, to make them hesitate or even cancel their attack. She was afraid, for the people who are soon to be butchered and for herself, of what fate awaits for her. Still she had a couple of days, yet and perhaps she could still pull this off.

It was risky,much more than her initial plan and if she dies, her soul will find eternal punishment on the Ship of Orcus or devoured by the Black Vortex for the rest of her existence, if she is lucky - very lucky - she may become one of the Lemures, vengeful, forlorn spirits, haunting the spirit realm and the dreams of the living, though one could argue suffering or oblivion are the better alternative.

But why would she risk herself for all those people in Pale Harbour? She doesn’t know but only a few of them. Most of them would not move a finger for her or each other, probably, many would happily be in the position of the pirates than be the victims. How bad it would be to be a slave, after all? She is still well in her prime, if she smiles and play nice, she might be bought by a decent brothel or a rich man. Or these thoughts were born from bitterness and self preservation? Foolishly optimistic ones for sure. For all she knew, they might sell her to work in mines, till her death or thrown into an arena, to be butchered.

She touched the spiral sign of atonement, burnt around her left eye and cringed. How weak she have to be to give up, to even think about giving up was humiliating, even more so than physical pain could be. The idea of compliant dishonour, infuriated her more than any attack on her life.

 

Diana looked upon her guard, the sunburnt man of unremarkable frame and glossing baldness. Her heart was beating fast, sweat flowing on her breast and back, she looked at him like a leopard looks at her prey. “You!” She called out with contempt, the talisman in her neck writhing, slightly. ”What’s your name?”

The man looked at her, surprised. “Why would I tell you?”

“So I would know what name to write on your headstone.” She smiled like a cruel child.

“You are not in the position to be so cocksure, sweety. In your place, I would not to talk to me like that?” He said.

“And you are not in the position to do anything. Remember, the captain said that, none can touch me, so you going to listen to me!”

The man was growing frustrated, that one could see without any special ability. “Oh, shut up.” He muttered, keeping his voice low, just for the two to hear.

“Why?!” She walked up to the cell door and whispered and snarled. “You are a coward. You only dared to attack me when I was drunk and unarmed, even then you have to come from behind. You are pathetic.”

“Shut up! I just wanted some fun, that’s it.” He tried to raise the facade of irreverence but succeed, he did not. He was angry, she could feel it and she savoured it as much as she could and kept pressing. “You are mine, now!”

She laughed and it was a laugh of cruel, insidious joy that came so effortlessly, so naturally, even she was surprised. “You’ve been sent to gather intel, you had one job to succeed but you had to blunder it because you are such a weak, little sister, you filthy dwarf. I would not be surprised if the other crewmen use you in their free time, for fun! Tell me, do they dress you up in pretty clothes or just pull down your pants, straight on.”

The sunburnt man was drowning in anger and its currents flown through her, the power in her growing and swirling, waiting for cathartic release. Not yet, though, it was not enough yet, not the right time. “Shut up!” He almost yelled. “Shut your god damned mouth or I will!” He snarled but she only chuckled in return. “You are too afraid of your captain, you are a coward.”

 

And then he snapped. He barged into her cell, not even closing the door behind him. Diana stepped back but quickly found herself in the iron grip of an enrage animal. She was spat on and slapped across her face but she just scoffed and laughed. “Shut up!” He snarled and his hands quickly found her neck, this time. He shook and nearly yelled at her again. “Shup up!” he spewed. And he kept choking, Diana’s legs crumbled beneath her as she was pushed down, her back against the dry planks of the cell floor. Suddenly, Diana wrapped her legs around her foe, right at the lower ribs, folding her ankles together and pushing hard. His eyes went wide as she was squeezing his lunges, bending his rubs. Diana reached out at his throat, her nails, biting deep into his skin while the other hand was searching for the bone knife, he took from her.

He let his grip loosen and lifted his right hand, to strike down at her face but Diana leaned closer, her left, wrapping around his neck, her face, pressing against his chest. He struck Diana behind the ear, harder and harder, despair fuelling his punches, his nails clawing at her ears. Eventually, her free hand found the knife and freed it from his belt. She lifted high and struck down, only once, between ribs, into his lungs. Then to torture him, she pulled it sideways, to widen the wound. He let her free in an instant, instinctively reaching for the knife, in agonizing pain. His lungs were quickly filled with blood and he coughed, his saliva mixed with his own ruby gore, dripping down her face. He crawled away, gasping for air in silence, he could not call for help, could not scream in pain, could not beg for mercy. Meanwhile, Diana were just laying on the floor, breathing heavily, not from exhaustion but from exuberance. And she wept, and her body were shaking, faces flashing in front of her by the thousands, screams of pain crawling in her ears in cacophony. Her victims, the stigma of what she truly is. And now one more has been added to the list and soon, many will follow.

She wiped the tears, clutched her fists and turned inward, steadying her breath, slowing it, deepening it, until she felt prepared for the next step. She put away her knife and took the man’s sword, examined it, then moved it lightly, doing a few easy cuts at the air, till she got used to its balance. It was standard construction: single handed, a slightly curved blade tapering down to a simple hand guard. Not an exceptional weapon but effective. “The spirits are with me, now. I can feel it, I can feel it.”

And thus, she struck down at the corpse, decapitating him and picked up the severed head. Her eyes turned inward, she gathered the energies within her and poured it into the head, which in turn begun to grow, its kin begun to crack and turning sickly green, the eyes, grown white, flesh turned bloated, soft and slimy. It was barely recognisable who he was, now it was but a disgusting tool, a weapon. Thus she stepped out of the cell, armed and ready, her instincts were flaring, her mind sharp and clean. Now that she had a sword, she felt as she finally found her true self and a sense of calm, reassurance.

 

The night was dim under the pale moonlight, its silver light fell somberly on the ship, that swung gently on the slow currents. The silver circle was calm and tranquil and had she not seen what these people did, it would’ve been hard to believe that its belly housed a troupe of murderers. And so she waited. Till the guards have seen her, till they rustled up the crew with their shouting and threatening aimed at her, till two of them tried to seize her only to be slain by her new found blade. The crew woke and gathered. Their face meshed together into a haze of anger, confusion- and after seeing the dead at her feet- surprise and fear. They snarled, they mocked, they gathered like a wolf pack around her. She moved slowly, towards the railing, to have the sea and moon behind her back. Then, with a casual motion, she threw the head at their feet. Many looked down, squinting and coursing, trying to figure out, who or what are they looking at. And there right at the cusp of realization, the severed head opened its blighted eyes, its swollen lips and shrieked a hideous, deafening, inhuman scream.

 

It was but a second or two before the head exploded, spreading black goo and green gases in the area. Those who had been caught by the goo, had their skin and flesh marred to the bone, those who had been engulfed by the gas, were blinded and choking on their breath. Diana moved quickly, she uttered no war cry, no snarling insults, not even a hiss or a scoff. Her blade moved with ruthless precision, severing hands from wrists, slicing through throats and bellies, puncturing hearts and lungs. And with every dead, the green cloud grew bigger and thicker, creeping and crawling through the corridors of the ship, only the very edge of the poop deck remained untouched, which through the thick cloud, had looked like it is at least a mile away. A terrifying sight for the crewmen, a terrific sensation for her. Their morale has broken now, they fought for survive and some tried to jump into the sea but Diana was faster. Some stumbled on the remains of their dead comrade and begged for mercy but found none. Some thought with sheer determination and reckless rage could put a stop to their demise, a noble, self sacrificial move, not something she expected but it mattered not. These were clumsy moves, done in vain. She was pulsing with power as their agony fuelled the occult energies within. 

In the end she found captain Leon Dorvan’s body guard on the poop deck, Diana could not help to admire the composure and discipline, he displayed. The body guard was stone faced and under that, she felt no fear, only some mild hint of indignation. And now, drunk on power, she moved slowly, savouring the moment, for herself. Now she felt, truly alive, this was home for her, this was the natural habitat, she belonged. Or so it felt in that moment.

The body guard moved quickly, his own weapon- this time a sword, not so unlike her own- moved with fierce, straight forward attacks. He did not possessed the same refinement as she had but due to his credit, he did not exposed himself, easily. So she held back, instead of trying to out fence him with speed or strength, she played around him, never truly committing to an attack, only probing, moving in and out with cruel smile, always keeping him in front of her and the cloud behind. The body guard quickly grew frustrated, perhaps he rarely met anyone who can stay alive against him longer than the first exchange. Not many can meet a man of this strength, toe to toe and thus she did not either. She stepped aside or dashed, she redirected his blade with quick parries, not meeting him in binds and static blocks.

He growled and scoffed at her, his composure, fading away, his eyes clouded by thoughts of doubt and shame, while Diana remained calm and collected. And when the time was rip, when the two moved slowly, assessing each other, for the next bout, she lowered her sight and her blade. He moved forward a cautious step and she moved back in sync, then moved again. And as he burst into move, deceptively fast for his size, weapon raised, she moved in mirror, blade low. Diana cut through the guard’s belly, deep and a fountain blood and guts left spreading behind her. For a moment, he still stumbled, clutching the railings with one hand and his wound with the other, until he seized to breath.

 

She looked around, searching for the captain Leon but could not find his trace. Then she searched the horizon and could see a small boat, in the distance. It was way to far, now, she could not catch up in any way. She begun to pace back and forth on the deck, mouth frozen in a grim snarl. It took her while but she managed to calm down, seeing no better options, she decided to swim back to the island, the ship of the dead, attracted her too much. Let it sink, instead. In time the gas will eat away the wood, anyway.

There was a certain sense of tranquillity on the island, the village was silent, now only in the literal manner but within her mind, she no longer felt the taint. This gave her the assurance that she did the right thing. The spirits are satisfied, now and yet there was something in the air. At first she tried to ignore it, spending her days with fishing and swimming in the ocean, collecting shells and bathing in sunlight. Her talismans, she kept in a bag. She made an agreement with Gustav: That he will come back, if the pirates won’t show up and for now she was not in rush.

 

Part III.

 

There on the island, she choose rest on a remote place, far from the village. The upcoming days she spent there with swimming, fishing and watching the setting sun. The days were boring but it was feeling she welcomed. But the nights? Those were restless.

From the darkness came the voice creeping and crawling in her ears. Screams and shouts banging in her head, merging into a torturous cacophony. But one day, when her eyes snapped open and heart pounding in her chest, in the distance she saw the silhouette of a ship coming towards the island. The shape grew bigger and bigger until she was able to see the flag of the ship. And the smile was wide on her face, for she know this one, very well: The Merry Hornbill.

 

“So Leon Drovan was a Pearl Count.” Gustav said as he handed a cup ale to Diana. “If he is still out there, then I suppose we may see him again.” He sat down behind his desk.

“Probably, but without his ship, his options are very limited. We got time now, at least.” Diana said.

“Speaking of that ship, what the hell did you do?” Gustav said, his eyes inquisitive.

Diana looked away, avoiding to look him in the eye. “I have certain… abilities and knowledge in my possession. I’m not ready give them out yet.”

Gustav cogged an eyebrow. “Well curiosity killed the cat, they say. Just keep those abilities in reserve, we may need them again.”

“I’m not sure.” She sighed. “The Pearl Counts has turned on him, butchered his family. I have honest doubts about lending my help to them ever again. I doubt if I would kill him, should we would meet again.” She looked up, forcing a more upbeat feeling into her tone. “The Harbour? Is it intact?”

“So far so good. There was some panic and chaos but the Constable handled it. He made preparations too, more sentries, requested reinforcements, he begun to train a few people for a militia.”

“That sounds sufficient for now.”

“You don’t sound particularly happy. Look, whatever happened between the counts and Drovan is not my problem and certainly not yours either. Just ignore it and move on. What do you say, shall we return to the forever welcoming custody of the drunken dwarf?

“I yearn for something more quite.”

 

After the Merry Hornbill sluggishly took her place at the docks, Diana bade farewell to its captain and left for her home. The Innkeeper, a big bellied man, grey haired and thick mustached man with a missing left leg was far from happy when she met him. She was behind the rent with a week at least and her money was locked away in a small chest, she hidden, not under the loose plank, the innkeeper strategically placed in her room but in the dusty, cluttered attic, she sneaked up during her first night. She assured him, he won’t have to wait for long. Leaving his grumpy muttering behind, she embraced the silence of the room with satisfaction. For a while she was merely sitting on her bed, mechanically and almost absent mindedly doing her maintenance routine on her curved sword. Later she planned to talk with Constable Arwel but there was a though nagging within her mind. “Should I do it?” She wondered. “What if I would taint the holy place? But in the end it is just one, small and remote shrine. It would be a risk, worth taking, an acceptable sacrifice.”

She dressed up in simple cloths of white silk shirt and brown trousers. She bought rice, wine, bread and oysters in the bazaar for the ritual.

The shrine itself was in a sorry state. Walls were crumbled, reaching barely above the knee, grass growing through the gaps between the cobbled stone ground and yet- in the center of it- the shrine itself remained remarkably intact. It was small, reaching barely at her breast but it was still a beauty to behold. A slab of white marble in the embrace of a larger house shaped structure. The top and sides were once richly and colourfully painted in blue and red, now grown faint but still visible. And on the marble, the shape of Glaucus The Protector of The Fisherman, one of the many deities of Carynthi. According to the legends he saved Kyrodan from drowning when the All-Father, the Primeval Man sought to reach the end of the world in his yearning for knowledge, but the Second Circle of The Gods sent a great storm and tempest to drown him. Glaucus, merely a humble fisherman at the time -knowing little of the world beyond his shores- selflessly risked his life to save him from demise. This greatly angered Gorgonara, who demanded her brother-husband Sobek, to curse him. Such as he did and the poor fisherman were fell into an agonising state and across seven days and nights, his body grew scales, his bones malformed into a misshapen mixture of fish and man and snake. He begged for death but his plea was not granted. But someone heard him, from the Third Circle of The Gods, Ebu, The Whale-God, had came and took away the pain and for his eyes, he provided him with the power to see the flow of time. And he was please, for he could foresee the fall of Gorgonara.

She never been a worshipper of him, though she did not objected to offer him sacrifice either. Still she wondered, if she and him had something in common. That they both lost and in loss, they gained, something. But she always had to remind herself that her own powers were of profaned qualities. Perhaps it was merely naivety that seeped into her conscious, or the idea of vengeance? She told herself to forget the question and do the ritual.

 

Steaming rice, oyster, bread, couple of fishes and wine in plates on a stone plate in front of the shrine and Diana sitting on her shins, hands together in praying position. The tree-crowns, the grass flown in unison, leafs swarming in the air, carried by the cool wind as the night fell slowly on the world. The sky was on the precefice of dark, on the blood red horizon, the great orange sun was about to touch the surface of the sea and will soon dip under.

With it came a sense of menace and when she turned around, she met the sight of a man. Older than Arwel by a decade at least. Gaunt, almost emaciated, face like a canine, cold, grey eyes piercing and ruthless. But from all, it was his brilliant white uniform that struck her the most. It was similar to the Constable’s but with more facet, and decoration, even pompous to a certain extent. Soon, from behind him, came half a dozen or more man in the same white uniform and formed a lined up in front her, crossbows in hand.“Excuse me?” Diana said.

The old man spoke out loudly, he’s slightly higher pitched tone measured and detached. “I am Arbiter Valdis! You are under arrest for spying and collaborating with the traitor Leon Drovan. Give up your weapon, surrender and you shall be take to custody, resist and consequences will be dire!”

“Nonsense, I am no spy for anyone!”

“You are the last person who met him and only explanation provided was an unbelievable and fantastic tale. Where is his ship, where is the captain? You will be interrogated and punished.” Valdis said.

“Drovan’s ship is on the bottom of the sea alongside with his crew. He himself had escaped me. I speak truth, whether you are pleased with it or not, it matters not! Besides, as far as I know, your kind has hardly any right to demand justice. I found his mansion and now I know what happened. Now go! I have no business with you!”

Valdis scoffed. “That is the evidence! How else you could know that if not from Leon himself?! We burned every trail, even the bodies!”

That was it. In that moment, he spilled it, so casually, so recklessly, so smugly, her blood lust suddenly aroused, she wanted to cleave him half, right there. However as she stared down the blot heads pointing at her, Diana knew, she had be smart, not strong. Slowly, as she spoke, she turned sideways so she could hide her right side. Crossbows are easy to handle but take more time to reload than regular bows, If she could survive the initial salvo, that would put her in much better position. She changed her tone, from agitated and angry to a soft and measured one.“Then please, my good lord. Please contact Constable Arwel, he knows me well, I wish to speak with him first. We can wait here until you find him.”

“He will not going to get you out of this. Thank you to mention him though, perhaps I will going to arrest him too. He is in too good relationship with the filth of harbour.”  

“Without him, this island would’ve been sacked now by Leon. The Constable saved your skin too.” Then she changed her tone again, firm and louder this time. Meanwhile her right hand moved slightly, projecting her last bits of arcane energies at the sacrificial altar. “I saved you!” She said but he ignored her words. “Put. Down. Your weapon. You are under arrest.”

“Unfortunately for you, I have a rule. A rule I will not going to break anymore: Never, ever be disarmed!”

On the altar the fish grew swollen, its scaly skin, stretched and cracked, until it could barely contain the underlying decay. Then it exploded into a green fog that engulfed Diana. It was not big enough to be lethal or to cover the area beyond the close proximity of Galaucus’ shrine but it was good enough distraction. She jumped behind the altar and heard the crossbow bolts hitting the stone with a thud or slicking through the air with a whistle. There was no time to count or think, she knew she had to move fast. Into the forest to escape or towards the guards to fight. The choice was obvious.

She darted out from behind the shrine, sprinting through the sickly cloud. With a flick of the wrist, she drawn her weapon into a cross-cut, killing a surprised guard, then, using the momentum, she turned her blade around and plunged it into the Arbiter’s belly.

Now, all swords drawn, the last remaining guard were on her. Her sword still in Valdis’ body, his wound was not immediately lethal, in fact he was hardy man, still able stand. With a cruel smile, she turned her blade and blocked an incoming strike with it, while using the Arbiter as a shield to protect her left. She kicked the guard in the groin, pulled her sword free, parried another guard and turned the move into a swift riposte against a third one, who’s blood sprayed high, from his neck. The corpses begun to pile up quickly, despite their commitment, the guardsman of the Pearl Counts were not as well trained as she expected them. Beneath the white uniform, there were little might and middling skill, those nicely tailored, white uniforms were now stained with red. Her parries were tight, her attacks were shockingly fast, she moved from one to another with swift footwork and while the twilight still loomed somberly over the harbour. Diana alone, remained on her feet, exhilarated and relishing in the moment.

Gasping and bleeding, Arbiter Valdis was crawling towards the Shrine of Glaucus as if he was his last chance of survival. As if the deity could protect him. “Have you ever heard of Karmic Justice? That our every action sends ripple through the world, that our dark deeds will invoke apt retribution from the world around us? Cause and effect, you know. This is the result of your cruelty. Today I was the embodiment of justice. And Leon? I will take care of him, don’t worry.”

Then she plunged her blade through the Arbiter’s neck.

 

Diana cleaned her sword but as she glanced up at the altar and a part of her beneath the surface, shuddered. The marble was stained in bile and rotten flesh, the painting was marred and darkened. She sighed and tried to pushed that particular feeling down. “Forgive me for desecrating your shrine. I will make amends for it later. I promise, I will pay my debt.

“What have you done?” The Constable said from behind her. She turned and saw a man with hanging shoulders, bent posture and terrified stare. She walked up to him which made him straighten and tense. “I killed them, my friend. I killed them all.” She said, only realizing the glee in her voice afterwards. “Did Gustav tell you everything?”

“Yes.”

“Were you there?”

Leon stayed silent for a moment. “I heard… rumours at the time but… I never laid foot there.”

“Thank you.” Diana said. She believed him, she wanted to believe him. That it is finally done and that she need not to punish the man who was kind to her.

“I could’ve stop this.”

“No you don’t. It was inevitable, if not me then someone else.”

“Was in necessary to shed all this blood? All this because of a damned sword?!“

“No! It is because of the reckless cruelty of greedy man. Can’t you see? His action came after him. That is Karma!”

“And will it come after you too, then? Will you pay for the blood you shed here?! Not all of these men were guilty!” He shook his head. “The Merry Hornbill is still in the docks. Go, get out of here by dawn!” He waved, sharply.

“You letting me loose?”

“Your skill with the blade is indeed exceptional and I won’t tempt my fate by challenging you. But know this, I’ll have to make report of all that happened here. Just… Just get out of here damn it!”

“Thank you.” Diana said, meekly. Departing in such manner was unfortunate but in her heart she knew it was a small price to pay. So she hurried back to the city for her possession but before she left to the Merry Hornbill, she made a small departure.

 

The Bounty Hunter Uriel has strode the streets of Kharak, bored and mind wandering in distant dreams of a better life. A past that’s been burned away by war. Out there the city was besieged by the Great Golden Desert from the east and the Turquoise Sea from the west. Kharak itself was one of the largest city of the country, almost forty miles in diameter and was divided into three rings: The Outer Ring is where the most of the population lived: peasants, soldiers, guild members, petty merchants, tavern and sailors. The houses were mostly made of brown clay or wood, painted black, typically with straw roofs. The streets were small and tight, so much that people had to walk in a single line to get by each other. Its most alluring element was the bazaar that connected it together with the Middle ring.

The Middle Ring was where most of the guilds were located: Blacksmiths, tailors, cobblers and jewellery and many other craftsman built their workplace here. It was also home to the more wealthy merchants and most of the Pearl Counts’ men. The Town Guard, Arbiters, Constables. This was considerably superior to the outer ring. Wide cobblestone streets with a well built sewer system beneath. Guildhalls built of bricks and fine wood with great symbols on their front face. Barracks of utilitarian design and family houses often with two or three stories and iron gates. Rare though but there were also few churches here too.

However the Inner Ring was separated by a great marble wall with heavy fortifications. There were three black gates, from which only one was open for the most part and were heavily guarded. Only people with special permission on a high rank could enter. There lived the Pearl Count with all his treasury resting in a great tower that was at least a hundred and forty feet tall. On its top were great brazier that function as a light source in the night.

However, Uriel’s destination was of the Bounty Hunter’s Guildhall. It was much smaller than others and was built like an amalgamation of an office and a tavern. It was on he ground level- the tavern- where the Guild displayed their available targets. A large, paper filled board and a fat man standing on a high chair, speaking loudly about the dark deeds of criminals and the price on their head. Although the place was crowded, the man bellowed a deep baritone that cut through the noise. It was then when he heard it. Most of the targets were rather juvenile lowlife scum: Robbers, rapists, murderers, fugitives and bandits on the run. But that was one name, that peaked his ears, a name he haven’t heard for at least two years now.

“Diana the Carynthian. The Bloody Whore of Pale Harbour, Her numerous dark deeds are: Murder of multiple Town guards, murder of the local Arbiter and Governor, thievery and lying with pirates, ruffians and beasts of the sea in exchange for money and powers of witchcraft. Her description is a slender woman, presumably in her mid twenties, blonde, blue eyed and a spiral shaped scar on the left side of her face. Her prize is two hundred gold coin, dead or alive!” He said, as at least a dozen head turned curiously at the mention of two hundred gold, while he continued with another.

Uriel was quick on his feet, getting to the board, first, holding a copy in disbelief. That face, that mark It was rough sketch but who else could it be? Kegare. He though. Most of the accusation were horse dung, he knew for sure but murder? Yes, that he could believe. 


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