Today was the day.
The sun shone brightly onto the cobblestones of Manastrat harbor while Lyn was enjoying the left leg of a gingerbread man, courtesy of baker Tom. She and Makani had stopped by the bakery on their way to the piers to buy a big loaf and a bag of buns for their long trip. Old Tom, as nice as always, had given Lyn the gingerbread man as a parting gift.
Makani was standing nearby, talking intently to another man who looked like he was around the same age as him. Unlike Makani’s wide, short-sleeved shirt and half-pants, the man was dressed very elaborately, with plenty of creases in his colorful clothes and a wide-brimmed hat with a feather in it.
“You are… a lot younger than the man I spoke with before. Are you certain you’ll be able to handle a storm or two? It’s the season you know… And the child; what about her?”
Makani looked impatient, but Lyn barely paid attention to the two of them, her eyes wandering about the boulevard that stretched along the bay. There were lots of little stands selling food, trinkets, and baubles. Many of the shiny treasures were made from nacre, and Lyn was delighted by the boxes filled with glittering nacre gravel from the lake. Still, she pondered: the pearlhood jellyfish looked much prettier swimming just below the surface, alive and well.
“Well, fine, since you have a license, I won’t complain any further…” the man said now. “I trust you are ready to depart? We’re setting sail soon.”
Makani tapped Lyn on the shoulder. “Alright Lynlyn, let’s get a move on. Ship’s leaving soon.”
Her eyes widened: Finally! After all this time, she would get to sail on a ship herself. Though Uncle Nimrod had told her she had been on a ship before, she had been a baby around that time. Now, she would finally get to experience the ocean, not as an islander but as a seafarer, and with Makani too! At his side, she would surely learn all the wonderful secrets of water magic. After all, that was what he had been hired for: Ferries like him and Uncle Nimrod used their magic to keep ships safe during their travels, and, one day, so would Lyn.
But she shouldn’t forget her manners along the way. People skills were part of the job, or so Makani often insisted — against Uncle Nimrod’s more calloused approach.
“Hello, I’m Lyn!” She held her gingerbread-free hand out to the gaily dressed man, beaming.
He gave her a strange look, but then smiled kindly, shaking her hand. “I’m Philippe Corvi. I hope you’ll like my ship.”
Her eyes skittered from vessel to vessel in excitement. “Which one is your ship?”
He pointed at an impressively-sized bark with painted sails and a bright, red hull. “There she is, the Lady Nuvola Carica — my pride and joy! She used to fly for my father and for his father before him, now she flies for me.” His chest puffed up like a moth’s belly.
Lyn let out a sound of delight. “She’s so pretty! And she can fly too?!”
Makani put a hand on her shoulder. “That’s what some people say when they mean sailing.”
“She’s still pretty though,” Lyn insisted.
Philippe gave her a smile and a courteous tip of his hat; then he strode towards the Lady.
“What a peacock,” Makani sighed. “Makes me feel underdressed.”
Lyn laughed brightly. “You’re always underdressed, Makani. Sometimes I think I’ll find you frozen to the ground one day; like an icicle!” As always, his feet stood bare on the cobbled ground.
“Yeah, yeah…” he mumbled. “Come on, let’s get on board already. The sooner we’re on our way, the better.”
“Are we in a hurry?” She nibbled on her gingerbread man.
“We — no. It’s just better if we’re on our trip for a little while.”
“Until the Black Priest is gone?”
Makani froze. Then he gently pushed her onward. “Stop being sharp, Lynlyn. Now scoot.”
They had set sail soon after, and now the hull was creaking with a gentle, rocking rhythm. From time to time, Lyn could hear the waves slosh against it. At first, she couldn’t get enough of the wide ocean around them but, after a couple of hours on deck, the swaying had started to tire her out a bit. Now, she was sitting down on some straw in the hold, spellbound and with her ears pricked.
“It was quite the predicament, you see. No one takes spell-ink out of the Middle Lands. It is forbidden by law, for the magical liquid holds great power. But the Yamato Black Market was very greedy… They had many men hidden in the dark corners and alleys of Aerialis. First, they stole the nubium, then— yes?” Lily was wrapped in thick blankets, owing to the daring swim she had taken about an hour ago. The girl looked quizzically at Lyn, who had raised her hand.
“What is nubium?”
“It’s a magical metal made by imbuing aluminum with spell-ink mandalas. When you touch it, it floats.”
“Like a cloud?”
“Perhaps lighter than a cloud,” Lily shrugged. “May I continue my story?”
“Think nothing of it. Anyway, first, they stole the nubium, but in time they got greedy. They wanted the secrets of spell-ink for themselves, because, in the Yamato Kingdom, no one knows how to make it. They stole small batches from alchemist warehouses, smuggling them out of the Middle Lands eastward. But their best magic users and potioneers back in the Dark City could not figure out the secrets of the substance, no matter how hard they— yes?”
“What’s the Dark City?”
“The capital of the Yamato Kingdom is called Yamaseki. It is built into the side of Mt. Tenbashira and there is a darker part of the city deep inside the mountain. They call it the city behind the city. Lawful folk don’t go there; it’s where the Black Market people live.”
“Ohh,” Lyn replied.
There was a long pause, almost as if Lily was waiting for her to chime in again, but then she finally went on: “Where was I…?”
“No matter how hard they—”
“Well, at least you are paying attention,” she grumbled. “They could not replicate the secrets of spell-ink, no matter how hard they tried. So, there was only one thing to it: They started abducting alchemists! Under the cover of night, they would sneak into their houses in Aerialis and steal them away from their families. They tied them up and put them in sacks, carrying them far, far away to Yamato!”
“Oh no!” Lyn exclaimed in distress.
“Oh yes! They brought many alchemists from Aerialis to the Dark City. But the Margrave of Aerialis didn’t like that at all. He sent all his White Lancers and all of his guards to scour the city and find out who the culprits were. In his worry, they say, he did not rest, for even a day. But for every spy he caught, two more slinked away into the shadows. The Black Market is very powerful, you see. They have many men under their control, and eyes and ears everywhere.
When it became clear that the situation could not be contained anymore, the other cities of the Middle Lands became involved. After all: spell-ink was their greatest, most important secret! And so, the Ink Wars began.
Oh, it started with embargos and political pressure against the Yamato Kingdom, sure, but in time there were real battles and conflicts! Mages sent against magic users, cities embroiled in skirmishes with the Black Market. They didn’t know where to hit them, because the Black Market has no castle of their own, they are hidden in plain sight. They have no lands, and much of what they do is secret, after all. So when they attacked, they usually destroyed houses in the cities and then disappeared. And, wherever they could, they tried to steal more magical secrets. Even the Five Keepers became involved in the conflict.”
“The Keepers!” Lyn breathed excitedly.
“Yes, the Keepers! Masters of the elements, lords of the Magocracy. Much of their involvement during the Ink Wars was diplomatic, and they traveled far and wide to garner allies and weed out high-ranking Black Market members hidden among the Yamato Clans.
You see, words are often far more powerful than swords. But swords do have their sting… During a visit to the Emperor in Yamaseki, the Lady of Lightning was stabbed in her sleep… And inside the royal palace too.” Lily’s voice had softened to a whisper. “The repercussions were dire. The other Keepers came into the Yamato Kingdom like a hurricane. No longer could words keep them away. In their anger, they walked right into the mountain and scoured the Dark City. They fought the Black Market crooks in their hidey-holes, and when they were done, they found the kidnapped alchemists, returning them to their families, who had missed them dearly.”
“But… but the Lady of Lightning, she died?” Lyn said sadly. How awful…
“Yes. But don’t worry about her too much. The Great Clockwork loves the Keepers above all others. Even if one of them dies, their soul returns to this world quickly and is born anew.”
“So she is back?”
“Well… She ought to be. Though, no one knows where she is now. The Keepers have been searching for her for many years, but someone, or something, has hidden her away.”
“Hmm… I’ll find her then!” Lyn exclaimed.
“Yes! I’ll be a Ferry soon, you see! When I can do magic, I’ll use it to find the Lady of Lightning. I’ll bring her back to the Tower of Five, then the other Keepers won’t have to miss her anymore!”
Lily nodded sagely. “That is very nice of you. I am sure they miss her very much.”
Below them the ship kept on gently rocking with the waves.
On the following day, she was lounging about on deck. All around, the vast blue ocean creased in gentle waves while seagulls cawed above the main mast. The white sails cascaded down from it like so many clouds, and the creaking of wood was both soothing and exciting all at once. She skipped across the deck of the ship until she reached the bow, where Makani sat looking out across the water. He was perched a couple of paces ahead, on the curled pole that extended slightly upward from the tip of the ship. She climbed up to join him. “How’s the ferrying, Makani?”
He turned his head and instantly tensed as he saw her standing on the wooden beam. “Lyn! Don’t just prance around on that, if you fall, you’ll be crushed by the keel.” he scolded.
“So I won’t fall,” she suggested.
He sighed. “Or maybe you could think about how it would make me feel to see you crushed down there, hmm?”
“Well, you are up here and you don’t seem too worried about how I’ll feel if you get crushed down there,” came her riposte.
“I won’t fall,” he explained.
“Neither will I.”
He threw his hands up in exasperation and jumped to his feet lightly. His sinewy muscles bulged as he kept a perfect balance on the top of the well-polished jib boom. “Not fall? Who do you think has been bandaging you up every time you come out of the forest?” He grabbed Lyn under the arms and lifted her up unceremoniously. “Fine, fine, fine.” He strode all the way back onto the deck. “Now no one gets to be out there, happy?”
Lyn giggled as he picked her up and set her back down. “When is the storm going to come, Makani? I want to see you do magic!”
He waved his finger, alarmed: “Don’t let the sailors hear you asking for storms, alright? They are incredibly superstitious, and I’m only mostly sure they won’t throw you overboard. Besides, I doubt you’ll be that chipper once it starts coming down good and proper.” His head tilted back and his eyes flitted across the horizon. With a sigh, he clapped Lyn on the shoulder twice. “I do feel something in the air though. If the sea starts getting rough, promise me you’ll go below deck and stay in the cabin.”
Lyn protested: “You want me to hide and do nothing?”
“No, you have a very important job: Once you’re down in the cabin, you make sure that there are no odds and ends lying around. If the storm rages too hard, they’ll start flying everywhere, breaking either themselves or other things, and we can’t have that.”
“Lily says the ship can flip all the way over if the waves are high enough.”
Makani grunted. “Don’t worry about that. As long as I’m here, the waves won’t bother us.”
“Because you’ll ask them not to?” The prospect of magic excited her.
“That’s right. So don’t let that Lily girl scare you.” He scratched his head thoughtfully. “She’s an odd one. Did she happen to tell you why she’s traveling alone? By the looks of her, she can’t be more than a few years older than you.”
He wasn’t wrong. At nine years old, Lyn still had a whole year before she would start going to school, and Lily didn’t look much older than she did. She was traveling all alone, but didn’t seem to mind at all. Lyn liked her a lot. When she had learned a bit more about the world in school, she was going to set out on her own travels, just like Lily. “I don’t remember,” Lyn apologized. “She is very verbose, so I’m not always sure what she’s saying.”
“How do you know the word verbose?”
“She kept saying it!”
“She is pretty verbose,” Makani said absentmindedly. “Some children have to grow up faster than they should, I guess…”
“There are ships in the distance,” came Lily’s voice. She, too, sounded as though her mind was elsewhere.
Makani, who, like Lyn, had not noticed her sitting cross-legged with her back against the low wall of the prow, almost fell overboard in surprise. For a moment, guilt flashed across his face, and then he realized what she’d said. His gaze turned to match hers and he squinted as he tried to pinpoint the vessels. “I think they’re approaching…”
Lily stretched her arms and lifted herself to her feet, moving with the casual grace of a cat. “I think so too.”
“Damnit, we’re almost in Commonwealth waters, those can’t be pirates!” Makani cursed, straining himself across the railing to get a better look.
“Maybe they’re coming for a little tea party,” Lily suggested, absentmindedly ruffling Lyn’s hair.
“Hey!” Lyn protested, ducking out and flattening her hair. “A tea party sounds nice. We could visit the other ships.”
Makani looked distraught, clearly wracking his brain for an explanation. “They’re still pretty far out, but I don’t recognize their make at all,” he muttered to himself.
“They’re heavy caravels. Looks like an Adamantayan design, so they were likely built on the Anvil Islands to the east. If we are unlucky there might be more behind them, it’s hard to tell at this distance.”
He turned to look at Lily as though he was seeing her for the first time. “What?”
She didn’t pay any attention to him, her thoughtful gaze transfixed on the approaching vessels. “Around twenty Altonar meters or more in length each, they may be well armed, and they are built to accommodate one or two frontal cannons for pursuit battles. If we were to change course from south-west to due west, we’d lengthen the pursuit, but these are very fast ships and we have a lot of cargo in the hold. They’ll catch up in an hour or so if the wind holds.”
Makani was speechless for a moment. Finally, he let the comment stand and turned towards the back of the ship: “Captain! Captain!” he yelled at the top of his lungs and strode out to meet him.
Lyn pulled on Lily’s arm: “That was amazing! How do you know so much about ships? Can you teach me?” She beamed at her companion.
“Maybe after we survive the pirate attack…” Lily mumbled, her brow creased. She patted Lyn on the shoulder. “It’s all a matter of getting around enough, really. You pick these sorts of things up along the way.”
“You’ve been to the Anvil Islands? That’s so far away!”
Lily smirked. “Oh, I’ve been everywhere. Come on, let’s head down to the quarters. Your big friend told me he’d like you to stay in your cabin if we hit a storm. No need to have him do everything at once…”
“But we’re not heading into a storm! Pirates are not storms!”
The captain approached the three of them and met with Makani on the way, who pointed to the shops approaching from the east: “I think someone might have it out for us.”
Captain Corvi grew pale against the bright tapestry of his colorful garb. “By the gears, I should have tossed more keys overboard before we left! Pirates west of the Hooper Chain?”
“They are faster than us, but smaller,” Makani pushed. “I’ve seen your hold, you have cannons. Are they in working order?”
“Probably…” the captain replied awkwardly. “I understand they haven’t been used in some time. Should we turn and fight?”
“Be ready to man them,” Makani replied, biting his lip. “We’ll let the sea fight for us. If you change course to south-south-west, we’ll head into the edges of the stormfront due south instead of just skimming it. To catch us the other ships will have to cross through a larger patch of the storm. They’ll be at a disadvantage with their smaller vessels and might turn around. I’ll keep the ship steady when the waves come in. You just make sure you manage the sails properly so we don’t keel over when the winds hit.”
There was a moment of silence between the two young men as the captain went through Makani’s suggestion in his head, then he nodded and turned, barking orders at the crew: “Man the sails and be ready to furl them in on my command! Helmsman, change course to south-south-west, head for the edges of the stormfront! Master Silat, allocate some men to the cannons and get them ready for battle! And I want any loose bits on deck tied or nailed down proper before we cross the threshold!”
Lily nudged Lyn’s shoulder. “There, you see? Now we’re heading into a storm. Come on, down we go.”
Grumbling about how she had to miss the crew stepping into action, Lyn followed Lily down into the bowels of the ship. The two of them descended into the timber belly of the Lady, her wooden body creaking as it strained against the sudden course correction. “Is Makani going to be alright? He said if he uses too much magic, his hair will go white like Lady Whisp’s…”
“Who is Lady Whisp,” Lily inquired, gently pushing Lyn onward.
“Oh, uh…” Lyn wasn’t supposed to talk about Lady Whisp. Uncle Nimrod always said something along the lines of ‘the only reason the more enthusiastic Church folk don’t kick in the door is because HJT would have words with the Deacon. If they found out we are harboring a blighter, they’ll be here with torches.’ “No one,” she finally managed and, in a sudden stroke of genius, Lyn added: “Just a story from back home.”
Lily nodded, but her mind was elsewhere. “Yeah — I suppose if he manages the storm and tries to hamper the pirates at the same time he might be in over his head. His attunement seems solid to me though, he probably has power to spare.” She stopped in front of Lyn’s cabin and patted her on the head. “There, now you stay in there and make sure everything is secure so it doesn’t tumble around and hit you on the head.”
That earned Lyn’s vehement protest: “You’re not staying with me?! Where are you going?”
“Hmm. To my own cabin I suppose.”
“That’s a lie!” Lyn retorted. “You sleep in the hold with the animals! I asked the captain and he told me!”
“Well, someone’s gotta take care of them though, right?” She gave Lyn a kindly smile. The kind grown-ups give to children they don’t want worrying. Generally, to the opposite effect.
She had some kind of plan, and it didn’t seem like there was anything Lyn could say to change Lily’s mind. “Fine,” she shouted in frustration. She stepped into the cabin and shut the door with some force. Now she was alone with the creaking of the ship and the distant roll of strange thunder.
Makani and Lyn hadn’t joined the crew of the Lady Nuvola Carica for a leisure cruise, so they hadn’t brought anything heavy with them. They had come to work... Well, Makani had come to work and Lyn had come to help. <Or more likely to stay out of sight for a while,> she thought to herself. She wasn’t stupid. Before the Black Priest had talked to her, Uncle Nimrod wouldn’t have dreamed of letting her set out to sea, even alongside Makani. Then, all of a sudden, she had been down at the harbor, packed and ready. Lyn had always known that Unlce Nimrod didn’t like the Church of Pure Souls and its followers. On that fateful day, she had for the first time realized that it was more than that. He was afraid of them. And, in her mind, Uncle Nimrod wasn’t afraid of anything, not monsters, pirates, nor storms. Not even those big spiders that came out in the spring that were striped like bees. And when she had realized that he was frightened by the Church, that had scared her too.
The ship suddenly rocked as she heard another strange thundering, followed by a loud splash from outside of the hull. The candles on the small table tipped over. For furniture, other than two stools and the table, there were just the bunks and a big chest. Lyn gathered up the candles quickly and shoved them into the chest. Then, looking around, she did the same with a couple of books Makani had brought along; his backup knife, which was secured in a leather sheath; her small HJT Ferry’s Guidebook, 3rd Edition, which she’d insisted on bringing, since she was basically a trainee now; the old Age of Heroes card deck she used to play with Makani; and, finally, whatever loose clothes were still lying around. Then, she hesitated and fished a rope, some clothes, and the knife back out of the chest before shutting and latching it.
Outside, the sun had become faint and distant, obscured, as it was, by the dark storm clouds that had crept overhead. A dangerous refuge for the ship.
The ship was swaying unevenly as it turned and caught the waves from time to time and Lyn tumbled, almost falling over, dropping some of the things she had picked up. She gritted her teeth and steadied herself. After tying the stools to the table by coiling and knotting rope around all three pieces, she undid the red band that divided her short, white sun dress at the hip, pulled up a pair of sturdy oilskin leather pants beneath the skirt, and hooked the leather sheath with the knife to her belt. Then, she put on her oilskin jacket and closed it up, finishing by putting on a brown rain hat.
By now, two kinds of thunder were roaring intermittently, booming against the planks of the hull. Mighty splashes and rising waves shook and swayed the heavily-laden vessel; until they didn’t, and the ship suddenly steadied.
Through the porthole, Lyn could see waves splitting around the prow and rolling away to the side, a swath of calm suddenly forming along the ship’s path. Makani’s dance had commenced.
Another roar of thunder washed over the ship from the aft and this time it was not followed by a splash, but by an earsplitting explosion that trembled through the ship like an earthquake. The sudden jolt knocked Lyn off her feet. For a moment, things were strangely blurry and she had trouble telling up from down. She had hit her head in the tumble and maybe gone to sleep for a bit. When she rallied, she noticed that the ship was swaying heavily again, large waves roiled below it like mountains, and heavy rain beat a violent rhythm against the hull. What had happened to the magic?
She knew that something had gone wrong. The thundering had grown more frequent and menacing as well. Still shaky on her legs, she stumbled across the room and opened the door. She had to get to Makani. But something made her turn her head. There was a flash of light outside the porthole and she saw something fall past it. Something that was suspiciously shaped like a young girl… Her eyes widened and she sprinted over there. She stumbled on the way, still off-balance, and fell down onto the floor. Groaning, she pushed herself back up and to the window, hitting it with her little fists: “Lily! Lily!” she yelled against the glass. She couldn’t see a thing in the dark storm waters, battering the hull without mercy. Tears filled her eyes and she turned around, hastening back to the door. “Makani!” she cried out, making her way through the bowels of the ship. When she finally reached the stairs, the ship’s swaying and the vertigo made them look insurmountably tall, as though they would lead her into another world. She cried out again: “Makani!” But no one showed up to help her. Gritting her teeth, she clutched the railing ropes and forced herself up, one step at a time, careful not to slip and tumble down the stairs. When she had finally made it, her hair was slick with sweat and she felt sick to her stomach. With what force she could still muster, she pushed the door open and tumbled onto the deck.
The rain hit Lyn like a whip and disoriented her further as she frantically looked around. Outside, the sporadic blasts were louder and she could barely make out the two pirate ships in the distance, gliding relentlessly towards the Lady with eerie lanterns illuminating their decks like dozens of unblinking eyes. Preceding the explosions, she thought she could spot little puffs of smoke along their hull. With some effort, she tore her terrified gaze away from the approaching menace and tried to find Makani among the yelling and scurrying sailors. They were all too busy to notice her. But where was he? “Makani! Makani, where are you?!”
“What are you doing here, little girl, get back down below!” an old Sailor bellowed at her as he passed by towards the rigging.
She ignored him and started staggering forward towards the prow. That’s where she had last seen Makani. One of the explosions connected and shook the ship, making her fall over. “Ouch…” she moaned. Everything was spinning. When she tried to blink the world back into kilter, she suddenly spotted him: Past the main mast, down on the deck Makani lay motionless on the floor. Her eyes widened and she rolled over to push herself up, suddenly forgetting the pain, the nausea, the disorientation. With a roar belying her tiny body, she rose up and stomped forward against the swaying, the shaking, and the relentless wind, all working together to keep her away from Makani. She reached for the main mast, pushing herself along and onward towards the motionless figure in the front of the ship. “Makani! Makani!” She kept yelling his name as she inched her way forward to his side. When she finally reached him, she fell on her knees and shook him by the shoulders. His bare skin felt cold against her hands. “No! No, no…” despite the icy rain, her cheeks felt hot and her eyes were burning. She bowed down and tried to look at his face. Makani’s eyes were closed and there was a gash on the side of his head. “Don’t die, Makani! Please!”
Another explosion struck true, this time close to them. Parts of the ship’s railing burst apart, wood splintering as shrapnel hurtled across the deck. Without thinking, Lyn had thrown herself over Makani, but he was too tall for her to cover. She cried out in pain when some of the debris pelted her back, but Makani still took the worst of it, a large wood splinter sticking out of his leg.
The deafening, world-shattering sound of the impact had taken her mind briefly back to her strange encounter with the Black Priest and his gun. His words were suddenly ringing in her ears as she stared at the blood leaking out of Makani’s leg.
Can you still hear me, little girl?
She slowly looked up. Through the wrecked railing, she could still see the two pirate ships. They were a good bit away but closing in. Without Makani’s magic, they were going to catch up to the Lady.
You know, when someone uses magic, it is like they are making a bullet.
If only they would go away! Why were they attacking the Lady in the first place? It wasn’t right! They were evil people! Like the monsters the Black Priest had said he hunted.
You have a very big soul, I noticed that. You could make very big bullets.
She curled her hands into fists, staring at the approaching doom. She had to hiccup once as she sucked in a deep breath, her face contorted in white-hot rage. Then, she yelled at the top of her lungs: “Go away!”
The moment the last bit of air had left her, the sky changed. Across the blackish-blue, mountainous clouds above, jagged arcs of lightning violently erupted and formed a misshapen grid before a broad, incandescent beam of light plunged out of the sky and into one of the pirate ships like a titan’s spear. Lyn was blinded for a moment, her arm instinctively snapping over her eyes. A mere one or two seconds later, there was a deafening crackle and roaring thunder so cacophonous, her ears were ringing and her whole body shaking with fright. When she slowly lowered her arm to see, blinking all the while, she could make out the blurry shape of the pirate ships. The one in front was on fire, and its main mast was toppling over, the vessel breaking in two as it hit the deck. Behind it, Lyn’s recovering eyes could just make out how the second vessel was beginning a turn before rising up. The ocean below it had begun lifting it up as it grew not a wave, but what very nearly looked like an actual hill, before splitting in two like the maw of a leviathan, making the ship vanish below.
Lyn stood there, speechless, terrified, elated. The Lady Nuvola Carica passed the edge of the storm and the rain faded as the sun welcomed them with gentle warmth. Behind her, she heard a quiet, mumbling voice: “Lyn… Is that… you? I told you… below…”
She snapped around and saw that Makani was moving sluggishly. “Makani!” This time, she felt tears of joy well up in her eyes. She jumped over to him and put a hand on his shoulder once again. “You hurt your head, Makani! I’ll get help!” But in that moment, it all rushed back in: The headache, the nausea, the dizziness. The world started spinning and she felt herself fall over before going to sleep again.
“The client claims there was some sort of extraordinary magical intervention during the encounter?”
The representative of the Hank & Jordan & Tenzer Corporation from the Saresham Ferry Office was a small man with mouse-grey hair and a clipboard. His habit was simple but beautifully patterned and made from silk. Lyn knew from her uncle that all the silk in the Corsic Ocean came from Saresham.
Makani nodded. “So I hear. One of the cannon shots had knocked me out at the time.”
“So it wasn’t your doing?” The HJT man made some scribbled notes on his clipboard.
Makani chortled. “I’m just a regular old Ferry. The way the sailors tell it, it must have looked as though Vinclav himself wanted those rats down in his locker.”
The HJT man raised an eyebrow. “You think the Vinclav took them? Are there any other parties that might have, uh, done the deed?”
Lyn felt Makani press firmly on her shoulder. She remained quiet.
“Well,” he replied slowly. “There was a bit of an odd young girl on the ship, called herself Lily. She vanished during the attack and the crew couldn’t find her after. A magus in disguise perhaps?”
The HJT man nodded sagely. “Not a singular occurrence, if that was indeed the case. Oh the stories I could tell you from ten years back, when that whole business on Jamphel Yeshe happened. When the island suddenly stood empty, the pirates and animancers all across the region went into a frenzy.”
Makani grinned. “Sounds like you’ve got stories worth telling! Why don’t we have a drink once your shift is done?”
For a moment, the little man rapped his pen thoughtfully against the clipboard. “Hmm, no imbibing for you. The office doctor said you have a nasty concussion. You’re a company asset after all, sir. But I know a good place for healthy juice. That way you can bring the little lady.” He winked at Lyn, who gave him a bright grin in return. “I’ll pick you up. Now I have to go and file your report.”
Makani sighed. “Sounds great. Thank you for taking care of the paperwork. Come Lyn, let’s cool off a bit.”
It was indeed very hot along the beautiful shore of Saresham. Beyond the clear, blue waters and the pristine beaches, a thick jungle surrounded a great faerie chimney ringed by smaller ones, where much of the island’s population lived in cool caves. However, the HJT Office was at the main harbor, so they only had to walk a short bit to make it to their accommodations. Finally there, Makani sank into one of the beds with a satisfied groan.
“Makani,” she said quietly after a while.
“I’m not a monster, right?”
“I’d describe you as more of a handful.”
“I mean because of… those pirates… I killed them with magic…”
“Are you still on about that? There is no way you blew up that pirate ship. It just got struck by random lighting and the powder blew up.”
“No. I did it. I’m sure!”
Makani turned on his side. “Even if you did, so what?”
“But the Black Priest said that–”
“You need to stop thinking about that asshole, alright? Those Black Priests are fanatics, they’re relics from a darker past. Those people used to hunt people like Lady Whisp and do terrible things to them. They’re not right in the head, Lyn.”
She bit her lip, feeling a thick lump in her throat. “But even if the magic isn’t bad, I did a bad thing! Just like Uncle said: It’s how you use it that matters, and I used it to hurt people!”
“If,” Makani stressed, “you used it, you used it to protect yourself. And me for that matter. Lyn, listen: obviously it isn’t right to kill people, but when it comes to defending yourself or dying, you shouldn’t get so hung up about it. You know how the Rastrowlers say ‘souls be guided’ all the time? Well, those Pirates are with the Great Clockwork now, they’ll find their way again. Now come on, lie down a bit. You hit your head too.”
She reluctantly hoisted herself onto her bunk. “I saw Lily through the window,” she said quietly. “She fell into the ocean.”
“I bet she’s fine,” Makani mused.
“Listen, Lyn. That girl came up to the prow when I was still using my magic. She wasn’t fazed at all by what was going on. When I told Mr. Lipik it might have been her, I wasn’t joking. I think she did take care of those ships. If you saw her fall past your window, it’s because she jumped.”
Lyn remained quiet.
“I only wonder what she was doing on the ship in the first place. I’ll ask around tomorrow, see if someone was expecting her.”
“She told me a story about the Lady of Lightning.”
Makani jumped up; then held his head, clearly dizzy from the quick movement.
“Watch out! You shouldn’t move so fast, Makani!”
He blinked and got off the bunk. “Right. I just remembered, I have to write Uncle Nimrod a letter, tell him what happened. We can’t take the next ship back to Rastrowel, but I can give them the letter at least.” He moved over to the desk and looked for something to write with. “Did she tell you anything else?”
Lyn turned on her bunk so she was facing away. “Yeah. She told me a lie.”