“There’s always someone willing to run into a few gray areas if they think they’ll come out ahead,” Jil said, striding in Finneus’s boots and feet through the warehouse district. The Antonian slaves were still back at the safe house, but she had the usual cadre around her. Well, most of them, at least: her boots sloshed through a greenish murky puddle and she missed Withervine. He shared her love of the seedy side of town, and he would have been helpful about now.
They came to the quay. The masts went on as far as the eye could see; the size of Batsereg and its harbor was simply mind-numbing. Even in her vestments Gwen had to take a moment to study the design of the ships; notice the rigging and the placement of the blocks. But then she had to skip forward before the party outpaced her.
“Do we know where we’re going?” Relic asked. He knew the answer already, but figured that asking the question would accelerate the decision-making process.
Gronk pointed to a grimy old building with a picture of a stein above the door. “Here will do.” His big boots clomped a few times and he was pushing the door open before anyone said anything. Jil shrugged Finneus’s shoulders, put on his smile, and went inside after the half-orc. For such a grand city it was a poor excuse for a public house. No stage, a short bar, a few tables, and a single private booth. Gronk was already at the bar ordering himself a drink. Bluce stopped at the doorway and leaned against the wall just inside, his keen eyes watching all.
Jil scanned the room, then pulled a chair up to a table in the center and smiled at the bored-looking man who sat there. “You’ve a heart for more than sitting in this little dump,” Finneus’s silver-tongued voice said. “And I do believe that you are ready to go out and find it.” The captain pulled his eyes from the mote of dust he had been watching and took in the red-headed bard opposite him. He seemed unimpressed. Jil continued, “Naturally you have no reason at all to think that five strangers would wander in here in the middle of the afternoon and propose that you set out immediately on a trip that will make you rich. That doesn’t happen to anyone. Which is why we’re giving you an hour’s notice.”
The captain’s lips curled up ever so slightly. “What are you proposing?”
Relic stepped up behind the captain. “We have a cargo that needs to be carried away from here.”
Gwen leaned onto the back of Jil’s chair. “And where the cargo is going is in need of ships and captains to open up rich new trade routes. You could be among the first, with all the advantages that implies.”
The captain looked from one to the other. “But I have contacts here. I have mouths to feed. How am I to know this idea of yours is true? Or that it would be possible?”
Relic nodded, “These are good questions. But you don’t know the world out there. We do; we’ve been there. Anton has a massive forest at their back door; Ceris commands in a huge field of wheat. Tierm connects them to a vast network of cities beyond, from Broflan to Riyyat.”
The captain looked around the room. Everyone looked as bored as he had a moment ago. He sighed, “S’not as if I am making money sitting here all day.” He paused. These strangers had nothing to show for themselves but bravado, but he had nothing to lose. “Very well; but I need two hours.” He downed his glass, flipped a coin onto the table, and stood. “Pier 190; berthing Q.”
The sun was slanting through the masts when they arrived, and after all the freed Antonians were aboard the solid little barque it was nearing dusk. The ship edged out of its berth and slid through the water toward the mouth of the bay. When it came to the last of the anchored ships the mainsail unfurled and the ship picked up speed, but not too long after a tack to starboard brought them almost to a halt. The tiny yellow pramm before them drew close, threw a hawser aboard, and a moment later a cloaked man climbed aboard, followed by a hulking mechanical man perhaps ten feet tall. The cloaked man looked slowly from bow to stern, his annoyance rising with each armed person he saw. “Papers,” he said to no one in particular. The captain stepped forward with them, but the cloaked man was already moving toward the gratings to look down into the hold. There was no way to spin a shipful of foreigners skipping town.
The fight began when everyone realized this at once. The cloaked man staggered back as he was hit from every direction at once, but soon his mechanical friend was at his side, and a moment later wraiths floated onto the ship to surround those who fought. The helmsman pulled the ship back into the wind and the little yellow pramm soon tumbled off the side as the barque regained its speed. The battle shifted up and down the forecastle steps, but ultimately the cloaked man fell, and in quick succession his wraiths and mechanical ally followed him onto the deck. Yet as soon as a moment’s peace looked possible, the barrelman called out a warning and pointed astern.
Turning to look, all saw the wake of a massive submerged creature splitting the sea into a angry white ‘v’ as it sped toward them. The sails tilted and they caught the full wind, but the approaching beast was faster. When it got a couple hundred yards off it dove, the wake petered out, and for a second it appeared that it would not reappear.
But then the tentacles sprang out of the water ahead. Immediately the ship was amidst them, and immediately after they were swiping across the deck and throwing people about. Relic leapt at the head of the beast, and Gronk ran from tentacle to tentacle leaving bloody stumps. Jil sang about the time when the party killed a kraken, and as she sung the blows she sang of rained down. The helmsman fought to keep them on course as the giant cephalopod shifted his weight and his grip around the ship. But then a final note from Finneus’s lute sent a tentacle flopping, slapping the kraken and loosing his hold.
The ship was free. The giant city receded into the distance, and finally disappeared over the horizon. They sailed for Anton.