The Fetch turned hard and unleashed a salvo from its starboard cannons, raking one of the warships – the Faithful Squire – with light hits that soon became major catastrophes; the cannonballs buried in the wood exploded in waves of sound that blew shrapnel belowdecks and shattered every window aboard.
Over the din of the battle, a voice called out, enhanced by sorcery.
“Surrender!” the voice demanded. “You are outmatched! Lay down your arms and prepare to be boarded, or else be sent to the pits of Hell from whence you came.”
On the deck of the Fetch, Margrave’s eyes flashed with fury. He dug in his pocket and retrieved a small crystal rod, which he touched to his neck. His voice, when he spoke, echoed across the seas.
“Have you not heard?” the captain answered, chill rage in every tone. “Hell is empty, and all its devils dwell upon the earth! Mister Greene, the kinslayers!”
Margrave pocketed the rod just as two of his port cannons fired at the undamaged ship. He winced; the Faithful Squire had found its courage once more, and its return volley shook the Fetch‘s timbers and released a symphony of pain from its crew.
“Captain, First Mate Borovich is dead,” Anka called out. Margrave looked where the tiefling pointed and saw a greasy smear where his friend once was.
“Engage the wytch-shroud! Make good our escape!” Margrave ordered, making for the crystal embedded in his mast. He closed his eyes and focused, trying desperately to tune out the sound of cannons tearing into his beloved ship. Screams of pain and fury echoed from the ship hit by his kinslayer rounds, but the Faithful Squire continued to pound away at the Fetch. Margrave just needed one mind, one weak mind –
The pirate captain descended on the weakened mind and left it ravaged with terror. And then, with an almost dismissive gesture, he left it to spread like a plague.
“Shroud engaged, captain! Heading?”
“Take us to Shatterdown, Ms. Hollowshade.”
* * * *
“So, that whole having-a-last-name thing. Means your family’s nobility, right?” Aisling asked.
Anastasia nodded. After a long night of training, she’d stripped her armor so that she could relax in the common room of the Protection Racket with a mug of coffee and some conversation. “Nothing too major. Landed knights, and I was the fourth child. Not a lot of hope to inherit, you know? Not even out of maliciousness, just because, well, not a lot to give away.”
Aisling mimed playing a mournful tune on a violin. “Spare me, Bishop.”
“I’m not complaining,” Ana said hotly. “It’s just part of why I chose to become a paladin. I had to do something with my life and when I felt the calling…well, it also felt like the answer to my aimlessness. Admittedly I didn’t expect to end up here of all places, but Sir Glasshammer says that a paladin’s life is rarely predictable.”
Aisling stared quietly at the red-haired paladin for a moment. “No, that’s not it. You’re not telling me something.”
“How do you always know?“
“Well, to start with you won’t look at me when you’re lying, even by omission, and second because every time I accuse you of omitting things you lose your cool and ask how I can tell.”
Anastasia stared silently at the Scarlet Princess.
“Well?” Aisling prompted. “I’m waiting.”
Anastasia was saved from having to reply by a spry xeph courier entering the inn. His movements could not be described as walking; the xeph jittered from place to place, as though not running was taking conscious effort, and handed a small envelope to Anastasia before leaving as swiftly and oddly as he came. She looked at the wax seal and was both pleased and surprised to see the emblem of her Master – a hammer hanging over a window – pressed into the wax. The paladin opened the letter, read it, and turned pale. After a long moment she set it down with a sigh.
“What’s wrong?” Aisling asked softly, reaching across the table to touch Anastasia’s hand. The young woman looked up at the contact, but didn’t take her hand away.
“A paladin from another Order – the Gravehallow Brotherhood – has petitioned to be my visitor this month. He’ll arrive tomorrow morning, bright and early,” Anastasia explained. She looked away from Aisling.
“And this paladin is…?”