13th Voyage

41 - The Injustice and the Phantasm

The tale of a false captain helming a false ship.

Attsu is the first through the curtain into the Sea Oasis, the others just behind him. Within the wineship, a mid-afternoon standoff between two corsair crews seems to be building to a pitch. On the one side, a trio of sailors wearing the black and red that seems to mark them as from the Injustice; the other faction wear odd gilded baubles that seem to resemble bottles, the mark of the Grand Elixir. Two younger wine-sellers watch nervously, and a dark-skinned elf woman with white braids eyes the fractious corsairs with more cynicism as one of the Injustices tells one of the Elixirs that he was expelled from a broken-faced gargoyle.

Attsu is still sizing up the largest and likely most dangerous sailors in each crew when the enforcer from the Elixir draws a jambiya. Attsu’s chain-whip flicks out, wrapping around the corsair’s blade and embedding it deep into a table before its owner can so much as object. “Calm down,” rumbles the clockwork man. “This is not the place.”

The Grand Elixir crew take a few steps back. The Injustices tense, hands on the hilts of their weapons, but the leader of the trio glances to a corner. The well-dressed, blond elf there makes a gesture, and the three corsairs stand down. The elf rises from his chair and approaches with a peaceable smile; Kismet and Aya recognize him as Caeril Sunhair, the Northlander turned corsair-captain of the Injustice. “I admire your consideration for the peace of the city,” Caeril says to Attsu. “You are a reasonable… man.” He gestures to his men, and the group leaves the Sea Oasis.

The white-braided elven woman sets an extra bottle on the table where the Grand Elixir corsairs drink, saying “Thank you for being slow to anger.” Then she invites the Twist of Fate venturers to sit at an empty table. “Please, have a drink, on me.” She glances back at Attsu. “…Do you drink?”

“No,” says Attsu, “but please see to my friends.”

The venturers, Hajuda, and Tiyesha sit down, and the white-haired woman pours cups of quite good wine. She asks their business, and they tell her that they’re searching for Eremit, the wife of Barbafir Bloodmouth. “Your arduous journey is at an end, then,” their hostess remarks. “I am Eremit.”

The venturers explain the situation, that the Ascending Flame — in particular the Uncrowned Unnat al-Shim and his captains — are hunting Barbafir’s wives to draw him out and capture him. Hajuda speaks up to confirm the risk. Eremit regards her two sister wives for the first time, and all three women carefully evaluate one another with varying levels of confidence. Aya leans in and diplomatically smooths away the tensions with light conversation, while Attsu stands and leaves the wineshop for a moment.

Outside, Attsu scans the area. He notes a man a few piers over sitting with his feet in the water, and recognizes him as one of the Injustice sailors with his red and black sashes removed. Attsu reenters the wineshop, shifts into his scouting cat form, and leaves via the opposite window. He climbs onto the roof of the Sea Oasis and speaks the name “Barbafir Bloodmouth” to the Hunter Jewel — and yet there is no response.

Inside, Eremit seems quite won over by Aya’s charm. She explains that the Crocodile Jewel obscures Barbafir from divination, which is no doubt why the Ascending Flame must use such conventional methods to draw him out. “Like a crocodile at the bottom of a river,” muses Aya. Eremit also states that Barbafir has been boasting of a grand heist and bringing her a sultan’s ransom in treasure. He seems convinced that he can rob the Eye of Hunger itself.

Aya informs the others that some jinn sometimes create domains in the mortal world, elemental manses where they can enjoy dominion away from their other powerful and noble kin. Shahzada Warralash the Engulfing likely has a manse of his own at the bottom of the great whirlpool, and if he could somehow be compelled to bring it to the surface, then perhaps it could be robbed.

“Well,” says Eremit, “Barbafir is out hunting for a shipwreck. It must be part of his plan. He’s often said salvage is beneath him, and that he prefers robbing ships above the water. I don’t know where it is, precisely… but I have seen the charts.”

“Can you mark our charts if we bring them?” asks Aya. Eremit nods.

Kismet heads out to the Twist of Fate to retrieve copies of the ship’s lesser charts. As she leaves, Attsu notices from his perch on the roof that the Injustice sailor takes out a mirror and seems to be evaluating his personal grooming. But Attsu’s unblinking lenses pick out something very odd — the face in the mirror is not the sailor’s. The mirror seems to be an enchanted tool of communication.

Attsu slips back into the wineshop as Kismet returns, stationing himself near the door. He tells the others about the Injustice spy’s mirror as Eremit marks the charts. Aya and Kismet think back to their brief encounter with Caeril Sunhair, and both women immediately flash to the same realization: the elf spoke with a faint Khavayish accent, not like a Northerner from across the Jadesea. Aya’s first thought is “illusionist!” The two women rapidly speculate that someone has taken over the Injustice — or is it the Injustice at all, or another ship disguised with a grander illusion? The venturers decide they must investigate, and swiftly.

The venturers’ plan is to infiltrate the Injustice once it’s dark. Eremit offers to feed them in the meantime, and sends one of the shop attendants to purchase kebabs from a local street vendor. More sailors fill the wineshop as the day lengthens and ends, the crews of various ships including a few from the Gilded Peacock and a different shift of Injustice crew members.

Kismet moves over to the Injustice table, and begins socializing with the crew there. The sailors — the quartermaster, a mate, and a veteran corsair — are sociable in return. They chat about several things, and Kismet discreetly inquires if they’ve taken any notable prizes of late. The mate claims that they took an Izir ship of late; the finest goods are destined for trade on the Plunder Market, but they claimed some interesting things among their share of the spoils, particularly some fine glasswork. Kismet leans in and asks if she might take a personal look. The quartermaster is amenable; he notes that he wouldn’t mind making a profit of his own, and he has a very interesting glass dagger as part of his share.

“All right,” says Kismet, “let’s go have a look. Another wine for the road?”

“No,” grins the quartermaster. “If I’m to barter this evening, I want to be sober for it.”

“That sounds reasonable,” she replies. “Then I’ll pass on the wine as well.” The small group pays for their wine and makes to leave, with the one sailor dashing off to relieve himself, letting the others know he’ll catch up.

Kismet wanders with the crewmen to the Injustice, chatting the whole time. Attsu keeps her in sight, following discreetly in his scouting cat form. Aya follows even farther behind, though she sends Ramjat ahead to keep a bird’s eye view on the group.

The Injustice sailors welcome Kismet aboard, teasing her a bit but otherwise being respectful. She goes belowdecks to the quartermaster’s living space; he has a small cabin of his own, and she follows him in. While his two companions wait outside, he opens up a small chest and withdraws a sheathed knife. He presents it to her — and then, gripping the sheath, he draws it and slashes at her in a single motion. Time seems to slow for Kismet, and she sees a tarry, glistening substance on the metal blade, and smells a numbing scent…

Yet, if any sailor on the Jadesea has ever known the kindnesses of Fate, it is Kismet. As the Injustice quartermaster finishes drawing the knife, he lashes out too quickly, and slices his own thumb in the process. He staggers, stares dumbly at his bleeding thumb, says “unflurba,” and then falls to the floor with a heavy thump. A voice through the closed door asks if everything is fine in there, and Kismet calls back with a quick reassurance.

Attsu creeps up one of the lines and into the hold of the Injustice. Voices filter down from abovedecks, as the sailors talk of being ready to catch “the cat.” He prowls through the darkened ship until he reaches the cabin where the quartermaster’s two companions wait outside the closed door — one carrying a long rope, the other a buckler and belaying pin, and both waiting for Kismet or their crewmate to exit. Attsu races toward them, transforming into his war form. The two goggle at the massive metal shape looming quickly into the lamplight.

“Meow,” says Attsu.

He takes one sailor’s head in each hand and bounces the two corsairs skull-first off the nearby bulkhead. The two fall unconscious to the ground, and Attsu reunites with Kismet, who is already looting the cabin. She takes books, a few spare charts, a valuable bauble or two, and then she finds a ship’s manifest. Kismet turns quickly to the latest entries, where she discovers that the ship resupplied in Izir — rather than at the expense of an Izir ship — and the name mentioned in the manifest is not the Injustice, but rather the Phantasm.

The two decide to leave the ship the way Attsu came in, wriggling through a porthole and taking a line to the pier. Kismet makes it quietly, but Attsu is not so lucky. As the two race through the darker, narrower streets of Zarat, a cry goes up: “There! It’s the cat!”

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