“The only way to fool an opponent for sure, is to hide plans within plans.”
***Nothern Coastline, close to Jebli Port***
“That’s an unexpected development.” I watch the burning hull of Gregor’s pirate ship. Night is approaching quickly and the sun is just a fading light on the ocean’s horizon. Contrary to that, the pirate ship is a blazing bonfire. I lean onto the balustrade of the elven longship and squint my eyes at the frustrating scene.
“Three months of following them around and it ends like this?” No. That can’t be, it’s way too convenient. What did I miss? Or is it really just a stroke of bad luck for Gregor?
I try to replay the events of the past months in my mind. The elven king allowed me to take an elven longship, one of the fastest vessels on the ocean. Averting my eyes, I inspect my vessel. It’s twenty metres long, and sleek. A single person is enough to control it. Made from expensive ironwood, it’s the height of elven craftsmanship.
Two weeks after I started my pursuit, I found Gregor’s ship back at its normal route. I expected a long and tedious hunt, but the pirate didn’t even try to hide. He just bought the spacial chests and went back to his normal business.
Gregor did nothing extraordinary and played his scheme of being a simple merchant ship. I followed them on seven trips between the Consortium and the Sociocrathy. The time between the ports was mostly a boring game of waiting. I had to stay close enough to observe the pirates, but far enough away for my camouflage to work.
The spell which bends the light around the longship doesn’t work at close ranges.
In each port, I used my ability to thoroughly interrogate members of Gregor’s crew. They gladly told me everything they knew, which wasn’t much. Apparently, Gregor’s subordinates don’t even know that some of the crates in their cargo area are spacial chests. Gregor himself never left his ship and stayed out of my reach.
I tried to sneak onto the ship, but the vessel was too small to walk around in unseen. I could have used my ability on the crew, but they would have remembered me. My ability isn’t able to affect so many people at once. At most, I could charm a handful and make sure that they didn’t remember me asking for vital information.
The king assumed that there was a connection between Gregor and Joyce, but I am starting to doubt that. The man could have been working for anyone with a lot of money. Maybe someone realized the potential of having access to large amounts of spacial chests. It could be anyone, even a nation.
All this time, Gregor had definitely been up to something. That much is clear. But what can he do without the knowledge of his crew? The interrogations made it clear that he was running a strict regime on his ship. He was like a dictator who couldn't be crossed. So, maybe it’s possible to keep those chests a secret.
Though, where is the point? He spends a lot of money on cargo area and then he takes contracts to transport artefacts from the Consortium. Those don’t need a lot of space. The contracts didn’t even make him a lot of money. Yes, but if he doesn’t need a lot of cargo area for the artefacts, then it’s easier to hide the spacial chests from his crew.
Admittedly, I caught them three times in acts of piracy, but that’s not why I am here. Two times, they attacked other merchant vessels. In neither case did they leave any living witnesses. They took all the cargo as well. Nothing strange about that. If they left someone who could recognize them, they couldn't have returned to their home port in Jebli.
Once, they took an imperial slave trader and spared most of the slaves. I checked the vessel after they left. The slaves weren’t exactly cooperative. Their orders didn’t allow them to speak and I soon gave up on gaining any information. Someone gave them a very complicated set of orders before I arrived.
One possibility is the slavers themselves, the other is Gregor. If the slavers made the slaves useless, then it’s possible that Gregor simply ignored them. Though, I found it strange that he spared them, so I followed them back to Jebli Port. The authorities took care of them when they arrived. Everything seemed to be in order. Therefore I decided that following Gregor has a higher priority.
So I turned the longship around and tried to catch up to the pirates, just to find their vessel a few kilometres out in the ocean.
As I watch, a spectacular explosion rocks Gregor’s ship. The fire must have damaged something with a lot of magical power. Why are there no lifeboats?
I decide to risk it and head to the steering wheel. If the longship gets too close, the camouflage spell won’t hide it. Though, that hardly concerns me at the moment. I have to find out what’s going on.
The ship slides through the water and I steer it close enough to be sure that there are no survivors in the water. The explosion taught me to be wary of getting too close, so I stay at a safe distance. There are some bodies in the water, but none of them seem to be alive.
As I drive two circles around Gregor’s ship, the vessel slowly disappears beneath the waves. The explosion must’ve caused a large leak, because it takes less than five minutes for the ship to sink. I notice that there are some bodies in the water. Being a very thorough person, I check all of them for signs of life.
After an hour of checking bodies and driftwood, I still found no answer. All I learned is that some died because of magic and others by the sword. Fourteen men. Did the others burn on the ship? Was the ship full of dead bodies when I arrived? Fourteen corpses hardly make up for a crew of ninety seven men.
I draw a deep breath and try to find an explanation. Something went wrong and everyone died with the first explosion. No, too convenient.
Maybe they got cocky and attacked the wrong vessel? That would sound plausible, if we weren’t so close to Jebli Port. Gregor is a smart pirate, he wouldn’t attack another ship so close to a port city.
I stay and search until the last rays of sunlight are gone, then I give up. My only other clue are the slaves, so I return to the steering wheel and point my little ship towards Jebli Port.
It feels like I only saw a small part of the whole picture. Whoever set this into motion, he has larger plans than piracy or smuggling.
“Run, you rats! By the sea, seeing you guys on land is a disgrace! Did you forget how to walk during your time on our ship?” I curse and urge them on. “Don’t drop any of the chests! And don’t even play with the thought of defying me! You saw what I did to those who refused to get in line!”
I step off the narrow path which leads down to the shore. Looking back, I quickly count our numbers to make sure that all my remaining men and the chests are here.
The third mate approaches me. He was tasked to be the tail-light. “Everyone is here, captain! Could you please explain what’s going on? The men are getting restless. It’s a mighty leap of faith to sink our ship and follow you through a teleportation circle. Since when do you know such magic?”
“That’s none of your concern.” I clench my teeth and scratch the scar on my chest. It isn’t my magic. I merely followed the notes in my instructions. My own thoughts were in turmoil when I studied the teleportation circle. I didn’t even know that it was possible to use an enchantment to create a short range teleportation effect. And I must say that I don’t understand the spell, but it works as long as there are two circles which link two locations. I drew the one in Jebli Port months ago.
I dismiss his questioning gaze. “We had to be sure that we aren’t followed. This operation will make all of us rich enough to live for the rest of our lives in luxury,” I lie.
The third mate pulls down the corners of his mouth. “Not everyone.”
“All of you know very well that I don’t tolerate any form of insubordination or mutiny!” I watch as my people gather on the shore. It’s already dark and only my magelight offers some illumination. I head down the narrow path and join the others at the beach.
“What now?” one of the men asks.
“We wait.” I pull out one of the smoke sticks which are so popular in the Consortium. They have a relaxing effect, but many healers say that they make people sick. It’s not like it matters. I ignite it with a spark and inhale deeply.
The men are mumbling between themselves. Some glare at me and don’t bother to hide it, but I ignore them. It’s not like they have enough magical ability to oppose me. My recruiting policy is to never hire someone who I can’t subdue easily.
I am smoking the seventh stick when a dark shape appears on the ocean. The twin moons provide just enough light to illuminate the ship between the waves. People call the moons the brothers of the night, but I never cared about religion. They are simply two dim lights in the sky which are sometimes very inconvenient.
The shape quickly grows and closes in on the beach. Grey sails appear above it at the last moment and one of the larger rocks is crushed loudly as my new ship beaches itself. A long ramp is lowered onto the beach and twenty hooded figures in black clothes rush down to the beach. They don’t speak a word and quickly run inland.
One of them stops in front of me and hands me a pile of documents. I recognize the old man who raised his hand when I asked for someone who is able to read. Without a word, I take the documents and nod. He pulls his hood down to hide his face and follows his companions.
I turn to my men. “What are you waiting for!? Get the crates on board our new ship!”
I light another smoke stick while they hurry to get everything on board. This part of the plan sounded risky, but I assume that it isn’t that hard to steer a ship which uses force magic for propulsion. The slaves only had to drive the ship a few kilometres up the coast. There was no need to rely on the sails.
The secondary way of propelling the ship had to be added. Otherwise, there would be no way to get the ship going again once it is beached. The propulsion spell drains the crew’s mana reserves, but it’s okay to use it over short distances.
I draw in a deep breath and exhale smoke, then I follow my men on board. As instructed, I have to make some changes to the ship.