I made sure to avoid the notice of the roving shapeshifter as I made my escape. When I felt I was out of immediate danger, I reviewed my prompts.

The Athair has sunk your vessel!

You have unlocked the quest Sins of the Father, Sins of the Son. Despite your personal admonitions on how you never cared who your father was, deep down you recognized it was untrue. Now, the identity of your father will have untold consequences for your new life. Find out who he is!

I stopped swimming, stunned into immobility. It was only the slight upward buoyancy of my drifting body that snapped me back into motion.

I didn’t like being called out on feelings I buried. The message was right; my passive attitude about the absence of my father was a front. I’d always felt abandoned by the man, or worse – discarded. The idea that my father was the deceased Marston noble was no comfort, and the Marston family had gone to extensive measures to make sure I never felt like he could have been. Rather than fruitlessly roll in my anger and sorrow, I buried it and moved on as best I could. At least, until a prompt with a quest popped up to dredge the grave.

Why did I get a quest for it? Quests didn’t pop up involving every mystery. There was no standard quest issued to bastards labelled ‘find the identity of your father’. Why did I get one? Was it just because of who I was? Did the power of my position make it a concern big enough to warrant a quest? Or was it my father who was important enough, and I only got the other half of what he was pursuing?

Was my father pursuing my identity? How would I feel if he tried to find me after all this time?

No, that was too coincidental. My quest probably was only half: it was labeled as sins of both the father and son. Yet the timing of it stank. Why had I been given this quest at the exact moment I encountered the invisible wall? Was it possible that was the moment it became applicable – that my efforts clashed with those of my father? Was my father on the Athair?

I hardened my heart to those questions. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I would never pursue this quest. The man who’d hired my mother as a courtesan and then left me behind didn’t deserve my attention. He could rot in the deep for all I cared. If he dared to stand aboard a ship that opposed me I wouldn’t hesitate to send it to its grave!

I scrutinized the docks before I exited the harbor. Things were indeed quiet, but that wasn’t to say the docks were vacant. Crews, workers and bystanders were huddled to watch the ship and gossip about what was going on. I climbed up a pier that should have been out of sight from anyone, but a small man immediately walked toward me. It was easy to see I was his destination by how focused he was on me. I met his eyes as I deliberately moved to avoid his path, and we were both shocked at the result.

Unknown Human has tried to engage you in mental combat!

Mental effects resisted!

The man didn’t seem to expect the result any more than I’d expected such an attack. It painted him as a clear enemy to me, however. I glanced around and saw no one else in the vicinity, so I met the man’s eyes again. This time, I was the instigator.

I’d spent enough time training with Renshaw that entering Tadra was natural to me, even if I was dragging an unknown mind with me. I found myself on the familiar deck of my ship, though now there were storm clouds rumbling over the crystal waters.

My opponent was even more stunned to find himself in my mindscape than he was that I’d resisted his challenge. He immediately tried to escape back to his body, but I refused to concede. With a cry he fled instead, looking to find another means of removing himself from my mental domain.

He ran to the side and jumped over, landing on the water and running, each stride carrying him further and faster. I dove over the side as well, but the water accepted me into its depths. I rocketed under him and interrupted his escape in a whirling waterspout. He was surprised enough that his next step failed to catch him on the surface and he crashed into the sea.

I was frankly rather surprised. I expected someone who knew the deeper mental magic to be much more proficient in Tadra. Either he was an amateur, or my training with Renshaw had skewed my standards.

I bound him in ice, but he teleported away. It took only a moment to catch him again, overwhelming his efforts to alter reality with the power inherent in my own mindscape. Isolating and controlling his mind then felt easy.

Renshaw had never allowed me to practice subjugating or exploring his mind. I didn’t blame him; the old wizard had his secrets and the practice would have him at my mercy. Nevertheless, we’d discussed the principles in detail. Now I found that domineering my opponents mind was intuitive – borderline easy.

My mindscape faded slightly while I dove into the man’s mind. He was terrified. He knew I was Jones’ lieutenant and he knew I outclassed him. He hadn’t been able to cry for help. There were five others picketed along the docks – two masters and their apprentices. They were waiting, fulfilling their role of the plan … making sure Jones’ lieutenant had no allies on hand to help him escape the trap that was in place.

I pulled my mind back slightly to process that. It was a trap specifically for me. They knew I was here. How?

It was harder to root that knowledge from this apprentice; he wasn’t directly involved in it. Apparently, there’d been some means of noticing the magic I used when I raised my ships. It wasn’t enough for them to pinpoint, but every ship I’d raised as practice had been a beacon helping them to narrow down the area. When they had it narrowed down enough, some mage specialist had performed a spell that identified my location. It was a long, difficult spell but I’d given them ample opportunity by staying in the same spot so long.

Now they were here to exterminate me. King Leopold had spoken with other nations, and Oorkom had spared some of its ships in the endeavor. The mage who’d pinned my location was aboard the Athair, and she was using magic to restrict the movement of any cursed being. They were only able to block the harbor mouth, but they believed that would be enough. They would scour the harbor until I was dead.

There was no question of any other option. They had no contingency for taking me alive or even asking me questions first. They also didn’t believe I was capable of coming ashore. The mind mages had been looking for possible accomplices, not me showing up myself.

That made me wonder if I hadn’t missed an opportunity to have accomplices. Renshaw knew my secret and hadn’t condemned me for it, could I have established a network to support me?

Bah, what did I know of making or running something like that? I’d be terrified the whole time someone was going to rat me out. Maybe I missed the chance for a few more confidants, but certainly keeping my secret had been the right play.

Andros’s army had postponed their planned takeover of Tulisang until after everything was in place to get me. They’d had more than enough time to prepare, were backed by additional troops and allies, and even had sources inside the city that were willing to help or make deals. That went far in explaining the quietness of the town; Tulisang’s leaders already knew it was coming and had planned accordingly. Apparently fighting in the streets wasn’t part of their plan this time. The timing of the local quest to eliminate the wolf-bat problem was coincidental, but they capitalized on it to make their move easier.

I tried to see if there was anything about Renshaw in the plans for the city, but this apprentice didn’t have any such knowledge. I breathed a quick sigh of relief. Renshaw should still be safe.

Dominating my opponents mind gave me options on what to do with him. It would be easy enough to kill him, but I worried that his death might send some sort of alarm to his master. He was also only level 4; despite the fact he knew a deeper magic. Life in Andros’s court hadn’t provided many opportunities for leveling. The XP I might get for killing him wasn’t worth the risk.

But I couldn’t risk him sharing what he knew of me, could I? If he was found dead, all they’d be able to glean was that he’d been killed with mental magic. If he was rescued, they’d know I could step on land, they’d know my name and whatever stats the apprentice could recall, and they’d know how powerful I was in Tadra.

I didn’t have a choice. I grasped his mind and began to destroy it.

In the physical world, his body would be experiencing no changes besides a drop in HP. I was inflicting direct mental damage onto him, and after I’d inflicted enough his mind faded away, gone from my mindscape and his body.

I left Tadra and scanned the area, ignoring the prompt of XP gained. Engaging in mental magic left you vulnerable. The apprentice laid on the ground where he’d fell. A pair of sailors were approaching, having noticed something was going on and investigating.

I grabbed the apprentice under the arms and propped him against an old crate. I started talking to him and slapping his face like I was trying to get him to wake up. When the sailors arrived I stood and ran past them.

“He’s not looking so good! I’m going to try and get some help!”

One of them called out a suggestion for a nearby healer, so I had to divert a bit to look like I actually was going for help. By the time any mind mages came around looking for him, I’d be nothing more than an anecdote in the unexplained story of how the apprentice died.

I was going to Renshaw’s place by an indirect route to make sure I wasn’t leaving a trail. It was when crossing a main road that I saw the occupying force.

Andros’s military wasn’t here as a token garrison anymore. Marching down the street was a wall of yellow and black with shields magically linked. There might not be much resistance, but they’d more than prepared for it. There were forty shield-wall soldiers at the front of the formation, another forty in the rear.

In the middle was a strange group of twenty: they wore uniforms of red and black and carried strange bows. The bows looked like someone had made a longbow into a crossbow, but then added another facing the wrong direction. The bulky design of limbs and strings was not what I expected of an archer regiment, but a quick analyze said they were all better trained with their weapons than the shield soldiers. Were these the ‘allies’ that the apprentice had thought of?

Between the archers and the shield soldiers were several mages. They had magical shields surrounding them to protect from ambush tactics. One of them spotted me watching and yelled for me to return to my home. I quickly departed, but only to circle around somewhere else.

I encountered several such companies while crossing town, and those were the lightly armed patrols. The main concentration of forces seemed to be localized where they expected trouble: the territory of the green armbands. I heard sounds of some fighting, but it was more like resistance being put down than rebellion.

I approached Renshaw’s home thinking about what I expected him to help me with. Was there a way to move through the encroaching army down the coast to a beach outside of the ambush that had been set for me? I could find some boat small enough for me to manage on my own. Would I have to be alone? Tulisang was no longer anything but a trap for me. It wouldn’t be much better for Renshaw. I knew the wizard would reject any offer to be part of my crew, but maybe he’d be willing to escape with me? Who knows where our friendship could go from there? I didn’t need to be his captain if he was willing to hang around as a friend.

His door was ajar.

I immediately picked up on the splintered doorjamb and dropped into stealth. I peeked through the door and adjacent windows but saw no one and heard nothing. I entered slowly, cognizant of potential traps. There were no traps, no signs of a struggle, and no people.

I wasn’t foolish enough to call out. I snuck around the house to check for other signs. Maybe Renshaw had broken his own doorjamb, but that strained credibility. If there weren’t signs of a fight, then it meant Andros had entered to make an arrest and he’d gone with them willingly.

There was a struggle though. When I got to the bedroom the signs of magical damage were all too clear. Renshaw had been alerted and fought. Surely he wouldn’t have fought against troops?

Surely if he had fought, there’d be signs of his victims. Renshaw was much too powerful of a mage to go down without taking his attackers down with him. I could understand attackers taking their dead with them when they left, but where was the blood?

What if it hadn’t been troops that had arrived to arrest him for the training he’d given pirates and the unbridled talent he possessed? What if someone else had come for him? An older enemy from his past? He’d thought I was something else when he discovered my curse, what if the people he really feared had found him like Andros and Oorkom had found me?

The battle extended from Renshaw’s bedroom through a broken window into the backyard. There – at least to my senses – it ended. I hunted about for signs that Renshaw had escaped or the battle had moved somewhere else, but I lacked the tracking skill and my observation skill wasn’t up for the task.

I went to the adjacent house and banged on the door until a wizened old lady cracked it open. She looked me up and down and her expression soured.

“Whaddaya want?”

“The house next door,” I growled, jerking my thumb. “What happened there?”

She glanced outside in the direction of Renshaw’s home. “He woke me up last night with his magicking! I look the other way for all those people he has coming and going, training them outside of a proper college. But if he starts making as much of a commotion as he did last night, I’ll see that he’s arrested! See if I don’t!”

With a few more questions, it became clear that the old woman knew nothing other than there’d been a commotion. I pounded on more doors in the neighborhood but didn’t get much more information than that.

“I did see someone wearing black,” the man across the road said. “It sounded like a fight, so I peeked out to see what was going on. Not that I’d know who to help. To my understanding, wizard Renshaw was teaching anyone who had the coin.”

“Yes, yes,” I said, impatient with the politics of the situation. I knew that all Renshaw’s neighbors had been at least tolerant, if not friendly. Everyone knew there was a regime being established in town now, so they suddenly became upstanding, patriotic citizens. “Who did you see?”

“No one, least no one I might recognize. Like I said, they were wearing black robes head-to-toe. I only caught a glimpse of one, looked like he was standing watch. When the fight stopped, nothing else happened. I probably watched for close to an hour, but I didn’t see anybody leave. I was getting ready to go over there this morning to check on him when the army came back.” The man shrugged. “I figured by that point, it was too late to help the old man if he needed it anyway.”

I made an effort not to grind my teeth. “They were all wearing black robes … did they have a crest? Symbol? Anything?”

The man shook his head. “Nothing. They were trying to avoid anything like that, I’m sure of it. Funny, I didn’t know the army had people who did that. My cousin’s in the army you know! I’ve heard from him …”

I left the man before he could find a way to remind me how patriotic he and his family were. None of the neighbors knew anything besides there’d been a commotion, with one account of mysterious black clad figures.

Renshaw had been captured. There was no body, blood or remains of any kind – not from him or his assailants. Who captured him remained a mystery, as it seemed less and less plausible that Andros would preempt their invasion to take out a single wizard. Especially not if it necessitated a team powerful enough to do it without casualties. People that powerful would be needed elsewhere.

I’ve never felt so trapped by my curse, not even when I was seconds from dying on the docks. Renshaw had been my friend – my best friend. That was a less pathetic way of saying my only friend. He had been captured and I had no lead and no time to hunt one down. If the army had captured him then I had no means of helping, not in the hours I had left. If it was another organization I had even less chance.

I had to get myself out of town to safety. I had to leave my friend to his own fate.

I cursed the military and all the factions in town, adding in a shadow organization for good measure. I’d had a friend here who was only a persuasive argument from being a companion. He’d been snatched away just hours before I had the chance to ask. Was this an unintended effect of my curse? Was anyone I considered a friend caught up in it and rushed to their own fates?

With shaking fists, I forced myself to leave the area. I forced myself to ignore the feeling that I was abandoning someone who’d helped me, who’d been kind to me. But before I did, I went inside Renshaw’s home and took several books from his library. I did it partly because I was being pragmatic: I needed more information and he didn’t need them. The other part of me wanted to have memento’s and tell myself that I’d safely store them and return them to him later. That allowed me to believe I hadn’t seen the last of him.

I scouted out the edge of town and found that ‘surround the town’ was being taken literally. There was no wall of shields but there was a soldier picketed every few yards and reserves waiting for an alarm to rush forward and quash any attempts to escape. I don’t know if it was my fault, but King Leopold had invested far more troops than necessary to assert control over his unruly port.

I found myself on the same street I’d been on when I first entered town several months ago. I’d come looking for some food and basic supplies, finding training and a means of experimenting with my profession was just gravy on top. I’d grown attached since then, used to the routine, the friendship with Renshaw, the camaraderie with Kane and his other itinerant students.

I’d considered asking Kane for help, but Renshaw’s first warning about the man stuck in my head. He was a heck of a trainer, but he was a mercenary. He couldn’t be trusted with my secret and he wouldn’t stick his neck out for me with the trouble going on. With no other options presenting themselves, I walked the same road I had on my first visit.

So it wasn’t that surprising when I found myself outside Donovan’s Reef. I’d avoided the area ever since I’d caught that hawk spying on me. The tavern was nice, but the risk just seemed too high. I’d hardly thought of food as anything except fuel for the past few months, I’d been pushing myself too hard.

I thought back to the night when I’d run into Donovan doing whatever shady business he’d been up to on the docks. He hadn’t been happy to see me then, but maybe he’d just thought I was spying on him. There were a number of things he was no doubt involved in that he wouldn’t want me to witness. The cloaked strangers he’d been with had sailed out before Renshaw’s capture and didn’t seem to match the description of the assailants anyway, so I doubted he was involved in that aspect of it.

Feeling the noose tightening around me, I entered Donovan’s Reef.

It was still early morning, and with the trouble going on the place looked deserted. Donovan was still behind the bar, though, and a troupe was practicing for an evening performance that would probably be very thin.

I thought I heard the Old Man say:

"Leave her, Johnny, leave her."

Tomorrow you will get your pay

And it's time for us to leave her

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!

Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!

For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow

And it's time for us to leave her

Oh, the work was hard and the wages low.

“Leave her, Johnny, leave her!”

I guess it’s time for us to go

and it’s time for us to leave her.

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!

Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!

For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow

And it's time for us to leave her

We swear by rote for want of more.

"Leave her, Johnny, leave her!"

But now were through so we'll go on shore.

And it's time for us to leave her.

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!

Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!

For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow

And it's time for us to leave her

“Pilgrim!” Donovan greeted me enthusiastically when he saw me, no trace of awkwardness over our last encounter. If anything, there was a twinkle in his eye. “I was hoping you’d be a regular those months back when I pointed you towards Smitty, but you’ve kept yourself a stranger. Too busy to drop by and scope things out?” He seemed to find something he said very amusing.

“I have been busy,” I said, approaching the bar. “Trained up a few of my skills. Tell me,” I gestured at the empty room and then at a large patrol that was passing by outside. “You seem awfully chipper this morning. I would’ve expected you to be a bit more concerned with everything going on.”

Donovan swept his arm in a grand gesture to his establishment. “What does a businessman such as myself have to fear from soldiers? My dealings are entirely legitimate! More soldiers will simply mean more customers.” He chuckled again, like there was hidden meaning in his words that only he found funny.

The performers had to pause while one of their number replaced a string, leaving an empty silence to underscore my headache. I’d had a pretty rough morning, so I was in a bad mood all around. Donovan’s merriment didn’t improve my disposition. “You mean you’re not a member of the Free Brethren?” I accused.

Donovan waged his finger at me. “The only crime of being associated with the Free Brethren is when they take up arms against the nation or facilitate the theft of slaves, such as that unfortunate business on the plantation the other day. My compatriots and I … why, we only support the advocacy program of the Free Brethren. Entirely legal! We’ve gone so far as to approach the commander of the local forces to make sure our position is clear.” He was still amused. “So imagine my surprise to see you of all people back here today. Tell me,” he leaned forward, his elbows on the bar. “What help can I offer you this fine morning?”

I didn’t have the time to involve myself in the politics at play here. “I actually need a ship out of town.”

Donovan looked surprised, then suspicious, studying me intently. I knew his analyze skill was good, but he hadn’t seen through me before. I’d only ever made him apprehensive.

“Now why would you need a ticket out of town today?”

“Turns out that trouble I came here to avoid arrived with the army. Now I’m in the awkward situation of trying to get out of a town that’s doing its best to keep anyone from making an escape.”

“You’re lying,” Donovan quietly. “Why are you keeping at it? We threw your superiors a bone and there’s no evidence. What do you hope to achieve?”

“My superiors?” I said, surprise coming easily to my voice. “Wait, you think … you think I’m working for the army? As a spy? You think I’m an informant trying to get you to talk?”

“Aren’t you?” Donovan said quizzically.

“No. No, I’m not! I don’t care that you’re Free Brethren, even if one of your mages did try and zap me during the last battle! I don’t care if you’re on a crusade to free every slave in the nation. I don’t want anything to do with the local politics here.”

“Then who are you?” Donovan demanded.

We both paused to think about what was going on and what we’d said and assumed in the past.

“You were the one spying on me with the hawk, weren’t you?” I asked.

“And you were waiting outside the Gate to spy on us.”

“The Gate? Was that the ship where I saw you the other night? No, I wasn’t waiting or spying! I was walking by! If I was spying, do you think that ship would have just left? You were hiding, what? Almost a hundred people on board? Who they were or what you were doing wasn’t any of my business!”

Consternation filled Donovan’s features. I must’ve guessed true. He’d been happy because his ship had gotten away clean in spite of what he saw as my interference.

“That leaves us the question: if you’re not spying on me or my fellows, why do you need to get out of town so badly?” He was scrutinizing me like if he could just try hard enough the pieces would click and he’d be able to understand me.

And to both of our surprise, that’s exactly what happened. Donovan made a logical leap and armed with his knowledge his analyze skill easily verified the assumption.

Your ability “Hide True Nature” has failed!

My face paled as his jaw dropped.

“So you’re the one!”

I backed away, preparing to cast magic and pull any of my weapons from my inventory, should I need to. Donovan just stared slack jawed. Before I did some hasty preemptive strike he gathered himself and glanced around, then beckoned me closer. When I hesitated he did it more insistently.

“They’re dredging the harbor for you! They didn’t think any spawn of Jones’ could step foot ashore.”

“I’m hardly spawn.”

Donovan nodded. “But they do have you closed in, and you want a way out.”

“And you’re suddenly willing to accommodate me? Why does this smell like a trap?”

He pointed outside his windows at the red-and-black uniformed troops at the center of a patrol. “Do you see that? Those men are from Makam: the new human empire. The empire is huge, they’re our only neighbor in the east or south. They stretch all the way across to the outer oceans. The emperor wants to own Andros and build his wooden rails through here, establishing a continuous trade route from the outer oceans to the inner ones. It’s a vital piece of the puzzle they need to keep expanding. They’re at a stalemate with their neighbors right now, and Andros is the weak link.

“The emperor offers to help King Leopold fill his coffers by establishing a slave trade, and that kid monarch jumps to lick his hand! The emperor says port trade is vital to imports and exports, and the king leaps to crack down on Tulisang. The emperor offers to move troops into Andros to help bolster their numbers and organization, and the idiot kid goes for it! The only reason Andros isn’t part of Makam already is because the emperor knows Leopold will be a loyal pet if he doesn’t rush things.

“Why would I help you? Old histories say that Davy Jones was a captain during the peak of the second empire. When he was betrayed and cast into the sea the ocean chose him as its avatar to break the empire and whatever the empire had been doing to the seas. He made the seas run red with imperial blood, weakening their hold over each colony. The oppressed inhabitants of each nation were able to rise and reclaim much of their own thanks to him.

“Until that quest was shared months ago, I didn’t even think Davy Jones still existed. Would I support anyone that did something like that? You betcha. If I thought there was a chance that power would come again to deny a similar evil, do you think I’d help it escape a trap in an occupied pirate town so it would have a chance?” He brought his face inches away from mine. “Bloody right I would!”

I wanted to believe Donovan, but what I wanted to believe didn’t matter much anyway. I only had a few hours before I’d have to run back to the harbor and take my chances fighting whoever came.

“Do you have a way out for me?”

Donovan chewed his lip for a moment. “I do. The Gate was taking all the slaves we were able to free from the surrounding plantations during the chaos of that local quest. That was a significant portion of the workforce, all the farms that can afford it have swapped to slave labor. Because of everything that’s going on now, more slaves are being moved out – either for ‘safekeeping’ or to be sold at Dagat.”

“You can smuggle me in with the slaves.”

“No, I can’t. What I can do is get you a position on the ship that’s carrying them to market. I’ve … well, such ships are currently unpopular and they’re under-crewed. I can bring you straight to the captain and pass it off as Free Brethren ingratiating themselves with the regime. You’re a dab hand, I gather?”

“Yes. When does this ship sail?”

“The last group of slaves should be arriving by noon. They’ll sail as soon as they have them in the hold. They want to get the ‘investments’ away from any potential trouble.”

“Alright, I’ll do it.”

“Seaborn,” Donovan grabbed my shirt and pulled me halfway over the bar. “You go on that ship for passage only. I’m helping you because I think it may help others. You pick up the slave trade yourself and dare show your face here again … the sea have mercy on you.”

“I hope the sea has mercy on me anyway.” I said as he released my shirt. “I used up all my life’s luck in one week, four months ago.”

Donovan went to a back room to grab some of his things. I waited, antsy and shifting on my feet. The band had started up again and the lyrics spoke to me, injecting me with melancholy.

Oh, the wind was foul and the sea ran high

"Leave her, Johnny, leave her!"

She shipped it green and none went by

And it's time for us to leave her

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!

Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!

For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow

And it's time for us to leave her

The old man swears and the mate swears too,

“Leave her, Johnny, leave her!”

The crew will swear and so will you and

it’s time for us to leave her,

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!

Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!

For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow

And it's time for us to leave her

We swear by rote for want of more.

"Leave her, Johnny, leave her!"

But now were through so we'll go on shore.

And it's time for us to leave her.

Leave her, Johnny, leave her!

Oh, leave her, Johnny, leave her!

For the voyage is long and the winds don't blow

And it's time for us to leave her.

I hadn’t become attached to Tulisang – not the land, at least. I’d become attached to my time here, though. The friendship I’d had with Renshaw, the normalcy I’d had with Smitty and Kane, even the camaraderie I’d had training with pirates … all of it had added up and lashed me to the town as tightly as any mooring line. The song seemed to be speaking to me, telling me my time here was done. The friendship and normalcy were gone.

Donovan left the bar and led me personally to the docks to a carrack named the Consort. Of course it was a carrack. If I was going to make an escape, it would have to be aboard a ship I hated. Donovan led me up the gangplank and made a beeline towards the captain, a grizzled bulldog of a man with a nose that looked like it had been broken more than once.

“Captain Burdette!” Donovan said, with a cheer that I knew must be fake. Before he could say anything else the captain interrupted him.

“Whaddaya want here, copper-mouth?”

I hadn’t heard that particular slur before, but I could tell there was vitriol behind it and Donovan struggled briefly to maintain his false cheer.

“Well Burdette, I’m looking to make some restitution. I tried finding some hands to supplement your crew, but most of them seem to have gone to ground. You probably wouldn’t want too many from me anyway, would ya? Anyway, this here feller’s got years of experience on the sea and all he’s looking for in return is a ride out of this brushfire before it eats us all up. How about it?”

I was a head taller than Captain Burdette, and he looked up at me like he was trying to place where he’d seen me before. I hope he didn’t solve that puzzle, because I already had. Months ago when I first arrived, the king had posted notice of the quest involving me. In my impatience, I’d barged up and snatched the notice from a man, then ignored his temper.

Captain Burdette was that man.

He analyzed me critically and I took the chance to do the same to him. He was level 17 but had a seamanship level of 24. That put him among the best sailors to ply the waves. In all my years at sea, the highest seamanship level I’d ever seen was 27 – it was a private goal of mine to make 30 before I died, and at my rate it just might be possible. Captain Burdette didn’t have my perk, but he was clearly a natural to have such a high level and no gray hairs. At least, I didn’t think any the hairs on his shaved head were gray.

“Lad, you know that this here’s a slave vessel, and you agree to work for me and follow my orders?” He glanced at Donovan. “And none of this bleeding-heart nonsense over the goods?”

Are you sure you wish to enter the service of Captain Burdette?

“Yes, captain,” I said, accepting the prompt. The same things had happened when I signed an agreement with Smitty. If Jones suddenly showed up to demand I break my agreement, I’d just thank him for getting me out of this mess.

“Good. I’ll take ‘im, Donovan. Don’t think this single sailor is going to redeem yourself any, though! Now get off the Consort before the next batch comes, and I swear if I see you up to any funny business with them I’ll have you wearing chains too!”

Donovan raised his hands in surrender and backed away, shooting me a meaningful glance as he departed. Donovan wasn’t saving my hide out of friendship, he thought I’d be useful. That was fine, it was fair play. He also didn’t want me to make friends with Burdette or anyone else here. If the captain was as abrasive with me as he was with Donovan, that wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t plan on making any promises, though.

I looked out to where the Athair sat in the mouth of the harbor. I’d made the first step, but I still had to get past that ship that may or may not have my father aboard. I sure hope that wall that blocked me didn’t extend above the surface of the water.


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