Muted mutterings murmured in Tig’s ears for hours as he lulled in and out of sleep. He recalled the dark bars that blurred ahead and the flicker of a fire beyond that. Witch doctors sat around the large bonfire and spoke of things both inconsequential and somewhat pressing.
Their words came disjointed and fleeting in the manner of a dream. They spoke of a man they needed to kill. There had been summons from the Witch Mother, the call for the head of Mor’de, the traitor admiral. Tig imagined the scores of witch doctors gathering before a large blue hatted opponent. He saw dozens of black hats rush fruitlessly into a melee they couldn’t win. Because he knew what all else knew. The admirals were strong.
Then he spotted one man challenging the beast despite the innumerable fallen. This man had a bare chest and a pointed hair. Franco.
Tig jagged forwards to the rustle of chains.
“Franco,” he said with his waking breath.
“Back with us, chitik?” asked a similarly chained Gemjo sitting beside him. She pointed at Franco beside her with her chin. “He’s bruised, black eye, maybe two, number of lumps scattered about him, but he’s alive.”
Franco reared his ugly, bloody face at Tig. Purple and red painted it like a canvas. He made what Tig thought a smile as he pushed those lumpy cheeks up.
“I won,” he said simply.
Tig grinned wildly, feeling the man’s victory as his own. While he was beaten, chained and caged, Tig knew his words to be true. Franco wouldn’t lose. Not now, not ever, not so long as it drew him towards his dream as Tig trudged fruitlessly towards his own.
His moon crested eyes traced the man’s wounds, even then he thought of ways to reduce the inflammation. He leaned back, heard chains and spotted brass manacle clamped to his hands and chained to a small stone ring on the ground. He tugged at it experimentally and wagered he could move from corner to corner of the small cage had it not been for the people within.
To his left he saw the Professor’s blue form with hints of white curled up like an animal. To his right he counted Gemjo, Franco, a synergist and a strange man shaped creature that wore an ornamental mask the color of lead.
“He won rightly so,” started the synergist in a grainy voice, “We saw Impele-drey wander in moments before they tossed you lot in.”
“Drey?” asked Tig.
“The opposite of dara,” explained Franco wincing as he touched his cheeks.
The synergist nodded, “Impele-drey, the poor bastard had broken bones and missing teeth. Your friend beat him proper.”
Tig studied the shifting sands of the synergist carefully. He wore a white vest trimmed in red that exposed a chest of swirling designs. The black sand upon his face was simply of two eyes and a mouth whenever he decided to speak. His hair was made of short, militaristic extrusions to his otherwise rounded head.
“And you are..?” asked Tig.
“Kwake, the same captured fool you risked your lives to rescue.” He lowered his voice, scarcely glancing out the bars before continuing, “And by the lack of a certain fiancé I take it you are still rescuing.”
“Nope, she won’t come,” declared Gemjo.
Kwake black eyes wandered low, “If you’re referring to her strained relation to me, I know Chireke, I know she’ll come. Even if she means not to marry.”
“I’m referring to how we happen to be in the middle of a witch doctor camp with captors who happen to be on high alert after their ships happen to blow up,” said Gemjo soon nudging her head at the front of the cage. “Not even Ita could fight through those numbers.”
Tig wriggled his manacles, letting it clutter against the stone floor. “Not that we have a choice with these chains,” he said bluntly.
Franco puffed a bit, “See? Manacles. Brass manacles.”
“Shut up,” sneered Gemjo. “Normal manacles are made of iron and normally, witch doctors, nomads that they are, don’t carry around cages and brass chains.”
“Normally yes.” The introduction of the new voice made the others snap to its source suspiciously. It came from the last man in the cell, the one that wore a lead mask.
The mask turned revealing striking golden eyes that were brighter than Gemjo’s. Plumes of an orange mane burst out of the confines of the mask’s intricate border which took on an almost fox like quality in the way its nose stretched out. His mouth was covered in a grated visor but Tig could make out teeth, sharp and jagged, underneath.
“Normally,” the man continued, his voice juvenile yet deepening, “witch doctors would never gather in such quantity. I’m sure you’ve recognised now that they make no attempt to hide their ill-intentions, what with their blatant volumes. They mean murder. A public declaration of war and made, no less, by the Witch Mother, the very top of their order.”
“Against who?” spoke up Franco.
“Whom. Admiral Mor’de and in extension the Navy. Though I’d think they’d be quick to invoke the Cultural Appropriation Act after the fact.”
Franco swayed forwards to meet the mystery speaker’s eye, “That would make sense. With the act they could kill the man on the basis that he broke their traditions.”
The speaker nodded, “And legally so. Same as how chitik hunters of man may dispatch any non chitik who practice their spells without the slightest accusation of murder.”
Gemjo spat, forcing the speaker to dodge it. “You’re rich aren’t you?” she deduced sneeringly.
The speaker shrugged, “Immeasurably.”
Footsteps directed their ears to the front of the cage where a familiar witch doctor leaned.
“Sambo be requesting ya presence, boy,” said Kenki.
Tig pointed at himself, “Me?”
“Aye, ya be using magic ya ain’t supposed ta know, so now Sambo be knowing why ya know it.”
The door clicked as Tig attempted to defend himself, “Look, about that. All I did was scribble a spell on my skin. That’s it.”
Kenki worked at his chains, “Aye, aye, save it fa da boss, little mon.”
Tig eyed him from top to bottom, “I think you’re shorter than me YEOW--”
His chains tugged and the man drew him forwards. The boy glanced back at his captured companions as the iron parted them. Whoever this ‘Sambo’ was, Tig was not fond of meeting him. Not after how his people detained Kwake, nor for how they beat Franco.
. Tig lowered his chin as the marched through scores of idle witch doctors. He would use this meeting to his advantage. At best he could petition for medical assistance to quell Franco’s swelling. Kenki pulled at his chains to hurry him up and Tig complied, dreading the weight of his steps after having sat for so long. The looks he got fared worse however. They were strange, curious scans from the camp of bone men. Clearly, word of his inopportune spell had reached them.
Amidst their continued glances, Tig managed his own. The living mechanical skeletons surrounded him. There were hundreds scattered throughout the camp crouched, sleeping, leaning and assuming any manner of lazy postures amongst the dancing fires. He wondered just what the witch doctors were as he was ushered through the crowds. He knew they were once regular creatures, beings from every race, but at some point, at some strange juncture in history they cast away half their flesh and became creatures the rest on the seas feared and mistrusted. They employed hexes and curses and spites, weird twisted spirits spells and admittedly stronger versions of written spells.
They were unknowable. To ask what they were was the same as to question Mechanization, and Tig knew entire books could be written on that subject without answering any of the fundamental questions.
His thoughts stopped as did Kenki ahead of him. The wavering flames cast light upon a circle of witch doctors, those within considerably better dressed than their motely counterparts.
The circles doctors were clad in bleached animal skulls and sandy leathers. Countless necklaces crafted of gemstones and seashells hung loosely from their wrought iron necks. A dozen sitting doctors made the circle. A man who sat a head above the rest with triple the necklaces remained just beyond the flame. Tig assumed him to be Sambo.
“Welcome, chitik,” said Sambo. “I am Sambo K’chekbo, named in our mudda’hs presence. Chosen son of our fait.”
“Faith?” blinked Tig. “This—witch doctors—it’s a religion?”
“Da people often mistake us a race or cult. We are neida. We come here in peace.”
Tig shifted and cast his eyes aside. He spoke under his breath, “I would hardly call kidnapping synergists peaceful.”
Sambo stood up abruptly, making the boy stumble a step back as he craned his head to meet the man’s height, “We warned dem.” He spat the words. “We gave dem notice. By right dis land is not deirs alone, it belong ta all da peoples in da sout seas. Including dose who wish only ta congregate here before heading up.”
“Up?” managed Tig.
The other witch doctors grumbled laughs and smiled at each other as if the answer was obvious. Tig remained fixed on Smabo outstretched finger, pointing blaringly to the sky.
“Up you fool.” Entered Kenki. “To da Sky whales.”
Sambo waved him off, “Tis not your concern, chitik, but know dat you using our magic is.”
“All I did was employ written magic on my flesh. That’s it.”
“Not it isn’t. Witch doctor magic is spirit magic.”
Tig gestured at himself, feeling awe at the accusation, “Me? Using spirit magic. Do you mean to say I can do it?”
“You did it,” snapped Kenki.
Sambo spoke louder above his subordinate, “And I must ask ya ta stop. Neva use our magic or recreate what ya did again.”
He did not intend to, so he nodded slowly.
Sambo plopped to a cross legged seat, “Take him back, Kenki. Dat is all.”
“Dat’s it!?” asked two voice in differing fashion. Tig glared at Kenki who had asked in an expecting matter while Tig had merely pried out of caution.
Sambo focussed on Tig, “Ya wish fa worse, chitik?”
“No I… I’m surprised is all. The stories I’ve heard speak of witch doctors casting rituals to consume their victims, savage acts, flaying even. A slap on the wrist is the last thing I expected.”
Sambo cocked his head, “I would break ya wrist had I slapped it.”
“No…” Tig frowned, “I mean without consequence.”
The witch closest to Tig spoke in distinctly feminine voice, “We are not savages, mastah chitik. It is as da son of muddah says we are a fait, noting mo.”
“Indeed,” added the doctor to the left of Sambo. “Mayhaps ya be better at delivering our message to da synergists dan da first two.”
The female witch doctor spoke gain, “Aye, da last time we voice our intentions dey sent a couple on a ‘voyage’ of marriage just ta drag, what I assume, you and ya friends inta dis.”
“Which reminds me,” began Sambo. “Who was it dat destroyed our ships if not you?”
Tig straightened and Tensed, “Uh, n-no one we knew. Different party, yes.”
Sambo squinted at him hard, “den we’ll release ya once we capture da culprit and confirm ya story. Off with you for now. And chitik.”
Tig had half turned, Kenki a few paces ahead.
“Our magic is not fa everyone. Heed my warning,” said Sambo.
Tig nodded and Kenki begrudgingly escorted him back to the cage. The impassable bars shut behind him and he tried his best to ward off questions once the witch doctor was gone.
The rich stranger had the most of them.
“Religion you say? That is most unexpected. I had thought them a cult. I see, now their extreme response to Mor’de’s defection make sense.”
Gemjo leaned against the wall. “What worries me more,” she said, “is how we’re damned should they find Inyande. We need to escape.”
“Agreed,” said the stranger.
Gemjo eyed him carefully, “So, rich know-it-all no name whom we by no means trust, do you also know a way out?”
The man directed his fox nose towards the front of the cage, “I do. Though admittedly I needed more prisoners for it to work, which I happened to have now.”
“Let’s hear it then!” said Franco loudly. Tig and Gemjo hushed Franco quickly and smiled haplessly at the witch doctor onlookers the burst alerted.
The stranger continued when the onlookers waned, “It is less so a plan than my ability.” He hesitated. “Better to show you I think. Mind your hands.”
With a lean to Kwake, he gestured his chin pointedly at the space behind them. Tig heard something swish and the ever present touch of the brass manacles fell away. He drew his free hands to his front and felt at his iron wrists.
Curiosity led him to the split manacles. They had been parted evenly by a suspiciously clean cut. Then he saw the cause of it. A blade of sand slashed through the professor’s chains and dissipated.
“I make the knowledge and skills of any I touch my own and magnify their potency, but only so long as I remain in contact with them,” explained Tafa from behind him.
Tig drifted between the five of them and realised by their reactions that this was the first time the second prisoner had spoke, so he thought he’d ask, “Who are you?”
The man blinked, “Oh. I thought you already knew of me. Very well, pardoning your ignorance, I am Tafa son of Alhim Tafa, one of the ruling trade princes of Al’Tof.”
“Ah, so you’re really rich.” Said Gemjo.
“Do you have an issue with my social status, girl?”
Gemjo spoke with plummeted brows and an even lower tone, “Had you been out of this cage and hosting me at some estate in Al’Tof perhaps not. But right now, right here, you’re pointlessly chained and the only good you can do is mask the drunk’s scent with your perfume.”
“My perfume expired hours ago.”
Gemjo glared to the side, “Rich people.”
Kwake leaned forwards, “What Tafa-dara just did there with chains. That was precision sand manipulation, something I could never do. Tafa-dara’s powers are quite something.”
“But not enough for the witch doctors?” asked Franco.
Kwake nodded, “Considering your presence here, I’m sure you know how strong they are individually, an army of them, well while we could break our chains and bars we would never escape them. So we waited.”
“Knowing the villagers would send others after you,” finished Tig.
“It was a cowardly decision, yes, but our best option at the time and here you are! We were hoping at least one of you had some spectacular power.”
Tig pointed at Franco, “He punches things, I use written magic, Gemjo’s a shapeshifter and the Professor, uh, he drinks a lot.”
Franco shook his head disapprovingly and ringed his arm around Tig’s shoulders, “Oi oi, Tib, not just written magic. Why you used witch doctor magic back there.”
Gemjo pulled the man back and snapped at him, “idiot.”
Tafa stirred, “Witch doctor magic you say?”
“It was just a fluke,” assured Tig. “I used written magic on my flesh and it just happened.”
“Yes, I could use that,” said Tafa.
“Hold on, rich one, we are not yours to use,” pressed Gemjo, “especially with that kind of magic.”
“Worry not, girl, all I require is the knowledge of that power. Any sacrifices will be mine own,” he rolled up the sleeve to his black, gold trimmed coat and revealed an arm orange and white. And furry. White tufts formed the underside while a bristling orange layer lined the top. Circlets of iron and bronze ringed the arm passed the elbow and before his wrist. He had half turned.
With his eyes on Tig, he gestured with that now bared free hand, “May I?”
“It’s our best way out, Gem,” said Tig. He eyed her sadly then peaked at the Professor behind him. He would not see them defeated. Not again. Not when they still had more to travel.
The light touch of Tafa directed him to the man and he found Tafa’s hand on his shoulder.
Tafa nodded curtly then turned to the bars. “Hmm, yes this will work. I’ve a plan,” He announced abruptly. He switched to Tig briefly, “Stir your drunk friend.”
As Tig moved to do so, Tafa continued, “We slice the bars with sand blades and use greater invisibility to sneak out.”
“And if we fail?” asked Franco.
Tafa lowered his head, “We fight.”
It was the obvious answer and one Tig sorely wished wasn’t. He felt himself anger as he tussled the Professor. Why always fight? Why was that the answer?
“Gwah!” snorted the Professor, chancing up for a look, “Did I…? Was I…? Hours why am I in a cage?”
The man’s pointed white face held Tig in attention for longer than he liked. Cocking his head, Tig finally realised what it reminded him of. The Professor had become a rabbit. Tig blinked and shook his head, “Forget that, we’re leaving.”
“Yes exactly!” said Tafa, gripping Tig by the wrist with one hand and Kwake with the other. “We’re leaving now!”
The bars fell apart, slashed to pieces and their company vanished. It was a matter of minutes before a passing witch doctor carrying logs for the fire, noticed the mess of the cage. His logs toppled.
“Prisonahs!” he cried. “Da prisonahs be gone! Alert! Alert!”
Witch doctors zipped about likes bees from a wrestled hive. Orders were levelled and an army of boots crunched the grassy floors.
While the main body of the escaping company fled towards the cover of trees, Gemjo made off on her own and joined them later with a sortie of goods. She laid out the collection before them under the shade of a tree. Tig’s grimoire, Carter, the locket and Franco’s sash lay amongst them. Tig grabbed his book and the locket.
The camp was a clearing surrounded by trees. It was situated, as Tafa recalled in whispered breaths, in the northern most part of the island.
“That’s an issue,” conceded a crouching Gemjo. “We moored near the southern end.”
“Never mind that. We cannot escape without the others,” said Kwake.
Tig glanced between the lot of them, “I agree. Niss Inyande’s done too much for us to just abandon.”
Gemjo sighed, “If anything, she’ll be by the boat. That is if we choose to hurry back without giving her cause to track us down.”
As she said that, Tig studied the blackened night sky and wondered aloud, “And exactly how long has it been?”
“Three to four hours too long,” said Gemjo. “Hence why we hurry. Come.”
With the sea wolf in the lead, the other five followed close, cautiously. They agreed to use greater invisibility only when needed, but remained hidden in the trees and shrubs as best they could. Tig kept a close eye on the oft clumsy Professor in that regard. His strange appearance put the boy more and more on edge. Tig swore he would inquire after they departed, yet he felt pressed to ask the more he stared. A rabbit, the Professor had most definitely turned into a walking humanoid rabbit. His hips were wider, nose conspicuously longer and two hat bound bulges that Tig could only equate to rabbit ears.
The Professor was a mystery, yes, but a rabbit?
There was a tap on his shoulder. “hold,” said Gemjo holding her steel hand up.
Tafa stepped up beside them. “And so are they.” He sneered.
Two dozen witch doctors gathered before the shore and, seemingly, around something. That something flashed bright blue and gave ample reason for the gathered witch doctors to keep their distance.
Tig tried his best to discern what, but to no visual effect.
He froze. Turning to Gemjo, he realised she reached the same conclusion.
Rabbit man stepped ahead of them, his face a mess of angry whiskers and contorted brows. “What, by the hours, is that woman thinking,” he barked. “Mates, we’re done for I say. Suppose the boat still harbors there we’ve got no exit. Except…”
“Except?” asked Franco.
The Professor’s goggle eyes landed on Gemjo.
“No. you are NOT using me as a vessel.”
“Come now, Gem. You’ve got the talent for it, truly. Say you sneak upon that water there, do that transfor-what’s-it magic of yours and we escape swimmingly out of here. Not long’ between here and the next isle.”
“Why don’t you transform into an orca? You seem quite capable to changing forms already,” she said mockingly.
“What you mean by that?”
“Look at you,” she gestured with wide arms. “You’ve become a rabbit.”
“Ah this? Long story that. I’m not actually a rabbit nor part floppy eared bastard. Long story short-ish. There’s a dozen-- important I-- beasts and I happen to be--”
“Point is I’m not doing it.”
“Mate. How else do we escape?”
“I’ll escape with Tig and the rich one, for compensation. We’ll bring back help promise.”
The Professor made a frown with his rabbit muzzle, “Somehow I don’t believe you.”
“Did you just say you’d abandon me?” said Franco.
Gemjo sighed, “Can’t have you thrashing about what with your fear.”
“Ah fair point that.”
Tig pressed passed Franco and spoke up, “Gem, I thought we said we’d stop abandoning people.”
“Be happy you’re coming.”
Kwake’s voice gave end to their squabble, “What of Chireke?”
The synergist, whom they had aptly ignored, was sad-pressed as he had wandered several steps towards the witch doctor cluster.
Tafa started, “Come back here, Kwake!”
“She’s in there. I know it. She’d never leave Inyande-dara alone.”
“Yes, but it is by no means sane to endanger yourself by walking so close,” urged Tafa in a frantic whisper.
Kwake peeked at them from over his shoulders, “I’ve always been the brave one, the stupid one. The half turn who’d sneak onto traveller ships and go off on adventures while Chireke would nervously follow me. She idolizes her you know. Inyande-dara has been her everything since she visited us long ago and saved my life.”
“Yes, yes, glad to hear it, but not now.” Said Tafa.
Kwake took another step, “But ever since Inyande-dara came, Chireke changed. She wants to be brave, even though…” he struggled at the words, “even though she’s already brave.” A loud boom echoed and sand swept up into the air unnaturally. He spoke in a gasp, “It’s begun.”
“Kwake, wait!” cried Tafa.
It was too late. The synergist had darted into the fray. Tafa crept his hair up with both hands, paced madly in circles, and swore a few times. “Damned foolish bastard. We need to save him.”
“Oi, not the plan, rich one,” said Gemjo.
Tafa stomped towards her prompting Franco to slide between them. Tafa eyed him unhappily.
“Would you have him die?” snapped Tafa.
“I…” trailed Franco. “Hours damn it. No. No I wouldn’t.”
“Then, will you join me?”
Franco turned to the ongoing brawl. Now Kwake had joined the fray in full, assaulting the witch doctors with spitting sands.
“I will,” said Franco.
“Then come!” said Tafa with a running start.
Franco swore and caught up, with Tig, the Professor and finally, an unhappy Gemjo.
“But not without a plan,” echoed Franco rushing to Tafa’s side.
“You have a plan?” cried Gemjo.
“I know it unusual--”
“Unheard of,” interjected Gemjo.
“—but our earlier gambit inspired me. Hold.”
They halted, puffing and Franco, ever quick to recover, gestured to the chaos a stone’s throw away, “use your magic Tafa. Conceal us in sand when we reach Kwake then hide us with great invisibility ’soon as we spot the ladies.”
“That… that’ll work,” hummed Tafa.
Franco squared for the fight and swung his shoulder forwards, “After me then.”
Tig kept his distance behind Tafa and Franco who plunged into the thick of it. Sand rushed haphazardly and skeleton men flew. Just as he lowered his hands he had raised to deflect the rogue sands he spotted Inyande and Chireke engaged in the battle.
He saw Kwake smiling wildly as he kept his back to Chireke, both spinning their hands to monstrous effect. A whirlwind of grains followed, pelleting the witch doctors, and, more importantly, gifting Inyande with cover. He watched in awe as fighters of the same calibre as the formidable Kenki fell haplessly to Inyande’s incomprehensible movements.
Like Franco, she used her fists, but unlike the now sparring man, her fists were accompanied by a ghostly glow. Then she saw him, standing there, ogling at her dumbly. And she charged, catching the boy off guard. She missed him a moment before impact and hifted into a black wolf. He heard cloth crumple and defeated grunts, and, when he turned, he saw two witch doctors on the ground and several more backing away.
“Shi shi. Have you learned nothing, cursed one? Watch your surroundings.”
“Niss Ita, we got--”
“Captured? I figured as much when you kept us waiting. So, what’s this then? Reinforcements?”
In the reflection of her blade, still tethered to her back, he saw Tafa and Franco by the synergists waiting. The Professor and Gemjo were there to. Tig shook his head, grabbed Inyande by her coat arm, and pulled her towards the synergists.
“We’ve a plan, Niss Ita. Follow me. Trust us.”
She spied behind her, “Aye seems it.”
“Then? What are you waiting for?”
She withdrew her blade and directed it towards the witch doctors who had backed away. Of the still standing witch doctors, those there formed the majority of them, now congregating with palms pushed together in prayer. They had not retreated out of fear, rather out of planning.
Something grand and fiery bubbled above them. It was bird of flame, magnificent and forming. His clutch loosened from the woman’s robe, and, as if it were his tether in the madness around him, he fell.
“Tangatta’s wrath,” she named it. “Nasty spell that, and not something you could escape. Witch doctor flames are not flames at all but curses. They kill that which cannot be killed.”
He remembered Franco in that moment and, worse, his village. Some fires burned more than flesh and rock. Tig staggered back, gagging to the sight. He shook his head, resolving for a practical answer, “Then?”
“We cannot escape,” she said readying her blade.
He did not want to want to hear that. Not now, not when a massive spell hovered just overhead of them. Mairci’s words seem to reverberate in his head mockingly, incessantly. The sea is dangerous… the sea is dangerous…
If only he had listened.
The spell flared, its avian form screeched, and with buffeting wings of flame and ire, it soared into them.
Inyande’s blade left a trail of blue and the flames that promised their deaths sprayed dangerously around them. It faded moments later, leaving all present in awe, save the woman who cut it.
Inyande Ita, the strongest woman in the world, smiled daringly. She drew her blade back and met it on the cusp of her shoulder.
“Is that all!” she taunted them. “You’d been better off fighting with your own strengths.”
That was a challenge none could answer after seeing what they did. Inyande could cut through anything.
He steadied himself to his feet, his eyes a quick drift to the witch doctors, then the distant figures of more approaching.
“Yes, cursed one?”
“Do you see that?”
She took a moment, but realised it all the same. “Ah, I see. You’re plan then?”
He swiveled back, “Tafa now!”
Sand erupted all around and a familiar hand tapped his shoulders. Tig, Inyande and the others vanished shortly after. Minutes passed as they trudged silently down the shore. Tig breathed easily. Even though he could hear the uproar of witch doctors, he felt at ease knowing those cries got quieter and quieter.
He saw the smiles on the faces of his companions as the cloak faded. Even the oft unenthused Gemjo cracked a grin. They had escaped. Hundreds upon hundreds of witch doctors and they had escaped. Though, motives granting, Tig knew those same captors were not truly as wicked as he thought them to be. He realised then just what the witch doctor elders had meant.
“They tricked us,” he declared without warning.
“Who did, Tik?”
“The synergists,” he answered.
Chireke and Kwake, who been silently walking side by side, scarce to look at one another, shook momentarily.
“Shi. What are you suggesting, cursed one?” asked Inyande from ahead.
“The witch doctors warned the synergists of their coming, but the synergists sent Chireke and Kwake anyways, knowing they’d fight and get captured.”
“What? Tib, why would they do that?”
Tig made a frown with his metal jaw, “Because they knew Inyande would come. They knew outsiders would solve their problems.”
Inyande turned to the synergists who been conveniently quiet, “Is this true?”
It was Chireke who answered, a cruel shame gnarled in her notes, “Yes, Niss Ita. It is.”
“Hours damn, and I burned their ships,” she balanced her head on her hand as they trudged forwards silently. Minutes passed and Inyande shrugged, “Ah well, not something a few hundred witch doctors should mull over. They’ll recover. I do feel bad for the trees here they’ll need to chop down.”
“Perhaps a ship or two will chance by and they’ll escape?” suggested Franco.
“Perhaps, but let us worry of our own vaunted escape,” said Inyande slowing.
The others kept on their usual pace, unfretted now by the sufficiently distant cries, while Inyande slowed and slowed, and finally, stopped. They walked slowly because they knew they were close to their quarry, but even then, to stop was the same as inviting danger.
Tig followed her seaward gaze and came to a complete halt.
“Navy,” he said in a terrible breath. Fours ships bobbed a ten minutes swim off the shore. Caravels, the lot of them.
“Worse,” said Inyande, “moored navy. They’re on the island.”
“That is correct, cap-i-ton I-ta.”
She reached for her blade, but paused to the sound of a pistol clicking.
“We thank you for the scuttled ships. Capture should be easy now,” Military steps patted quickly upon the sand. “For them and you. Hmm, you do not fight? Good. Yes yes, wise girl to know when you’ve lost.”
A full company surrounded them, a spell of invisibility fading from their bright blue covers and levelled muskets. The man who gave Ita pause was short with a smoking pipe for a nose. His eyes that clicked and whirled were golden monocles with a constantly focussing lens underneath.
“Salamon,” swore Inyande.
“A pleasant surprise to find you, yes? We were summoned by a missive.”
“Impossible! My people would never betray her!” roared Chireke.
“Hmm yes, but betray you they have. Convenient on our end. Niss Inyande Ita, by will of Cap-i-ton Admiral Mor’de, I place you under arrest.” Salamon spun and eyed each of them individually, “Any conspirators among you shall also be placed under arrest.” He paused on Tafa, “The missing prince. He shall be escorted to Al’Tof.”
Tafa bowed, “much obliged. Pray, would you release my synergists friends here? They were victims here not associates.”
Chireke jutted forwards, “That’s--”
“True,” said Kwake, “We were victims, mostly me, but my fiancé would have been next if not for your brave services, Salamon-dara.”
“I see, yes. You are free then.”
Tig flinched as that same Salamon snapped to him next, squinted and raised his hand, “Ensign Gepa, search the boy.”
A half turn imperial man made to Tig and patted his coat. Seconds later, he pulled out a locket. Tig saw Salamon lower his spiralling brows to that.
Salamon gestured for the locked and the ensign tossed it over. Salamon studied it for a full minute once he caught it. He nodded briskly, “These are them. These four are to accompany us to Jing Mon Ceros.”
“Accompany!?” the voice came from a blue cloak that cut through the crowds. Tig knew her instantly. As did Gemjo with her involuntary snarl.
Remy saluted when she came into view, the red scarf still ’round her neck, “Beg pardon, Captain Salamon, but these five are criminals guilty of stealing an army vessel and imprisoning a soldier.”
Salamon shook his head, “They accompany us, Cap-i-ton’s orders.”
“But—they. I--”Remy fumed and lowered her head. “Yes sir,” she muttered bitterly.
Tig could barely think, let alone address Remy, so he turned to Salamon and asked the first question he could think of, “Where is Jing Mon Ceros?”
Salamon made almost mechanical movements, flicking his arm out then up. The outcome was a perfect reflection of Sambo’s earlier gesture, yet now, dumbly, Tig thought to follow it. The ruddy night sky greeted him, drowning in clouds and aether.
“Up,” said Salamon.
It was the inevitable answer.