The red pirate’s shining eyes sprang open. The ship’s returning to the water had jarred her and Elie awake. She could hear the ors churning the water, propelling the vessel forward. The sound echoed in the distance.
Elie sat up and gathered their gear and provisions. “We must be in the cove.”
“Yes, sounds like it. We will wait until things settle. I assume the captain will rush to Winston. His crew will have orders to offload the supplies before going ashore.”
They waited and Kasa listened to all the familiar sounds of a crew docking a ship, the scrapes and grunts of burly men loading the cargo onto a large net and the sounds of the large winch being used to pull the cargo.from the bowels of the vessel to the main deck.
After about an hour, the ship was quiet enough for Kasa to dare venturing out of their hideaway. Skilled as she was, it took little effort for Kasa to find her way back to the main deck undetected. The crew that remained were sparse and completely unattentive. She and Elie slipped over the portside railing and quietly dropped into the dark waters below.
Kasa’s heart began to race as they swam ashore. She crouched low and surveyed her surroundings. As Nialy had described, the town was nestled in a large hidden cove. The bay was wide and deep, allowing the several galleon-class ships to be moored there. The massive cavern stretched over the dark waters like a noblewoman's summer parasol. Across the bay, Kasa could make out a black opening.
Above them was the second opening, and moonlight shone through like a column of divine light. The town itself was nestled against the back of the large cavern and featured a massive waterfall for a backdrop. It droned loudly and would have, in normal circumstances, made all else difficult to hear. That, however, was not the case. This was a pirate town, and pirates like to party.
Over the roar of water, music, laughter, shouts, and cries filled the air. Kasa smiled; she’d not been a pirate in quite a while, but this felt like a place she would enjoy. Elie handed her a black hooded cloak. She put it on and started walking toward the nearest street.
“This is quite impressive,” Elie said.
“Aye, it's amazing what you can do with ambition and necessity.”
The town consisted of fifty or so buildings of varying construction that were laid out in a haphazard, organic fashion. Some were little more than shacks, some were converted ships, most were constructed of wood, some of stone. Kasa and Elie lurked through the poorly-lit streets and blended in with the shadows. There were people everywhere singing, fighting, drinking, and a few screwing.
“We need to find the largest building here.”
“Is that where you believe Deadeye will be?”
“The asshole was pompous enough to establish his own fucking town. Where else would he be?”
Kasa headed toward the highest point. They transversed over worn wooden planks, and the runoff of the waterfall roared beneath them. Up ahead, Kasa spied a tall, flat-topped stone building, painted red, nearly identical to the Crimson Widow. It was surrounded by a twelve-foot stone wall with an iron gate at the entrance.
“There,” she pointed.
“I see, quite pompous,” Elie acknowledged.
Kasa nodded. “Looks like he's confident enough to not have guards posted.”
“It was stated that the entrances were enchanted. Mayhaps the walls of his keep are enchanted as well?”
“Possibly; let's have a closer look.”
Kasa ducked into another dark alleyway. Skillfully, she evaded two ambushes from local cutthroats before exiting the backstreets and standing by the west wall. Kasa had no talent with magic, but her mentor taught her enough to evoke wards. She hadn't done it in years, but she was fairly certain she still knew the the trick of it.
The red captain outstretched a hand and concentrated, feeling with her mind the magic around them. Elie stood beside her, watchful for trouble. After a minute Kasa lowered her hand, breathing heavily.
“None that I can sense. I remember why I normally bring Kleine with me.”
“She is a capable mage and a solid first mate.”
“Which is why I trust her with my ship,” Kasa said, removing a grappling hook from her pack. She tied the hook to the rope Elie handed her. She gave the hook a good swing and lobbed it over the wall; it struck the other side. No sound could be heard over the roar and echo of the lively town and raging waterfall.
She gave the rope a tug until it snared firmly to something on the other side. Kasa scaled the wall with ease and crouched low on top of it. A moment later, Elie appeared beside her. Kasa looked over the wall into the yard. It was large, about forty feet wide, and it needed to be. At the end opposite of where Kasa and Elie stood rested the Crimson Widow.
The sight of red galleon-style ship, beautiful in the ambient torchlight, made Kasa’s heart flutter. Memories of how she was acquired, battles they had seen, and people she had played with flashed through her mind. Kasa could see the ship was going through repairs, fixing the damage Kasa, herself had caused in her pursuit of Winston. Elie tapped her on the shoulder. Kasa turned to her pulled from her thoughts. Elie silently pointed to a hapless guard making his rounds.
Kasa nodded and walked along the wall’s edges toward the waterfall and the back of the large manor. They hopped down into the sand-filled yard, and Kasa pointed for Elie to lead the way. The crimson pirate crept in Elie’s wake, matching the light-footed elf’s steps. As they snuck toward the large balcony she had spied from the wall, Kasa swept her tail back and forth, masking their tracks. One after the other, they scaled the wall and eased themselves onto the damp balcony. The waterfall was close enough that it frequently covered the balcony in its spray. Opposite the cascade of mountain runoff was a row of tall windows, giving anyone inside a clear view of the spectacle. Kasa quickly pressed herself against the stone wall next to the windows and peeked inside.
The room she saw was a large meeting area and trophy room. There were paintings and statues on the walls and bookcases full of books, baubles, and a few bleached skulls. There was a large round table stained red in the center of the room and several high-backed chairs which at that moment were not empty.
Captains of the ships Kasa saw in the docks sat across from one another, worried and grim expression on their mucky, dirty faces.
“My fellow captains, I'm glad you could join me,” a voice out of sight said.
Kasa held her breath as a tremor of violent fury jolted through her brain and steam literally rose from her skin. Winston “Deadeye” Braxton slowly walked past the tall windows. His skin was dark, not quite ebony and not quite chocolate but somewhere in between. His head was shaven and seemed to gleam in the glowstone lamplight. His face was broad with a strong jaw, deep brows, and a wide nose. Large, menacing, veinlike scars streaked from beneath a gem-encrusted eyepatch.
He wore an obscene amount of jewerly: gold necklaces, jeweled rings on each finger, even a gold and ivory perfume box hung around his muscular neck. He was dressed in a vibrant red shirt with his bare chest and stomach exposed, revealing new tattoos that covered his brown skin.
Winston continued to speak. “We appear to have a problem, lads.” Winston took a seat in the largest chair in the room. “It appears Captain Nialy was captured and she squawked like a parrot. The Hawks are coming.”
“Whatcha mean, the Hawks are comin’? Ain't the point of this here place to protect us?” one of the pirates Kasa did not know said.
“Yes, it is. Part of that protection is obscurity. We have been exposed”
“How ye so sure?” another pirate asked.
Winston leaned back in his seat, narrowing his eyes. “Paeral arrived early, about two hours ago. He heard rumors in Turianas. I dispatched Oberous with a scrying orb. Just before this meeting, I spoke with him. It's true, the Hawks have twelve ships headed this way.”
“What of the wards?” asked another.
“Yeah, what of them?” many of the others chimed in.
Winston raised a commanding hand. The table full of ruthless cutthroat pirates fell silent.
“The wards and illusion will hold,” he said, and sighs of relief spread among those at the table. “Unless they were able to find out about the lodestones.” The room fell silent once again.
“How did this even bloody fuckin’ happen, Deadeye,” one of the two female captains asked.
“Kasa Brace,” Winston answered with venom and malice. If saying someone's name could kill a person, Kasa felt as if her heart would have stopped in that moment. Gasps of shock and grim expressions of recognition filled the room. This put a slight smile on the crimson pirate’s face. They feared her, as they very well should have. Winston sat forward in his seat. “The she-devil’s black ship caught wind of the Crimson Widow just north of the Basilisk Flats. The red bitch pursued and nearly crippled Crimson Widow at the Fade and Walks. Paeral and Nialy were in position for the flank and dismantle. It seems Nymeria was bested, and Nialy captured.”
“What makes ye so certain she talked? Nialy was tougher than most of this lot,” the female titan captain asked.
“‘Cause Nialy was not an idiot. She was one of the original crew when Captain Deadeye stole the Widow,” one of the pirates Kasa could not see said.
“That's bullshit!” the titan protested.
Arguments broke out among the table. Winston pulled a golden case from his pocket, opened it, and removed a rolled cigarette. He closed the case and returned it to his pocket. He methodically placed the cigarette in his mouth and used one of the burning candles on the table to set it ablaze. He inhaled deeply and held the smoke in his lungs until the table fell silent. He exhaled a long breath, and a grey cloud filled the space above the table.
“Most of you only know of Kasa Brace from the stories people tell at the taverns. How she can kill a man with a kiss, how she could charm a taxman out of his taxes and pants with the same breath. That her blade is swifter than lightning and sting more deadly than a black widow’s bite.” Murmurs went around the table. Kasa found herself amused.
Winston took another pull from the burning tobacco, “This...is...all...true.”
Looks of disbelief was present among the faces she could see.
“Kasa is the devil and her gifts are seduction and lust. Her blade and bow are enchanted to poison you on contact and there is none save maybe myself that can best her.”
“So you're saying she fucked the information out of her?” asked the Titan captain.
“Quite literally, in my humble opinion,” Winston replied.
“What of the black ship? Was she with the Hawks?”
“It was not. In fact it seems to have vanished again.”
“Enough of all this here jaw-jacking, whacha plan on doing ‘bout the damn Hawks?” a pirate out of Kasa’s view asked.
“We assume the Hawks have the Nymeria’s lodestone. We make preparations to defend our cove.”
A round of aye ayes circled the table. The captains rose from table, tipped their hats toward Winston and exited the room. Kasa had to admit, Winston was far charismatic than she gave him credit for. She watched the pirates file out leaving her quarry alone. Elie tapped her shoulder drawing her attention.
Elie spoke using hand signals. “Kill him now?”
Kasa shook her head. Taking advantage of this moment was the proper way to perform the assassination. This, however, was not a proper assassination. This was personal and Kasa wanted her revenge to be loud and very, very public. Winston rose from his seat and started toward the Windows. Kasa turned and signaled for them to move higher. Elie moved with practiced grace up the side of the cobblestone building. Kasa quietly followed behind her, enjoying the view for brief moment. They positioned themselves in the heavy shades just above the wall of windows.
A door opened below them and the tall, burly Winston stepped out into the dim light of the hidden cove. He walked out to the edge of the balcony and leaned against the guard rail. He stood there and stared out at the rushing waterfall.