Poison ((Short Story))

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Poison ((Short Story))

Post  Izdazi on Fri Feb 01, 2013 6:54 pm

Captain Ranki stood quietly on the forecastle of his ship, reveling at the warmth embrace of the sun upon his dark scales. The winds were gentle and but constant and he could smell no storms in the horizon. He straightened the loose brightly colored kenden woven vest he wore and directed his gaze back to the deck of his ship. His crew worked diligently lashing the sails and executing the various tasks that go with sending a vessel into the great sea. The cargo, mostly grain and preserved fish were already secured in the hold.

Beyond the stern, the jagged cliffs of Dessia were receding in the distance. And with each league further, Ranki knew he’d grow more confident. He was always more at home in the water then on land.

A stream of rapid clicks pulled his gaze higher up the forward masthead. There, he saw his first officer descending along mast, head first downward. Out of respect of rank, she waited until she was eye level with him before looking at him. He could see his reflection on her glassy lime green eyes. Her long platinum hair was done back in a ponytail favored by many sailors from the southern shores of Dessia.

“The starboard waverunner sail lashing has broken again. We have spares but we must anchor in order to repair,” she quickly explained. Ranki issued an annoyed trill and strode over to the starboard side of forecastle to inspect the waverunner. Without the sail lashing, their ship would lose nearly a third of its speed.

He looked beyond the waverunner to the gleaming golden hull of the Coast Guard trimaran that had been shadowing them since they departed from port a few hours ago. Until the Coast Guard gave them final clearance they were restricted to moving at only a quarter of their main sail.

Not that it mattered. Even if he had full sails and had the gales at their back, the Sedena could never outrun a Dessien trimaran. Of course, there were other threats far out into the Sea of Calm and Storms. Unlike the Carens and other such nations, Dessiens ships didn’t travel well armed. Their primary defense was their speed.

If it weren’t for the layer of metal laced with quick-gold that lined the Coast Guard trimaran and the quick-gold used in the fabric of their ultra-light sails, he could probably even outrun them. But outrunning the Coast Guard would mean he could never return home.

However, if he stopped and dropped anchor to repair the lashing that would almost assuredly mean that the Coast Guard would arrive to render assistance. The last thing he needed was to have them snooping around his ship.

“Is there a problem?” their pale soft-skinned Caren passenger asked as he climbed up the steps to forecastle.

“<An unforessseen failure of one of our sssails,>” Captain Ranki quickly responded in the Caren’s language. To his annoyance, he always had problems with the ‘s’ in the spoken tongue of the Caren. “<Our sspeed will be diminished.>”

“Why not repair it while we’re this close to a port?”

Ranki gestured with his head at the trimaran.

“<They will demand to know our deviation from the prescribe route of egress from port. Do you wish to give them a pressing excuse to board the Sedena?>”

That response quickly silenced the smelly mammal, much to Ranki’s satisfaction. He didn’t appreciate being talked down to by the tall foreigner, regardless of how interesting, and potentially lucrative, his risky business proposal had been.

He turned to his first-mate, Seeii, who was still standing a little behind the Caren. To his slight disappointment, she had tightened a dark colored fishing coat over her multicolored blouse. Though he liked how she looked in that shirt, he understood that she’d spent a great deal of time checking the riggings high on the masts and had grown cold up their.

“<Secure and stow the starboard sail. We go with only two,>” he ordered. Though the outsider couldn’t tell, from the tone of the brief burst of clicks she unleashed he could tell she wasn’t pleased with this. Just like he, Seeii knew the risks of the open sea. But being the loyal first-mate that she was, she wouldn’t question him openly before the crew, much less this foreigner. With a nod, she jumped back to the mast and gracefully climbed to the top.

“What does that mean?” the Caren asked, pointed at something behind the captain.

Ranki turned and studied the rapid flashes of prismatic light being issued from the bow of the Coast Guard ship.

“We have been given permisssssion to leave,” he replied with smile. He waved at the Coast Guard ship, even though the vessel was far enough to be a blur with his nearsightedness, Ranki knew the captain must be watching his ship with scope.

“<Seeii! Full sails!>” he called out to the top of masts. Even though the billowing sheets obscured her from view, he heard her confirm her order and then start calling out to the crew.

The captain started making his way to the stern of the ship. Much to his irritation, the Caren followed.

“Captain, there’ something else you should know.”

“<It wait,>” Ranki hastily replied as he arrived at the tiller. A beefy Dessien helmsmen nodded at the captain’s arrival. Both his hands were on the long horizontal rod that controlled the rudder below the waters. During rough seas it wasn’t uncommon for up to three crewmen to control the single massive rudder. Thankfully, the Sea of Calm and Storms was gracing them with her calm demeanor.

“It’s important captain,” the mammal persisted. Ranki tried to ignore him, but the scent of his sweat was becoming too repulsive. He took a quick glance at the charts and then at the compass.

“Helm. Maintain heading of 300.”

“Yes, Captain,” the helmsman responded as he studied the large compass set in front of his station. He began making minute adjustments to the tiller to see the captain’s request through.

“<Now what?>” Captain Ranki asked, turning to the foreigner.

“There’s a problem with part of the shipment.” The cryptic response was all Ranki needed to hear. He gestured for the Caren to follow him below decks and toward the stern of the ship.

All around him the wooden skeletal structure of his ship groaned and creaked. Cargo pallets shifted slightly, but their motion was arrested by the multiple lashings that secured it to the deck. The dim greenish light cast by the lichens that had grown into the metal floor runners guided them along the corridor. At the end of the hallway, Ranki pulled out a key and unlocked the door. He pushed it in and strode into his cabin.

Though not particularly large compared to the sea going vessels of other civilizations, the captain’s quarters at least provided a quiet private place for him. The rest of the crew slept on hammocks in the cargo hold. One of the auxiliary storage areas had been converted into a guest cabin for their Caren benefactor on this voyage.

Despite the privacy and privilege of having his own cabin, like most Dessiens, Captain Ranki preferred being outside. Especially on sunny days like this. He didn’t want to be in down here any longer then he had to.

“<What is problem?>” he quickly demanded, not bothering to correct any missed words in their tongue.

“The men I hired ran into an unforeseen problem when they acquired are ‘other’ cargo. Unfortunately, they couldn’t decide what to do so we seem to have inherited their problem,” the Caren explained. The way he cryptically spoke was growing irksome.

With a hiss, the captain pulled a hidden leaver behind one of the rafters. A large hatch in the floor of his cabin popped open slightly. He swung it the rest of the way open, grabbed a lantern and crept down.

The briny stagnant water in the bilge smelled almost as bad as the mammal. His bare feet sloshed through the water. Behind him, he heard the Caren follow. Careful not to trip over the large rocks that were used to balance the ship’s center of gravity, he stepped past one support beam and suddenly froze.

There were four large cloth wrapped crates on either side of the dead center of the ship. Ranki had expected to see those, however. He had supervised the loading of them into the secret hatch below the cargo deck. Not even his first-mate was aware of this cargo.

It was the bright purple eyes staring back at him that surprised him. Someone was tied to the mast between these crates. It was a female Dessien. Her braided white hair and the bright robes she wore were stained with grime and dirt.

There were three dots etched around her ‘third’ eye.

This was not part of the deal. Angrily, Ranki turned and raked his claws down the wooden wall next to the Caren.

“<What is meaning of thisssss?!>” he nearly screamed. “<Are you trying to kill usssss?>”

“The men I hired on land outright refused to kill her,” the Caren explained.

“<Of course they would not! She is priestess! Kidnapping priestess not part of deal!>”

“But we couldn’t let her go. She’d report what we’ve done.”

“<This is wrong.>” Ranki exclaimed.

“I say we wait until the night falls and everyone is sleeping and throw her overboard. Be done with the whole thing.”

Ranki hissed again at the Caren’s damnable plan. This time, however, their foreign benefactor grew angry.

“Look. We’ve paid you a lot of money. Once we reach North Weisburg, you’ll become one of the most influential Dessiens in all of Ten Hand Commonwealth. We’ve made all the arrangements. Your new future is waiting for you. Are you going to allow a little thing that like this to deny you this?”

Ranki looked back at the female priestess. A bundle of cloth had been shoved cruelly into her mouth, keeping her from uttering a sound. Her eyes appeared a little sullen, no doubt from the two days she’d spent in this dark bilge. Yet, he didn’t see much fear in them.

“Look. If you can’t do it, just tell me. I’ll make some arrangements at port. There’s always someone looking for slaves.”

“<Let me think. I will tell you later,?” Ranki stated. “<Leave me to think and tell none of the crew of this. I do not want my profits to sink because I have to share with them, but if they find the priestess I will have mutiny.>”

“Fine,” the Caren responded. He carefully began to trudge away, but paused a moment to turn back to him. “I’m sorry about this. We didn’t expect to find a priestess in the caravan.”

“<It is done. So be it,>” Ranki muttered as he followed him back to the stairs without giving the priestess another glance.


* * *

Nagging doubts kept Captain Ranki’s thoughts clouded throughout the day and as evening came those thoughts only prodded him more incessantly. He wasn’t sure what to do with the passenger he’d suddenly inherited. This wasn’t part of the plan.

Normally, the feel of the Sedena gliding over the great waves of the ocean would calm his nerves, but this time, it was different.

Oh, he’d smuggled things before. It was a fact of doing business with the other lands. Goods like foreign-made weapons and art were always of interest to his people. Most of the time, however, it was guachi.

What he usually smuggled out were what all the foreigners seemed to have an aching for: Quick-gold laced weapons and amulets.

But this time it was different.

He’d kept a cool composure for the benefit of his first-mate and crew. And of course, he wanted to keep his Caren benefactor confident in eagerness for the reward. But secretly, Ranki was terrified.

He watched as some of his crew began pulling out instruments and the sound of music flooded the deck. In the past, he’d watched as they danced through the night. They were a good crew who served what they thought was a humble captain.

What had he just made them accessory to?

Quietly, he made his way below decks and back to his cabin. He locked the door and threw an additional heavy bolt. Then, he opened the secret hatch, picked up a lantern and canteen trudge back into the bilge.

She was exactly where she’d been left. Not that she could go anywhere bound as she was. If anything, her sullen eyes radiated more caution, but still little fear. The music playing above deck sounded muffled this deep in the ship.

“You must be thirsty,” he said. Dessiens usually ate just one meal a day and could go nearly four days before the onset of hunger. But water was a daily necessity, if not more so. “I will remove this gag. Stay quiet. I do not want to have to kill you.”

She nodded slowly and remained still as he removed the cloth. Once free of the gag she flexed her jaws. To her credit, she didn’t make any sound beyond a dry cough or two. He held up the canteen and she drank from it slowly, but in earnest.

Once the canteen was emptied, he put it down and retrieved the gag in order to silence her for the night.

“You are going to die,” the priestess stated quietly, causing him to hold back from gagging her again. There was no vehemence or threat in her tone. It was as if she was telling a fact.

“Dessia is leagues behind us by now. And I doubt anyone will mount a major rescue operation for a priest of such low ranking as you. But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”

“And I pity you and your crew. Do they even know what is contained these?” she said, tilting her head toward the nearest cloth wrapped crate.

“No. Only I do.”

“And your Caren master.”

“I serve no foreigner!” he hissed.

“So you are an opportunist,” she pressed on.

“No more so then our grand queen, the alchemist guild and the order you serve,” Ranki snapped angrily. “You deny our place in this world by hoarding that which makes us coveted.”

Ranki turned and abruptly swept the cloth off one of the crates. It was a sturdy wooden frame. Inside, however, was a large glass container. In the bluish glow cast by the lantern, he could see a dark viscous liquid slowly sloshing with the rocking motion of ship. The thick glass container was attached tightly to the framework of the wooden box.

“The world covets what we have! Why should we hoard over it when it can make us wealthy.”

“Because it is a gift given to us by the gods.”

“The gods?” the captain responded derisively. “They’re gone.”

Despite her sullenness and weakness, the priestess’s countenance grew more alert. He expected her to retort angrily at his dismissal of the gods, but she didn’t. Instead she shook her head slowly.

“They are far from gone. But like all parents, they have done what they can for us and have allowed us to forge our own destinies. They watch and they hope we’ve learned what they have tried to impart. They gave us the Gift, to help strengthen us. To protect us.”

“By doing what? Hoarding it? I mean to put Dessia on the map. I mean to make the world see us as powerful.”

“By selling the Gift? By selling out your people? I smell the guachi. You bring that vile stuff to our land and you take the Gift out. Why?” the priestess pressed on. “Are you so impressed by the cultures out there that you are quick to forsake your own? The Ghalians drug and enslave their own kind. The Caren’s appetite for monetary wealth fuels their military.

“Do you even have an idea of how this quantity of pure quick-gold can completely alter the balance of power in Calmargur? Do you think the Caren’s will be satisfied with only four crates? Their greed, the greed of the entire world will become insatiable. They will storm over our shores and take the Gift. And the what will become of us? Slaves? Genocide? It will be as the Krenem all over again.””

Captain Ranki grew quiet as he thought of possibilities. Above them, the music continued to flow down through the wooden decks of the ship. He could hear the laughter and the patter of feet. Then, he thought of their Caren passenger, who remained sequestered in his cabin and had eschewed as much contact with the crew as possible.

The sound of the quick-gold sloshing in the glass containers brought his mind back to their present situation.

“That cannot happen.”

“Are you so certain? We’re not big and imposing like the Gali. We don’t have an economy that the Caren and others can easily exploit. We’re not fast like the Chevaar. We’re not twisted like the Ghalian Cartel. All we have is each other and Gift. It has given us an advantage over those who would exploit us. There is still time to turn around and put this to an end.”

It was a compelling argument, but the captain grew stern and pressed past any thought of acceding.

“Have you ever watched one you love die of quick-gold poisoning?” he asked her.

“I have tended to those who have been poisoned and-“

“No. Have you ever watched anyone you personally love[i] die from it?” he interrupted. The priestess shook her head.

“My mate was an alchemist. One day, she was extracting the quick-gold from ore when her platform collapsed. She fell onto a table filled with containers of this… this… [i]gift
,” he nearly spat the word. “Despite the best attempts of the priests, her body had absorbed too much of it.

“She lingered for nine days. On the second day, when we were told that there was nothing that can be done, she begged to see her recently hatched youngling. We had to refuse. Her body was coursing with so much quick-gold that it would have been dangerous to bring her before any youngling. By day four she lost her hair and became blind. The next day, I watched helplessly as she forgot herself. She forgot me, her family, everything. She couldn’t eat and kept going into seizures.”

Ranki looked away from the priestess and supported himself on one of the wooden beams. “We watched as your so-called ‘Gift’ destroyed her mind and then her body.”

“I am so sorry for your lose and what she and you have suffered through,” the priestess said after a long pause. Ranki kicked the frame of the crate, causing the quick-gold inside to slosh around violently.

He spun around and glared at her with wide teary eyes.

“You call this a Gift! I say it’s a curse! And if these four containers cause a little anarchy, then so be it. Our people have hoarded this poison long enough.”

Again, the priestess shook her head.

“You have one last chance, captain. Turn this ship and return to port.”

The captain shook his head. “I’d be more worried about your fate then mine. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do with you.”

“My fate is now tied with yours. Together, we will either live or die.”

Scoffing, Captain Ranki picked up the cloth bundle and shoved it back into her mouth. Except for turning her head a little, she didn’t resist. Her eyes appeared to plead for him to change his mind, but again, there was no fear.

He found it disconcerting.

“I have a new life waiting for me at the destination. I… I regret you got involved.”

With that the captain climbed up the stairs and shut the hatch, leaving her to the darkness of the bilge again.

He’s hoped that airing his anger at the powers that be in Dessia, at the loss of his wife, at the opportunities that waited him at port, would make sleep come faster. But instead, his mind continued spinning with doubt.

It’ll be a week before they arrive to port. He’ll figure it by then.


~~~~


The loud creak of the hatchway opening stirred Priestess Xindia from her uncomfortable slumber. Her back was aching from what seemed like days of being tied to the column. Even though it’d been only a few hours since her talk with the captain, her mouth had gone dry again from the cloth stuffed inside. And there was also the hunger.

The worse part had been the darkness. She hated it. She longed for time to spend in the sunlight.

Like many who find themselves in this situation, she had spent an immeasurable amount of time replaying the events that led to this. Could she have done something different?

She’d been sent to one of the ore extraction operations to investigate a mild quick-gold poisoning that had occurred. The task had been a quick one and the poisoning was, thankfully, extremely minor and easily curable. Nevertheless, the Order treated any and every case of poisoning seriously.

She was to return by joining one of the caravans. That was when they were suddenly attacked. Despite their attempts to repel the attackers, the guards protecting the caravan were overwhelmed and quickly cut down.

The Dessien outlaws, however, weren’t counting on seeing a priestess. Xindia tried to talk them out of this, but the Caren who had hired them was quick to silence her. She’d later learned from one of the outlaws, who had quietly begged her for forgiveness, that they had stopped the Caren from killing her after he grew enraged by their reluctance to do so.

She had fought, but they were many. She had tried to reason with them, but they wouldn’t listen. Now, here she was.

There was nothing she could have done differently. That’s what annoyed the priestess more then anything.

The sound of stagnant bilge water splashing drew her attention back to the person who was approaching. She hoped it was the captain, coming to finally heed to reason.

It wasn’t though. It was worse.

A lithe figure clad in black except for his eyes hopped on one of the crates and carefully pulled aside the cloth. Another dark clad figure, crawling upside down on the low ceiling of the bilge slowly approached her.

Without a sound, he swung down from the ceiling and dipped his clawed feet into the water. There was hardly a ripple as he approached and unsheathed a thin, long blade.

For the first time in days, her arms were free. She quickly pulled out the cloth and again flexed her aching jaws. Mimicking their silence, she kept quiet.

Her hope fell as she realized that these Dessiens were part of the Nevees Regiment. They were the Queen’s right hand of vengeance.

She continued watching, while rubbing her wrist, as they inspected the four vessels containing the quick-gold. Then, they turned to her and both knelt in the briny water.

“Priestess,” they greeted in unison.

“Please, stand up,” she said, uncomfortable by the respect they were showing her. “How did you find containers?”

“We found evidence on shore that led us to believe that the thieves transported the containers to a dock. Records show that this ship was moored at that dock for several days. The outlaws back in Dessia were found dead. We suspect their food was poisoned,” one of the soldiers responded. “This ship has been secured. There were fifteen crewmen and one Caren foreigner. With your permission, we would like to escort you to deck.”

“I have not seen the sun in days. I would appreciate that,” she replied, while extending her hand. Much more gently then she’d expect from a soldier of the deadliest branch of their military, she was guided out onto the deck. The night air was chilly, but after several days trapped in the stuffy and smelly bilge, she accepted the fresh air with thankfulness.

The eastern skies were just beginning to turn gray with the coming of a new day. More dark clad soldiers were swarming over the riggings and running the ship.

“Where are the crew?” she asked the soldier behind her. Without a word, he guided her toward the stern of the ship. There, laid on equally on deck, were sixteen bodies. Weights were being tied to their legs. Their throats had been cut, but there wasn’t much blood.

She had expected to see this sight.

Deliberately ignore the body of the Caren usurper, the priestess stopped at each body and began praying over their souls. It was a struggle to keep her anger in check. If the captain angered hadn't poisoned his mind... if he had only turned the ship around, these innocents needn’t have died.

Yet, her anger dissipated as she finally reached the captain’s body. I hope you are rejoined with your love again. It was the only thing the priestess could think to pray. Though she’d seen quick-gold poisoning several times, it would no doubt be heart wrenching to witness such a severe case of it happen to one that she’d personally love.

For the first time, she allowed herself a moment to agree with the late captain. Perhaps the Gift was a poison. Perhaps the gods were daft to entrust such power to what could be considered the most frail race in all of Calmargur.

No. That wasn't it. The gods were wise. Her people, her culture, had no desire for conquest or to subjugate. To many in the rural areas, money was of littler relevance.

Truth be told, perhaps the gods were right. For the sake of the world, the Gift was in no safer hands then their own. It needed to be regulated. Controlled. Distributed openly to anyone who asked.

But never given away outright. She'd seen it in her travels. Money, territory, slaves, and magic are all acquired in the thirst for power. And power was an intoxicating poison. The only way to sate the thirst is to acquire more.

The gods had burdened the Dessiens with an impossibly difficult task.

“Priestess, there’s one more thing you should know,” one of the soldiers said once she’d finished her prayers and remunerations.

“You have orders to execute me as well,” she said. From the moment the captain had revealed the containers of quick-gold, she’d known that this would be the response. No one must ever know how very nearly successful this smuggler had been at removing pure quick-gold from Dessia.

“Since your body wasn’t found with the caravan guards, the Queen and the Council suspected you were culpable in the theft. I no longer believe that to be true, but I cannot defy her orders," he explained contritely. The reluctance in his voice was the only indication the soldier dared make that he didn't want to fulfill this part of the queen's decree. "I promise to make this as painless possible.”

“I understand. But. first, I have two requests.”

“Yes priestess.”

“Discretely, tell the Queen that this has happened against my will. I tried to stop them as best as I can. I know my name will be tarnished for this, but as long as she knows, I will be at peace”

“You have my word, priestess. It will be done,” he promised. Xindia believed him. “And your other request?”

She looked back toward the brightening horizon and took a deep breath. Already, shards of orange sunlight were starting to appear. The dark sky was turning rapidly blue and the low morning clouds were turning a vivid shade of red.

It was gloriously beautiful.

“I want to feel the sun one more time.”


* * *


Three days later a Coast Guard trimaran towed a banged up and completely disheveled cargo ship into the harbor of Serria. Onlookers crowded at the dock as the ship was guided in. The sails of the cargo ship were torn, shredded and burnt. Scorch marks covered the hull and many parts of the railings were missing.

Old sailors and fishermen immediately began discussing what could have caused this. Pirates and sea monsters were mentioned several times. Some compared the damage to sea drake attacks that have occurred in the past. Others suggested perhaps there was a mutiny.

Word soon circulated that this was indeed a pirate attack. The Coast Guard had arrived too late to help them. There were apparently no survivors and all the cargo was missing. Discussions and speculations surrounding the derelict ship soon abated.

The ship was kept under guard by the harbormaster for several days until it was later towed into an enclosed dry-dock for repairs. Once inside, far from the prying eyes of the general population, four unmarked containers were extracted from deep within the ship.
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Izdazi
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