“What do you seek?” Denizen muttered. He resisted the urge to pace, and he glared out at the other ship as though it were to blame for his present immobility.
Pacing would mean struggling with the gods-damned robe that kept wrapping itself around his legs. Tripping over it, possibly, or simply opening it to expose his scales to the air.
To expose his scales to the sun. The other crew must’ve seen his ship hidden beneath these cliffs. Even in the evening light, only a blind man could miss so large a ship. But they couldn’t know whose ship it was. Not yet. They couldn’t know that The Deep waited for them. Letting that light reflect off his scales would be the quickest way to betray his presence.
“What do you see?” he asked, addressing his First Lieutenant.
“Ierne’s colors,” Fahd replied. “Merchant sigil.”
Denizen glanced at Fahd curiously, but he didn’t question the claim. Not even keeping an eye dark with an eye patch would give Denizen the vision to pierce the dying light like the desert man did. If Fahd said the other ship was a merchant ship, then either it was a merchant ship or it was posing as one.
“What brings them so far from the normal trade routes?” Ian, the large human, or Taur as the man often insisted, asked. “Smuggling?”
“Smuggling’s illegal,” replied Bilge, the crew’s Rigger. She snickered. “Mayhap we should relieve them before the law does it for us?”
“I don’t know,” Fahd said. “Something’s wrong. Their crew is far too large for a ship that size.”
“Slaves?” Denizen snarled, prompting a hiss from Bilge. The little rat-woman and Denizen had both been slaves when The Deep’s previous captain had acquired them.
Fahd shook his head. “Soldiers,” he replied. “Mercenaries, from the look of things. They wear no sigil that I can see.”
Denizen eyed the distance to the other ship and considered his options. Lawmen and hired fighters of any kind could be trouble for his people. Those who wore no insignia didn’t want to be recognized; such as they would either give up with no fight at all, or attack first to eliminate any witnesses.
He signaled for his crew to load the rowboat. Best to be prepared either way.
“Captain!” Fahd said. “They have a prisoner!” He glanced at Denizen, his eyes wide. “It’s one of the Wandering Ones!”
Denizen gave a curt nod, whirled, shed the cloak, and dove into the sea. His scales pulled him through the water like a shark, making quick work of the swim, and his claws let him climb the other ship with ease. He reached the top while his crew were still racing towards the floundering prisoner, and he cut down one of the mercenaries before they knew he was on board.
Then the others turned to face him. Denizen could spare little thought to anything but the fight until his crew climbed up to join him.
The ship’s crew divided themselves naturally — one group, the merchants, noncombatants who carried few weapons and tried their best to keep out of the fray; the other, the mercenaries who attacked the pirates with everything they had.
One of the noncombatants, the ship’s captain by his garb, ran off. Denizen trusted his crew to leave the other merchants be, and he slipped away to follow the man.
He caught up just as the merchant followed one of Ierne’s masked councilors into the brig.
“Get up!” Denizen heard the masked man saying. He crept into the brig after the merchant, silent despite his size. He swiftly moved his eye patch to the other eye, trusting to the darkness and the color of his scales to keep the movement hidden. Neither the merchant nor the councilor knew he was there.
A shape whimpered at the councilor’s feet.
“Councilor!” the merchant yelled. “We’re under attack! Pirates! We need to — ”
The councilor whirled at the merchant’s voice and fired his pistol. The merchant dropped, his words lost in a gurgle. “Teach you to interfere,” the councilor muttered, and turned his attention back to the huddled form.
“Now, I’ve heard of shooting the messenger,” Denizen said, “but that’s the first I’ve ever seen anyone do it.” He stepped out into the light where the masked “councilor” could see him.
The councilor stared at him for just a second before he raised his pistol again, but it was just a second too long. Denizen lunged, moving with a speed belied by his size, and the weapon clattered to the deck before the councilor could reach the trigger.
Denizen inspected the form huddled in the corner, all but ignoring the one writhing and gasping in his grasp. “Fahd!” he called out, his voice carrying above the sounds of battle. “Get your hairless hide down here!”
“Already here, Captain,” Fahd called back. The leaner man leaped down seconds later, ignoring the ladder entirely, and rolled to a stop in front of Denizen without a sound.
“Show-off,” Denizen grumbled. “Has the crew finished their report? What sort of goods does your merchant carry?”
“None, that I can tell,” Fahd replied. “We’ve found no goods on board.”
“Odd,” Denizen replied. “They’ve sold their cargo, then?”
Fahd shook his head. “No gold, either. And no cargo here worth taking a merchant ship.” He shrugged one shoulder. “Not unless they’ve rid themselves some other way. Crew’s salvaging what they can.”
Denizen grunted. What crew would rid themselves so quickly of their cargo, unless…. but no, Fahd would have mentioned finding signs of living cargo.
Fahd jerked his head towards the huddled form, but his eyes never left the councilor. “What of them?”
Denizen let the councilor fall and peered more closely at the huddled form. “Have a look.”
Fahd glanced at the councilor again, nodded, and bent down to inspect the shape.
The councilor…. It was hard to tell with that damnable mask, but Denizen thought the councilor was watching them. No, watching Fahd.
The form whimpered and cringed away. “Please,” the form sobbed. A girl… a woman, and frightened by more than their presence. “Please don’t hurt me, I swear I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Hold still,” Fahd ordered, and the female froze. He grabbed her by the chin and looked her over, tilting her head to look at her face more closely.
Denizen left Fahd to his examination, confident the desert man would see anything worth finding in this dim light. Denizen didn’t need to see the girl to make his own conclusions. The scent of her blood overpowered nearly everything, stronger than even the scent of her fear. Gods only knew what damage she’d suffered before they’d arrived.
And yet, there were other scents to read. Denizen glared at the councilor gasping on the deck.
Fahd released the girl and turned to stare at the councilor. “Captain….” he said, but his voice came out sounding strangled.
Denizen caught Fahd’s expression, and chuckled. “No goods, huh?” He watched the councilor from the corner of his eye as he spoke. He grinned, his mouth open just enough to let the dying light reflect on his fangs. “Little jewel here will fetch a handsome price at the right market.”
The mask was still turned in Fahd’s direction, following the desert man’s every movement. The councilor ignored the girl entirely.
“Or that mage you fished out,” Denizen continued. “Anybody would pay a fortune for the likes of him.”
The mask swung around so that the councilor appeared to face Denizen.
“Aye, Captain,” Fahd muttered. He watched the councilor, and absently tousled the girl’s hair.
“Just got to clean them up some…” Denizen added. His eyes traveled down to her stomach. “And rid her of that baby.”
“You won’t be rid of demon spawn so easily, pirate,” the councilor rasped. “They turn on their masters.” He climbed, shaking, to his feet. “Best send them back to Hell while you still can,” he spat.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Denizen replied. He pulled the girl over his shoulder–whatever she’d suffered, she was too weak to fight him, and too mindful of her stomach to try–and climbed back to the upper deck.
Fahd climbed out after him, and Denizen handed the girl to the smaller man before turning back to look down at the councilor. “By the way, do you know how to sail this ship? Alone?”
“I’ll leave you with a day’s store of food. I suggest you use that time to learn.”
The councilor’s eyes widened. “It took us three days to get here!”
The councilor rushed toward the ladder. “You can’t do this to me! I am a high councilor of Ierne; you’ll have a price on your head for this!”
Denizen chuckled. “I already have a price on my head, you fool. Haven’t you ever heard of Denizen of the Deep?” He waited until the councilor was almost up the ladder before slamming the door.
Ierne’s navy found the ship drifting a week later and pulled it into harbor. The councilor was half-mad and nearly starved, and though he recovered, the Council never could learn exactly what had happened to him.
All anybody knew was that he, alone of all of the crew, had survived an attack by the notorious pirate Denizen.
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