The Order of the Blackened Glaive
Sentralia City is a big place. Founded on a ring of seven hills surrounding the outlet of the Sentra River, it has long been the capital of an empire of men. The ancient empire fell at the end of the Age of Legends, but this new empire, the Holy Sentralian Empire, grew from the ashes of the old at the end of the Kings’ War. The Duchy of Sentra was overrun many times during that war, leading Grand Duke Baden Sentra to stand in desperate spiritual contemplation at the holy temple of the Twelve in what was then called the city of Sentra. He was at last overcome, and legend has it that in this state he had a vision. A blazing spear appeared in the sky, and the voice of Mars, bringer of conquest, spoke:
On the morrow, Sentra rechristened his army the Legion of the Red Lord, and thus was born the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.
Drakar has always liked this story. He stands at the Academy’s steps and looks out across the city, and he cannot help being wistful. It is the wee hours of the morning, and few lights are burning in the city below. Lamps are lit at the dome of the capital, though. The Empire is alive and at peace. The Legion of the Red Lord has seen to it. Drakar is saddened that he will never take his place amongst their number, but fate has chosen for him a different road.
A thousand steps lead down from the bluff on which the Academy stands to the wharf that serves its needs. Drakar does his best to hurry down these steps, but still the sky is growing light by the time he reaches the river. There are many boats docked at the wharf but only a few show signs of life. Had Drakar arrived earlier, he doubts he would have found anyone here at all. Of the few captains in evidence, most shy away in fear. Only one will meet his gaze. Drakar approaches this man, looks into his eyes, and has a feeling like vertigo. It reminds him of the last moments of Magister Zachaes’s life. He feels that he knows this man, that he understands him in some viseral way that he cannot easily define.
Drakar shakes his head. “I… I do not know.” Nor does it matter, he realizes. “I seek passage south. To a port near Fortress Abbadabas. You are headed that way. Will you take me?”
“No!” Joseth cries. He makes the sign of the protective cresent across his heart. “Get off my boat, demonseed! Foul thing! Away with you!”
He has gone before Drakar can say more. Drakar is left standing alone on the dock, and what’s worse, Drakar has seen into Joseth’s heart. The man’s fear was real. He will die before he allows Drakar aboard his vessel.
Drakar stifles a sigh and turns away. He must find passage and soon, or the magisters from the Academy will come for him. He has an hour at best, and any vessel will require at least some time to make ready before it can sail. He must find passage now.
He turns and scans the rest of the boats tied at the wharf. There are eight other ships, but only three show signs of life, and of those, two are crewed by men who won’t so much as look at Drakar. These will not do. The last is crewed by a captain who watches Drakar though he pretends not to. His boat is small, a two-masted caravel, crewed by a half-dozen sailors slowly making it ready to sail. A plate on the hull names it Koraph’s Delight.
Well, Drakar thinks, at least I’ll have an excuse for knowing the captain’s name. He makes his way across the wharf and is not surprised when Koraph meets him at the bottom of the gangplank.
“The answer’s no,” Koraph says, “so don’t bother askin’. I ain’t afraid of you, but we don’t want trouble with the locals, and trouble’s what you’re bringing, don’t deny it.”
“I deny nothing,” Drakar replies, “nor do I seek your charity.” He meets the captain’s eye, and suddenly he understands. This Koraph says no, but Drakar can read his heart. Koraph has seen Drakar’s armor and knows its worth. The armor alone will pay Drakar’s passage, and Koraph has no intention of letting Drakar live to see the other side of whatever voyage they are to take together.
Drakar lets a smile cross his face. Koraph is cruel and greedy, but these are qualities that Drakar can exploit. He pulls out his coinpurse and lets it jingle. “I can pay for passage and plan to do so. You seem a man who is not afraid of a little risk if it will net him a bit of reward. Or have I misjudged?”
It takes no demonic power to spot the gleam of greed in Koraph’s eye. “How much we talkin’, demonseed?”
“My name is Drakar. If you will name your price, I will pay it, so long as it is not usurious. Do not think to take advantage of me, though, captain. I am a reasonable man, but you will find me an implacable enemy.”
“Implacable, is it?” Koraph smiles, showing rotten teeth. “Tha’s a big word. What you are is desperate, young man. You hand over that purse, and I’ll see you clear of this place. You don’t…” Koraph shrugs. “...what’s it to me?”
Drakar wants to shake his head, but there is little point. Koraph’s words are true enough, and anyway, the issue is far from settled. There will be a reckoning; Drakar has foreseen it. He can reclaim his gold then.
After a week at sea, Drakar has learned much. He has learned that Koraph is a hard man and cruel--crueler even than Magister Zachaes back at the Academy. Zachaes’s persecution was unjust, but he at least made an effort to follow the Academy’s rules. On the deck of his own ship, however, Koraph is a law unto himself. He beats his sailors for infractions that Drakar cannot understand and which are randomly enforced, and on one occasion he has even seen the captain use a bullwhip on his cabin boy. Drakar still does not know what the boy did to deserve such fearsome punishment, but the boy left the event bloody and took fever afterwards. In the end, Drakar was forced to use on of his own healing draughts on the child just to see him survive. Since then, Drakar has seen Koraph staring at him with a look like longing in his eyes, but so far at least, a scowl or a hard glare has been enough to ward away the captain’s attentions. Drakar is loath to kill the man on his own ship, especially since he is not sure what the outcome of such an action might be while the ship is still well out to sea, but neither he will suffer indignity at the captain’s hands.
Drakar turns to find Captain Koraph staring at him again, and as he has done before, he returns the glare with one of his own. For a long moment, they lock gazes and then at last Korpah looks away. Drakar turns back to the ocean and stifles a sigh.
You knew it would be like this, he tells himself sternly. A reckoning is coming. This has been true since the moment you agreed to take passage on this ship. Drakar looks back to find Koraph staring again. This time it is Drakar who looks away. He decides to go down into the hold where he’s strung his hammock and can perhaps hope for a bit of privacy. As his foot touches the ladder down, though, anger grips him. Damn Koraph! If there is to be a reckoning, let it be soon. This foolishness must end.
Drakar sleeps fitfully for a few hours and then wakes, finding the daywatch swinging in their hammocks beside him. The sea is calmer than it has been, though the voyage has never been rough. Curious, Drakar gets up. He climbs to the deck and finds a clear night, though a dark one. The sky is black velvet pricked by a million stars. There is no moon, but Drakar does not need one. Fire flares around his eyes, and then the gift of his heritage lifts away the gloom. Night holds no fear for one whose heritage is of the Pit.
Oddly, there is no one at all on Koraph’s Delight’s deck. Drakar looks up, glances into the rigging, and sees no one in crosstrees, either. Curious. A few steps bring him to the bow of the ship, and in the distance he can see land. It is an alien coast but nevertheless a welcome sight. He turns back, glances up at the quarterdeck, and there stands Koraph, alongside three of his men. Koraph holds an old club in one hand with a few long spikes running through its head. It is a makeshift morningstar, but it will be deadly enough. The rest of the men hold belaying pins, long wooden handles that make excellent improved weapons for men ill-accustomed to swords.
Drakar steps forward and to the right, coming adjacent to the foremast. A slow smile spreads across his face. “Are we to have our reckoning at last then, captain?” Drakar asks. “Are you sure you’d not rather get your bullwhip?”
Koraph returns Drakar’s smile, showing his ruined teeth. “Ain’t nobody got to get hurt, demonseed. You just gimme your armor and the rest of your coin, and we’ll drop you at the next port. We’ll sight land tomorrow, you know. The boys and I, we just want what’s fair is all.” Behind Koraph, the other men smile eagerly.
“It is a tempting offer,” Drakar replies. He has allowed the captain and his men to close the distance. They are less than ten feet away, but still he holds his hands out away from his sides. He hopes that he does not look threatening. “Unfortunately, captain, you have made a fatal error. I’m afraid it will cost you.”
Drakar reaches back with his right hand, grasps the shaft of the Hellsglaive, and pulls it free. There is a flash of fire, and then the thing is sitting comfortably in his hands. The tines of the blade burn with low orange flame; brimstone smoke wafts from the shaft. “Indeed. You see, captain, I no longer need you. I can swim the rest of the way if I must.”
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