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The Reavers #3
Fiction by James Anderson
© 2024 James LaFond
The humming and droning of insects vibrated the heavy humid night air. A crescent moon peeked out from behind clouds passing high above, casting a dim light which failed to penetrate the murky marshes. The reeds and grasses were silent, no breeze whispered through their stalks. The insects chirped and buzzed away.
A paddle broke the stillness of the water, which rippled gently away shimmering in the tenuous starlight. Large black hulks glided silently through the marsh. An oar hit something hard and an alligator splashed away noisily into the reeds. “Careful!” the coxswain hissed in a sharp whisper.
The men in the boats looked like ghouls sent from hell. Gaunt grim faces starkly shadowed in the dark, piercing eyes scanning like ravenous beasts. Knives glinted from between their teeth; their hands wrapped around cruel weapons.
The first boat thudded softly into the muddy bottom and without a word its crew slid out, knee-deep in the black water, and stalked slowly forward. Each boat joined them in turn until they had all unloaded their fiendish occupants. The crickets stopped briefly as these predators passed by but beyond this there was no indication of their coming. Wading in silence, well-worn weapons at the ready, they went on as the water grew shallower and shallower, until it was at their ankles. A bank of hedges and reeds separated them from the estate grounds.
On the edge of Colerites’ estate by the water stood a grassy rise. A few guards milled about here, appointed by the court and often bemused at their dull position. One of these, Mark he was called, yawned in boredom and leaned on his halberd. The insects droned on, he swatted at something buzzing by his ear.
He never saw the eyes fixed on him from beyond the stalks, just a rushing shadow and the wink of starlight on steel. There was no time to shout before the blade rent his throat and his corpse was laid gently onto the grass. A few other guards who stood together chatting investigated a rustling in the reeds, but never returned to their post. Shadows of terror slipped over the grassy hill in their place, converging on the manor.
There was but one light shining from the whole estate, a faint glow emanating from a window high in Colerite’s tower. Far below in the shadows furtive figures rushed up to every door and window, some raising each other up onto balconies or scaling up vines to reach high ledges. They waited in tense silence, eyes darted back and forth, hands shifted their grip on sword hilts and axe hafts. A group snuck up to the front door, making themselves hidden on either side.
Three sharp cracks shook the door followed by heavy silence. To each man his breathing was akin to the heaviest gale of the sea, any shift in his feet like quaking earth, yet to another they were silent as snakes laying in the grass. A distant sound broke the silence, the steady plod of feet from beyond the door. A dim light lined the cracks in the frame, growing brighter and brighter as the footsteps grew closer and closer.
The footsteps stopped. A loud clanking came as locks were turned and bars set aside, the door swung inward and the light of a single lantern escaped into the night, held by Basam, Colerites black servant.
“Hello?” He asked in confusion. He received no answer but the shuffling of feet. His eyes opened wide in terror when he saw the men rushing from beside the door. Before he could shout he was seized from all sides, gagged, and his lantern was snatched away and snuffed out. The last thing he saw before being knocked in the head was what looked like the pirate captain who had been there earlier in the day, rushing past him into the manor.
The light of the lantern being snuffed out was seen by a lookout, who passed a signal that went to all of the men waiting by the doors and windows. There came a few crashes and bangs from within as men tripped in the dark and doors were forced open. The stamp of feet ran all the way up the many steps to the top of the tower, another loud crash and a few moments later the dim light flickering in the uppermost window went out.
Darkness and silence reigned over the manor; gray ghosts slid out of doors and windows back into the reeds, burdened now with a wriggling sack thrown over Grim’s shoulder. The boats were crewed and pushed off the mudbank back into the marshes; they rowed as quickly and quietly as when they came.
Silently the boats slipped across the bay. Their black silhouettes like ferries of the dead winding down to the underworld. A few distant lights from the city danced on the surface of the water.
They approached a moorage lined with pleasure-yachts and gondolas on the northern end of the bay. A massive dome outlined against the night sky showed them to be near the Great Library of Vernilion, citadel of the world’s knowledge.
From the moorage a lantern was opened and closed in steady succession, the signal that the coast was clear. The boats, however, slid past it, all the way up to the sea-wall wherein was set a massive grate leading into the sewer. A door in the grate was opened at their coming and the men stepped into the pitch-darkness with familiar ease, bearing with them their struggling burden.
From within the sack Colerite’s saw nothing, only perceiving vague changes in the light as they went under the cover of the sewer. He lost any sense of direction. His efforts to discern his location by sound had all been in vain. He was jostled for what seemed like hours. The echoes of shuffling feet changing with the height of the chambers. At some point the ceiling must have lifted well away from them, as the echoes grew substantially and the air cooled rapidly. It felt as if they climbed a stair.
There were whispers, a door opened, and suddenly he was put down and stood upright. The sack was lifted away and the flickering light of a lantern stung his weakened eyes. As they adjusted to the light his surroundings became clear; intricate stone arches, rows and rows of tomes and scrolls, and the smiling face of Captain Aerin Vane.
“The book.” Vane said in menacing monotone.
“Thththe bbbook? I…Oh that led to the…what was it?” Collerites stammered in confusion and fear.
“The idol.” Vane punctuated his speech with the click of a flintlock hammer locking to the rear, “Find it.”
Colerites suddenly lost the expression of fear he had been wearing, “What an…an…an affront to knowledge! To disrespect this…this sanctuary! I..Guards! I will…I will not be finding anything! To be…misapropriated!” he shouted indignantly.
Vane smiled patiently, “Think of us as research partners, wizard, I seek only knowledge. Think of the opportunity to discover a civilisation wholly unknown to us!” he said, gesticulating with the barrel of his pistol, “Or I’ll splatter your brains on the floor and you won’t think ever again.”
“I! You! Well…it is in the interest of…scholarship…to not lose a mind such as…well mine.” Collerites replied in rapid agrement. “I will need the..what was it..with the..that led to…oh..”
Vane handed him the map.
“Yes! I will..oh where would it be? Perhaps…” Collerites hemmed and hawed.
Vane pressed the muzzle of his gun onto Collerites’ chest.“I do not mean to rush research, but you had better find it before dawn.” He said with deadly intention.
Collerites set to work quickly after this, rushing from row to row, floor to floor, pulling out books with abandon. He mumbled to himself; crescendoing with each new lead and idea. The pirates followed him haphazardly by lantern light, struggling to keep up with his mad dashes.
Vane could tell Colerites was getting close, he had a few choice selections tucked under one arm and kept mumbling a word over and over to himself. Vane struggled to make it out, something like “calima, calima, calima”.
Suddenly Colerites stopped in his tracks and dropped every book and scroll he had been carrying, “Of course!” he exclaimed, it was the clearest and most confident Vane had ever heard him. Colerites took off at a surprising pace down a long corridor, stopping abruptly at a nondescript door and hurtling himself through the threshhold.
“There!” He could barely contain himself as he pointed at a shelf stuffed with books. The pirates looked on from the doorway with confused faces. Colerites rushed up to the shelf and removed a single, slender volume bound in plain leather, “The records of the voyages of Vitienne and Flore Riosa, with a rendering of one of their maps if I recall correctly…” Colerites thumbed through the pages as he spoke “Aha! Here”. He held up an open page witha crude and fragmentary map in faded ink.
“You’re sure?” Vane asked with doubt in his voice, “Rather a short book, and a rough map”.
“Were you expecting charts of a place uncharted?” Colerites quipped with surprising wit, “The book is short because their…voyages were, well, one man returned from Vitienne’s and Riosa followed after him…with much greater success. Five men made it back, half starved and driven to madness.”
“And the place they sought was connected to the map? The idol?” Vane pressed him eagerly.
“I..well…I believe so” Colerites said “A place they called Calima.” The word rang like music as Vane and his men envisioned this exotic place overflowing with glimmering treasure.
Their collective dream was cut short by the echo of hinges. Vane pricked his ears and scanned down the passage. “Medulous, Deckard, go and look for what made that noise. Meet us at the docks if we can’t rendevouz here”. The swashbucklers obeyed silently, slipping down the hallway like prowling cats, “Good you found that when you did, wizard, lets go.”
Seizing Colerites by the arm they rushed back through myriad stairways and chambers towards the secret entrance into the sewers. As they were nearing the final bend shouts echoed from ahead and their ears rang with the unmistakable thunder of a gun being fired indoors.
Rounding the bend their muffled hearing picked up the sound of steel biting steel, and the lantern confirmed what their ears could not. A city guard lay sprawled on the marble in a pool of blood, his cuirass blown open. Medulous and Deckard were engaged in a desperate fight with at least six more, tumbling and hacking with axe and shortsword. Deckard clutched at a gash in his side.
Vane lunged into the fray with his men, catching the guardsmen by surprise. Halberds clattered to the floor and blades flicked in the half-light of the lantern. For a brief moment silence reigned again, and the heavy breath of the pirates roared in their pounding heads.
“How did they find us?” Vane cracked at Deckard.
“I don’t know, but they caught us up nearly by surprise” The salty old bosun answered between breaths.
“Hell’s devils” Vane cursed “We must hurry, how is your wound?”
“I can manage, captain” Deckard groaned and stumbled as he tried to take a step.
“Drown me you’re no good, you two take him up”
As the two nearest sailors held up Deckard by the arms Medulous exclaimed suddenly, “The Wizard! He’s gone!”
“Flog me for a fool!” Vane cursed with all his might “He can’t have gotten far, you two get Deckard to the boats, the rest of you with me!” With this he flew towards where they had left Colerites.
The wizard meanwhile was a stumbling mess of fear and rage, mumbling to himself as he navigated the narrow alley lit dimly by lamplight. Book still clutched in trembling hands, he was trying to make his way to the court. He had friends there, guards, he could be rid of this whole mess. Yet he had never himself made the walk, always carried by carriage or palanquin.
The streets closed in about him like a jungle. He wanted to shout for the guards but he feared the pirates were after him and would reach him first. Crickets sang from gardens and cats dashed in the shadows, each one a lurking buccaneer to his terrified heart.
He stopped at a corner exhausted with terror, with labored breath he leaned on a mossy garden wall and turned his powerful mind over with plans of escape.
“The houses.” He thought “Yes yes..the…houses..yes this is in the…the..this is the…the noble quarter yes! I could…a gentleman…yes they would…the court. They would know me from there. Yes. I just need to find…” The trailing thoughts led him to a massive oak door of a nearby mansion. He hesitated as he reached for the brass knocker, the noise, he had but one chance.
He cracked the knocker five times as hard as he might and listened. At first there was silence, then a clatter from inside as that of an interior door opening. “Yes” he thought “I’ve done it”. A light glowed suddenly beyond the door and it was opened a crack. A slight and proper butler came to answer.
“Baine residence, who are you and what can I do for you at this hour?” He said looking the disheveled wizard up and down.
“I..sir..I am Colerites. Court Magician of Vernilon….Advisor to the Viscount-Governor…sir.. I am in…well…there is danger, you must let me in.”
Colerites calculations had been correct. He was swiftly let in and joined by the Lord and Lady Baine in the drawing room, the curtains tightly drawn. The Lord Baine spoke with great wrath and gripped an officer’s saber tightly.
“I cannot believe these ruffians would have the audacity to abduct you! So esteemed a magician and member of the court! The guards should be sent for at once and..”
“It is…no! You musn’t” Colerites interjected “They…they are still…I fear they hunt me still. You may…they might find me!”
“And I will slay them to a man!” The Lord said proudly while thrusting his saber at the air. He was an imposing figure, if aged, and distinguished by a gargantuan mustache.
“Yes if..well…We had better wait until…I think morning will be safest”
“Perhaps…” Baine wrinkled his mustache in thought “I must defer to your respected wisdom, but I will not rest until we find these scoundrels!” He swung his saber in a broad arc nearly slicing the couch Colerites sat upon.
“For now we are delighted you are safe” The Lady Baine reassured Colerites “a dreadful tale you told us…what a terror!”
They sat up for some time drinking wine and discussing the events of the night. Colerites was starting to lose his fear. It must have been nearly dawn, and if they had not found him yet it was unlikely they would.
Three sharp knocks shook the door in the entry. Terror and panic surged back to Colerites.
“It is the guard!” A stern shout came from outside “We have been sent to investigate a disturbance!”
“They must have heard of your troubles! Or perhaps came upon the fiends!” The Lord Baine exclaimed “What luck!”
Colerites mumbled and bumbled as he watched Lord Baine stride confidently to the door. The Lady Baine stroked his arm and reasured him, everthing would be alright.
“You’ve come just in time gentlemen!” The Lord Baine exalted as he threw back the heavy door.
There was a loud crack and the Lord Baine reeled into the drawing room unconscious as his saber clatterd to the floor. After him Vane sauntered leisurely, followed by his men who quickly overan the room. The Lady Baine shrieked and rushed to the limp form of her husband. Colerites was left alone trembling on the couch.
“You held on to the book, good!” Vane said with a terrifying warmth, “There’ll be no more of that I’m sure. We had better get going, wizard”.
The sack was shoved back on Colerites’ head and he was hurled over a brawny shoulder. He could hear the wailing of the Lady Baine fade as he was carried out into the street and the door shut behind them.
The pirates made their way swiftly, but carefully, through the dim cobbled streets. Men were sent ahead and behind to watch for patrols of the guard or anyone who might raise the alarm. It was still pitch dark except for the tenuous flickering of lamps. Colerites heard naught but the tramp of feet and fountains bubbling in walled gardens.
The rogues halted at the signal of one of their scouts and melted into the darkness. A pair of watchmen sauntered by, engaged in idle conversation, unaware of the eyes watching their lantern light fade away down the lane. Colerites thought to call out at the sudden halt, but terror held back his voice. Vane and his men resumed their escape.
At the docks the boats were waiting. Loaded quickly, they shoved off into the night-shrouded bay. Slithering across over glimmering reflections of the dark city, they pulled up to the longships, already rigged to go out with the tide. Swiftly they were hoisted up and made fast, the limp body of the wizard was passed up and sent into Vane’s cabin. No commands needed to be passed as the ships all got underway together, gliding out of the bay just as dawn began to paint the sky.

James Andersen
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