Ocean lapped at the Akarin shoreline as a breeze rolled through the island harbor. Farther out, the Crescent Sea became a calm expanse of azure and gently swelling waves. From the wooden dock, Sai and her crewmate Naoki watched as a sloop sailed toward a merchant’s vessel. From the lookout post, Vivi let out a low whistle and lowered her spyglass.
“Eels in our waters, Captain,” she announced. “A ballsy bunch at that, pillaging one of ours so close to shore.”
“Are there many?” Sai asked, not taking her eyes off the ships.
“Enough to get our blood pumping.”
Sai turned to Naoki. “Have you seen Aya?”
He looked away from the shimmering sea and lowered the hand he’d been using to shield his eyes. “She’s off trying to prove me wrong, I think.”
“Not a hard feat to achieve,” Vivi shouted down.
Ignoring the slight, Naoki went on. “She said she could spear five fish with a single strike. I didn’t believe her.”
“Why not?” Sai asked.
“Captain, I’m not even sure you could–”
“Turn, and look upon your shame.”
Behind them, Aya stood proudly with a spear in hand–and five fat fish skewered perfectly on the tip.
Aya fit in well with the people of Akari, aside from the obsidian scales decorating her tall, muscled body. Dragonborn were respected in Asaka, the nation to which Akari was a small port, but they were rarely approached. Yet to Sai, Aya and the rest of the crew were family.
Naoki’s eyes widened just before he scowled. “And how would I know if you cheated?”
“Shall I perform my trick again?”
He nodded to the ocean. “After we deal with that.”
Vivi jumped down from the lookout and turned her attention to the fish, lust burning behind her blown pupils. “Let’s make quick work of these salty bastards. I want dinner.”
The smile on Sai’s lips faded and her features took on the calculated seriousness one might expect of the admiral who had just three years ago commanded her nation’s fleet of warships. Out ahead, the pirates closed in on the merchant ship.
“Let’s get to them before they can hurt someone,” she said.
Naoki was already loading weapons onto their war junk. “When has catching up to them ever been the hard part?”
Bodies hit the deck in a flurry of steel. Salt, blood, and seawater soaked the wood. Sai carved a path through the thicket of snarling pirates as Naoki picked off vulnerable targets with throwing blades. Vivi weaved between swords and men with grace, drenching her beloved “stabbers” in red. On the merchant ship, Aya defended the Akarins with a spear that skewered more than just fish.
But something felt wrong.
Now and then, Sai would catch something darting by along the edge of her vision, and it was not Vivi’s flowing crimson mane. It was a shadow. Pirates seemed to be dropping dead around her, but when she glanced back, Naoki was plunging his blade into the chest of someone else.
When she crossed blades with the captain of the ship, the strange shadow disappeared from her mind.
He was a rugged brute who, during Sai’s offer to let the pirates go unharmed if they surrendered, questioned whether Sai was a captain or a cabin maid. At that, she promised she would kill him. Cutting him down then, she’d made good on that promise.
But before she could think of letting her guard down, she heard pounding from behind. Boots thundering against the deck. A furious cry.
Ducking to the side, Sai avoided the sword that came crashing down. She pivoted and prepared to carve her blade upward at the attacker–but stopped.
A dagger flew past her head and plunged deep into the pirate’s neck. With a gurgle of blood, the body slumped forward.
A voice like a doldrum. It sent chills creeping up Sai’s skin. Cautiously she looked back.
So this was the shadow.
Armored in black leather and a long cloak, the stranger cut an intimidating figure–almost comically so. Most striking were his pale eyes. A patch covered the left, but the right looked tired, with its heavy eyelid and dark patch underneath. Together with the taut frown that his mouth seemed to be naturally pulled in, he looked…
“Not with the pirates, are you?” Sai asked, hand still gripping the hilt of her sword.
The man bowed his head. “Just a humble passenger.”
“Does every passenger on this ship know how to kill so efficiently?”
He glanced around at the bodies of the pirates lying in pools of their own blood. “Doesn’t seem so.”
“Boarding with pirates is risky business.”
“I don’t think they knew I was here until I started killing them.”
“Oh, who is this?” Vivi purred as she and Naoki joined up with Sai.
Sneering, Naoki offered a less enthusiastic assessment. “Wonderful cloak. Assassin? Cultist?”
Vivi seemed delighted by that. Naoki not so much. Even Sai found herself amused by such bluntness. She asked, “What’s your name?”
“Hart. And you are Captain..?”
“Sai Harada. This is my crew, Naoki Tanaka and Vivi Nahr.” Vivi smiled and wagged her hand at the assassin. All Naoki offered was a curt nod. “Our fourth member, Aya, is on the merchant ship most likely cleaning pirate guts from her spear.”
“That little town along the coast you see behind me is our home,” Sai continued, “and we protect this sea. So, if you don’t mind me asking, what is a fanatic contract-killer doing in our water?”
“Oh, I’m not really in the business anymore,” Hart said, walking over to the corpse he’d left at Sai’s side. She kept her eyes trained on him as he pulled his blade from the dead man’s neck. “The competition–they all have two eyes. Clients prefer two eyes. And the cult…? We don’t like each other. What I want,” Hart said as he slid the dagger back into its sheath, “is your capital. I hear it’s a nice voyage from Yashiri to Rimegard.”
Naoki laughed derisively. “So you decided to ferry over here on a pirate ship? Couldn’t have taken a friendlier boat?”
Vivi swatted Naoki with her tail. “And what’s the fun in friendly boats?”
“I’m headed for Rimegard myself,” Sai said, drawing gasps from her crew.
“Since when?” Vivi asked.
“I have a contact in Laféron,” Sai began to explain, but stopped when she saw the other woman beam knowingly. Hart raised a brow, and that was perhaps the first time he had shown any sort of emotion that whole time. “So, perhaps we could ride to Yashiri together.”
“Captain!” Naoki cried, looking and sounding like he might keel over. “This is so sudden! Obviously, I have to come with you–”
“It is my duty to see that our captain make the journey safely. Please don’t argue, or I will be forced to tie myself to your horse–” Vivi cut him off with a snort that erupted into laughter.
Sai shook her head. “Fine, but once we arrive in Yashiri you are to turn back. Akari needs you here.”
“I look forward to traveling with you,” Hart said, eyeing Naoki like a fox appraising a cornered rabbit. Suddenly, Naoki’s resolve melted into dread.
Akari was only a day’s ride from Yashiri. They’d leave at dawn and most likely have to stay a night in one of the port city’s grand inns. Then they’d take a ship to Rimegard’s coast and from there Sai would travel up through the biting cold to reach the grandiose city of Laféron. It would be a long journey.
For that night, Sai offered her home and spare room to Hart, much to Naoki’s reasonable objections.
It was when they were alone that Hart asked, “Your contact doesn’t send letters on blue paper, does she?”
For such an offhanded question, it stopped Sai in her tracks.
“Forget it,” Hart said. “I was just thinking aloud. Thank you for your hospitality.” He stepped into his room and started to pull the door closed.
“Wait, please,” Sai said, pitch struck with urgency. Hart slid the door open just a crack. Moonlight caught his sullen features as one pale eye stared at her from a room of darkness. The chill from earlier found her again.
“Is your blue letter the reason you are traveling to Rimegard?”
“What blue letter?”
Suppressing frustration, she ordered him to wait there. After a few minutes, she returned–slightly unsettled that he hadn’t opened the door any wider or lit any kind of light–and held a lamp up to a sheet of paper.
Hart looked over it then reached into a pouch on his belt. Sai’s drew her hand to her hip reflexively. Rather than draw a weapon, he drew a folded paper. In the lamplight, they examined both letters side by side.
Written on each were the same words in the same flowery script, signed with the same rosy imprint of a kiss.
Brave Hero of the Great War,
I seek your aid. Something terrible is coming and I cannot stop it alone.
Go to the city of Laféron in the northern region Rimegard. Once there, find the House of the Red Rose. I will be waiting.
“I lied earlier,” Sai said. “I do have a contact that travels but he’s not stationed in Laféron. I want to uncover who sent this and why.”
Hart went quiet for a moment, then said, “Indeed.” He pulled the door closed, and from behind the screen Sai heard, “May Yuujin guide our voyage, Admiral.”
Who else received these mysterious blue letters? A world-famous astrologer and his arrogant, super powerful wizard husband. Read their story here.
Featured photo by thommas68 via Pixabay (CC0 1.0)
I get scared because these stories are a little lengthy and I don’t know if people will hate that or not 😱😬😭