Laerian stood at the end of the dock and stared ahead. The waves were lapping against the pilings calmly, gently, and he was enjoying the moment of peace.
The magician turned. Steffan, the boy from the day before was walking towards him.
"Yes. My boat is setting out when the tide turns. It was supposed to be going earlier today, but there was a delay. What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you. I've been checking all the docks. I just wanted to say, thank you. Again. And to apologize for yesterday"
"Yes. But that doesn't mean that I don't mean it. I really am sorry for how I acted"
"No apology necessary Steffan. You saw something that was wrong. And you tried to fix it, refused to accept it. That makes me glad. Its that kind of dedication to what is right that gives me hope for the future. That maybe, if there are more and more people like you who refuse to accept injustice, maybe there'll be a better world someday, and no need for war, fighting, soldiers, and death.
"So no Steffan, there is no need to apologize. And you can thank me by still standing up for others, so long as you're not risking dying by doing so. Does that sound like a fair thank you?"
"As fair as I think either of us will get. I'll try and repay you someday Laerian. Until then, keep the Red Scarf safe"
Laerian blinked as the boy turned and ran off waving.
He...he had figured out that Laerian was the Red Scarf.
Although, he supposed, after being part of his act the day before it had likely not been too hard to figure out.
He finally waved to the boy, now at the other end of the dock, and turned to board the ship. It was time to leave Belnor behind, for better or for worse.
The gangplank creaked as he climbed it, and the smell of the salt filled his nostrils. Laerian needed to just…enjoy the world more. The call of gulls overhead and the sound of the sails snapping in the breeze as they were put in place. The sun sparkling on the water and the sounds of the town no longer touching him as he tuned them out.
It wasn’t yet time to get going. There were a thousand and one things to do before they could set sail, but just being aboard the ship made him feel like he was doing something. Something heroic, good, something to wash out the deeds that stained his soul.
“Captain! Anything I can do to help us get going faster?”
The captain, a big man with bleached hair cropped short, turned to stare down at Laerian from atop the sterncastle.
“You a sailor?”
“Then no. Go to your cabin. We’ll be off with the tide”
Laerian shrugged and headed down the ladder to his cabin, and Tomas’.
As befitted bandit kings, they had booked passage aboard a nicer ship, and booked the two nicest rooms aboard it. It was an extravagant expense that they couldn’t really afford, but it was what they needed. Without a good impression they would be killed before they ever arrived, butchered and thrown to the dogs. This at least gave them a chance.
Striding down the hall, boards creaking under his feet as the ship swayed, Laerian thumped once on Tomas’ door.
A hand fell on his shoulder and Tomas pulled him around with surprising strength.
“Don’t use my real name”
“Are you in the State?”
“Yes. Can’t let our guards down now”
“What about when we’re sleeping? And don’t suggest a watch. Nothing is more suspicious than two people with money staying awake all night watching over one another sleep. It is asking for trouble”
“I can bar the doors”
“No. Just forget about it Tom-sorry. Mardas. Forget about it Mardas, and relax. We won’t be challenged until we’re much closer, let me assure you”
“And if you’re wrong?”
“Then we die. Why don’t you trust me?”
While Laerian had originally wanted to give the younger noble the benefit of the doubt, Tomas was too sour. He was a miserable man who cared for very few things beyond himself. Yes, he seemed to care for Juniper and saving Destria, but that was just because he didn’t want his family's honour to be sullied. It wasn’t even for a particularly good reason.
But, he had decided to put up with the man, and he did need him around in order to save Destria. So he didn’t have much choice but to suck it up.
Tomas glared at him for another minute, and then pushed past him to get to his door.
“Fine. But if I wind up dead because of you, you’re going to regret it”
Plastering a fake grin all over his face Laerian started after the younger man.
“That’s excellent news then Mardas! See, this is the first step to developing a long-lasting and profitable partnership! After this perhaps we can go save a different-”
The door slamming in his face cut off the rest of his thought.
“Eh” Laerian spun towards his own door and continued what was now a monologue “You don’t really have magician material after all. No sense of humour, no emotion really besides anger and rage, and your face is enough to make the younger children scream”
The door opened into a slightly cramped room. The bed was built into the far wall and had rails on the one side to prevent the occupant from rolling out. There were all kinds of silly devices and paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling, and very little room free on the floor for him to walk in. Apparently the best rooms were still not all that good, although at least it had a table and chair as well as the other stuff.
Then again, it was a room, with a real bed, which was a huge luxury aboard a ship. So, he really should not be complaining.
Laerian tossed his bag onto the table and tossed himself onto the bed. It was a painful experience, the bed being thin, but he wasn’t really worried. He was just here to wait.
The shadows swirled. And burned.
They were cold, and too warm, and dark, and bright. They were everything and nothing.
The man slipped between a waking nightmare and a dreamless oblivion. He preferred the oblivion, wished for the oblivion when he had the facilities to wish. Most of the time it was just the cold heat and dark light. Contradictions inherent in the flaws of the universe.
The world was pain, and death.
No. There is more. There is friendship and loyalty, respect, love, your best qualities. Arrogance, pride, recklessness, and fear, your worst. You are not shadows.
“Time to start today shadow-man”
The sibilant voice was always there. The voice of command was sometimes there and sometimes not, but the sibilant one was his tormentor. His slave driver, the whip cracker, the one who controlled his life, who dictated everything.
The man stirred, tried to get up.
“Ah, so you are awake already. That changes things then. Perhaps you have healed faster than I thought”
It was the voice again, the sibilant hissing voice that brought pain. The voice that brought the shadows.
The man settled for opening his eyes instead of standing.
The shadows settled over these too. A veil of darkness, turning the world a pale grey. Tints fell through the edges, fell away and out of his awareness. The colours he did notice were dulled, muted, lifeless. Shapes flickered at the edge of his vision, and in the shadows playing on the ceiling he could see things, hear words coming from them, almost make out what they were trying to tell him.
The beams of a boat cabin. He recognized them now. And the rocking…that must be the boat on the sea. So. They had taken him out onto the ocean. That was bad because…
There was a reason why it was bad, but the man could not remember it. That was almost worse.
The shadows also made everything sharper, clearer. Looking past his tormentor; he refused to meet the man’s gaze, he stared at the windows. They were larger than most ship-board windows and had good quality glass. Beyond them the man could see the waves cresting, and far above a lone bird circling. All of it was clearer, sharper, more there, than ever before.
His voice startled him into silence. Deep and raspy from misuse it sounded almost like the sibilant man. He could feel his tormentor looking at him for a long moment before finally continuing.
“Where are we?”
“Where are we? Well my dear shadow prince, we’re in the middle of the ocean. As I am sure you can tell. Aboard the ship Darker Deeds. It is a pirate vessel. We’re on our way to Faron Rek to find healers for you, but perhaps that isn’t needed now. It is fortunate for all of us that we found you when we did. You were in a bad way”
It was the voice again, the voice he remembered from before. He did not remember where it came from, whose voice it was, but the man, the Shadow Prince, knew that the voice was important to listen to.
Maybe. He could also not afford to trust it. He could not afford to trust anything after all. Not after what had happened.
He remembered…he remembered a betrayal, or an ambush, a surprise. And there was a half-remembered conversation from between oblivions that made him feel like there had been a greater betrayal by far.
“Ah, yes. Your memory has perhaps not yet recovered. I assure you though, that in time it will. You had been ambushed by soldiers of Destria. They dealt you a grievous blow, the one you see on your chest”
The Shadow Prince looked, and saw it. A long cut from his stomach up to his shoulder, it was leaking shadows like blood. They pooled around it, sunk into it, danced in and out of it…it was a cesspool, a breeding pit, a hole for them to spawn in.
It’s a lie. The soldiers of Destria would never hurt you.
“That’s right. They wouldn’t hurt me would they?”
The Shadow Prince closed his eyes as he tried to remember why, and so he didn’t see the look of anger and annoyance on the sibilant man’s face.
“No, no, they weren’t supposed to. You were dressed as one remember? It was your job to find out where they were going to be, and how to avoid them, as well as to find a way into the village. You did both very well”
“I…remember that. Yes. Being dressed as a soldier”
He opened his eyes again and looked up at the sibilant man. The man had a narrow face, slightly puckered, with high cheekbones. His eyes were sunken, sallow, and shadows seemed to cling to his flesh, much like they did to the Shadow Prince’s. The man’s eyes were completely black, pools of shadow.
“Who are you?”
Then the more pressing question floated to the surface of the Prince’s mind.
“Who am I?”
“Ah. I was wondering if you’d remember that. Well, in the order you asked it then. I am Weeros, a Sketcher out of Lomwar. I’m a cousin of the royal family of Lomwar, seventy fifth-”
Weeors did not finish his sentence. At his declaration of being out of Lomwar the Prince felt something click. Lomwar was the enemy. Lomwar was always an enemy. And if this man leaked shadows and was a Sketcher he was royalty of Lomwar. He must be killed.
The Prince tensed muscles and sat up as Weeros stopped dead, surprised at the recovery.
And then the Sketcher began to cough and choke as hands closed around his throat.
“You are a Lomwar. You’ll die for that”
The Sketcher began to struggle as the Prince’s grip tightened. The man’s fingers flailed wildly, began to Sketch before the Prince closed his other hand around the man’s hand. He could hear bones crack.
He had never been this strong before. Had he?
No. He knew he was never that strong before. Nobody could be normally, especially not after being asleep for so long, being healed, for so long.
The Prince opened both hands and Weeros fell to the ground, his legs giving out as they were suddenly placed in the role of supporting him once more. The Sketcher began to gasp as he lay there crumpled.
“What did you do to me? Why am I stronger? You may answer me, or I can kill you. It is up to you. And I want the truth this time. What did you do? Who am I?”
The man looked up at him as he struggled to draw breath. His left hand cradled the ruins of his right one, and bruises were already forming on his throat where the Prince had grabbed it.
“Speak. Now. I am losing my patience”
“Of-of course” The voice was no longer as sibilant, no longer as sinister. Yet even hoarse and rough, it still held the same undertones, if tainted by fear.
“You-” his speech was broken by a coughing fit before he continued “You were dying. You had been dealt that wound. Because of who you are, because of your service and because you are the Blood Red Prince, he had me save you. I Sketched at first, just a simple one to maintain your life. But the wound was too much and wouldn’t heal on its own before you died. And it won’t heal if I’ve Sketched a Shadow into you. So the captain had me Permanancy it, made me bind the Shadow into you permanently. It fixed what was wrong with you, healed your wounds and fixed anything else. It’ll have sharpened your vision, improved your hearing, made you stronger, faster, tougher. You can go longer without sleep, and you’ll be able to eat less, hold your breath longer. Everything. You’ve heard of the Beshadowed?”
“No, I don’t, what-”
Killers. Murderers. Assassins rumoured to exist but never proved to be real. The enemy.
“…Yes. Yes, I have. They’re monsters. They serve at the bidding of their masters, the Sketchers who created them, their controllers. Ruthless killers, assassins. And servants of Lomwar”
The Prince swung his legs over the edge of the bed and grasped Weeros’ shoulders. He lifted the Sketcher upright and stared straight into his face. The black black eyes were inscrutable, revealing nothing.
“You have still not explain your connection to Lomwar. Explain it now or you die, regardless of how much I do not know”
“I was a minor cousin and I left. Became a rogue, a killer for hire, a bandit. I rose through the ranks and was assigned to this ship as its Sketcher. So although I have the powers of the royal family, their Sigilian, to call upon, I am not affiliated with them. Now then-”
“Finish explaining about me”
“Ah. Yes. Well, the Beshadowed are puppets. But they are deadly, effective in every way. You are the same, but you are not controlled. You have your own free will, as per the captain’s orders. After all, the Blood Red Prince can be beholden to no mere ship’s Sketcher. And so-”
“The Blood Red Prince. What is that? Explain it to me. I know of the Blood Red King” The ruler of pirates, of Faron Rek “He is a pirate king, the king of bandits and scum. But what is a Blood Red Prince?”
“A Blood Red Prince…well, they are the secret enforcers of the Blood Red King. They do the missions that the others cannot, the jobs that others cannot, they are his hands. Some Kings replace the last Prince while others keep the old one on. Usually they are the toughest of the tough. They are trusted with the tasks that are too sensitive for the others to do. You are one of them, the current King’s Blood Red Prince”
This time Weeros waited to see if the Prince would ask another question. But, luckily for the man the Prince was busy.
Lies. Lies. You are no Prince of Shadows, no Prince of Blood, no Prince of Death. You are a Prince of so much more.
A prince of more? But, a prince of what?
His thoughts were interrupted by the door swinging open.
“What’s happening here?”
It was the voice of command. The Prince turned to look. The man was wearing a fine red leather coat, patched with scraps of fine and once rich clothing. But they’re torn, cut, and ripped from where they had once been, and sewn onto the coat.
The result was a horrible patchwork of an outfit, complete with a lacy bit at the end of the right arm but not left, and am old style ruff around the neck. The outfit was completed by an over-large hat in a faded purple.
Lanky blonde hair fell out from under the brim of the hat, partially concealing the face behind.
“Ah, Captain, the Prince was just-”
“Quiet Weeros. I can clearly see that the Prince is awake. Prince, how are you feeling? I am Captain Dashiel”
The man extended his right hand as he pulled his hair away with his left hand. Two baleful eyes stared out at the Prince from a lined and weathered face. Thin lips and thick eyebrows only added to the effect.
“I…don’t know my name to give to you”
The Prince grasped Dashiel’s hand. It was hard, callused, and had a firm grip.
“That is fine. We would not dishonour you by doing other than calling you Prince regardless. You are lucky that the Sketcher recognized you, or you would have been left for dead. Now then, have you remembered your own Sketching abilities?”
“My own Sketching abilities?”
But even as he asked it the knowledge flooded into the Prince’s mind. He had never been a good Sketcher, but he had been able to do so. His Sigilian had been especially powerful, encompassing things like Air, Fire, and many other powerful Sigils. He also knew that so powerful a Sigilian was a symbol of great importance.
“Who…who was I? Who was I to command such power, such might? And why did I squander it?”
Weeros and the captain exchanged glances, as if unsure as what to say. Misreading their hesitation the Prince took a lunging step towards them.
Prince, royalty, one to rule, one to protect. A truant, wasted talent, an arrogant fool.
“How?” His voice was lower, quieter, less angry, but just as desperate, as he spoke to the person in his head, the one who knew the answers “How do I know that you’re telling the truth? How do I know?”
“Prince?” The captain stepped forwards and placed a hand on the Prince’s shoulder “I apologize, but I do not know. You were, are, a mystery, except perhaps to the Blood Red King. He would be the one who knows who you are, who knows why you are, how you are. And there is no way to know if we are telling the truth. You will just have to believe, or not. It is in your hands regardless”
“So, I am someone who does not remember their past. And nobody can tell me what my past is”
That is a lie. One is a liar. One knows. One knows.
The two exchanged looks again, and if there was guilt in their stares, it was understandable.
“That is right Prince. Now, we are heading to Faron Rek as we speak, at best speed. You should rest more, as the shadows will still take a large toll on you for the first few days. We shall leave you to it”
They left and the Prince lay down again. The rocking had never gone away, but was more obvious now. Now he could feel it again, the gentle swaying of the ship. It did not surprise him that he had not recognized it while barely conscious. He was more interested in where he did recognize it from now. Where had he been in his past life? Who had he been?
A better person than they will ever be.And what was the voice inside his head?