by Dana DeVries
Reis stared through the dusk at the fitful flames of the Hurricane. The Roger's guns had just fallen silent at his order and there was no sign of life aboard the wrecked ship. It had been over twenty minutes since the Sea Dogs' last ragged volley. As he raised a spyglass to his eye and examined the bodies scattered upon the deck, two solid presences appeared at his elbow. Mad Darius McIntrick and his shadow, Alfred Cornel. As usual, Cornel remained silent as McIntrick spoke. "We should board her, captain. We still have some time before. . . "
"Why?" Reis' harsh whisper cut across McIntrick's ramblings.
"You know. Check for survivors, loot the ship. I've heard that the Sea Dogs carried a lot of loot, gold, Syrneth artifacts, that sort of thing. It wouldn't take long, but we need to move quickly before she sinks. "
Reis considered the Inish man for a moment and then nodded. "Get a launch ready. I'll choose a couple more men to join us. " The two crewmen smiled triumphantly and hurried away. Reis nodded again and said to himself, "Yes. There might be a great deal to gain over there. "
Minutes later as the launch skimmed across the choppy water, McIntrick stared at the men Reis had chosen. Jeorg, a silent man with deep scars on his arms rowed the launch with Cornel while the huge, mute Crescent known as Volta carried a bare scimitar in his hand and scowled at the darkening waves. Andrei Levovich, the mad Ussuran, was trailing his hand in the water and talking non-stop about sharks. "I've seen sharks you wouldn't believe. Why, they'll come right up underneath a boat and capsize it, then seize the men one at a time and rip them apart. "
McIntrick turned and saw Reis staring directly at him. Before he could say anything, Reis gestured at their goal. The sun had set and the flames of the Hurricane illuminated the dark water around it. Behind them, the Rogers had lit a few lanterns, but not enough to shed any light this far out. The launch bumped into the side of the burning boat and Reis grabbed a rope. He hoarsely ordered Jeorg to stay with the launch and climbed aboard. The others quickly followed suit.
Aboard the Hurricane, the damage from the Rogers attack was obvious. Gaping holes, shattered timbers and bodies covered the deck. Reis ordered them to "Spread out, grab anything valuable, " as he entered the burnt out cabins. Volta nodded. He and Cornel headed below decks. Levovich stared up at the mast. The sails and rigging had burned, leaving the mast covered in red hot embers, but a strangely glittering object was still nailed just above the burnt timbers of the crow's next. He began climbing up the charred mast towards it. McIntrick set to work examining the bodies, carefully peering at their faces as he worked.
Long minutes later, the others returned to the main deck. Levovich was covered in soot and ash, but he clutched a twisted silverish object that appeared untouched by the fire that had raged around it. Volta's bare skin was covered in soot as well and he held a sack that clinked slightly. Reis looked as he always had with his dark red jacket and wild black hair. The captain motioned them towards the launch. "Time to leave. The forward powder room hasn't gone up yet. "
Levovich laughed wildly and tossed his find into Volta's sack. "Afraid it'll blow?"
Reis shook his head slightly. "The rest of you get in the launch. We'll be down soon. " The three crewmen quickly obeyed as the aft deck collapsed with a roar and a cloud of sparks.
Levovich stared into Reis' cold eyes. "You've changed, captain. Since coming back from Cabora, you are a different person. "
Reis strode for the forecastle, skirting a roaring blaze that erupted from one of the holes in the deck. Levovich followed curiously. The captain threw open a small metal door to reveal a small powder room for reloading cannons in the midst of a firefight. The fire hadn't penetrated the metal lined walls, but the heat in the room was stifling. Small casks of powder lined the walls while the center of the room was taken up with a pyramid of spare ammunition. One of the casks had broken open and spilled its contents across the deck. Reis turned from the room with a casual calm and pulled his scythe from his belt. A light swing sliced through a timber half consumed with flames. He snatched up the rough made brand and turned towards Levovich. "One day your insolence will exceed your usefulness, Ussuran. " Reis tossed the brand into the powder room.
The two men locked eyes. A long heartbeat passed. And then another. They could both hear the crackle of burning gunpowder and smell the sulfurous smoke. Finally the Ussuran nodded. "Alright. You are correct. It is time to go. "
Reis continued staring back at him until Levovich added, "Sir. "
The two men turned and stepped back across the deck of the burning ship. They were still a few steps from the launch when an enormous roar filled the front of the ship with flames. Shrapnel flew by them on every side but they ignored it and didn't increase their pace, even when a piece sliced a shallow cut across Levovich's arm. The two men climbed down the rope into the launch. The trip back to the Crimson Rogers was short and silent.
Once on board their own ship and flanked by Volta and Levovich, Reis turned to Cornel and McIntrick. "What did you two recover?"
Cornel turned pale, but McIntrick spoke up quickly. "We searched the bodies, but didn't find more than a few guilders, sir. " He held out a thick wad of currency. "Looks like the fire destroyed everything of value. "
"I see. " A long moment of silence fell over the ship. Then the captain's whispery voice rasped out. "Hold them. " Loyal Red Scarves appeared on all sides, seized the two men and held them against the railing facing the sea. The crumpled wad of guilders fell to the deck without a glance from anyone. "Holding out loot from your crewmates. Three lashes each. " Reis held out his hand for a whip and heard an intake of surprise from the crew. The captain hadn't whipped anyone himself for years. He'd always left that duty to his bosun. The assembled crew began muttering as Julius Caligari placed a cat o' nine tails into his hand. Reis ran a fingertip slowly along the length of the barbed cord then he handed the whip to Volta. "About time we started looking for a new bosun. Three lashes. "
The Crescenter nodded expressionlessly and raised his arm. He brought it down with a crack far louder than thunder or gunfire. Red streaks ripped across Cornel's back and a high-pitched shriek filled the air. Volta struck again and Cornel collapsed in the arms of the men holding him. White bone showed through the rents in his flesh. As the third blow struck, a muffled snap mirrored the whip's crack. Tatters of flesh hung from his back. Reis shook his head and took the whip from the Crescenter. "Too strong. This is to teach him the errors of his ways. He can't learn anything if he's dead. " Reis waved Cornel away. "Take him to my cabin. . . no. Take him to Riant's cabin. No need to cover my cabin with blood. " Then turning to Andrei Levovich, the captain handed over the whip. "Three lashes. "
The Ussuran turned to Darius McIntrick and wrinkled his nose in disgust. Fear oozed from the Inish man like sweat and there was a puddle of urine between his feet. Levovich brought the whip down across the man's back with a careless shrug. The whip whistled again across his back. Stripes of bruised flesh were now visible through the tears in McIntrick's clothing. The third lash tore into McIntrick's flesh and blood began to soak into his ripped clothing.
Reis grunted and waved the prisoner after Cornel as he stepped up beside Levovich. His words only reached the Ussuran's ears. "Your distaste is obvious. Don't let it soften your blows. " Then the captain turned and followed the prisoners into the former bosun's cabin and waved the other crew to leave. The room was bare, only holding a cot and some disquieting stains upon the deck. He sat down upon the cot and considered the two whipped men lying face down before him. His tone was lighter, more conversational. "Now. What were you looking for over there? Artifacts? Gold?"
McIntrick raised his head and declare vehemently, "Nothing. We searched the bodies and found nothing you'd want. "
"It's not that simple, Mr. McIntrick. You were too insistent on boarding them and you knew just what you were looking for. So what was it?"
Again, McIntrick insisted. "Nothing. "
Reis drew his scythe from his side and reached out with it. He drew it lightly down McIntrick's back just skimming along his flesh. It sliced effortlessly through his shirt and belt pouches. The scythe lifted open the pouches one at a time. The first pouch held only a small amount of money. But the second and third pouches held three vials each of a red liquid. "Now what is this?" For a moment, the only sound in the cabin was Cornel's pained breathing. Reis stood and opened up a chest at the foot of the bed and pulled out a vial of red liquid and unstopped it. "Let me show you my own vial. This is the extract from a plant found in southern Castille. On food, even a few drops are hot, spicy. But on an open cut, it feels like fire. Raw consuming fire in your veins. Our former bosun used to put a few drops on the barbs of his cat for a little extra kick. Would you like to see?"
Corne's response was immediate. "No, Theus, no. We were looking for blood. Sorcerous blood. Darius told me to try to find that Celedoine wench or a donkey boy and drain as much blood from them as I could. But they wasn't down below. Nobody was. They'd all gotten away, got clean away. "
Reis ignored the babbling. "Blood? What did he want blood for?"
"He never told me and that's Theus' own truth. Never told me and I didn't ask. He just paid me handsome for it. "
"I see. You've been most helpful, Mr. Cornel. But not helpful enough. " Reaching out, Reis tipped a couple drops onto Cornel's bleeding wounds. The Avalon immediately began convulsing and screaming. After watching for a long moment, Reis turned to the other crewman. "Now, Mr. McIntrick. " Although Cornel was screaming at the top of his lungs, Reis' whisper was clearly audible. "Are you prepared to be more helpful?"
The crewman's face had gone pale but he managed a nod. "I've been harvesting blood, fresh spilled blood of sorcerers ever since I came aboard. I drop it off when we're in port at various inns. " Cornel suddenly spasmed wildly and opened his mouth wide. A strange hesitating sound came from his lips for a moment and then he fell deathly still.
Reis ignored the dead man and focused on McIntrick. "Who needs this blood and for what?"
"Rivinova. " Reis nodded for him to continue. "I'm not sure what she does with it. Makes potions I think. They can give a man new powers. Like a sorcerer's, but only for a little while. "
"I see. " Well, we'll meet again in a few days after you've recovered and you can give me more details about all of this. Those potions sound like they could be very useful so your other employer is in luck. We'll provide him with all sorts of blood for his concoctions. But from now on, we're going to be getting some of these potions in payment. And nothing said in this room goes any further. Understood?"
"Yes, sir. "
Reis stood and walked towards the door. "Good. Then I assume you'll understand that I'm going to make an example out of you. " Opening the cabin door, Reis called out for two crewmen to bring Mr. McIntrick onto the deck.
Reis strode to the center of the main deck, grabbed a pistol from one of the crew and fired it into the air. All eyes turned towards him as McIntrick was tossed at his feet. Reis' hoarse whisper cut through the low murmuring like a cutlass. "I know that many of you have other loyalties. To your families, to your countries, to your vengeance, to organizations you belong to. " As he spoke, the captain nodded at individual crew including his first mate, focusing first on one and then another. They each nodded cautiously in agreement with his words. "But remember this, you are Crimson Rogers. Any other loyalties are secondary to that. The next one who forgets will get a full dose of what Mr. McIntrick is tasting. " As the assembled crew watched, Reis poured several drops from the small vial of scarlet liquid onto his back. As the first drops raced across the bruised skin and into the open wound, McIntrick screamed. Liquid fire raced through his veins and his muscles clenched in agony.
Reis' gaze swept across his men again and he whispered. "Do not be the one who forgets. " He stalked towards his cabin through the aisle opened by the silent crew who kept staring at the man writhing in agony on the deck. McIntrick screamed until his voice was gone and then mercifully, he fainted dead away.