From the Ashes
by Martin Hall

   A cold wind whipped across the small cove, slapping the tide against the beached galleys. A warm pungent fog rose from the drying seaweed that seemed to litter the entire island, stinging at the eyes of the two men waiting by the boats. The swordsman frowned with impatience and produced a red ribbon from his pocket, drawing his damp hair out of his good eye and into a simple and hasty ponytail. He stared into the swirling fog. Still no sign of the others.

   "This isn't right, Joern. The captain can take care of himself. You know that better than anybody here." The swordsman loosened his sabre in its scabbard again and looked out across the steaming cove. "Besides. I don't like this island. It's cursed."

   The leader of the group sniffed and shifted his weight, leaning on the great sword driven into the beach. "The captain's been gone all night, Caligari. You said it yourself, this island is not natural. Your cowardice sickens me, and it would sicken the captain. He's in here somewhere, and if anyone can find him, Pinchot and Gaucher can."

   Julius shot out a harsh barking laugh. "Gaucher? That whelp? All he's good for is tormenting those who can't fight back. I can't see why you sent him in the first place."

   Keitellson shrugged. "Gaucher is resourceful, and there is no-one Pinchot can't find once he picks up a trail. They'll find the captain."

   The Vodacce rubbed at his useless white eye. "What if they can't find him? What if she killed him? Who would be captain then, Joern? You were…" Caligari smirked and held up his hands "I apologise. You are his first mate. If the captain were to die on this island, either in there or otherwise, you would be in an excellent position to command the Crimson Roger for yourself."

   Joern fixed his stare on the swordsman, his voice leaden. "Are you implying anything, Caligari?"

   Julius shook his head, smiling. "Not at all. I am merely steeling your mind for all possible outcomes. If it so happens that the captain has not survived, know that I support your captaincy." He paused. "Of course, you may have to call on my assistance to have the crew accept you."

   Joern shifted his weight on the ponderous blade again, swinging it up at the slight Vodacce. Julius jumped backwards reflexively, his sabre clearing its scabbard and turning the arc of Keitellson's sword aside. As he leaped backwards, he reached for the pistol at his belt. As the Vesten advanced, his sword sweeping the beach in its momentum, Julius drew back the hammer of his gun, keeping the sabre between himself and Joern. As he brought the pistol to bear on his attacker, his face split in a ruthless grin. It was then that he felt the matted seaweed beneath his foot give way, and the sky filled his vision as he crashed to the ground on his back. When he opened his eye, he felt Keitellson's boot plant itself heavily on his chest as his other foot delivered a strong kick to his hand, sending the pistol flying into a rock pool. He licked his lips.

   "Well," he croaked, his eye attempting to focus on the blade suspended above his face, "this is embarrassing."

   Joern growled as he stared down at the duplicitous Vodacce. "Traitor. I should kill you right now."

   Caligari smiled. "And yet you do not. May I stand?" The big man shifted his stance, placing his boot on Caligari's neck.

   "Listen to me, you devious dog. Know that I can kill you at any moment. Our crew needs your uncle's money, and for that I will let you live. Do not speak against the captain, or I will take your head." He shifted his boot from Julius' neck, and brought it down with a ringing snap on the fallen man's sabre. He then stepped back, spitting on the broken sword. "Besides, you're a good fighter. I hate duplicity, but it disgusts me to raise a blade to one of our own." He offered his hand to Julius. "Do not forget who you serve."

   Joern hauled Julius to his feet. The swordsman rubbed at his throat. He gasped and coughed, attempting to form words. As the sun rose higher in the air, the fog around the craggy beach thickened. Caligari looked uncertainly across to the Vesten. "Your loyalty is commendable." He wheezed, as his voice returned to him. "Truly commendable. I apologise for speaking out of turn." He bowed deeply. "It was not my place. I only meant to prepare you for the possibility that he might not be coming back."

   Joern glared across. "Your waistcoat is covered in filth." He returned his gaze to the narrow gulch that led deeper inland.

   Julius removed his waistcoat and tutted loudly as he snapped it in the air, trying in vain to dislodge the muck that clung to it. "My thanks for telling me. I didn't know you cared."

   The Vesten sighed. "I only did it to shut you up, Caligari. Keep your eye on the rocks. I don't think we're alone on this island."

   "What am I supposed to do, gnaw anyone we meet? You broke my sword!" snapped Caligari.

   "So I did." A figure shifted in the haze of the gulch, looming out of the fog toward the men. "Riant? Pinchot? Who goes there?"

   As the spectral outline drew closer, a small bundle was tossed out to the beach, landing at Caligari's feet. The Vodacce looked down as a thin whisper cut through the air.

   "I'm afraid mister Gaucher lost his footing somewhat. Most tragic." Caligari stooped to pick up a blood-soaked bandana and the shattered remains of a whip. His eye took in the tall figure, clad in a coat as red as blood. His right hand wound itself tightly around a scythe more familiar to the crew of the Crimson Roger than their own fathers. As the captain stepped out of the mists, he smiled. Caligari's blood ran cold, and he swallowed, his pained throat causing him to wince a little.

   The captain turned to Keitellson. "Make ready the one boat. I did warn the crew not to come ashore. They need to remember what it means to disobey me."

   The captain's coat snapped about him in the brisk morning breeze. "She dared to face me, mister Keitellson. Her men must pay the price of her audacity." He paused as he turned to fix his officers with the full force of his glare. " Be quick about it. I am not in a good mood."

   As Caligari and Keitellson picked their way down the beach, the captain breathed deeply and gripped the handle of his scythe even tighter, adjusting his hat with his free hand. "Not bad." He whispered. "I could almost be the man himself." He smiled, then followed his two officers to the boat.