The Treachery of Porte
by Rob Wieland

   The Trade Sea shone like the smile of a wealthy Vendel merchant. Ysabette du Montaigne stood on the deck of The Wayward Swan, watching her crew at work. The past few weeks had been relatively quiet. They had managed to keep away from Valoix's frigates and ferried Rosamonde from country to country trying to gain support for the exiled nobility of the Montaigne. She had never expected to be a courier. Of course, she had never expected her father to be as foolish as he was. She had even been host to quite a few men and women whom she had never expected to see again.

   "Two sisters and neither of them spent time in my cabin last night", said Artus Sices du Sices as he strode boldly behind her.

   "I am sorry, monsieur", she said as she turned to face him, "but I do not read bedtime stories anymore."

   He bowed deeply and removed his hat. His blond locks were tied into a neat queue. Since the fall of L'Emperuer, Artus had been Ysabette's contact with the Sices du Sices house. He had helped her rescue her sister from the headman's axe and if he did not mention it for a whole day, she would have died from shock.

   "How long until we reach Kirk?"

   "If the weather stays like this, we'll be there tomorrow. You're certain Mistress Haelbroeck will purchase your map?"

   "What have I been doing for the past year?"

   Ysabette leaned on the railing. "Selling the priceless treasures of your family?"

   Artus raised an eyebrow. "If those were truly priceless treasures, I wouldn't be able to keep this operation running, would I? Either way, I know the market value of an excellent map of the sewers of Charouse. Now may I have the key to your chest?"

   She reached inside her chemise and pulled out a necklace from which dangled a small gold key. She removed it and gave it to Artus.

   "I do not see why you insist on keeping your wine locked in there", she said.

   "I have my own treasures as well. It must do until I can claim your heart as mine."

   Ysabette rolled her eyes as Artus went below.

  Julius Caligari shuddered at the Porté hole gaped opened. Even through his stint on board The Crimson Roger, nothing made his skin crawl as much as the sound of those infernal holes when they opened. He drew himself up straight but did not turn around.

   "Good afternoon, Felix", he said. "Any trouble finding the place?"

   "Monsieur Caligari", Felix Guy-Daniel said as he sat down on the salon chair. "You have a wit that's as dry as your famous wines."

   Caligari turned around. The Revolution had not been kind to the newly arrived guest. Daniel wore a rough leather coat and a permanent scowl. He had been an outcast even before 'The Barber' had become popular in Montaigne but even his few remaining allies had nothing to do with him once the money ran out.

   "I trust you were successful?"

   "Never trust anyone", Daniel said, his scowl wrenching into an unattractive grin. "But, yes, I was successful. And you?"

   "We shall discuss the specifics over dinner", said Caligari, "but rest assured. There will be no banter, barter, or quarter given to The Wayward Swan."

   Ysabette wished the chill that rushed through her body had come from the wind and not the colours she had seen flying on the rapidly approaching ship.

   "What in the Abyss are they doing here?" she muttered to herself.

   "Captain?" asked her bosun.

   "General quarters. Get us away from that ship's guns."

   She sprang across the deck to the wheel as the ship lurched starboard. Already the faint explosions of cannon fire echoed over the waves.

   Artuss head poked out from below deck. "Not now", she moaned. He leapt up to the deck beside her.

   "It's gone!" he said, "Someone took the map."

   "What?" she said, snapping her head away from the horizon.

   "The map isn't there. Someone took it. The spot where it was is covered in this."

   Artus held his fingers up. A dark red slime dribbled down them across his palm.

   "We lose the map and the Crimson Rogers attack." Ysabette muttered. "What else could possibly go wrong?"

   Rosamode bolted onto the deck. "Felix is gone! His bunk is empty."

   "Someone stole the map, too" said Artus. Rosamonde clutched his wrist.

   "Where did you find this?" She asked as she swiped her finger through the dark slime.

   Inside the Captains chest where the map was supposed to be.

   "He must have blooded it and taken it with him", Rosamonde said breathlessly.

   The cannons were getting louder.

   "The map", Felix said. He removed a small box from his jacket and placed it on the table. A faded pattern had been traced on the lid in blood.

   Julius smiled and opened the box.

   "So how does it feel to be in charge?" asked the Montaigne.

   Julius removed a soggy parchment and his eyes lit up.

   "Vincenzo is still with us", said Julius. "This piece is marvelous."

   "It sounds like you are trying to change the subject", said Felix.

   Julius' good eye fixed on him.

   "If I don't change the subject, you are not going to get paid."

   "A thousand apologies", said Felix with a barely deferential smirk.

   The door to the parlour opened and a young girl entered the room. She was bearing a pair of silver wine goblets on a tray. Julius lifted them both off the platter and gave one to Felix.

   "From our private stock. I'm sure its been a while since you've had actual wine."

   "An added benefit of working for a Vodacce prince", Felix said and gulped down the liquid.

   "What do you think?"

   "It's a bit dry", said Felix. He noticed with a chill that his host had not yet drunk.

   Caligari paused, peering into the silver goblet. "Hmm, I believe it must be the iocane powder. It can affect the bouquet slightly."

   Felix began to laugh. When Julius didn't join him, his laughter sputtered to a halt.

   "This is the second time you've betrayed your friends to us for money, Felix. Did you think we would wait until someone made you a better offer for us?"

   Felix could feel sweat roll down his neck. He gritted his teeth and reached out his hands. He felt hot blood coursing through his hands as the Porté hole groaned opened.

   "I dare say, Caligari", Felix said with a slight slurring of his words, "if I fall prey to Legion, the polite thing to do would be to accompany me."

   Felix clamped his hand onto Caligari's arm. With the last bit strength he knew he had, he fell backwards into the quietest Porte hole he had ever entered.

   Reis prowled the deck of his ship. The only sound he could hear was his men reloading the cannon. Everything Caligari had told him had turned out to be true. He had stayed in Vodacce for some family business. The ship was here and caught completely off-guard by the Crimson Rogers presence. Within minutes, the dread legend of Reis would include the deaths of L'Emperuer's last living offspring. Reis could feel the spirit of the old captain chuckle at the thought.

   "Sail ho!" Reis heard from above. He tilted his head up to see Cornelius leaning over the edge.

"Vendel merchantman", the topsman said. "Guild colours."

   "She is of no concern to us", Reis growled. "Continue the assault on the frigate."

  Reis peered over the shoulders of the men loading the cannons. He missed his cat sometimes and the feel of it wetting the backs of the cannon crews. Still, there was a new kind of power in the legend of Reis, striking fear without the need for pain or blood. Pain and blood were extra attractions now.

  "Sir", he heard a voice boom behind him, "why aren't we changing course?"

   Reis turned. Joern had drawn his sword.

   "The Montaigne ship is already ours. I will not abandon a certain prize to chance another one."

   "The merchantman is fatter", rumbled the Vesten. "And Vendel. It has been too long since I've feasted on the cries of a woodshoe."

   Reis lowered his hand to his scythe. "We have our prize."

   "We have a bargain too, Captain. Or has your quest for immortality made you forget?"

   Reis remembered the day Joern joined the Rogers. He himself had been knocked aside while Joern coated the decks of both ships with the blood of anyone that got in his way. The Vendel was a man who was fighting to die and the Old Captain knew it. The leader of the Rogers knew that if he changed course, the crew would wonder why he didnt put Joern down. On the other hand, if he didnt, he would have to deal with a berserk Vesten. He did the only thing he could do.

   Reiss scythe leapt into action and cleaved Joern's sword in two. "Even villains have their word", Reis said, letting his whispery voice raise to a growl. "Never doubt mine. Jemy, bring us to port. Were going to bathe in Vendel blood tonight."

  Felix's eyes were closed. He heard the howls and wails of the Porté hole but these sounded different.

   "Felix", he heard a succubus hiss. "We have a proposition for you."

   "Is it any better than the last one?"

   "I don't think you understand", the demon chuckled. "You are not where you think you are."

   Felix felt cold, as if a Trade Sea winter wind blew through him. He felt something solid under his feet. The deck of a ship? He shook his head. This was a skilled succubus. Everything felt so real.

   "Come to offer me immortality", Felix said casually. "That and a Guilder will get you a mug of cheap ale."

   "I can't give immortality to someone who's already dead", said the creature. It sounded as if some of the wails had given way to unearthly chuckles and laughs.

   "If I'm dead, how is it that I am talking to you?"

   "My dear Felix, everyone here is dead. I assumed that you knew that. Death is a gateway to greater power. That's what you've always wanted, isn't it? Power?"

   "You should have continued trying to sell me immortality", Felix said as he stepped forward.

   "Where are you going? Where do you think you are? What do your items tell you?"

   Felix stopped. His stomach tightened.

   "I… don't know."

   "Lost in a Porté hole? Shouldn't your heart be racing?"

   He clutched at his chest. His hands were cold. He felt nothing.

   The creature spoke in a harsh, triumphant whisper "Now perhaps you will listen?"

   Felix listened indeed as the moans went quiet.

   "You are a creature of vengeance, Felix Guy-Daniel. You died long ago, at least to your friends. They all wished they could have been the one who snuffed you out. But you've finally beaten them. Alas for you, your reward is that you will now join me."

   "I'm dead?"

   "How can they kill that which is already dead? When you come for your vengeance, can they stab you? Can they shoot you? Can Caligari poison you again?"

   Felix whirled, blindly feeling in the dark. "I took him with me! I know I did."

   The demon chuckled. "Not yet. But you will have your chance. Trust me, Felix Guy-Daniel, you will have your chance to be a legend. A deadly killer. Able to fade into a Porté hole at a mere thought with no need to mark your posts. Able to walk through, eyes open, unafraid of the things that live there."

   "What do you ask in return?"

   "Only that you accept your fate. Know that we all stand behind you and we want to see the men and women you kill join us, their moans swelling the ranks of those who follow Legion."

   Felix stood motionless for a moment. He finally realized he was dead no matter what he did. He couldn't feel any of his blooded items. Throughout his entire life, he wondered what could be so terrible about opening his eyes. He knew this would be his last chance and he would see something unique before he died.

   He took a deep breath of the salty air did as he had been commanded.

   The breath came out in a scream when he saw that he was not in a Porté hole.