New Friends
by Dana DeVries

   "Wazi!" Captain Al Kassirs bellow echoed across the deck and the Corsairs first mate strode across the deck towards him. The captain watched the Prophet's Breath as it slowly pulled away from his own ship, the Sweet Water. The seas beneath the ships were calm and the courier vessel slipped away smoothly under the power of the slaves chained to their oars. Not far off another vessel limped along in the light breeze.

   "Yes, captain?" Wazi asked.

   Pointing to the other nearby ship, he asked, Who are those who sail there?

   "Ussuran whalers. They don't spend much time in this area. They flee not at the sight of two Corsairs ships. Captain, these are men who hunt and kill leviathans and then carry the stinking holds of blubber back to port. What do they have to fear from us?"

   "We could attack and enslave the entire crew."

   "And take them away from that stench? They might thank us. These are tough men armed to the teeth. It would be a tremendous effort for very little gain."

   "What you say is true. But I despise those who do not flee at the very sight of us. It bodes contrary to the wishes of the Prophets."

   The first mate grinned broadly. "I've got the lookout keeping an eye on them. They get too close and well bring some slaves up to man the cannons. Then you can instill them with the proper fear."

   The captain shrugged with a smile. "Alright. Now go forth to the hold of the minor treasures. Find the jar with...three green strips and bring it to my cabin."

   "Captain? Are you sure?"

   "Do not question me, Wazi. I have received interesting news from Hirsch and I wish to consider it with pleasure."

   Curiously the first mate asked, "What news is that?"

   The captain bent his head close to Wazi's and whispered. "Cabora has claimed the life of our leader. His trollop Shala has ordered the fleet to gather while she goes to retrieve him. More likely, he is finally gone."

   "Others have claimed that."

   "I am aware of that. He has recovered from wounds that would have killed any lesser man. But this time, his body has not been recovered. He has simply disappeared. Even the thought of ridding ourselves of that maniac and his bloodthirsty, religious megalomania brings a smile to my face."

   "What will happen now?"

   "Only Kheired-Din, his visions and his mission, held us together. With him gone, we shall blow apart like a handful of sand thrown into the wind."

   With a sneer and a nervous look over his shoulder, the first mate asked. "What of our holy mission?"

   "The mission is over. The more faithful captains may attempt to re-open the gate. But for myself and some of the others, we tire of dealing with the faith of his followers. We will listen to Shalas words and then abandon her."

   "And if she is right and brings Kheired-Din back?"

   "Then we keep our tongues inside our mouths and do not cross him. He has the support of the angels. I saw their power when I served aboard the Strange Skies and I will not rebel against them. Not and hope to survive. Now bring that jar to me."

   "As you wish, Captain."

   The captain turned back towards the railing and watched as the Prophet's Breath pulled away. Suddenly he saw something looming beneath the water. Something large. At first he thought it might be a reef, but they were too far out for that. Then the thing moved. As he watched, the...thing rose from the depths directly beneath the courier ship. Over his shoulder, he called out to the signalman. "Achmed, prepare the signals. Get the courier's attention! Signal them to 'Beware below!'"

   But it was too late, the Prophet's Breath shuddered as the object slammed into it from below. The crew on board began to move around frantically and the boat shuddered again as an enormous crack filled the air. Then, impossibly, the starboard side of the Prophets Breath reared out of the water and then slammed down again. She immediately began to list to one side. A half dozen crewmen fell into the water and the dark shape rose up beneath them.

   Al Kassir shouted out orders to his men. The Sweet Water lunged forward as the pounders began counting double time on the drums and the gunners began to load the cannons. The Prophets Breath shuddered as the thing rammed into it again. He still hadnt gotten a good look at it and it would be several minutes before they were in range. Then Al Kassir noted the Ussuran whaler. She had tacked around and dropped her sails, but she was still moving through the water faster towards the crippled Corsairs vessel at twice his speed. As he watched the whaler tacked around for a clear shot just as the enormous underwater thing came up beneath the men floundering in the water next to the Prophets Breath. A tooth filled maw and a black fin were all that the Corsairs captain could make out as it swallowed a half dozen men whole. Al Kassir swore against the treacherous Ussurans and their pet monster.

   When the Ussuran volley thundered out, Al Kassir shook his head in disbelief. Not one of the shots had hit the Prophets Breath. Every one of the shots smashed into the water well short of the ship and into the black shadow beneath the waves. Many of the shots had been harpoons instead of a cannonballs and a half dozen lines connected the shadow to the whaler. Al Kassir watched in awe as the creature spun around beneath the water and dragged the Ussuran vessel across the water like it was a childs toy. Still the thick lines held and the gunners began reloading for another shot.

   The creature shot through the water straight for the Prophets Breath and passed beneath it. Once the main body was past, it rose up to almost the surface and slapped the Corsairs ship with its tail. The damaged ship leaned even further towards the water as the shadow dove deep into the black ocean waves. From the shouts and slack lines of the Ussuran ship, Al Kassir realized that the lines had snagged and broken on the Prophets Breath. He just shook his head in amazement and ordered his ship brought up alongside both vessels.

   Within moments, his men began throwing lines to the crew of the sinking ship and a small longboat from the Ussuran whaler tied up alongside his own ship. Two men came aboard to speak to him. The first was a huge Ussuran with a hard face and lively eyes who towered over his companion, a short man with twisted features.

   The Corsairs captain nodded deeply to them and spoke in the Crescent tongue. "I am Captain Al Kassir of the Sweet Water. I thank you for your aid against that creature."

   The shorter man replied, but his words held the accent of Ussura so strongly that they were hard to make out. His features looked as if a Crescent had tried to push his way out through a stocky Ussuran body. Unsuccessfully. Al Kassir shook his head and repeated himself in Vodacce.

   The tall man nodded. "Captain Ivanovitch of the Undefeated Heart. I'm just sorry we weren't able to stop it." His accent was strong, but understandable.

   "What was the thing that faced us?"

   The strange little man spoke up. "Diablo Tiburon" The foreign words meant nothing to Al Kassir so he only nodded. The little man continued, "It's a creature of the deep. A terror. Tiburon." The larger man interrupted. Tiburon means shark.

   "How do you know of this? I only barely caught sight of the creature..."

   Ivanovitch put his hand reassuringly upon his companion's shoulder and said, "Because we hunt it."

   "You hunt that monstrosity? Why?"

   The Ussuran shrugged. "Revenge. Wealth. Fame. Take your pick. I haven't decided myself yet."

   "Your ship. It moved against the wind and quite swiftly. How is that possible?"

   The small man grew quite excited and began to speak in broken Vodacce. "Yes. We are aided by..." Ivanovitch put his hand on the distorted man's hand as he reached into his jacket and interrupted. "By a gift of Theus."

   Al Kassir nodded. "Good. For all know that the use of sorcery is anathema to Theus and those that use it must be destroyed."

   Ivanovitch nodded knowingly. "Such is the will of Theus and his Prophet. But let us turn to the fate of your men. I have a number of small whaling longboats on board my ship. Would you like help ferrying the men and cargo over from your other ship?"

   Surprised Al Kassir said "Your aid would be helpful and save the lives of my men and the slaves."

   "Of course, you realize that such an enterprise is dangerous. It is likely that some of the slaves will not make it."

   The Crescent captain smiled knowingly. "I am aware of what you speak. Many of the Ussuran slaves are sickly and unlikely to survive in these waters long. If those were to die, no one would be take heed. But the premature deaths of the others would be...problematic."

   "Agreed. I see we are of one mind in this."

   "Yes. Perhaps a toast?"

   "Thank you. Let me send my man back to start the rescue."

   Al Kassir quickly corrected him. "Do not use that word here. It has certain...unpleasant connotations for us."

   Ivanovitch spoke rapidly to his companion in Ussuran and waved once towards his ship. As the smaller man left in the skiff, Al Kassir noticed that the whalers were already launching longboats. The captain escorted Ivanovitch into his cabin and waved him to a chair. Al Kassir picked up a gray jar with three solid bands of green encircling it. He gave it a quick rap with a dagger hilt and broke off the top. Reaching within he withdrew a bottle of wine covered in a layer of dust. "A Fascili '36. A good year for them." Ivanovitch raised an eyebrow in appreciation, but did not comment. Taking care, Al Kassir used a corkscrew to remove the cork and sniffled it. Then he poured a small amount into a wine glass. Holding it up to the light from the porthole, he peered at it. After a moment he nodded and held the glass up to his mouth and inhaled deeply before taking a small sip. "Yes, a good year. One of the only reasons I ever sail past the Crescent Empire." Pouring wine for the Ussuran, he raised his own in a toast. "To a valuable alliance, no matter how brief."

   Ivanovitch replied, "To new friends, may they grow to be old friends."