You don’t want to break your cover, so you decide to let the Captain deal with the Storm Mother. You stop beating your drum and concentration the strand of fate around the ship. If things go badly, you want to be prepared. Captain Shen asks “What do you want, Mosikhun?”
The Storm Mother twirls a lock of slimy hair around her finger. “I heard your wife gave birth to a…”
“No.” The winds around the Air Apsected Captain stills. “I will not give my daughter to you.” You feel the threads of fate vibrate in anticipation of potential violence.
Mosikhun backs down and the threads of fate settle. She inhales deeply and asks, “There is still a dog left on this ship. I want her.”
“The dog is not mine to give.”
“What do you have that is yours to offer? Give me the bitch on the bow of your ship. ” The Storm Mother demands, referring to the redheaded figurehead.
“You ask that every time, but my answer will be no different than Captain Yorid’s. No. I have something else I can offer you” Captain Shen looks at his first mate and suggests, “A kiss.”
“With tongue?” The storm mother’s long and warty black tar tongue lolls out of her month. You gag and the Storm Mother’s eyes darts towards you before coming back to the Captain.
The Captain pauses for a moment and then amends, “On the cheek.”
The Storm Mother considers the offer. “I accept on one condition. Shave the drummer boy’s hair. Its color offends me.”
“What?!” you say.
“Done.” The captain quickly agrees. Captain Shen watches as Mosikhun lands on the deck. He reluctantly approaches the hag, who swings her slimy hair aside to expose her grimy cheek. Captain Shen gives the hag a chaste kiss on the raised cheek and quickly backs away. You are amazed that Captian Shen didn’t vomit being so close to the old hag.
As Wanahton cuts your hair off, you stand sullenly on the deck staring at the Storm Mother. The hag stares back at you with a small smile on her face. Wavy chunks of red hair fall to the deck, where one of the officers collects to be burned later. Wahanton takes a straight razor and shaves your head bald. Once Wanahton is finished, you rub your bare scalp and return to where the rest of the musicians are standing.
“You have what you wanted, Mosikhun. What do you know?”
The storm mother nods and says, “At three bells, the children of the island gather at the docks. A barge comes to collect children.”
“Where does the barge go?” The captain asks.
“Out of my territory. I cannot tell you were it goes after that. Two of the islands have had children kidnapped so far.” Mosikhun gets a crafty look in her eye. “But I can tell you this. The barge is escorted by one that you have named Anathema.” The hag rises into the air “This Desert Fox is a stranger to these waters, but still very dangerous. Be careful, Shen. I hate for your infant daughter to grow up an orphan.” The Storm Mother disappears into the clouds and the clouds drift away leaving a clear night sky.
“Clean up the deck and get back into uniform before letting the men back up.” The captain tells his first officer.
“Sir?” One of the other officers offers the captain a flask. The Captain pours out some rum into his hand and washes his face. He takes a large gulp and swishes it around and spits off the side of the ship. “Thank you.”
You gather your clothes and storm off to the cabin you share with Wanahton. You pour some water into a basin and begin to clean off the occult symbols. You look in the mirror at your bald head, which stands out stark white compared to the rest of your now tanned skin.
There is a sound at the door. “Don’t scratch at the door.” You hear Sasha say from the other side. “Svante? How did it go with the Storm Mother?”
“One minute.” You put some pants on and open the door to let Sasha and Mei Mei in. When Sasha sees your bald head, she laughs. “It’s not funny!” you protest.
“I’m sorry! “ she apologizes. “I shouldn’t laugh, but…”
You sit on your bed and bang your head against the wall. “Ow!” Which hurts a lot more now that you don’t have hair to cushion your head. You rub the back of your head. Mei Mei jumps on your bed and climbs over your legs to sit in your lap.
“What happened?” Sasha finally asks after she calms herself down.
“Captain Shen made a deal with the Storm Mother for Information. Shaving Svante’s hair was part of the deal. “ Wanahton enters the room and sits across from you.
“Did you find anything out?” Sasha asks.
“A barge comes to collect the children late at night. “
“Why couldn’t they just use the Essence Towers to transmit that they need help?” you ask.
“Most of the Essence Towers are damaged during Storm Season. They are expensive to replace, so the islanders depend on courtiers to delivers messages and news.”
“There is an Anathema involved called the Desert Fox. What could an Anathema want with children?”
“I don’t know,” Sasha admits. “We need more information, but it is a start.”
Later, you lay in bed and listen to Wanahton snore and think about the Storm Mother, the Anathema, Jupiter, and Masaru’s letter. Unable to sleep, you get up out of bed and quietly slip out of the room.
You can hear some sailors below deck drinking to celebrate having survived a brush with the Storm Mother. You walk past them and head up the stairs. The deck is dark and the night air heavy and cool. As you stroll across the deck in your bare feet, you start to smell a strong pungent herbal odor. You follow the trail of smoke to find Shen sitting on a crate with a small pipe in his hand. Just as you decide to not to interrupt the Captain and head back to bed, he says “What’s your name?”
“Your name. Tell it to me again and we’ll see if I remember it this time.” Captain Shen sits up and stares at you. With the dim moonlight washing out his coloring, he reminds you of an older version of Masaru. The letter sits in the pocket of your pants. You don’t dare leave it lying around for someone to find.
“My name is Svante.”
“Svante….” Shen says, almost tasting the word. He lights his pipe and blows out a large puff of smoke. “What are you doing up so late?”
“I can’t sleep.” Quickly, before you can change your mind, you pull out Masaru’s letter and hand it to Shen. The air aspect looks at the envelope as if he had never seen one before. He grabs it from your hand and heads over to one of the crystal lights overhead. You fidget as the Captain reads the letter. Shen looks up from the letter and smiles. “You know Masaru?”
“He’s my friend.”
Shen folds up the letter and puts it in his pocket. “I don’t get to see my little brothers as often as I’d like now that they are in school.”
“Wanahton says you have a lot of them.”
“Yes. Mother has never forgiven Father for not giving her a daughter. She’s been a lot easier on him since Huan was born. Now Mother drives my wife crazy back at Meru.” Shen chuckles as he cleans out the bowl of his pipe and repacks it. “Enough about that. Tell me what Masaru has been up to. You know Noboru, too? He’s a few years older than Masaru, but goes to the same school.”
You update Shen on how Masaru has been doing at school. And then you ask, “He told me to give the letter to the Admiral or you. I was going to give it to the Admiral but…”
“My father can be rather intimidating. He tries to make people feel at ease, but he is over 200 years old. Not many dragon bloods live to be that old, especially ones that spend their life fighting Fair Folk in the Western Seas. “
“He doesn’t seem to like Sidereals all that much.”
“He likes Sidereals just fine. My father has had good experiences and bad experiences with Sidereals. The problem is that he can’t tell the difference between Sidereals. So it is hard to know which ones to trust.“
“But you can.”
“I have a very good memory, Svante.” Shen seems pleased with himself. “There. I have your name now. Let’s see if I can keep it. I also remember that you were asking about Sorcery Trials.”
Shen relights his pipe. “The Trial of fire… That is the one that scares everyone, though it wasn’t as bad as I thought. “
“It wasn’t? But when I lost Nanny, it was awful.” You quickly shut up after you realize what you said.
“Lost Nanny?” Shen repeats, confused.
“I read that some people can go through their trials on their own. “ you explain. “When I exalted… Nanny didn’t remember me.”
Shen fiddles with his pipe and avoids looking you in the eye. “You think that was your trial of fire? Svante, there is a different between giving something up and having something taken from you. Nanny was taken from you. You will have to choose to give something up during your Trial of Fire.”
You are silent as you consider the implications of this. “I wouldn’t worry.” Masaru’s brother reassures you. “The Trial of Fire is always last. You won’t to have to deal with it for years.”
As the Valiant Hummingbird continues on its journey, you look over your maps and the various books on Fair Folk. You help Sasha with Seatongue and train Mei Mei, who finally goes on the canvas instead of on the deck. You practice your katas with your Jade Sword. Anything to keep your mind off of the Trial of Fire. This is my Trail of Water, you realize one day as you flow through your Katas. If the Trial of Fire is the last trial, I won’t have to worry about it until this mission is over.
After you finish your last Kata, you get cleaned up and head to the Captain’s cabin. For most of the morning, Sasha, Wanahton, and Captain Shen have been going over the maps to figure out where the Barge kidnapping children might be coming from and where it may hit next.
“Cobalt Atoll would be your best bet. It has a large population, good dock, and is the closest island to the Pole of Water that hasn’t been hit yet. “ Captain Shen suggests, pointing at the island on the map.
“What do you know about the Cobalt Atoll?” Sasha asks in rough Seatongue.
“Fishing is the major industry. Occasionally, they send boats out to take down a whale. They always welcome a Shogunate Ship to their shores. They don’t get much excitement this far from the Blessed Isle. “
“We can land there and start questioning the residents. Someone has to be collecting the children for the barge.” Sasha suggests.
Wanahton disagrees, ”Islanders keep to themselves, so they might not tell us anything. If we show up in a Shogunate Naval Vessel we could scare off the kidnappers. I suggest we use the boat we brought with us and have the three of us visit the island. We will get more information if we blend in.”
“Why involve the island residents at all?” Captain Shen strokes his mustache. “We should just patrol the waters around the island and catch the kidnappers in the act. Then we can board the barge and save the children.”
“What about the Anathema?” Sasha argues. “I doubt it is just going to let us board the barge. What do you think, Svante?’
What do you want to do?
- Dock the Valiant Hummingbird at the Cobalt Atoll
- Infiltrated the Island using Wanahton’s boat
- Patrol the waters and board the barge if it shows up