61 – Bald

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?”

“What?”

“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.”

You nod.

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
  • Other.
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60 – Storm Mother

Your days quickly fall into a routine. After a light workout, You, Sasha, and Wanahton would study Captain Shen’s books on Fae in the morning and have language lessons with one of the officers in the afternoon. At dinner, you would be able to ask questions of Captain Shen and his other officers about what you read in the morning.

It was boring. At least the Owl tried to make his lessons interesting. The books on Fae were rather dry and had a habit of going on and on about details that no one cared about. The Language Lessons went better. You quickly picked up Seatongue and began helping Sasha  with her grammar.

The end of the day was the best part of the day. That was when you trained Mei Mei.

“Stay, Mei Mei!” you tell the puppy, holding your hand out flat. Mei Mei stays put, wiggling impatiently for her treat. “Stay.” Then Wood Aspected First Mate walks out of the hold and Mei Mei goes running to him, looking for a belly rub.

You sigh and go retrieve your puppy. Mei Mei begins licking your face after you pick her up.

“Is Mei Mei being bad again?” The First Mate roughs up the puppy’s fuzzy fur.

“She is still learning.” You say, as you put Mei Mei down on the ground again. “Stay!” you say, but Mei Mei isn’t paying attention. She is sniffing around the deck.

“Mei Mei!” Sasha yells as the puppy starts to circle.

You quickly pick her up and carry her to the tarp for Mei Mei to use. “Go there!” Mei Mei sits down on the tarp and looks up at you. “Pee there!” You and the puppy wait near the tarp for a long while, but she refuses to go.

Sasha sits next to you by the tarp. “She likes to go on that one spot on deck.”

“Do you know why?”

“I’ve never had a dog.” Sasha scratches the puppy behind her ears. “Have you used the Charm Wanahton taught you?”

“Oh!” You close your eyes and the threads of fate come into focus. You locate the one for Mei Mei and braid it to your own. “Mei Mei? Why do you always pee on the deck?”

Mei Mei looks at you confused. You carry Mei Mei up to the deck and set her down. “Why do you always pee here?”

Mei Mei is trying to make it smell less bad.

“What smell?”

Mei Mei doesn’t like the scared dogs.

“Oh! The Dogs in the hold!” You know that there were large black dogs caged in the cargo hold, but you didn’t know why they were there.

“One of them must have peed on deck and Mei Mei is trying to cover it up. Mei Mei!” Sasha yells at the puppy, when she starts peeing on the deck. The puppy scurries off, leaving behind a trail of urine. “As soon as you turn away.” Sasha groans “I’ll clean this up. You go find Mei Mei.”

You search for the puppy on the deck, checking all of her favorite hiding places. You were amazed at how fast the puppy could run and hide. “Mei Mei?” you call. “Where are you?” You check under a pile of rope. “Mei Mei!”

“She is over here.” You head towards the voice and find Captain Shen, kneeled over Mei Mei, scratching her belly. He picks up the puppy and hands her to you. “Is she still tinkling on my deck?”

“Yes, sir.” You answer. “We cleaned it up.” Captain Shen nods and leans against the rail, looking out over the ocean. “Sir?”

“Yes, boy?” Captain Shen never used your name. He probably forgot it, you realized.

“What were your Sorcery trials like?” you ask.

“My Trials?” He turns away from the sea and looks at you. “Are you trying to be a sorcerer?”

“I’m too young.” You say, evading the question. “But I’m going to have to go through the trials when I am older.”

“And the trials, especially the trial of fire scares you.”

You shrug. You are pretty sure you have already been though the trial of fire after losing Nanny.

“The station of Wood wasn’t too bad. Every Dragonblooded goes through that Trial during basic training.” You nod. You assumed that was one of the many reasons why you were sent to the Dragonblooded School.

“I thought The Station of Air would be easiest, but it is more than just learning books. You have to truly understand what you have been taught, but not be able to parrot it.” You consider the Captain’s words and realize that you have already been through this station also. Your understanding of the workings of Creation were second nature to you. Even Akachi was surprised at how fast you learned how to manipulate Essence after your Exaltation.

“The Trail of Water, is just traveling, right?” You and Akachi have traveled all over Creation.

“It’s more than that. It is being out of your comfort zone. I’ve traveled the Western Seas of my life, but my sorcery teacher still sent me south to the Desert for my Trial.” The Captain smiles. “It was rather…educational.”

He turns back to the ocean and says “Ah…. There she is.” You look out towards the sea and see a storm brewing in the distance. Captain Shen walks up to Sasha and says “My Lady, if you would take the puppy and stay below deck until morning. We will be having a guest this evening.”

Sasha glances towards the brewing clouds. “Storm Mother?”

Captain Shen nods. “She will be easier to deal with if you weren’t seen.”

“Are you going to stay on deck?” Sasha asks, as she takes the puppy from you.

“I’ve never seen a Storm Mother before.” You have heard a great many things about Storm Mothers, but wanted to know for yourself.

“Hopefully you still haven’t seen one after this, but be careful.” She gives you a hug and heads below deck with Mei Mei.

You watch as the crew lead the large black dogs out from below deck. The dogs were frightened and covered the deck with strong smelling urine. You walk over to Wanahton. “What are they going to do with the dogs?”

“Sacrifices for the Storm Mother.” Wanahton crosses his arms and observes the crew tying the dogs to the mast. “Are you sure you are going to stay on deck? Storm Mothers can be unpredictable.”

“It’s my mission. I got to do my part.” The crew begins to carry out instruments and strip off their uniforms. “What are they doing?”

“Preparing for the ceremony.” Wanahton smiles. “Don’t worry, we will find a drum for you to bang on. You can keep a rhythm, right? ”

“Yeah.” You hoped you sounded more certain than you felt. You suddenly wish you did invite Akachi along, though this wasn’t an appropriate place to expose a Sidereal Anima.

Wanahton gives you a look and then begins to get undressed. You and Wanahton being to assist the crew in preparing for the ceremony. You may not be able to sing on key, dance, or play an instrument well, but you were familiar with the other parts of ritual. You paint Spirit Tongue phrases on the Dragonblooded officers that should be pleasing to Storm Mothers along with symbols of protection.

After you are finished applying paint to yourself, you look around and realize that none of the mortal crew members are on deck right now. One of the officers hands you a drum and you told to sit down in a corner with the rest of the musicians. Wanahton stands with the Captain and First Mate and the ceremony starts.

The Dragonblooded officers begin to stomp their feet on the deck. The music starts and they begin to dance. Their movements are primal, not what you’d expect from well-disciplined officers of the Shogunate. No wonder the mortal crew was asked to stay off the deck. While on dry land, the Dragonblooded had cowered the Terrestrial Gods into submission, here in the seas, the Storm Mothers still ruled.

The First Mate blows a shell horn. Captain Shen takes a step forward and begins to chant.

“Hail, Unlamented Depths,
Guardian of Flashing Light,
Child of the Nightmare Tsunami,
You who dwell in Turquoise Tide,
You who rule the skies above us and the seas below,
With your immeasurable benevolence,
Allow our ship to pass through your waters.
Accept our offerings.”

At this point, Wanahton and the other pin down the dogs and slit their throats. You watch in horrified fascination as the blood pours out onto the ship’s deck. The chanting continues. The wind grows stronger and rain starts to pour down on the ship. You keep beating the drum with the other musicians, wondering if the ceremony would ever end. Dark storm clouds draw closer and envelope the ship. “Shit” mutters one of the musicians. The clouds part and the Storm Mother appears in all of her horrific glory.

You have heard many stories about how ugly the Storm Mothers were, but no one ever mentioned their stench. The Storm Mother reeks of shit and rotten fish. With all the grace of a landed fish, the hag flops from the sky onto the deck. She approaches the Captain, her sodden velvet robe trailing behind her, smearing slime and dead seaweed on the wooden planks. Standing before the captain, the Storm Mother lowers her hood. The hag’s face is lopsided and what little hair she has on her bald head waves in the wind.

“Welcome, Mosikhun. You are looking stunning this evening.” Captain Shen bows respectfully.

“Ah, Shen, you flatterer. You should leave your wife and come live with me. She is not woman enough for you to let you wander so far from home.” Mosikhun grins at him, exposing her serrated and grime encrusted teeth.

The first mate shudders, but the Captain smoothly replies. “I am not a brave enough man to risk finding out what would happen if my wife finds me in the arms of another woman. “

“Yet you are willing to risk my wrath by turning down my bed?” The storm mother asks icily. The winds begin to pick up speed.

Captain Shen pauses only for a moment before saying, “You obviously haven’t met my wife.”

The storm mother chuckles, a horrible sound that vibrates your very bones. “Ah, I love the look when they imagine fucking me. It never gets old. “ Mosikhun slaps the first mate on the ass and the first mate’s face turns as green as his hair. The Hag swings her oily mane around and inspects each of the men.

“Is there a problem, Mother?” Wanahton asks. He spares Captain Shen a glance who returns a small shrug. Apparently, this was not normal behavior from the Storm Mother.

“No problem.” When the Storm Mother approaches you, you almost gag on her stench. She stands before you and runs a greasy finger along your cheek. You force yourself not to flinch. “Tell me, young man. Have you ever been kissed before?”

You nod and add for good measure, “I have a girlfriend, too.” Maybe the Storm Mother would leave you alone since you were unavailable.

“Oh! Do you now?”

“Mosikhun, what do you want?” Captain Shen interrupts wearily.

Thankfully, the hag turns from you and stalks back to the captain. “I’m here to help you. I know why you are in my waters instead of at the blockade, Shen. There is trouble brewing on the islands and I have information about it.”

“And you’re here to give us this information out of the goodness of your heart.”

“Shen, Shen, Shen. You of all people should know that I do not offer charity.” She floats into the air and stares down the captain. “If you want this information, you are going to have to pay for it.”

What do you do?

  • Let the Captain continue to deal with the Storm Mother.
  • Bargain with the Storm Mother yourself. You want to be the one questioning the Storm Mother.
  • Use your charms on the Storm Mother and force her tell you what she knows
  • Other

((Don’t worry, I am splitting the Sorcery conversation into two parts. This post was growing long, so I had to cut part of it. I am also still trying to find a happy medium between talking dog and useful and unclunky communication.))