Hallowed Journeys – preview chapter!

Hello again! Since many of you have recently read “Hallowed Ends,” I wanted to let you know that the sequel, “Hallowed Journeys” is definitely coming at some point. I also figured you might want to read a little bit of it, so here’s Chapter 1, which picks up where “Ends” left off. “Journeys” will be a much longer story than “Ends,” and is no longer told only from one character’s point of view. I’ll post a few chapters from different character PoV over the next couple of weeks!

ONE

“Do not stray from my side,” Feyric whispered to Celana as they entered the raucous, rowdy bar attached to the inn. “And whatever you do, do not show Carnage to anyone. No matter what.”

“Yes, sir,” Celana said, doing her best to keep her face from showing both fear and excitement.

“Yes, father,” Feyric said from the corner of his mouth, emphasizing it with a slight nudge of his elbow into her shoulder.

“Yes, father,” she said, keeping her eyes on the oiled, dusty floor of the tavern.

Feyric navigated through the small crowds of boisterous sailors, merchants, and laborers, finally arriving at a curtained-off area near the rear. Three pirates immediately rose from their stools and blocked his way, giving him and Celana murderous glares. Feyric nudged Celana behind him, then looked at each of the men for a moment before holding up both hands.

“I seek passage to Nian, and your captain is the only one willing to make such a journey,” Feyric said to the man directly in front of him. “Silas from the docks told me to seek him out.”

The pirate to Feyric’s left spat on the floor and grunted, while the pirate to his right gripped the hilt of his short sword. The pirate Feyric spoke to only stood, hands on his hips, his expression suggesting there would be no meeting with his captain, only violence if the man and his daughter didn’t immediately walk away.

“I have more than enough coin to make it worth his while,” Feyric said, producing a small leather bag from his sleeve. He glanced at the other two before holding up one palm then dumping the contents of the bag into it. All three pirates strained to look at the jewels in the man’s palm without moving anything other than their eyes. The middle pirate reached out as if to touch the jewels, but Feyric snapped his palm shut so quickly all three men reached for their weapons. “Violence won’t be necessary,” he said in a casual tone. “There is much more than this if Captain Hastor provides us safe passage to Nian.”

“Wait here,” the middle pirate said.

He nodded to the other two, who came together to form a barrier into the room the other had entered. Feyric replaced the jewels, sliding the bag back into his sleeve. He glanced back to see Celana staring at the floor. He was sure she had listened intently, paying attention to her surroundings as he had been teaching her for the last five weeks on their journey to Mara. Within minutes, the pirate returned and motioned for Feyric to enter, but held out his arm to block Celana. Feyric shook his head, giving the pirate a look that said their business would be ended if she were not allowed to accompany him. The pirate scowled at the girl but allowed her to pass.

“Well well,” Tunny Hastor said when Feyric and Celana entered the well-decorated room. “The Master At Arms of High Cliff and… who might you be, m’lady?” he asked Celana, bending slightly to kiss her hand.

“My daughter,” Feyric said, his tone making it clear she was not part of the business he had come to discuss. “Well met, Captain Hastor. I assume you still have The Revenant in your possession?”

“I do, I do,” Hastor said brightly, allowing Celana to return her hand to her side. “Have you come to collect it for your emperor?” He sat in a gilded chair, gesturing for his guests to sit in a similarly gilded couch across from him.

“No, the spoils belong to the victors,” Feyric said.

“I see,” Hastor said, nodding slowly. “Then what may I do for an esteemed member of the Emperor’s Guard? Nothing illegal, I hope?”

“We desire passage across the great sea,” Feyric replied. “To the nation of Nian.”

“Ah… Nian,” Hastor said, trailing off as if reliving fond memories of his time in the distant island nation. “Such a strange, beautiful, deadly place. And why are you knocking at my door? There are dozens of captains at the docks who are, shall we say, more reputable than I, who would gladly take you on this journey.”

“None will cross the great sea,” Feyric said with distaste. “The tales of monsters, unnatural storms, and dark sorcery have frightened them into never straying far from the coast of the continent.”

“Foolish cowards,” Hastor spat, then did a slight sitting bow toward the young girl, as if to apologize for any offense. “The money they refuse only makes my services more costly.”

“Other than the fact no reputable merchant or knowledgeable traveler would dare to hire the infamous Captain Hastor and her bloodthirsty crew of murderous pirates?” Feyric asked, raising an eyebrow slightly.

“Tall tales and rumors have always been the price brave and honorable men paid,” Hastor said dismissively.

“As you say,” Feyric said, refusing to argue with the man. “I would inquire about your fee and schedule.”

“Ah, well, since I am the only one willing to make such a journey, I’m afraid I must demand five thousand coins, though I must also let you know we will need half up front, and The Revenant shall not depart earlier than at least a fortnight.”

“Five thousand?” Feyric asked politely. Hastor nodded. “As you say. Will you take equal value in jewels?”

Hastor coughed to cover his surprise that the warrior didn’t hesitate, didn’t attempt to barter such an outrageous fee. He stared at the man across from him. Feyric Irondale was known to be an extremely capable soldier and an expert swordsman who came from a long line of master blacksmiths in the eastern reaches of the continent. Hastor had heard tales from others in the various ports that the man was an exceptional fighter who was loyal to Emperor Almurra, and had almost single-handedly put down a rebellion in the Kartesian Valley after being outnumbered, outflanked, and left die in the poisonous swamps surrounding the fabled Castle Kartis—a once-impregnable fortress that had been attacked dozens of times over the last three centuries but never conquered. Until Feyric Irondale and his fellow guardsmen arrived to add another chapter to the valley’s rich history.

“Five thousand each,” Hastor said.

“As you say,” Feyric answered. “But we will not pay half until we are aboard and have departed, and we will depart tomorrow evening at the latest.”

“Half now, and six days to depart,” Hastor countered, suddenly wary as to why the man wouldn’t even attempt to negotiate such a steep price, yet curious as to why the two needed to leave in such a hurry. “We are currently repairing damage that affects The Revenant’s seaworthiness. Those repairs cannot be rushed.”

“Half upon departure,” Feyric repeated as if the pirate captain hadn’t heard him. “And we will now leave tomorrow morning at the latest.”

“As I said, repairs are—”

“Take the offer or we will continue haunting the docks until we find someone foolish enough to accept ten thousand coins who will not try to throw us overboard the moment we have left port.”

Hastor eyed the soldier warily. “You are on the run. Perhaps from the Emperor himself? What trouble have you found yourself in, Feyric Irondale of High Cliff?”

“If we were on the run, Mara would be overrun with the Emperor’s western armies, and you would see more than a single warship tied to the docks. Beyond that, our business is our own. Accept the deal or we shall find another.”

“Fine, fine,” Hastor conceded. “But you must show me some good faith. Ten thousand coins requires a wagon to transport, and you have nothing but your sword, armor, that bag hidden in your sleeve, and the lovely young lady who looks less and less like an Irondale the more I see her.”

Feyric removed the small leather bag from his sleeve and picked out three of the largest jewels, tossing them to the pirate captain one by one. Hastor was surprised by the heft of each, then at the superb cut, as if a master jeweler had spent months carefully plotting each sharp, perfect edge. That they were fire rubies only added to his curiosity, as well as the lust for more that he always felt when near such riches.

“Each of them is worth a thousand coins,” Feyric said, rising from the couch. Celana stood up next to him “Do not spend it in the taverns tonight carousing with your crew. I expect to depart at sunrise, no later. Each hour delayed is one thousand coins less you will be paid.”

“Yes, yes, agreed,” Hastor mumbled, waving at the two that he would honor the terms. “Be aboard before the sun rises. I shall make sure you have two of the finest rooms my meager ship can provide.”

“One room, two bunks,” Feyric said. “I do not care about the amenities beyond a chamber pot and a barrel of fresh water.”

“Very well,” Hastor sighed, finally looking up from the three extremely valuable gems. He could feel the heat each generated, as if the fires of the earth still burned within them. “One cabin, two bunks, piss pot, fresh water. Anything else?”

Feyric and the girl had already departed, the pirate captain barely noticing as his attention was once again focused on the valuable jewels in his palm. He walked to the curtain, watching the soldier and the young girl weave their way through the tavern’s crowd. Hastor spoke to one of the men guarding the curtain. The pirate nodded and followed Feyric through the crowd. Hastor spoke to another of the guards, ordering him to return to The Revenant and ready it for departure at sunrise the next morning.

***

“Why are the other sailors afraid to travel to Nian?” Celana asked on the way back to the Branded Oxen, a tavern of some fame within the city of Mara for its oxtail soup and fine bedding.

“As the captain said,” Feyric answered. “Tales of giant sea creatures, terrible storms that appear out of nowhere, and rumors of dark sorcery on the waters.”

“Ghost ships?” Celana asked, her eyes wide at the prospect of sailing into one of the stories she had been told since she was old enough to beg her mother and father for more tales of such things.

“More likely a pirate ship with a wizard aboard,” Feyric muttered.

“What about the monsters? Are there such things?” Celana persisted.

“Possibly, but I am a soldier on land, not a soldier aboard a naval vessel. There have been tales of monsters since the creation of the world, but none since The Fall.”

“Could they have come back?” Celana asked. “Because of Hallow’s End?”

“It could be,” Feyric agreed. “It could also be that sailors have heard of many tales since Hallow’s End and assumed it has affected the sea as well as the land. It does not help that Mara’s Master Blacksmith expired the same night as my father.”

“Did he created a Hallowed Weapon?” she asked, her eyes even wider at the thought she might meet the weapon’s owner, both marveling at the exquisite workmanship of each other’s priceless, magic-infused tools of deadly combat.

“From what I have heard, no, he did not. A priest from the cathedral claims the blacksmith purposely foiled dark plans and shattered the weapon before the demons from above corrupted it. For that, it cost him his life. But such sacrifices must be made, as corrupted Hallowed weapons…”

“What?” Celana asked, more interested than ever at hearing about a weapon such as hers becoming an evil, corrupted force. She imagined terrible battles between the wielders of such weapons and those who wielded weapons like Carnage.

“Corrupted weapons are dangerous enough, but they also corrupt the puppets who carry them. Carnage is an extension of you. Corrupted weapons force those who wield them to become extensions of the evil that resides within the steel. Worse, such weapons are not bonded to their owners like Carnage is to you, or Triumph was to Mother Alanna. Once an owner of such a weapon is killed, the weapon attempts to corrupt the next person who picks it up.”

Celana thought he would say more, but his attention seemed to suddenly focus on their surroundings. She was about to ask him another question when he grabbed her arm and pulled her into an alcove along the thoroughfare. A single look from him told her to remain quiet and to ready her staff. Celana’s heart began to beat so loudly that she was sure everyone on the street could hear it. Feyric remained still for almost a full minute, then reached out, pulling in one of the pirates from the tavern. Before the pirate could yell in surprise, Feyric’s fist met the side of his head.

“Why are you following us?” he asked the dazed pirate. He shook the man forcefully, then repeated the question.

“Only meant ta’ rob ye for yer pretty gems,” the pirate said, giving the soldier a challenging glare. He gave Celana a lusty stare. “Maybe ‘ave me some fun too.”

Celana’s eyes widened in shock, not from the man’s disgusting threat of robbery and rape, but from the trickle of blood from the pirate’s mouth as the light went out of his eyes. She watched Feyric pull the knife blade from the dead man’s neck, wipe it on his cloak, then sheath it. After a quick look along the street, he motioned for Celana to stand guard while he stuffed the corpse into a corner of the alcove and move a crate in front of it.

“Let’s go, and wipe that look off your face,” Feyric commanded, pulling on Celana’s hand.

She immediately lowered her eyes to watch the cobblestone street, letting Feyric guide them back to the Branded Oxen. She worried the entire way that more pirates would attempt revenge for what Feyric had done to one of theirs, but the moment they arrived at the brightly lit, busy inn, her thoughts turned to food when her stomach complained loudly. Feyric seemed to understand and seated them at a table in the corner, giving them an uninterrupted view of the rest of the dining area.

“Did you have to kill him?” she whispered once the serving girl took their order.

“I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head. “I do not want you to think I am a cold heart who enjoys taking the lives of others, but as I’ve told you since we left High Cliff, it is sometimes a necessity. That man would have had taken all of our belongings, leaving us stranded here. He would have killed me and had his way with you if he felt he could get away with it.”

“I understand,” she said, her eyes boring holes into the table.

“Look at me,” he commanded in a low voice. She met his gaze. “You will have to take lives one day, a day in which you will be forced to grow up and leave your childhood behind. That day will come soon enough. I did not want today to be that day.”

“I’m not afraid to kill,” she said bravely, though her voice broke and Feyric saw her shiver.

“I know,” he said, reaching across the table to take hold of her hand. “Killing is never easy, even when it is your mortal enemy who is trying to kill you. I have killed many men in my time as a soldier, and I did not enjoy it. I have killed women and children in my time, and those memories are the most painful, the ones that haunt me in my sleep. But you possess a Hallowed Weapon. It will be worse for you. Far worse. When you take a life with Carnage, it will be worse than all of the lives I’ve taken throughout my life. This is why we must travel to Nian, and you must train there. The Master, Ko Lon, will teach you to resist the call of Carnage.”

“The call?” she asked, gripping his hand to let him know she was not afraid.

“According to legends written about other Hallowed Weapons, it will beg you to steal the life you are taking instead of allowing the life to fade, to end, to immediately return to its heavenly plane. Each religion and culture has their own version of what happens when a person dies, but all agree that Hallowed Weapons are hungry for the souls they release from mortal bodies, and feeding that hunger must be resisted lest the weapon’s owner becomes corrupted by the lust, the power.”

“Does Xian beg for souls when you kill with it?” Celana asked, still unsure if she would believe such old tales from before The Fall.

“No, it is only a Harvest weapon,” he answered. “It is an exceptional sword, unmatched by any other than another Harvest weapon, or bested by a Hallowed weapon. But its magic is limited to its sharpness, its unbreakable strength. Carnage is unlike any weapon seen since The Fall, and only the Masters in Nian can help you learn its power, its hunger, its control over you.”

“How, if no Hallowed weapon has been created since The Fall?”

“Master Ko Lon is rumored to have lived in the time before The Fall, to have trained warriors who were gifted Hallowed weapons.”

“But that was more than three hundred years ago!” she exclaimed, quickly lowering her eyes and voice. “How can anyone still be alive from that time?”

“I do not know,” Feyric admitted. “But the world before The Fall was very different. Wizards, clerics, sorcerers, mages, conjurers, priests, and many others were imbued with powers that only the stories remember, talked to gods that are only remembered because of the temples built to honor them. The islands that make up Nian are far older than the continent of Uric, which is far older than the continent across the eastern sea. Nian was a haven for the gifted back before The Fall. Beyond that, I only know of the stories that you and I both heard when we were children.”

“Will I meet a real wizard?”

“I believe you will,” Feyric said with a smile. He let go of her hand when he saw the serving girl approach with their food and drinks. “Easy on the wine. We must keep a clear head for the upcoming journey,” he said once the server was gone. “Pirates are never to be trusted, and Captain Hastor is to be trusted even less than that.”

***

Feyric and Celana stood at the railing, watching the dying sun hover at the edge of the horizon. The storm to the southwest looked ominous, but the pirates were confident it would pass to their south, with only the outer bands giving them a short rain shower. Feyric had kept his guard up for the first twelve hours, knowing that the pirates would likely turn on them at some point during their journey. The knowledge that he had at least ten thousand coins’ worth of precious gems to pay the fare meant they knew he also carried more in his gear pack or on his person. He made sure Celana always carried Carnage with her, but wasn’t surprised that the weapon somehow sensed it was to remain out of sight and had shrank itself down to the size of a small club.

The five weeks of travel before arriving at Mara had mostly consisted of riding during the day, an hour or two of instruction or training after they made camp, then sleeping until the cycle began again the next day. Feyric still had no clue as to what the girl’s weapon could do, the quarterstaff having never manifested its power in any way other than growing or shrinking to whatever length its owner desired. As a master swordsman, he had only rudimentary knowledge of melee combat tactics with a quarterstaff. Night after night, he did his best to instruct his charge how to hold it, defend with it, and go on the offensive with it. His hope was the the masters of Nian would have an expert capable of training the girl properly. In the meantime, he had increased her knowledge of knife fighting, martial combat, and survival skills tenfold, though he knew her age and size would put at her at a disadvantage for a few more years—yet it would also offer certain tactical advantages as her agility, speed, and potential lethality were hidden behind a sweet, innocent face of a merchant-class twelve year old girl.

Feyric heard the rustle of hemp, silk, and the jangle of metal on the deck behind him, bringing him back to the present. He glanced down to Celana, who gave him the slightest of nods that she too had heard the gathering of men on the deck. He gave her an almost imperceptible shake of his head to let her know he would try to negotiate their way out of the upcoming trouble, then a slight nod that said if trouble couldn’t be avoided, she would have to fight alongside him until they were felled. He had warned her from the day they set out on their journey together the dangers of men lusting after young girls, and had reiterated the lesson once they’d reached Mara and heard that only the pirates were foolish enough to journey more than a few miles off the coast.

“Captain Hastor,” Feyric said, turning around slowly while drawing Xian from its scabbard on his back. “I will only ask you once to instruct your men to return to their stations and leave us be.” He placed the tip of the sword on the oiled deck.

“Is that so?” the pirate leader said with a hearty laugh. At least thirty of his men were now on the deck, slowing closing the semicircle around the two travelers. “And you’re going to win in a battle against forty-eight blooded warriors?” His men laughed at their captain’s words as they drew their weapons.

“I ask again that you rethink this foolish plan and accept your payment as honorable sailors,” Feyric said, taking a step away from Celana. He nodded to her.

“That’s a mighty fine sword, Feyric Irondale,” Captain Hastor said, eying Xian lustily. He glanced at the small metal club in the girl’s right hand and smiled. “And my, what a pretty piece of silver. I think I’ll have both, and then I’ll have you for a few days before I toss you into the sea to join your father.” He looked back at Feyric. “Drop your weapon and I’ll make sure it goes easy for you.”

“As you say,” Feyric said with a nod of his head to let the pirate know he understood but chose to take his chances instead.

Captain Hastor nodded to the men nearest Celana to grab her. Feyric readied his sword but realized the pirates to his right had rushed him at the same moment. He prayed to Torren that the girl could defend herself long enough for him to finish at least four men, if not all forty-eight aboard The Revenant before they took her and murdered him. He stepped to the side while parrying a thrust from the closest pirate, his backswing cutting the man from shoulder to hip, the pirate’s guts sloshing to the deck instantly. The other three were surprised enough to pause, awed at the sharpness of the fancy sword. Feyric slashed to the side, then up, then down diagonally in a swift motion, dropping all three men where they stood.

The first pirate to reach Celana smiled, his rotting teeth mixed with gold and silver replacements for those that had already fallen out. His eyes went wide when the girl’s silvery staff became as tall as the girl, then shrieked in agony when one end of the quarterstaff shattered the bones in his outstretched arm in dozens of places. Faster than the eye could follow, Celana twirled one end of the staff toward the pirate’s skull, a sickening crack echoing across the deck, then reversed the staff’s direction, bringing the other end up under a second pirate’s chin. A muffled scream came from the man as his lower jaw was embedded into the roof of his mouth, the end of his tongue falling to the deck.

Captain Hastor stood frozen, watching the girl’s staff lengthen another three feet and become a sharpened point as it pierced the stomach of another of his crew, then the staff shrank back to her height as it snapped another attacker’s bicep, knocking him to the deck. A quick glance at her father let him know the man was busy fending off at least five more of his crew. He grinned and approached the girl, cutlass at the ready. The girl swept the staff around, shattering the ankle of another pirate, then turned just in time to avoid the captain’s slash at her right arm.

He attacked relentlessly, grinning as the girl swept away each attack with her weapon. He sensed the girl lacked experience, leaving an opening for him to strike with a piercing thrust to her chest. A momentary thought of disappointment that he wouldn’t get to enjoy a few nights with her was countered by the amount of coin he would be able to sell the two weapons the travelers carried once they were disposed of. He knew the staff itself was worth a small island kingdom, and guessed that her father’s sword would fetch enough to hire a fleet of warships to defend the island and raid nearby settlements.

Hastor made his thrust after the girl deflected a half dozen more attacks designed to force her to let her guard down where he needed to strike. She surprised him once again with an upward lift of the strange staff, then frightened him when she immediately swung the other end across the flat of his blade, shattering it into a dozen shards. Her next swing connected with the side of his skull before he could worry about his sudden disarmament. His lifeless body crashed to the deck next to the dozen others that had fallen. The rest of the pirates took a quick step back, their weapons raised defensively, but the desire to press the fight was gone.

Celana looked around, seeing the fright in the pirates’ eyes, at least six of them near Feyric bleeding from various wounds. Those nearest her took another step back when her staff began to glow a faint purple. Every muscle in her body contracted at once, her chest seizing up in the middle of taking a gasping breath. The pirates took another step back when she released a wail of agony and collapsed to the bloody deck. Feyric immediately moved to stand over her, his eyes roving over the remaining pirates while taking short glances at the unconscious girl. He kneeled down and shook her shoulder with one hand, his eyes and sword constantly threatening the men near them. She coughed once and opened her eyes, then raised up to her knees.

“The rest of you have a choice,” Feyric’s voiced boomed across the deck, the storm’s winds beginning to pick up. “You can die by our hands, or you can pledge your loyalty to Celana Hammerstone, captain of The Revenant.”

The pirates nervously looked at each other, most with fear etched into their faces at what they had seen the two travelers do to their ranks. A commotion broke out behind them, with the dozen pirates near it quickly forming a row on either side of the captain’s second, Commander Blight. The man strode toward Feyric, his chainmail vest and polished longsword clanking together with every step. Feyric was wary, but thankful the commander’s weapon was still sheathed. Commander Blight looked at the carnage of violence strewn across the deck, then to Feyric.

“She has killed Captain Hastor?” he asked, having seen none of the battle. Feyric nodded, followed by Celana’s defiant glare as she nodded as well. Blight turned to the men near him. “Is this true?”

“Yes, Commander,” the nearest pirate said, the others around him nodded in agreement.

“I see,” Blight said.

He slowly went to one knee and drew his longsword. Feyric tensed until the man turned it around and held it out to Celana by its blade.

“With your honor, Captain Hammerstone,” he said. When Celana said nothing, only stared at him, he nodded.

“Take the sword,” Feyric murmured to her.

Celana stepped forward, one hand still clutching Carnage. She wrapped her fingers around the fine hilt of the commander’s sword, nearly dropping it when he let go of the blade. She swayed for a moment before gaining her balance, eliciting a few chuckles from the nearby pirates even though they still seemed to be in shock over the short, deadly battle that ended with their captain’s death.

“Thank him for his honor,” Feyric instructed, familiar with the transfer of power on a pirate ship thanks to his father’s tales from his time in the Imperial Navy.

“Thank you for your honor,” Celana said, her voice stronger than anyone expected from such a young girl.

The pirates on the deck dropped to one knee and held out their weapons hilt-first.

“With your honor,” the said almost as a single voice.

“Thank you all for your honor,” Celana said, raising her voice to be heard over the wind that now whipped through the sails. She turned to Feyric when the pirates remained kneeling, looking at her expectantly. “What am I supposed to do?”

“Name your second then command them,” Feyric said. He saw the slightest hint of a smile on Blight’s face along with a nod of his shaggy head.

“I name Commander Blight as my second,” Celana said, surprising everyone but Feyric. “I command you to… steer this ship out of the storm’s way.”

The pirates laughed, but all rose to their feet.

“Commander Blight,” Feyric called out. “Please have your men do what’s necessary to see us through this storm.”

Blight looked to Celana, who grinned and nodded her head. The commander began to shout orders, insulting those who laughed at their new situation a little too long instead of tending to their tasks. Feyric put his arm around the girl’s shoulders and led her to the stairs leading to the captain’s quarters below the deck. He glanced back once, getting another nod from Blight that assured him the pirates were sufficiently fearful and would follow the girl’s orders instead of attempting a second betrayal.

“What happened?” Celana asked the instant Feyric closed the door behind them.

“Listen to me,” he said, gripping her shoulders then kneeling down to look her in the eyes. “You are the captain of The Revenant now, according to pirate tradition.”

“Because I killed the captain?” she asked, her voice quavering as if she were about to cry.

“Yes. Usually, a transfer of power happens because of a mutiny or a challenge from one of the crew, usually the second in command. However, since you defeated the captain in single combat, you have earned the right to his ship and any men who will follow.”

“There was more than a single person trying to kill me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes, Celana, but the moment Hastor attacked you, his men stopped fighting to watch. I killed three more of them before I realized what was happening behind me. You defeated him without any help in fair combat, even if a dozen others were trying to kill you at once. I also believe when they saw Carnage do whatever it did, it made them very afraid. Speaking of, what happened?”

“I don’t know,” she said in a soft voice, her eyes turned down to her feet. “When they tried to grab me, it was like a voice in my head telling me what to do, except it wasn’t a voice. It was more like memories of how to use Carnage. I used it and felt like I had always known how to do… what I did.”

Feyric wiped a tear from her cheek, then gripped her chin and forced her to look at him.

“I’m sorry, Celana,” he said, genuinely pained to have exposed the girl to mortal combat at such a young age. “I’m sorry you had to take the lives of these men, even if they would have done the same to you without regret. I’m more sorry that it has happened before you have learned what Carnage is capable of.”

“I felt… I felt as if I were on fire,” Celana whispered, her body shivering. “On fire, but strong enough to break the ship in half with my bare hands. I wanted to kill them all. I knew I could kill them all. Then I saw them all retreat backward. I knew none wanted to fight even though I still did, and it hurt worse than anything I have ever felt once I knew they would not engage. Worse than the time I fell into the flames when I was seven summers and a sharp ember burned me enough that I didn’t heal until after harvest.”

“Remember what I told you,” Feyric said, nodding, remembering what he and his father had read in the great cathedral’s library in Torren. “Hallowed weapons are… They must never be used to steal the life you take. The Masters of Nian will train you properly, and I hope what has happened this evening has no lasting effect.” He kissed her on the forehead. “You are a special girl, but no longer innocent. Let us pray that you do not have to use Carnage again until you have learned to resist its desires.”

“What have happened to the others if they refused to follow me?” she asked, wiping another streak of tears from her cheek.

“Those who pledged loyalty would have slit their throats and thrown their corpses overboard,” Feyric said, deciding to not hide the realities of life outside the safety of High Cliff from her. “Or those who refused would have jumped overboard on their own.”

“Can we trust the commander?” she asked.

“He is a pirate and pirates are never to be trusted,” Feyric said with a frown. “However, it seems we are now pirates, even if only for the duration of our time at sea, and he seems to be as honorable as a pirate can be. Let him get us to Nian, then you can decide what to do.”

“Do?”

“We will be in Nian for many months, if not longer. I do not know what our destiny is beyond finding the Masters to train you, but I am certain that will be revealed in time. But these men are pirates, and pirates do not want to remained docked in one place for long. They will become restless, and restless pirates will find no end to various troubles along the waterfront and within the city itself. Since you command them, they are your responsibility, which means any trouble they cause, you will have to answer for. Which means possibly sentencing them to death or other punishments, depending on their crimes.”

“What should I do?” she asked, standing up and walking to the barrel of water.

She used a small bucket to scoop some out, careful to not let the blood on her hands drip into the barrel. Feyric watched her clean herself, smiling at his father’s choice to pick a strong-willed, adaptable conduit to gift a Hallowed weapon to.

“It is your decision to make, Captain,” he said, bowing before her.

“I’m not a pirate or a ship captain!” she exclaimed, then tossed him the damp rag.

“You are for another week, assuming Blight hasn’t steered us into the eye of this storm,” he said, wiping the crusted blood from his fingers.

As if the commander had heard him, a loud knock startled both before Blight barged into the captain’s quarters. Feyric put his hand on his sword, but Celana’s hand on his arm stopped him.

“Apologies, Cap’n,” Blight said gruffly. He frowned at Feyric then turned his attention back to the girl. “We’re short of men now that you’re the captain, and the storm is moving fast. We can’t outrun her.”

“What should we do?” Celana asked, nervous that the man expected her to know how to command a ship.

“Aye, lass, y’er not a merchant’s daughter, are ye?” he chuckled. “You’d best hide in here while we attempt to keep us afloat.”

“I’m not a sailor’s daughter,” Celana said haughtily, “but I am capable of performing a necessary task if it will help.”

“Aye, y’er capable of ending the good Captain Hastor, for sure,” Blight said with a nod of respect. “Can ye steer?”

“I don’t know,” she said, giving a worried glance to Feyric, who only smiled.

“Well, y’er too small to work the deck, as ye’d likely be tossed overboard by the wind or a stray mast, but ye seem like ye can at least hold a wheel and read a compass.”

“I can read a compass, Commander,” she said with a huff.

“Come with me, Cap,” Blight said, then looked at Feyric. “Mind helping on the main sail?”

“Of course, Commander,” Feyric said.

He watched the girl and her second, a hulking man who dwarfed her, as they made their way to the navigation deck. The rain came down almost sideways, and the shouts of three dozen men fought with the howl of the wind and the crash of the waves against the hull. Feyric pulled on an oiled cloak and stepped onto the deck, almost free of the blood from their fight thanks to the rain, then made his way to the knot of sailors working feverishly to keep control of the main sail.

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