25 July 2006
“I was going about my business there, still working for The Deep, when suddenly there was a robed man and a blue, naked woman standing in my cabin right here, sure as both of you are now. Well, you know, I’d seen some things in my years out here. Seems once you become an agent of the spirits, other spirits think we’re all in this together. So I weren’t too surprised, but none of them had been bold enough to just show up in my cabin before. I couldn’t let that become a thing, so I demanded to know what they thought they was doing. And the man, he says to me, he says, “It’s about Ingrid.” I froze right there. I hadn’t said a word about her in hundreds of years, you know, and now this guy just shows up wanting to chat about her? What was his problem? So I asked him as much, and they started to explain things to me.
“Ingrid, they said, is a selkie. Not was, is. They told me true selkies were spirits, like them, and like what I’d become. I didn’t know I’d become a spirit, but they said I had, and I guess it makes sense with the turning into water and such, so I guess I’m a spirit. But they told me, they said that Ingrid is a selkie, and Lambert had been controlling her because he’d found her pelt. Her skin, you know, her seal skin. He’d heard about our ship that was blessed by a siren, and he’d made some kind of deal, and it turns out she’d lost her skin some time before I’d met her and this bastard went off and found it, and used it to make her do what he commanded. That’s why she went with him that night, and that’s why she sank my ship. Everything she’d done with him, she’d done because of the power he had over her with that skin. And, they said, he’d taken the pelt with him. That was that box that man told me about, that he wouldn’t part with! Well, they never unlocked it to find out what it was, and it seemed mighty important to him, so they buried it with him up in the Orkneys. But she didn’t know about that, and couldn’t go that far inland anyway, and has been searching for her pelt ever since!
“Which is where you lot come in. See, they told me, they said, “there’s a pair of travelers coming, you can meet them at Miami. They’re looking for passage to Iravati, but no one will take them. They can go ashore. They can help you.” So I made for Miami, and as soon as I knew I’d found you, I sent for you. So that’s my deal, you see. I want you to go ashore, when we arrive at the Orkneys, and I want you to dig up that bastard, and you find that pelt, and you bring it back to me. And then, when I have that, then I’ll take you to Iravati.” Benedict and Akshainie sat for a moment, then looked at each other.
“Is that all?” Akshainie asked, turning her attention back to Tidh. “Your price for taking us to Iravati is just to dig up some seal fur?” Tidh pounded his fist on the arm of his chair.
“Ain’t you been listening to my story, woman?” he bellowed. “This ain’t just some seal fur, this is my wife we’re talking about!”
“What do you plan to do with it?” Benedict asked.
“Ain’t none of your business!”
“You did ask me to put in a good word for you with Saint Peter.” Tidh sank into his seat and grunted.
“I’m just gonna call her, okay? I’m gonna call her, and give it back, and ask if she’ll have me back. That holy enough for you?”
“Yes. When do we begin?” Tidh waved his hand in the direction of the window, and Akshainie and Benedict looked out at a port city.
“We arrived twenty minutes ago.” Benedict nodded and stood, followed by Akshainie. They started to leave, but as Benedict held the door open for Akshainie he stopped and looked back at Tidh.
“Oh, about your confession,” he said. Tidh perked up. “Look, you did…a lot. Just, I guess just start praying the rosary.”
“For how long?”
“Until we get back.” Tidh nodded, then pulled a rosary out of his pocket and started praying. Benedict smirked, then turned and left.
Tidh Connelly sat in silence for a moment, staring into his drink. Benedict and Akshainie waited, unsure if he was done, or if they should say something. When the silence grew uncomfortable, Benedict began to reach and lean forward as if to offer comfort.
“Do you fear death, father?” Tidh asked. Benedict stopped, then sat back in his seat.
“I do not welcome it. But, as Saint Paul says—”
“It’s cold, you know. I don’t know if that’s because of the water, or because I wasn’t in God’s favor, but there were no angels to carry me to old Saint Peter. No light, no smiling faces from beyond. There was just water, and cold, and terror as the lungs begin to fill with water, and then darkness.”
“But it wasn’t the end,” Akshainie said, before taking a sip from her own bourbon. “Not for you.” Tidh shook his head.
“No. Not quite. It should have been, though. Maybe…” He sat silent again, then looked at Benedict.
“Father, I know what kind of monster I became. Will you, when you get the chance, will you put in a good word for me? Remind the Lord, you know, whatever good you can think of.”
“Are we having a confession now?” Benedict asked.
“This has all been my confession.” Benedict sighed and relaxed into his chair.
“Then, please, by all means. Continue.”
“Should I leave?” Akshainie asked. No one answered, and she didn’t leave.
“I don’t know if I really died,” Tidh continued. “I don’t know if I was brought back, or if it was just that I was spared from death, but it hardly seems to matter now. The point is, after the darkness, there was something else.
“I don’t know how to describe The Deep. The sea, you should know, is not one great spirit. There are spirits for parts of the sea, for different bays or coves or currents. But down at the bottom, where the light is gone, there’s just The Deep. Vast, and cold, and dark, and somber. The spirits in the light, people make deals with them sometimes. They like humans, or they don’t, but they never much mind us either way. We’re just passers-by to them. But not The Deep. The Deep only knows mankind in death, only knows the broken hulls of ships and scattered remnants of treasure that sink beneath the waves. But the sea, all of the sea, knows that the world needs it, and won’t let you forget it. The spirits in the light, they get their payment from the superstitions of sailors. The Deep, though, was tired of not getting its due.
So I was given a chance. The Deep promised me power, and a return to the surface, and a new life to throw at my enemies, if I would agree to collect the tithe of The Deep. I would sink ships when I needed to, or when I wanted to, and as long as the darkness beneath the waves got its due I could carry on with my mission with the full rage of the sea at my beck and call.
Well. What’s a dying sailor bent on vengeance to do? I sold my soul to The Deep. And when I did, I felt the power of the sea surge through me. I could see in those depths for the first time, and my lungs quit burning from the water. I knew I could stay down there as long as I wanted, I could live in the water just fine, but my goals weren’t in the water. I let out a sharp whistle, I don’t know how I knew it would work, but I whistled and along came a kraken, or the kraken, I don’t actually know how many there are. But this one, or the one, came to me, my ship wrapped in its arms. Pieces of broken wood rose from the floor of the sea and snapped into place, making my ship and sails whole again. And I took my place at the wheel, and called for daylight, and together my ship and I sailed back to the surface.
I don’t know how long I was under the water. Maybe I was dead for a while, or maybe the conversation with The Deep took longer than I expected, or the building of my ship was slower than I remember. But when I breached the water like an angry whale, and sailed right into that cove, the Heretic Wind was gone.
8 October 1683
“I was in with His Majesty’s Royal Navy at that time, you know. I hadn’t yet had my own ship, but I was doing alright for myself. We’d finished cleaning up from that Cromwell mess,” the captain said, spitting at the name of the Lord Protector, “some years earlier, and now we were worrying ourselves with things like pirates and heretics of state. I was one of them, which of course my captain suspected, but I was damn fine at my job and he was willing to let a little papism slide in exchange for an orderly ship. You know the sort, I’m sure.” Benedict and Akshainie did not, in fact, know the sort, but didn’t bother telling him that.
“So we was on shore leave, rounding the north looking for some rest from trouble, and made land at Kirkwall up in Orkney thereabouts. So I was having my fun in the tavern there and met me a beautiful young maiden calling herself Ingrid. Well she could’ve called herself or me damn near anything she wanted, the name would’ve tasted sweet as honey as long as it belonged to her and I’d answer to anything provided it rolled off her tongue. We had us a wild run through the docks that first day, and ended it out a-looking over the sea.
It was there that I looked into her eyes and knew as sure as I knew myself, that she already had a love in her life. As she swayed to the beat of the waves, and the song of the wind, I knew in my best days I’d be second to the sea in her heart. So I spoke to her of the sea, and my own love for her, and how I felt more at home on a ship than I did in the mess the English had made of Eire. And she listened, and told me of the rush of swimming through the waters, and the way the sun looks just as it sets the waves ablaze with light, and how she was cut off from her home, as well. We took comfort in each other and in our shared mistress until well after dark.
Ah, those were the best days I ever had on land, and I was sore afraid that when we set sail again I’d have to leave her behind with no promise she’d be there if I ever managed to return. The way those grey eyes would light up at the mere sight of the ocean, the way her yellow hair caught the sun, the soft touch of hands that never knew work but had surely known the salty air as she ran her fingers over mine. I tell you, I could have lived a lifetime in those couple days, and it would have been enough. But then it was coming time for me to leave. I knew it was fast approaching, and thanked the Lord for a storm that trapped us ashore for another day. But that storm would do far more than keep me off the ship for a night.
The small rowboat left the dock near midnight, noiselessly cutting through the black water. It passed through a couple physical vessels as it went, but the two pirates paid no mind to anything but their rowing as they made a straight line away from shore. Benedict and Akshainie said nothing as they went, watching for any sign of betrayal or distress. They saw nothing of the sort.
The ship they approached was a moderately-sized three mast ship, of the type common during the heyday of piracy. It waved no flag, its sails were shreds, and there was very little light on deck. The exception was a bank of windows on the aft edge, which shone with an intense but flickering glow.
Benedict and Akshainie were welcomed on board and immediately shuffled along the deck to the captain’s quarters, a relatively large room which had been the source of light from outside. Inside the room was a desk secured to the floor, and a table between them and the desk. The table had a map pinned to it, which stretched from the eastern edge of the Florida keys to a little past Bermuda, south to just include Puerto Rico and north as far as the southern edge of Virginia. The Bermuda Triangle was marked in bold lines, and there were details of the sea floor but the land was completely empty of markings, save for a handful of ports. A man stood behind the desk, staring at them as they entered, wearing a distinctly large hat and an assortment of patched clothes that seemed to be aimed at looking regal as a set, but rang as a sloppy and mismatched vintage to the new arrivals.
“I’ve been hearing you’re seeking passage,” he said, leaning forward on the desk and flicking his eyes between Benedict and Akshainie. Her hands hovered near her swords, but none of the three moved.
“That we have,” she said, “and I hope you have good news for us.” The man smiled.
“That I do, if you can return the favor.”
“What’s your price?” Benedict asked.
“Work. If we’re leaving my waters, it’s first to make a stop in the Orkneys. There you can repay me for the passage, and then we’ll be along to wherever it is you’re needing to go.”
“The Orkneys are a good way off track.”
“Depends on your track, now don’t it? My track goes there before it goes anywhere else.” He stood upright and ran his finger along the back of his chair. “Why? You got a better offer? Something more direct?”
“Not yet,” Akshainie said, “but—”
“But you didn’t ask around about a relay. But you won’t find that, not with him abouts,” the man said, pointing at Benedict. “He’s a curse.”
“And you’re not afraid of curses?” Benedict asked. The man laughed.
“Boy, I been cursed for long enough. You can’t do no worse to me than the sea has.”
“I’ve heard that one before.”
“Aye, I’m sure you have, globetrotter that you are. You in, or are you getting the hell off my boat?”
“What’s this job?” The man shrugged.
“Nothing to bad for a pair of landlocked spirits like yourselves. Walk onto the island, find me a fur coat, and return it.”
“It isn’t just a fur coat, is it?” Akshainie asked. The man’s demeanor dropped.
“It is not. But it ain’t dangerous, not to you.” The pair looked at each other for a moment, then back to the man.
“We’ll accept,” Benedict said, “but we want to know what we’re walking into.”
“I suppose we got time to tell a tale or two on the way,” the man said, walking past them. He threw the door of the cabin open and yelled out to the crew that it was time to set sail, and the deck was suddenly alive with activity as men scurried to their posts and prepared the ship to move. The man turned back to the pair. “I don’t suppose either of you thought to bring rum?”
The problem wasn’t finding spirit vessels. In a hub of activity like Miami, there’s always some spirit or another ferrying something across the sea, for some price. There are so many that even humans with no sense for the magical occasionally stumble upon one, making some deal they don’t fully understand and suffering the consequences after their journey is over, if they’re lucky. Some ships were run by ghosts, others by spirits of wind or wave, still others by crews of assorted creatures. The taverns that housed spirits here were packed with crews of all sorts, wandering spirits who lost their homes to genocide getting into bar fights with the ghosts of pirates while naiads served mysterious liquors and water elementals watched.
The first hurdle to get over was finding a ship willing to go halfway around the world. Most of the activity in Miami centered on the Caribbean, going maybe as far as Panama or Brazil but never venturing out into the greater Atlantic. This shaved a good 70% of the available ships off their list, though Akshainie was willing to keep them in mind if needed. If they couldn’t find a ship to take them all the way, after all, it would have to be acceptable to take one as far as it would go and search for another when they got there. Best not to anger the locals, not least because they had not yet exhausted their usefulness.
The second hurdle was Benedict himself. Akshainie had an affinity for water, but she wasn’t a water spirit, not really. But even the human ghosts on these vessels had been so deeply connected to water for so long that they certainly seemed to be water spirits; and water spirits, it turns out, know a fire spirit at a glance. They had a variety of ways to say no. Some did so with insults in any number of languages, others expressed concern about his rage burning the ship, some noted that it was an ill omen to take a demon on the water (or, in one short-lived instance, that it was bad luck to take a woman. Akshainie left that captain with a permanent reminder that it was bad luck to anger a woman on land, as well), still others simply wouldn’t even talk to or about him. Akshainie tried to book passage without him, hoping to smuggle him along, but by the time that idea occurred to her it was too late. Everyone knew the naga was traveling with a demon, and no one was going to pretend ignorance even to steal her currency.
Benedict was considering resigning himself to taking the River Network when two pirates approached Akshainie. They were visibly uncomfortable with Benedict, but they had come with an offer from their captain. He was aware they were looking for passage, and who they were, but he was willing to talk. The catch was, he couldn’t come on land. If they wanted to talk, they had to do it on his boat. Akshainie accepted their offer and arranged a time to meet the pair at the dock to row out to the ship, but as soon as the pirates were gone Benedict expressed concerns. They had yet to meet anyone here they could actually trust, he noted, and now they were just walking right into something that could very easily be a trap. She smiled at that.
“Did you think we were practicing how to fight just to play nice all the time?” she asked. He sighed.
“That doesn’t mean we have to go looking for unnecessary fights.”
“Who said this is unnecessary, or a fight? We’re just seeing what his offer is. And, I would remind you, we have no other options on the table.” He didn’t really want to, but he accepted that answer, and they prepared to go meet this Captain Tidh Connelly. Of course, part of that preparation included getting what information they could on the man, and what they got was sporadic at best. The spirits of Miami were less interested in talking about Connelly than they had been about Benedict. From what little they could gather, Connelly was cursed in some way, and encountering him on the water usually spelled the end of that ship.
Benedict and Akshainie made sure they were in fighting shape before they met the pirates at the dock.
23 July 2006
On leaving the church service and discussing the role of the Roman Catholic Church on Benedict’s life, Akshainie insisted that he see a bit more of what she was fighting to protect. It only seemed natural, she argued, that he understand her as well as she was beginning to understand him. When he pointed out that he had already been to Iravati, and met some naga close to her, she reminded him that his view of the place was as something of a prisoner, and it was about time he get the chance to really know it. He agreed, on those terms, and they began to make their way south.
The idea was simple, really. Instead of traveling straight there, they would make a trip through some of the areas he had encountered the Brood of Nachash before, and they would take a look for any evidence of another hidden chamber or dread god like the one in Ohio. Once they reached the shore, they could seek passage to Iravati in a manner that wouldn’t force Benedict to get thrown through the River Network. Now that she understood his distaste for it, of course. It had seemed odd before that he would have a problem with water; now that she knew he was a being of fire, it all made sense. And, on the way, they had the opportunity to talk more. Benedict told her more of his story, she told him more of hers, and they took the occasional opportunity to spar and learn how to fight better together. The need to use these skills rarely came up. The Brood had either been properly eradicated in the areas they checked, or had become much better at hiding. The most hassle they ran into on the way, in fact, was when Benedict checked in with his superiors who were annoyed at the length of time it had been since his last message.
But now they were in Miami. They ran out of places with a known former Brood presence a couple states earlier, but by the time they hit the Georgia line they just kept going. Miami was the end of the line. They could go no further without a vessel of some sort, and it was the sort of place to have plenty of options. Benedict assumed they would take a plane, or some kind of mundane ship to get to Asia, but Akshainie reminded him that her identification was not entirely legal. They debated options for a couple hours, but in the end, she won out. They began looking for a spirit ship who would go as close to Iravati as possible. Finding one, however, proved harder than they expected.