The ship tore through the sea faster than Benedict could remember ever moving. It plowed straight through waves, never rocking or lurching in any direction as its sails filled with winds he couldn’t feel and carried them on. Akshainie had pretty quickly made her way up the rigging, staying out of the way as much as possible and even helping when asked, but mostly taking full advantage of the view and the strength of her lower body wrapped around the mast to keep her in place. Benedict, on the other hand, stayed planted as firmly as he could on the deck, holding on to the railing and trying his best to keep the spray out of his face.
The ship cut southwest away from the Orkneys, dashing between Sweden and Denmark into the Baltic Sea, then into a river. Shortly after the river looked to be getting too narrow for Benedict’s comfort, the ship tipped forward and dove into the water, only to immediately emerge in another river. They did that three times, hopping from one river to the next, until the last river gave way to open sea again. The ship never slowed as it went, and continued to maintain speed as it turned up another river and flew along.
“The Indus!” Akshainie called down. Benedict looked out at the people along the banks and in the water as the boat passed harmlessly through them with awe. It certainly did look like Pakistan, or at least as much of Pakistan as he’d seen before, and then they took a tributary, and then another, and there was Lahore on their right. As suddenly as they had started, the ship ground to a halt, and Akshainie climbed down from the rigging. Benedict continued holding the railing until she reached him and held out her hand. The whole trip, near as Benedict could figure, had taken maybe an hour. “You coming?”
“Iravati, I believe!” Ingrid called as she and Tidh approached them. Benedict let go of the railing and nodded to Akshainie, who lowered her hand and turned to face the reunited pair.
“It is indeed! Thank you!”
“Thank you!” Tidh answered, wrapping his arm around Ingrid. “Without you, I’d still be lost in that cursed sea, bitter and alone.”
“What happens now?” Benedict asked, straightening his shirt.
“Now, we go back. I’m still under the authority of the Deep, and it won’t be happy bout me sailing halfway round the world without permission.”
“We’re going to confront the Deep,” Ingrid explained, “try to free Tidh from his obligation, make a new life for ourselves.”
“What if the Deep won’t give you up?” Akshainie asked.
“We’re ready to fight if we must,” Tidh answered, “together, this time. I don’t think it’ll know what hit it.” Benedict shook his hand.
“Godspeed to you all, then,” he said. Tidh nodded and called for the gangplank to be lowered, and after some more goodbyes Akshainie and Benedict took to shore. They watched as the plank was withdrawn, and Tidh barked out his orders, and the sails again filled with wind. The ship dove straight into the water and vanished. Akshainie and Benedict continued watching for a moment before she patted him on the back.
“We all need something to drive us, I suppose,” she said. Benedict agreed. “Come along, let me show you mine.” With that, she led him to the entrance of Iravati, and once it was opened for her, the two stepped below the river.
Tidh was standing at the bank of windows in his room on the ship, rocking slightly and praying the rosary, when Benedict and Akshainie entered. He quickly blurted out the last few words of the prayer before tossing the rosary on his desk and running to them. Before he could say anything more, Benedict produced the pelt and laid it out on the desk. Tidh took in a sharp breath and stopped, before reaching out and slowly running his hand through the fur.
“Oh,” he said, softly, “it’s beautiful. I should’ve expected nothing less.” He picked the pelt up, gently, and raised it to his face. He took a deep sniff, then fell backward into a chair and began to cry.
“Oh,” Akshainie said, “are we doing this?” Benedict rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Give him this,” he said, softly. Tidh looked up at them.
“It smells like her. I…I don’t know how,” Tidh said. Benedict stepped forward and knelt in front of the captain. “I don’t know how I remember her smell.” Benedict rested his hand on the captain’s knee.
“You never forgot her, Tidh. Why do you expect yourself to have forgotten her?”
“I tried. For the longest time, I tried. I…I was so angry.”
“Well,” Benedict said, standing and holding out his hand, “it’s time to start setting things straight, right?” Tidh wiped the tears from his cheek, nodded, and took Benedict’s hand.
“I don’t know how this is going to work,” Tidh said, as the three walked toward the deck. “I think I just call her with it? And then she comes along?”
“Do we…wait for her? How’s she supposed to get here?”
“I can handle that,” Akshainie said. She shed her human guise as they reached the deck, then slithered over the edge. Benedict and Tidh, and the crew on deck, watched her go, then looked around at each other.
“Is she okay?” Tidh asked.
“She’s fine,” Benedict answered. “If she said she had it handled, she has it handled. Call your wife.” Tidh nodded, then looked at the pelt.
“How do I do that?”
“I think, if you’re in possession of it, you just…talk? Say what you want her to do?”
Tidh took a deep breath, clutched the pelt to his chest, and called out for Ingrid to come to the ship. The people on the deck stood around silently for a few moments after that, while nothing happened. Tidh sighed, then looked at Benedict.
“Do I do it again? Do I trust she’s on her way?” Tidh asked. Benedict shrugged, and then a column of churning water rose beside the ship. The crew scrambled and began shouting to one another, trying to steady the ship as it rocked from the impact. Benedict and Tidh braced themselves as the column bent toward them, and then crashed onto the deck. When the water withdrew, it left Akshainie and Ingrid behind. Tidh and Ingrid stared at each other for a long moment, then Ingrid’s eyes drifted down toward the pelt.
“Tidh? Did…did you…” she began to ask, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Akshainie slithered over to Benedict as Tidh stuttered out the beginning of a thought, then realized what was happening and stepped forward. He held the pelt out to her.
“I would never try to command you, Ingrid. I called to give it back.” He continued holding the pelt out to her as she stared at it. She glanced between him and it a couple times, then reached with shaking hands and slowly pulled it back. She unfolded it and threw it over her shoulders, clasping the front paws together to wear it like a cape.
“Tidh, I…about what happened back then—”
“I know,” Tidh said, cupping her face in his hand. “I didn’t know then, but I do now. It wasn’t your fault, and I’m sorry I ever doubted you.” She leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, and they both began to cry.
“What did you do, anyway?” Benedict asked Akshainie, softly, as they watched.
“I spoke to the water spirits in the sea. I knew they’d grant a selkie passage, if they knew to be expecting one,” she answered. “Word travels fast in the waters, by the time she tried to answer the call a path was open for her.” Benedict nodded, and he, Akshainie, and the crew continued to watch the reunited pair.
“What happens now?” Ingrid asked.
“Well. Far as I’m concerned, you’re still my wife, so you’re welcome to stay if you wish,” Tidh answered.
“We have so much to catch up on. Did you see the humans went to the moon?”
“The moon!?” Tidh practically yelled. Ingrid nodded. “In the fucking sky?” Ingrid laughed, and Akshainie cleared her throat. “Oh, right, yes. The priest and snake here, they found the pelt for us, and I owe them transit for it.”
“Well!” Ingrid exclaimed, looking at Benedict and Akshainie. “What are we waiting for? Get this ship moving, men!” The crew looked around at each other for a moment.
“You heard her!” Tidh yelled. The crew scrambled to their work as Ingrid and Tidh made their way back to Tidh’s cabin.
It was the following night before Akshainie and Benedict managed to arrive on the small island Huginn had told them about. The ravens were waiting for them, perched on a low branch, as they made their way ashore from the small fishing boat, Benedict carrying a shovel.
“Took you long enough,” Huginn said. Muninn nodded.
“Do you have somewhere better to be?” Benedict asked.
“Oh, always somewhere else to be. Nothing you need to worry about.” The ravens took flight and circled the other two a few times before Huginn landed on Benedict’s shoulder. “But for now, I suppose we should get moving.”
“What’s your interest in this matter? Or in us, in general?” Akshainie asked. Huginn shrugged.
“You’re interesting. You know where we’re going, Muninn?” she yelled. The other raven cawed and changed direction, flying away from the beach. Benedict hesitated a moment, and Akshainie grabbed his hand.
“You coming, priest?” she asked. Benedict blinked in surprise, looked at the hand she was still holding, and blushed a little. He started to follow, and Akshainie let go and continued on. Benedict glanced back to his shoulder to find Huginn staring at him. He could almost swear she winked, though nothing about her eyes actually seemed to change.
They followed Muninn inland, around a rocky outcropping, and up a hill to a small cemetery with weathered gravestones. Muninn landed on one stone and began preening as he waited for the others to catch up. Akshainie arrived first, kneeling down and wiping at the moss on the stone as best she could before pulling out a small flashlight and reading what was left of the engraving.
“This looks to be it!” she called back to Benedict, who was still a few yards off. Huginn left his shoulder and landed next to Muninn as Akshainie thanked him. He cawed in response. “Does he talk?”
“Oh, yes,” Huginn said, nudging him. Muninn grunted and straightened up. “He’s just very picky about who hears him.”
“Which doesn’t include us.”
“For good reason, don’t worry, it isn’t about you so much as about him.”
“Right,” Benedict said, stabbing the shovel into the ground next to Akshainie and leaning on it. “So we just bring it up, then?”
“I would be mindful of how you disturb him. Wouldn’t want to produce a ghost in the process.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Humans believe it is,” Huginn answered. Benedict grumbled and then lifted the shovel again. Akshainie moved aside and began to sing a low, soft song in Sanskrit.
“What’s that?” Benedict asked as he began to dig.
“A lullaby,” Huginn answered as Akshainie continued to sing, “intended to keep the soul at peace while you work.” Akshainie nodded, never breaking the tune.
“Does it work?”
“Depends on whether or not you start bitching about it.” Akshainie barely stopped herself from laughing, missing a beat in the process, but then resumed. Benedict made short work of the grave, heaving massive piles of dirt at a time and straining the shovel’s handle with the weight. He struck wood on the third verse, the noise of which caused Akshainie and the ravens to peer over the edge of the hole as Benedict laid the shovel aside and cleared enough space with his hands to open the box. Inside was a skeleton, its clothes barely still discernible, with a large piece of fine white fur clutched to its ribs. The fur looked like it had just been placed there, not even carrying any stains or marks from the body that had decomposed around it. Benedict carefully removed the fur and replaced the skeleton’s arms, then the cover, before grabbing the shovel and leaping out of the hole. Akshainie continued to sing as she took the shovel and filled the hole again, then finished the last verse as she stood over the freshly-buried plot.
“It is a beautiful song,” Benedict said, softly, once she was done.
“Thank you,” Akshainie answered, laying the shovel across her shoulder. “My mother sang it to me when I was young. Didn’t know when I’d have opportunity to sing it myself.”
“Well!” Huginn announced, hopping slightly to the side to center herself between Benedict and Akshainie, “I suppose that’s it, then. Enjoy!” The two ravens took to the air, and before the pair of grave robbers could respond, they were gone.
“What do you think their deal is?” Akshainie asked, as they turned to make their way back to the boat.
“I suppose, with all of eternity to flit about in, one has to find their entertainment where they can,” Benedict answered.
It wasn’t until Benedict and Akshainie were in town that they realized they actually had very little information to guide them to Lambert’s grave. Benedict assumed Lambert was his last name, and they knew his role and ship at the end of the seventeenth century, but that was it. Deciding against going back to the boat for more information, partly because Akshainie suspected it would be faster to find it themselves, the pair split up. Akshainie went searching for a Lambert family plot, in the hopes that the fleece would just be there. Benedict dug around in town for a bit until he found an internet cafe, where he began searching for information on the captain. As evening fell, they met at a local pub to grab dinner and see what they’d learned.
“Well, if there’s a Lambert family plot, I haven’t found it,” Akshainie said, before knocking back half her beer. “How’d you fare with that…thing you said you were going to consult?”
“The internet,” Benedict grumbled. He took a bite of his fish and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, finally continuing after he’d swallowed. “It had very little useful information. It seems this ship failed to make it into the pirate folklore that persisted, though I can’t imagine why.”
“Do you think maybe Tidh exaggerated its importance?”
“I suspect Tidh exaggerated quite a lot. But that doesn’t help us reach Iravati.” He sighed and returned to his meal as Akshainie considered his words.
“Well, it has to be here, right? This town is Orkney, isn’t it?”
“No. Orkney isn’t the name of the town, it’s the name of this group of islands. I don’t even know if we’re on the right island, let alone the right town.”
“Are you fucking with me, priest?” Akshainie demanded. Benedict shook his head, and she groaned. The pair ate in silence for a few minutes, before Akshainie spoke up. “Maybe we should find those damned spirits that talked to Tidh and see if they know anything.”
“And how would we do that?” Benedict asked. “We don’t have any information we could use to summon them.”
“We can’t really be summoned, anyway,” a voice said. Akshainie and Benedict both paused for a moment, recognizing it as the voice of the raven who helped them travel from Yggdrasil. They both turned to find The Two standing next to their table. “We just kind of exist everywhere.”
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.