Back  To The Gassenti Chronicles  


They reached Salewood in darkness, and found a reasonable inn for the night. The next day they set about gathering information and finding a boat to take them North.

Perah-Perah took the opportunity to field test a spell she learned at the Mages Guild, that of invisibility. She was warned, however, that it was not to be used in combat, as any sudden movement shattered the illusion, as did contact with other people. Still it could be useful for gathering information. Perah-Perah chanted the spell and then with her fingers gestured as if she were dropping a giant veil over her head. She didn't feel any different. In fact, she could still see herself. For a moment she wondered if that arrogant bastard Vego had tricked her, but then she realized that while should still see herself, she could also see through herself at the same time. It wasn't that she was translucent. It was as if she was visible and invisible at the same time.

She stalked down to the docks, taking care not to bump into anyone, and overheard a conversation between two captains about cargos and destinations. One was heading to Teal Proper, about two thirds of the way they needed to go, the other heading to Lurk, which was in the wrong direction.

Perah-Perah scanned the docks and saw only two long range ships in port. It looked like they would have to pick up a different ride in Teal.

She found a place that was secluded and broke the spell, then returned to the captain going to Teal and haggled for passage aboard his ship.

Nari had never been on a boat before, and it seemed that wolves weren't meant to have sea legs. Swabbing the decks now required danger pay. Their horses down in the cargo hold also had trouble with the new sensation. In fact none of the girls except Victoria had ever traveled by sea before, and it was a new and slightly disturbing experience or most of them.

Salewood had a large orcish population, and as such Sephilith did not attract any attention. Nobody noticed her coming or going, but there had been a boat heading for Dogford the day before, which would have been perfect for her. This, of course left the problem of actually catching up with her.

Perah-Perah found out what day they expected to arrive in Teal Proper, and offered the captain a large bonus if he could get there faster.

The ride itself was uneventful, but nonetheless spectacular for everyone except Victoria. Seeing the coast from the ocean was a strange experience. What they knew as home seemed smaller from out here. And although they never lost sight of land, it felt strangely isolating to be out here with only boat to call home.

Only a few of Gassenti's boats were capable of long distance travel, and these often were used to protect the waters around their island, and warn of possible attack from Murhn. The vast majority of ships were of a kind the needed, for a number of reasons, to stay within sight of shore.

Day slid into night and caused a minor accident, which the sun assured the moon it had insurance for, then ran off without giving its licence. Eventually everyone on the ship turned in, and had a new adventure involving hammocks. Soo had no problem with these, having grown up with them, but even Victoria was used to something a little more familiar, like bunk beds or floor mats, or a nice hard rock.

This wasn't a passenger ship, however, and their accommodations had to be improvised. So it was the hammocks or the floor, and having seen what scurried on the floor a few times, everyone chose the hammocks. Some unwillingly chose the floor a few times, before getting used to how a hammock worked. Nari smugly slept in the corner, not having to worry about such silly things, and occasionally eating what scurried on the floor.

The next morning, Soo woke up feeling refreshed. Everyone else cursed the morning and all that came with it. However, they were told they were almost to Teal Proper, and should reach it by midday.

Midday arrived with the confidence of someone who had beat the system and was flaunting it, not knowing that the moon lurked around off the horizon, waiting for revenge. The ship docked without mishap and everyone disembarked. Rosileen gasped at what she saw and even the sisters eyebrows raised a few notches. Victoria had been here before, and Soo didn't understand what the fuss was about.

Nearly three hundred years ago, when Faustus the Last saw the inevitable fall of his kingdom in the form of ship after black ship cresting the horizon, the people did their best to fight back. The main fleet landed in Dogford and Rechmond, but Teal too had a strong first offensive. In the losing battles that followed, Lords, Barons and Knights fell until all the men and leaders of men were gone, and those who survived retreated wherever they could. Hiding in caves, rivers, and low mountains.

It was then that the leaders of women made their stand. While the rest of the island was consumed as far as Halffarthing, they organized resistance and guerilla attacks, trying to make the occupying armies from Murhn pay more dearly for their stay than it was worth.

Nearly a generation later, when the Darkness was pushed back, Teal was key in organizing strikes at military installations all along the Northern counties. To many Teal was the turning point that made their victory final and not fading.

But something else had happened in that generation. Order had changed, and the Matriarchs had taken firm control. With Teal free, they set about turning Teal into a strong matriarchy, to free the oppressed women of the island and give them a chance to control their own destinies.

Unfortunately, with each passing generation this belief became more devout and dogmatic, until the rights of men became completely secondary. At this time, resistance of a new kind was appearing. Walls were painted with "Equal Rights for Men!", underwear was burned in the street, and everywhere the cries of mistreatment arose. For the time being these cries fell on deaf ears. Most men liked their place in life, and of what concern were the complaints of a few second class citizens?

Some of these second class troublemakers were presently being auctioned off in the public square to a large throng of women, wearing humiliating and revealing outfits.

"Oh, I want that one!" shouted one woman jingling a pouch of coins, "He looks strong, I've got lots of chores to be done!"

The man, wearing only three leather straps connected at the midriff by a metal ring, looked at his own body ashamedly. "Oh! Oh! Can I buy one?" asked Soo, fumbling for her coin pouch.

"NO!" said the others in unison.

Soo was undaunted "But I promise to feed him and take care of him!" she said, only half jokingly. The others ignored her.

"You know, I don't think anywhere on Gassenti are women treated this bad,"_said Asyra.

"Not in this century," said Victoria, "According to the history books, before the Darkness this place was already pretty dark. Women were property, had no rights, and were traded between people and even used as collateral in business. The way the Matriarchs of today see it, this is just payback, to balance the scales."

"Problem is, in a hundred years time this graffiti will become a revolution, and then the men will want payback."

Victoria smiled, "I can see you've studied history, too."

"Only the parts with treasure in it. Come on, let's split up. Asyra, find a boat to Dogford and the rest of us will find information, see if Sephilith made a stop here or not. Nari, go with Asyra."

"Actually, it might be easier to negotiate passage on a ship without him."

"You're probably right. Okay, then, go with-" to her surprise she found Nari was already sitting beside Soo, waiting for them to leave.

"Uh, yeah, go with Soo... and don't eat anyone unless you have to."

Perah-Perah did her disappearing trick again and skulked around the town. This time she came across some kind of back alley deal going down. Curiosity and the chance to learn a few things drew her near.

They were both men, one was a short shady character that just screamed "Thief", and someone undoubtedly would have if he appeared at any kind of social gathering. The other was dressed in plain merchant clothing and had unremarkable features. The thief handed the merchant a scroll case.

"You know what to do, hey?"

"Of course," said the merchant, "it should be no trouble. This will clear my debt?"

"Free and clear, my friend. Emphasis on free. Screw it up, however, and you're better off dead."

The merchant looked annoyed, "What IS it with you thieves and threats? It's not like I don't understand the severity of the situation."

The thief took on an explanatory tone, "Well, you see, first of all, you don't understand the severity of the situation. You understand only what you have been told, and that's all you'll ever understand with us, hey? Second, threats are expected from us. If we didn't threaten no one and do the occasional killin' to back it up, we'd get no respect. Now you see, ORDINARILY we'd say 'Screw it up and you're better off dead', but would let you off if there was sufficient groveling and increased debt involved. But in THIS case..." his eyes gleamed a little, "we mean it."

The merchant rolled his eyes, "Harold, you're my cousin, would you stop that?"

"No, seriously! Word from on top, honest! And I've been dying to do that eye gleam thing for ages. Got it just about right, hey? Anyway, they says- what was that?"

Perah-Perah cursed. She had bumped into the barrel beside her by accident and almost broke the spell. She could sense it was hanging by a thread. At first she stayed still, but noticed the thief getting closer, wicked curved blade drawn.

"Someone here, hey?" said the thief, inching closer.

The merchant rolled his eyes, "Showing off again, Harold?"

The thief turned back, "No, really, there was-"

And Perah-Perah was off. She bolted around the corner, shattered fragments of spell drifting down like confetti behind her. To the cries of, "I knew it, hey!?" she ran through alleyway and around corner until she could cast the spell a second time, and loose her trail on the well traveled roads.

Asyra found a boat bound for Dogford Proper, but there was a problem.

"More hammocks?" said Asyra with a frown.

The captain shrugged "Sorry, ma'am, we don't normally take on passengers, an' I doubt you'd want to stay with the rest of the crew. They can be a might feisty when they haven't had shore leave."

"Why haven't they had shore leave?"

The captain shook his head, "Last time I let that happen two of my men never came back. Some say they were seduced by the local women... they're pretty uninhibited you know, others that they were kidnaped and sold as slaves. No ma'am, Teal is off limits for my crew."

Asyra nodded her understanding, "Okay, so what about cots? Do you have any cots?"

"No, but you could buy some around here if it means that much to you."

Asyra winced, remembering how many times she fell out the night before, "Yes, it certainly does."

Rosileen, Soo, and Victoria sat in a tavern... of sorts. It just seemed to be the thing to do. They didn't find any useful information, but saw a lot of guys, some of them cute, serving drinks. It took some effort to keep Soo from exploring her hormonal urges in more detail. Nobody had stopped Nari from coming in, and he was currently doing his impression of a giant earmuff under the table.

Perah-Perah came in and took a seat. Considering the bar name was The Happy Bonded Man, she almost didn't, thinking it was the wrong kind of place.

After she sat down and looked around, it turned out she was right all along.

"This place is a brothel!" she exclaimed under her breath.

Victoria shrugged, "It's also a tavern. So was the place in Halffarthing Proper."

Perah-Perah hadn't actually gone in, but knew what it was like, "Yes, but at least they were dressed more..." she watched a man serve a round of drinks to the girls dressed in nothing but a cup, "...respectfully."

"Being respectable and male here is a privilege, not a right," said Victoria, "You have to get used to the fact that every culture is different. In most cases there is only differing cultural attitudes, and right or wrong don't enter into the big picture."

"There is where fashion is concerned. That was my only complaint."

"Oh, well in that case, I agree. If there were Fashion Paladins, this place would be a pile of rubble by now. Want a drink?"

Perah-Perah shook her head, "No, we have to go. Asyra got us a boat, and it leaves in an hour. Finish up and meet us at the dock," she paused for a moment, "And be careful, there are some shady characters around with corny accents. Stick to the public areas. Nari, come." she stood from the table and left, Nari loyally tagging alongside her.

They met at the dock shortly thereafter. Asyra had purchased only four cots since Soo didn't need one. As they got on board, however, Perah-Perah had a sinking feeling in her stomach. She recognized one of the other passengers on board.

It was the merchant from the alley.

On board the ship the five of them had a conference in their empty room. Perah-Perah informed them about the incident in the alley, and how that same person was now on the ship.

"What do you think it's all about?" asked Soo.

Victoria frowned, "Maybe the Thieves Guild is onto us. Maybe he's supposed to kill us?"

Perah-Perah shook his head, "A merchant? I think not. We deserve at least assassins! I'd be insulted otherwise. No, it has to do with whatever that message is he's carrying."

Asyra added her two copper pieces, "There is no reason to think it has anything to do with us or the mission. So far this is just a coincidence of direction and timing. It could just as easily be that some unrelated criminal activity is going on in Dogford for which this person is the key."

Perah-Perah nodded, "That's true, but the thief did seem insistent on the importance of the situation, above and beyond the usual threats. It would be wise if we kept an eye on them, and kept in each other's sight. I don't want anyone in a dark corner of the ship alone."

The girls nodded. They didn't see the merchant that night. Apparently he had rented the captain's personal quarters for a large sum of money ("Why didn't I think of that?" Asyra had said) and kept himself locked in. Which was just fine as far as they were concerned. Nevertheless, they took turns at watch that night.

Again, the night was uneventful, and aside from watch duty, everyone got a decent amount of rest.

Soo was the first one awake, and the first one on deck. She saw off in the distance, almost blocked out by the sun rising in the west, the form of a ship. She woke up Perah-Perah and showed her.

"Alright. At least we know we're faster. Maybe we can board her ship before she has a chance to dock and escape, or at least reach the dock before her," she went to the Captain and offered him twice what they were paying him if he could catch up with them.

"I'm already going as fast as possible," said the captain, "But I'll do my best."

Perah-Perah nodded, then woke up the others.

It seemed like they gained on Sephilith's ship at a snail pace. But they did gain, and it started to make them nervous.

By mid-day the sun and moon had come to a mutual agreement and decided to keep out of each others way. Perah-Perah at this time could make out the colors of the ship's flag. It was definitely a Halffarthing ship.

Around this time the merchant made his first appearance, to vomit over the side of the ship.

Leaning up against the mast with Soo, Victoria could empathize, "Guess he doesn't like the ships food either," she commented, looking a little green herself. She closed the book she was using to teach Soo to read, "You're doing alright, but let's wait until I feel a little better, okay?"

Soo nodded, but then pointed to a page that fell out of the book, "What is that?"

"Huh?" said Victoria, then noticed Soo pick up a leaf of paper from the deck.

Soo scanned the sheet for words she recognized, "...You spelt "tail" wrong."

Victoria checked the mistake, "No, that's a different tale. T-A-L-E. As in an interesting story, not like a dog's tail." "I dunno, some dogs have interesting stories."

"You know what I mean."

"So you're writing a story?"

"A song, actually. I got a feeling this little adventure of ours will be worth at least a song or two. In fact, that girl Penny back in Halffarthing has got a song all her own. But I'm more interested in this mission. I mean, we don't really know what it's all about. The sisters aren't telling us everything, and I don't blame them. But I want to see this through to the end. This could put me back on the map."

"What map?" asked Soo innocently.

"THE map. You know, make me famous."

"Famous people have maps? To where, their houses?"

Victoria rolled her eyes, thinking about the to maps sold in Scry Proper to unwary tourists, "Well, yes, sometimes, but that's not what I mean. I mean people will remember who I am, and I won't be just the person who used to sing for the Vanguard. The person who left just before they made it big. The person who uses all their best songs as if she wrote them. They'll say, 'That's Victoria Ravenherst, the best songwriter in Gassenti!'"

She slumped down a little further down the mast, and muttered, "That's what they'll say."

"Getting cloudy," said Soo, looking up.

Victoria misunderstood her meaning, "Don't worry, I'm fine."

"No, I mean it looks like rain."

Indeed the sky had gone from warm and sunny to cloudy and cool very quickly. Looking up at the sky it was clear it was happening TOO quickly. It was as if the clouds were appearing out of NOWHERE and billowing out in all directions.

They started directly overhead of Sephilith's ship.

And where was that chanting coming from?

Perah-Perah and Asyra saw it first. The merchant was reading a spell from the scroll case! The water around the other ship began to churn, and lightning threatened overhead.

"Damn!" said Perah-Perah, "He's going to sink the ship!"

"Why?" asked Asyra.

"Who knows, but we got to stop him!"

Asyra rolled up her sleeve, "I've got it!" she said, launching a single magic missile right at the scroll. It passed right through the scroll and struck the merchant through the eye, killing him instantly.

There was a change in the air, but not the one they were expecting. Without the caster keeping control of the spell, the storm went wild, and spread out, encompassing both ships in a violent gale. Thunder and lightning clashed and rattled, and some very confused fish were sucked up in a gigantic spout and rained down on everyone.

"I'll handle it, huh, sis?!"

"I wasn't trying to do THAT! This is bad!"

"Aye, but at least we have dinner!" the captain hollered, fighting with the wheel, "If this keeps up, the ship will go down for sure, we've got to try to get to the shore!"

"It's no use!" cried out one of the crew, "The waves are getting too high, and they're pushing us farther out!"

"Turn into the wave, you fools!"

When the main mast snapped like a twig it was clear things were hopeless. The ship was doomed. It was time to think about survival.

Victoria grabbed Perah-Perah's arm, "What about our horses?"

"Feria!" gasped Perah-Perah.

"Sharle!" gasped Asyra.

"Paid For!" gasped Soo.

One of the crew vainly tried to take down the last sail before the second mast broke, "Forget them! Get in the boats and grab something that can float!!" he said this just before a wave washed him overboard and out of history.

Everyone headed for one of the boats, but Perah-Perah headed down below, "If the boat is sinking, I'll open up the cargo hatch, maybe they can swim to shore!"

"But the boat will sink!" cried Asyra.

"I'll sink anyway! At least they have a chance!"

Asyra nodded, "We'll wait as long as we can!"

"Don't worry, sis, I can swim! Just look for me and get ready to haul me in the boat!"

Asyra hesitated, then nodded again. She ran to the escape boat with Victoria and Rosileen.

"Come on, Soo!" yelled the halfling, "Get in the boat!"

But Soo was nowhere to be found.

The boat was breaking apart. Under the decks, you could hear the strain, creak, and snap of timber. When she reached the cargo hold, the water was already three feet deep and rising fast.

The side of the boat for loading cargo was different than on many ships. Traditionally, cargo was brought onboard from the top, and lowered in with winches. But recently, in order to accommodate livestock and speed up loading time, side loading had become more popular. Such was the case here. There was a ramp leading to the upper half of the boat, securely locked and fastened, but once unlocked, easily opened with a system of pulleys.

Perah-Perah unlocked the side hold and noticed some water leaking through. This didn't bode well. She tried to raise the door, but it was no good. Something too heavy was pressing against the door, and it was the ocean.

The boat suddenly lurched to the other side, almost knocking Perah-Perah on her head, but it was the chance she needed. She pulled the door open and rushed the beasts up the ramp as the ship slid back down...

And got pushed back inside by the onrush of water. The sudden deluge smashed her against the side of the ship, almost knocking her unconscious. But as the pressure equalized and the ship now quickly sank, she managed to swim out of the hold, along with three of the horses. She only hoped they were able to make it to the nearby shore.

Having done all she could for Feria she fought the wave and the currents, trying to keep her head above water and find the escape boat.

She felt something on her shoulder. Something long and wet, but before she could panic she saw the end of a rope in front of her. She grabbed the rope and was pulled backwards. Turning around she saw the escape boat, and Victoria pulling her in. Alone. She climbed in, wet and cold.

"Where's Asyra? And the others?"

"Soo got knocked overboard back on the ship. The rest of the crew got in the other boat, so I'm hoping they found her. Rosileen fell out of the boat in a big wave, and Asyra went in after her. I thought you were one of them!"

For the first time in her life, Perah-Perah truly felt panic, "No! Keep an eye out for her, she's out there somewhere!" she frantically coiled the rope so it could be thrown properly.

In the distance she saw a head bob above water, with long dark hair.

"ASYRA!" Perah-Perah yelled above the storm, the person waved an arm at them and a faint 'help' could be heard.

"Paddle towards her!" she commanded. Victoria wanted to tell her there was no way in hell she could make any headway in this storm, but the tone of her voice told her to shut up and just try.

Perah-Perah aimed the coil of rope as best she could. Stood, swung....


She pulled the rope back in, coiled it up, and tried again. Stood, swung...


She coiled the rope even faster, but when she looked to find Asyra again there was nothing but an angry unforgiving sea.

Perah-Perah's jaw quivered, ever so slightly.