A celebration of grand proportions had been ordered upon the arrival of their last day with the pirates of the Misfortune. Fine ales and wines from the Northlands were brought in, and many meats were prepared. The lower floor of the inn smelled of minced meats and sweet sauces. Incense burned in the corners, and a hired minstrel was thrumming his lute near the fireplace. No one but the crew and friends were admitted that night. It wasn’t uncommon for this sort of thing to happen, but it sparked jealousy and contempt in lesser captains and crews.
Vesper Razorback couldn’t have cared less. He was celebrating the return of a daughter long lost and her budding romance, though the second part was still thought to be confidential in Emerald’s eyes. Morning would see the tiny band, now weighted with a wizard and his assistant, riding back south towards harm, and Vesper had every intention of sending them off right.
Halfway through the festivities, right when the old sailors turned to ancient tales and dreams of glory — inspired by the alcohol, no doubt — Emerald made her way through the crowd and pulled Nathan away. His stomach was too full from so much food to have room for more wine, so he offered no resistance. It took a while to shift through the crowd, for most of her father’s crew was assembled, but they finally gained the top of the stairwell.
She leaned close and kissed his lips, deep and hungry. The tip of her tongue slid into his mouth, and they moaned together. Smiling, she pulled away.
“What was that for?” he asked, chasing her further down the hall.
“Because I can,” she purred.
He smiled and was upon her before she could blink. His weight gently forced her against the wall, pinning her arms above her head. He let his passions out, and she more than welcomed it. His kisses went from her mouth down her neck, stopping at the shallow between her breasts and trailing back up.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you asked me,” she panted through breaths.
Their combined heat was dizzying with lust. Neither had felt so alive in years. Leaning close, she nipped his ear and let her hands run through his hair.
“Not yet,” she whispered. “Make love to me first.”
Fueled by desire, Nathan hefted her lithe body in his arms and carried her down to their room where they stayed until a pirate came through with the wake-up call.
A now-empty mug in his hands, Vesper wiped the froth from his lips and roared. The ale was some of the finest he’d had, and there was plenty more to consume before the suns rose. Snake Eyes, deciding not to be outdone, was matching him mug for mug. He wasn’t so sure it was a sound idea, but he’d already come to accept that they were all going to die anyway, so he might as well enjoy what time he had left. The old pirate slapped him on the back and ordered another round with a hearty laugh.
The images of his daughter and her lover escaping caught the corner of his eye, and a sudden sadness entered him. He loved her with all his heart but didn’t know where to begin when it came to being a father. His life was spent ranging the seas, full of conquest and fortunes. Victory and defeat were often the same, for sacrifices needed to be made. Vesper could feel another sacrifice coming on.
The serving girl returned with another tray of ale, bringing him back to the task at hand. Foam spilled down the sides, and the pirates cheered. Snake Eyes raised his glass and laughed, hardly noticing the contest brewing between them.
“Lad,” Vesper told him. “You’re a fine young man, but I’ll be damned to the Seven Hells if I let an offworlder outdo me when it comes to Helscape ale!”
The pirates cheered as both men put their mugs to their lips and drank deep. Festivities ranged on into the middle hours of the night. Of Gage, there was no sign, not that anyone actually looked for him. The Mad Hosking had disappeared as well. It wasn’t like him to be social these days. Instead, he chose to watch the dangers unfold and earn the secrets of the night atop the roof. The Viper sat off in a quiet corner smoking his pipe and enjoying a drink or two. He liked the company even less than Hosking and had much on his mind. The dreams from a week ago haunted him every time his eyes closed.
Four tables had been put together in the center of the floor, and there sat Kane, Xill, Thalon and Kuln. Thalon spoke to Kane of recent dangers on the northern routes through the Waste and warned him of a greater threat brewing. The other two talked about different types of food they specialized in. Xill was an avid cook back home and enjoyed the process of learning new recipes. It was a secret no one in the Imperium had ever found out. To them, he was a stone-faced killer in the heat of battle.
Finally, when the fun started dying down, Vesper climbed atop the center tables and barked for silence. The sudden quiet was deafening.
“My friends, this has been a momentous occasion with much cause for celebration!” he began. “Not only have I found my beloved daughter after all these years, but I have found her in love! Perhaps there will be grandchildren someday.”
His crew laughed and exchanged handshakes.
“Sadly, we must bid these fair people farewell. Dawn will see them steal my daughter away towards the Wastes where I’m afraid great peril awaits.” His eyes leveled on Kane. “It’s not my place to try and talk you out if this folly. A man must be able to make decisions for himself in this world. Use the wizard, Aradias Kane, and use him well. He is all that stands before you and doom.
“But enough talk of gloom and despair. Gentlemen, raise your glasses so that we toast this brave band of souls.” They cheered again, as eager to finish their mugs as to praise their friends.
“May the light of the Gods go in your presence, and may you only know victory,” Vesper announced, citing an old pirate saying handed down through the generations.
“And may someone wake up this young soldier and put him in his bed. He should have known better than to try and out-drink the captain of the Misfortune!”
They looked to where Snake Eyes lay snoring with his head on the table.
Swift winds raced through the city streets, fueled by the combined heat of the rising suns and an erupting volcano to the east. All told, the world reminded Nathan of Hell.
Dark red skies swirled with black clouds and wicked lightening. Strange creatures walked through the mists, casting only shadows towards civilization. He couldn’t wait to get back to the relative normalcy of the desert. On the other hand, he was lying next to the woman he loved and in the company of good friends.
The light tapping on his door was the last thing he wanted. Helscape’s twin suns were still rising, and he knew most of the crew was in no condition to begin the day. Sounds of their merriment had kept him awake most of the night. Emerald had seemed to have no trouble falling asleep. They’d made love for as long as their bodies could take and washed in the shower before going back to bed. She had fallen asleep the moment her head touched the pillow. He’d wanted to, but there was too much on his mind.
She still hadn’t mentioned what she was thinking about the question, as Nathan had come to call it. Her unexpected giddiness and provocative nature sent him thinking many thoughts and he was unsure of them all. He tried thinking back to the return from Kratchen. They’d had plenty of time during those three days, but she didn’t really sit down to talk to her father the way he would have expected if she chose to go with him.
The tapping grew more persistent, and he slid into his jeans, trying to make himself at least partly presentable. The door opened, and he found himself staring into Thalon’s eyes. They were bloodshot and heavy from the combination of too much alcohol and not enough sleep.
“I hope this is really important,” Nathan warned.
“Trust me, offworlder,” Thalon replied. “I wouldn’t have gotten up if it weren’t.”
“So what’s the deal?”
“Captain Razorback wishes to speak with his daughter at her earliest convenience.”
Nathan instinctively turned to check her sleeping form. His heart warmed at the sight of her tanned body half-covered with the sheet. Everything from the base of her spine was visible. He absorbed the curve of her back, the hard muscles, and the gentle rise and fall of her breathing. The way her hair draped across her shoulders. He knew at that moment that he was in love.
“He’s awaiting her in room three.” Thalon turned away and walked off.
“Thanks,” Nathan mumbled.
“Thank me by hurrying up so that I may get a few more hours of sleep,” he called over his shoulder.
Gage was the last to climb aboard the wagon, letting his friend Klaa go ahead of him. He didn’t care for riding horses much these days, and though the wagon was going to be uncomfortable enough, a little spell here and there just might ease some of the aches. It was the dawn of a perfect day to begin this last part of his sad tale. Elsewhere, the suns were shining down upon the stirring world, lending the desert a firm glow. A good way to begin the journey, he thought again.
Vesper and his crew stood gathered to bid them farewell. Kane offered them a final wave and rode off towards the Angril River. Emerald smiled to her father, Nathan’s hand in hers. Nathan watched her eyes sparkle in a different way. One day, he was going to have to ask her what those two had talked about. For now, he was content to see her happy again. She found out when Redemption was miles away that leaving wasn’t as hard as she thought.