A Captain’s Duty Part Two

This is a continuation of a commissioned piece for a role-playing module. My piece was never picked up, which is fine, because I hated it. You can find part one at A Captain’s Duty Part One

Chapter Two:

Preparations
   The Speckled Dragon was a one-story affair with a sign that slumped off the side of the building. It was likely an easy fix – a screw that needed tightening or a support that needed to be nailed back in – but this wasn’t the kind of place that concerned itself with fixing anything more than a lack of impairment.

   Wood chips covered the floor inside. It was unclear whether this was an intentional aesthetic or a byproduct of years of stragglers shuffling their feet through the door. Lanterns hung from the rafters at random intervals but were few enough in number that the tavern felt hours later in the day than the world outside. It cast an almost sinister glow on the forms hunched over their drinks. The brightest spot inside was a crescent-shaped bar in the back corner. The person tending it – human, in a rare occasion – had a fixed smile on his face, like a devil satisfied with the sins he was selling.

   Sultani and humans sat together in here. Korkarin saw a hariq at a table by himself, red tattooed arms crossed over his chest. A low buzzed passed through the room, two dozen mumbled conversations blurring into one.

   “You lying, cheating scum!” broke the monotony.

   The outburst came from a baunkar who had shot to his feet, so forcefully it sent his chair skittering backwards before ultimately overturning. He stood taller than most maadmi but would only come up to mid-torso on a human or sultani. Thick black hair fell off his head into a braid with several jeweled totems woven into it. A few days’ worth of stubble cast a shadow on his cheeks. His eyes blazed with anger.

   “You said you would give me a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. That was the bargain we both agreed upon, by the Prosperous and the Flow. You won’t welch on me now, boy! I won’t allow it!”

   “Calm down, little guy,” said one of three male humans seated at the table. He looked to his companions and smirked. “I appreciate the work, but I got to thinking about it all afterwards. I couldn’t find it in me to figure out a good reason to pay anything to… what do your people call the unclean? You know. I shouldn’t have to pay a chuta like you.”

   The baunkar’s face went blank. Something dark lurked behind his eyes and he stiffened. The others in tavern turned away for a moment, convinced the insult had been so publicly cutting that it would send the stocky man out the door.

   They couldn’t have been more wrong.

   The air sucked in towards the baunkar and seconds later his arms were wrapped in brilliant ivory bands. His elbows curved out into sharp tusks that glowed every bit as bright. His right forearm crashed down onto the surface of the table, shattering it more or less in half. The man who had insulted him now sputtered surprise as he jolted from his seat and backpedaled. His two friends fell aside, stunned.

   At the door, Korkarin swore and stepped forward, hand slapping down on the pommel of his sword. He made it two steps before Bren grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against one of the support pillars.

   “What the hell?” he asked.

   “Don’t, Tal.”

   “It’s against the law to wield veils within city limits, Bren. Let go of me before he really hurts someone.”

   “You heard what that guy called him.”

   “I could give a damn if some baunkar gets his feelings hurt by a little name-calling. He’s breaking the law. How would it look if I just stood by and watched this after the meeting I just had?”

   Bren tightened her grip and kept him against the pillar. “What that human said is more than just name-calling, Tal. You know that. You don’t just sling that word around.”

   Korkarin stopped and glared at his friend. Behind her, he could make out the baunkar punching the man who taunted him and immediately pivoting to headbutt one of his companions. The patrons that had been eating and drinking around them simply picked up their plates and mugs and made room for the fight.

   “What do you care?” he asked Bren.

   “I care because that’s the guy we’re here to bring along with us.”

   Korkarin froze and shot a look over to the baunkar. He had one hand wrapped the human’s throat, pinning him up against the wall. Korkarin turned back to Bren.

   “No way. Not a chance.”

   Bren scowled. “Don’t be like that, Tal. He’s good people.”

   “You said he had a temper problem. You didn’t say he was unhinged. He’s beating in the faces of restaurant customers in public with an illegal use of veils. I can’t not step in.”

   “Okay. Fine, but will you trust me enough to do this my way?”

   It was Korkarin’s turn to make a face. “I’m sure we can find a middle ground.”
   Darian Andigar was only peripherally aware of what he was doing. He could see the drops of blood flinging away from the man’s lips and nose each time his hand pulled back but he was unable to feel his own knuckles. There should have been some kind of sensation. A throbbing from the impacts. Pain, maybe, from catching the skin of his fingers on the man’s teeth, or a broken bone from landing a punch poorly.

   Instead, there was nothing. His arms glowed white. He recognized the veil. It was one he used often in the thick of battle whenever he was out of the city on a job. But he wasn’t on a job now. He wasn’t even out of the city, was he? So why…

   Something roiled inside his chest and coursed up into his throat and shoulders. His mind drifted to each part of his body. His feet were planted firmly with the left slightly forward in order to center his balance. His ribs heaved with breath. Not the breath of exhaustion, but that of adrenaline. His left hand had moved away from the human’s throat; instead, he crossed the arm across the man’s chest, bracing him against the wall. His right hand had stopped jabbing. It now gripped the man’s chin, forcing it down so the man could look Andigar in the eyes.

   Andigar’s neck was tight with strain and trembled violently as condemnations exploded from him. Heat radiated from his cheeks. His mouth was fixed in a snarl that exposed every one of his crooked teeth. His eyes itched and he looked out from them as one would peer through a window.

   He was angry. Furious, even. The words he yelled were his own, thoughts given liberation, but they contained a hateful fervor that seemed inappropriate. They were words better left unsaid. The thing in his chest twisted down into his stomach and he almost vomited. That sudden shift snapped him back into focus.

   With wide eyes, he stepped back from the man and let him slump to the ground. His arms, tired and sore, dropped to his sides. Unsure, the other two humans he had assaulted moved in to check on their friend. A buzzing in his ears gave way to someone’s shouted voice.

   “Darian Andigar! I say again, step away from those men and drop your veil!”

   The baunkar turned and saw two sultani approaching him. One, he recognized. Bren Dendalion wore a worried expression on her face as she walked towards him. Her hands flicked together in a series of patterns he recognized from reconnaissance duties.

   Relax, friend, she was saying. Cooperate and it will be okay.

   He flicked his eyes to the other one. He was a stern-looking male dressed in red with a Captain’s Crest pinned to his lapel and his hand gripping the hilt of a curved saber. Andigar released the veil around his arms; the ivory hue quickly faded back into nothingness.

   There was no resistance as Bren bound his arms behind him at the wrist. The other sultani checked to make sure none of the humans were seriously maimed or worse, then fished a folded paper from one of his pockets and placed it on the bar.

   “That’s a form requesting formal recompense from the Sultanate for the damages incurred to your establishment during the course of an official investigation. You have fourteen days to file it. On day fifteen, the form expires and the Sultanate will not be held liable for any repairs or compensation to you or this business. You’ll be out of luck. Do you understand?”

   “Uh, yeah…”

   The captain nodded. “Good. Fourteen days.”

   He returned to the baunkar and took one of his arms. Bren took the other and together, they led their prisoner to the exit. Andigar made no eye contact with either of them as he walked. He didn’t raise his head at all.
   The evening air was cool on their faces as they left the tavern, a relief from the musk that had lingered inside. Overhead, the sky was turning from blue to purple, frayed at the edges with reds and oranges as the sun crept down the horizon. Korkarin paid no mind; he was focused on steering the baunkar from behind, one hand gripped tightly around Andigar’s upper left arm.

   “Where are you going, Tal?” Bren asked.

   “Away from the Dragon,” he muttered back. “I’ve got to at least make it look like I’m doing my job.”

   “You might be the only guard who actually worries about keeping up appearances. Look, Darian is a good guy. You don’t have to jerk him around so much.”

   Korkarin said nothing. He pushed Andigar through a group of humans dressed in their finest clothing, ignoring their compliments and shaking his head so they knew that no, he did not have a second to talk about the future or anything else they were selling.

   “Tal,” Bren hissed.

   “What?” Korkarin snapped back. He stopped short, pulling back a little too tightly on the bindings around the baunkar’s wrists. Andigar grunted but said nothing.

   Bren came up close and spoke in a tight tone just loud enough for the other sultani to hear. “Darian is my friend. He has been a trusted friend for several years and I owe him my life several times over. You told me you trusted me, and I led you to him because he’s the one I trust enough to help you, too. Don’t be so rough on him. He came with you without giving you any trouble.”

   “If you hadn’t been there or it hadn’t been us who arrived, he very well could have killed that man. Or multiple men. Even if he hadn’t, unleashing veils in Mekan is illegal for anyone but city guards. Even for us, it’s a last resort.”

   “But it was us who showed up, and he did stop when we told him to.” Bren put her hand on Korkarin’s chest. “Friend to friend, you and me… you know I’m not lying when I tell you Darian is of better use to you by your side when we leave Mekan than he would be in a cell for roughing up some human that had it coming.”

   Korkarin looked down at her hand and then back to her purple eyes. Purple. Only ten percent of sultani had a color other than silver. It had been the topic of the conversation that started their friendship so many years ago. He sighed and felt some of the tension leave him.

   “Alright,” he said with a nod. He nudged Andigar forward. “Up here. We’re going left, down the alley.”

   The passage wasn’t far, nor was it occupied when they entered it. Tal pulled a small knife free from his belt and cut through the baunkar’s bindings. Andigar rubbed at his wrists and turned to face the two sultani. He kept his expression humble.

   “Much appreciated,” he said. “So. You’re a friend of Bren’s?”

   “My oldest friend,” Bren answered instead. “This is Captain Tal Korkarin of Mekan’s, uh, esteemed city guards.”

   Andigar snuffed. “I don’t understand you folks what want to pursue that line of work. You want to get your boots dirty, there’s plenty more freedom in the mercenary life.”

   Korkarin narrowed his eyes. “There wasn’t about to be more freedom. Not for you. It’s only by the grace of my history with Bren that you aren’t in a cell. You travel with her group, so I doubt this is your first time in Mekan. You know what the rules are.”

   The baunkar’s eyes flared for a moment, but the anger failed to take hold and embarrassment rushed to take its place. “Aye, Captain. You’re right. I weren’t myself. I got my demon to wrestle, same as anyone.”

   “If we’re being honest, most do a better job of wrestling it.” Korkarin sized Andigar up. “You don’t much look like the religious type, so I’d say vakla is out.”

   “Then there’s the kamagura, aye. You may know about my culture, Captain, but I’ve a feeling you ain’t know much more than the basics, stuck here in the capital as you are. Killer, priest, worker, or dirt. That’s how the folks back home like to square themselves away as, but it don’t mean much to me anymore. I’m out in the muck and the blood for the coin now, hear?”

   “Alright, boys,” Bren said, stepping between them. “By the Sower, are you done? We breathe the same air, don’t we? If we’re going to be spending a lot of time together, we’re going to have to figure out how to get along.”

   Andigar blinked. “I don’t follow.”

   Korkarin sighed. Bren shushed him. “Tal’s been tasked to look into some missing messengers and delayed shipments.”

   “Shipments of what?”

   “Rice. And, uh…clothes. Some clothing.”

   The baunkar blinked again. “…I still don’t follow, Bren. What part of that concerns me?”

   “It doesn’t,” Korkarin said.

   “Shut up, Tal,” Bren shot back. To Andigar, she said, “After discussing the situation, Tal and I have some theories that this little mission might need a few extra hands. In case something were to happen, you know? If something unexpected were to pop up? You get it.”

   “So get them. He’s a captain, right?”

   Korkarin said nothing.

   “Tal’s method of operation – that being that he follows the law pretty strictly – has left him without a surplus of friends. That’s another reason why sending him alone to investigate feels a little off. I volunteered to go with him on account of our history. I sort of volunteered you, too.”

   “You did what? Why would you do that?”

   “I told him I could trust you to be capable and reliable. We’re short on viable options in that regard. Tal doesn’t have anybody else and all my other friends from growing up are either dead or completely inept. I only know the people in our band and of everyone, you’re the one I put the most stock in.”

   Andigar scowled. “That was a mistake, lass. I’m in it for the money, same as the rest. As I’ve heard no offer from either of you so far, I’m assuming there ain’t none to be had.”

   “There isn’t,” Korkarin said.

   “There you have it, then. Why would I hang my neck out for some sultani I don’t even know?”

   “Because I’ll toss you into a cell if you don’t,” Korkarin muttered under his breath.

   “What was that?”

   “He’s kidding,” Bren said.

   “I’m not kidding.”

   “Don’t listen to him. Darian, please. You know we probably won’t get a good job so soon after getting back. This thing here? It’ll either be completely uneventful and you’ll have a way to kill the time, or maybe something will happen and I’ll need you there. I would like you there.”

   Andigar mulled it over a minute, chewing at the inside of his lip. He glanced over at the captain. “What’s your take on it, then? I ain’t going if you’re going to be hanging a threat over me the entire time.”

   Korkarin shrugged, looked at Bren, looked back at the other man. “I don’t know you, Darian, but your first impression leaves a lot to be desired. Even so, Bren vouches for you. Her word carries a lot of weight with him. I can’t offer you compensation, but if you agree to come… well, I could use an extra pair of eyes.”

   “Hrm.” Andigar rubbed at his temples. “Fine. For Bren, then, for keeping that scene back at the tavern from getting ugly.”

   “Uglier,” she grinned, and they shared a laugh.

   Tal Korkarin swallowed a sigh and checked either end of the alley. A pair of suqur cast curious glances their way as they walked by but said nothing.

   “We need to leave as soon as possible,” the captain said. “Enough time has passed without definitive answers for the Sultanate. The sooner we discover whether or not a threat is present, the better.”

   “Will three people be enough, you think?” Bren asked.

   “It’ll have to be. No offense, but I wouldn’t want to explain why I’ve recruited an entire band of mercenaries to tag along on a mission this important to the Singer.”

   “I can be ready by morning,” Andigar said.

   Korkarin nodded. “Then be so. Bren will collect you in the morning and we’ll depart then. If you can manage a week’s worth of supplies, pack that. If not, or if our sojourn takes longer, the Sultanate will provide for our needs.”

   “In that case, I seem to remember I’ve only three days of goods to bring with me.”

   “Don’t push your luck, Darian,” the captain said.

   Bren pushed past Korkarin and walked Andigar to the end of the alley. She gave him a tight hug. “Thank you,” she said.

   “Your friend’s a real pleasure to be around.”

   “In his defense, you did just almost beat some people to death.”

   Andigar looked at the ground. “Bren…”

   “Shh. I know. Look, don’t let Tal get to you. We’ll get together tomorrow, spend some time on the road. Before long, you two will be friends. He’s just got to get to know you better, and you need to do the same with him. He’s all heart.”

   “I couldn’t give a damn if he likes me, Dendalion. I’m doing this for you. Just see if maybe you can get me some compensation for my time, hmm?”

   She pecked her lips on the top of his head and patted his cheek. “Of course I’ll look after you. I’ll see you in the morning, okay? Get some sleep try not to get into any more fights.”

   Andigar scowled. He looked past her to Tal Korkarin and gave a short nod of respect. The captain returned it and turned away, starting towards the other end of the alley. After a moment, Bren followed. The baunkar watched them go, took a long, deep breath and focused on using it to quell the rage that still, that always burned inside him.

   Sleep, he thought. Right.
   It was tricky for most humans to get anywhere in life without dipping into an unsavory pastime or two at some point. Gambling, thieving, swindling; humans knew how to talk fast and to make that whirlwind proposal sound good. It was either that or spend their whole life on the street. Or worse: if someone couldn’t sell a lie, if they were caught in some kind of con, the consequences could be as severe as exile or some form of dismemberment.

   Getting caught was a dishonest man’s greatest fear. Whether it was by mumble-mouthing a scam or bumbling a pickpocketing or burgling an occupied home, the threat of prison, maiming or death was very real.

   Mathias Kolter wasn’t a dishonest man, though, not exactly. Sure, he knew how to make wool sound like silk and overripe food sound like a healthy alternative to ‘traditional’ diets, but he wasn’t really a liar. Not unless he had to be, which wasn’t always, and that’s what counted.

   He did know liars. He knew thieves. Thieves were the best friends he could have. They were always keen to buy a round or two, even dinner on occasion. They felt compelled to. Too much wealth after fencing a score would begin to look suspicious, so they bled their own coin purses and gained a few new allies in the process.

   Kolter knew the game and how it worked. He would tell a joke, share a story, and after everyone was getting along, he would pass on a juicy tip. Who was an easy mark, which houses were empty while the owners were out of town. He would let him know which areas of the city were being heavily patrolled and which lazy guards were on shift.

   These were honest tips, useful information. After all, getting caught was a dishonest man’s greatest fear and Kolter was a mostly honest man making sure that wouldn’t happen. That made him valuable. It was because of that that he had accrued a number of reliable friends.

   Well, not exactly friends. More like favor-owers. People that were more than happy to cash in their chits by point an arm or dropping a name, whispering a rumor, naming a street. It was a winding, conflicting road that took him most of the day, but he had found Tal Korkarin once again.

   The captain kept curious company. He had seen the man’s attractive friend and their captive baunkar storm out of the Speckled Dragon only to come together like old comrades not long after. He had watched as the three exchanged words, watched them go their separate ways.

   The whole interaction was deeply strange. A sultani hugging a baunkar? Even on its own, it wasn’t a terribly common occurrence in the capital, but coming on the heels of the altercation in the tavern, the whole thing reeked of conspiracy. Tal Korkarin might not be the clean wheel everyone thought he was.

   Kolter just had to know more.
   The sun overhead was dark orange and mocking. The air around him was shimmering from the heat, distorting the weapons that were strewn around haphazardly across the sand. His own sword was sticking out of the ground at an angle, tip down, blade slick with red. Bodies were scattered irregularly; most were still.

   Bren’s face swam in and out of focus. She was on her knees, sitting back on her feet. Her hands were turned upwards, knuckles just touching the ground. She had her head tilted back, eyes on the sky. Andigar was nowhere to be seen, though he may have been one of the bodies. It was hard to tell.

   They were in some kind of canyon with steep walls made of black stone rising up on either side. He was seated uncomfortably on a large, uneven rock, clothes clinging tightly to him with sweat or blood or both. A human sat across from him, back against the canyon wall, legs splayed out before him. He looked vaguely familiar.

   It was so hot. Why was it so hot? He reached for his waterskin and found it lighter than it should have been. He turned it over in his hands, head swimming from dehydration, and found a large puncture wound in the side. The man across from him let out a raspy laugh.

   “What’s so funny?” he demanded.

   “The water. Of all the things that could have been stabbed: your face, your heart, your lungs… you make it through all of that and the most devastating thrust is through the damn water.”

   “I fail to see the humor in that.”

   The human grinned. “Brother, if you want to greet the Reaper with a sour puss, have at it. Me, I’m just hoping the afterlife has some ice.”

   He didn’t answer. He tried to get up instead, but his body refused to respond. Too much pain, too little energy. Not to mention the heat. What he would give for some shade.

   His eyelids were getting heavy. That judging sun was sapping his strength. So, what? He had traveled a long way and worked hard. Who would judge him for a nap? Let them judge. They could take it up with the Sower later.

   He adjusted his position on the rock just a bit to keep the sharper edges from jabbing into spine. His eyes closed. His chin dropped to his chest. Somewhere in the distance, he heard bells…
   Korkarin jerked awake at the feeling of fingers in his hair. Bren smiled faintly from the edge of the bed. She pulled her hands back into her lap.

   “You were having a nightmare.”

   “What… how did you get in here?”

   “Yana has kept the spare key in the same spot for the last twenty years, Tal. Are you okay?”

   Korkarin rubbed at his eyes and sat up. The blankets bunched up at his waist; the breeze coming through the window felt good on his shirtless torso. If he felt uncomfortable being half-naked in front of his friend, he didn’t show it.

   “I’m fine now.”

   “Do you want to talk about the dream?”

   “Not particularly. It was just a bad dream, same as any other. A little bloodier, maybe.” He yawned. “What time is it?”

   “Near dawn. We should pick up Darian soon.”

   “Alright. Did you wake up my mother when you came in?”

   She shook her head. “She was already up. She said she had an idea that you’d be taking off on behalf of the Singer and couldn’t sleep. When I came in, she had already put together half a dozen meals for us to take with us.”

   Korkarin gaped. “Did she say anything to you?”

   “She told me to come check on you. Do you think I would just sneak into your room and watch you sleep without permission?”

   “I mean, kind of. It seems like something you would do.”

   “Heh. Maybe. Blame this one on your mother. She wants grandkids. Anyway, you’re up now, so let’s go. Get dressed.”

   He nodded and waited. When she didn’t get up, he looked at her pointedly.

   “Well?”

   “What?”

   He gestured toward the door. “Do you mind? I need to get dressed.”

   A coy grin played across Bren’s lips. “So get dressed, Tal. We’re all adults here.”
   They walked together in silence, eyes forward as Bren led him to the small inn where most of her fellow mercenaries had chosen to rent out rooms while in Mekan. Their packs were settled comfortably on their shoulders. Lazy birds rode the morning currents across a tangerine sky above them, no doubt looking for the worms proverbially owed them.

   Korkarin glanced at his friend and immediately regretted it. The smug look on her face had been there since leaving the house. It hadn’t changed even remotely, as if her expression had been frozen by way of a daeva. He made a noise of disgust.

   “Something wrong?” she asked.

   “It was cold.”

   “I wasn’t cold.”

   “You might not have been. The room was cold.”

   “Just because you had the window open doesn’t mean it was cold. Maybe it was fear-related. Were you scared?”

   “No, I wasn’t… what would I be scared of?”

   “I don’t know. You just had a nightmare.”

   He scowled at that. Bren’s look of satisfaction finally changed, though to Korkarin’s consternation, it did so by growing brighter. She was needling him on purpose. He reminded himself that being one’s friend for a long period of time didn’t necessarily mean you had to like them for all of it.

   They could make out Andigar up ahead. He stood next to a sturdy, black pony, his pack already tied tightly to the saddle. He was wearing banded mail with flat, heavy metal shoulder plates. His helm was tucked under his arm, a blocky gray thing that looked as if it had been carved from stone. It was ugly and marred by the marks of countless skirmishes.

   “You retrieved your mount already?” Korkarin asked once they had reached him.

   “You told me to be prepared,” the baunkar said. “So I am.”

   “So you are. Forgive us. Bren and I still need to visit the stables and then we’ll head out.”

   “Are you going to tell me where we’re going yet?”

   “We’ve got two villages to travel to,” Bren said. “One to the south and one to the east. The latter will take some time getting to, as there are no routes that we know of traveling directly to it. We’ll head south first, to Trome.”

   Korkarin nodded. “The nature of our journey may seem frivolous to you, Darian, but it is official business handed down from the most important member of my people. I would appreciate it if you treat it as such while we are gone, with the same discretion and seriousness that is expected of me.”

   “You want extra weapons, Korkarin, you’ve already got them. Ain’t my nature to be flappin’ my lips about the business I get up to. Even business I didn’t want any part of to begin with. Do me a favor, though, and keep your racism under the same lock and key, huh?”

   The captain’s eyes widened. “My racism? Listen here, you-”

   “Hey, hold on!” Bren said, stepping between them again.

   “You’re the leader,” Andigar said. “I’m willing to respect that, but most of your people don’t like most of mine. That’s a fact. Some of the things you said last night, some of the looks you threw my way, they still don’t sit right with me. I’ll follow all the orders you want, as long as they come from a place of respect. I ain’t sultani, but I ain’t dirt, either.”

   Korkarin had a half-dozen biting responses fit to burst from his mouth, but a pleading look from Bren made him swallow them down. He nodded and extended his hand. Andigar clasped it with his own and they gave a single, tense shake.

   “Fresh start. Yesterday never happened. I won’t mention any jail cells. We’ll set out today as… as peers.”

   Andigar grinned. “You practically choked on that, but it’s good enough for me.”

   Bren rolled her eyes. “Sower weeps, Tal, how many times are you going to measure that thing today?”

   “What are you talking about?” Andigar asked.

   “She’s not talking about anything,” Korkarin snapped. “Saddle up. We’re already losing daylight.”

   The baunkar smirked and pulled his helm over his head. His thick left leg lifted up and slid into the stirrup. One quick motion pulled him up and onto the back of his mount. The pony let out a soft neigh before clopping along the road. Just behind, the two sultani shared a look. The trip was going to be longer than its days.
   Muscles strained tight under Garrix’s dark green hide as she pulled, bringing the rope fully around yet another pile of logs. Was this her fiftieth bundle today? Her hundredth? She had lost track hours ago, but such things mattered little to her. However tiring the work might be, it was also necessary. That meant it was also rewarding.

   Once the rope had been knotted properly and the logs were sure to stay together, she used both hands to haul them to one of the waiting carts. Another sobek stood in the back, receiving the bundles and arranging them to maximize the storage capacity.

   “Garrix!” someone called. The sobek handed off her load and turned to see who.

   With long strides, Viskar was making her way towards her through the workers, her long, black tail swishing behind her. As the Nebkha, she struck an imposing figure, tall and thickset and covered in scars as she was. It looked as if her left eye was gone, but it was only sunken into the deep gouge that crossed that side of her face. Her vision remained perfect, something many warriors had made the mistake of doubting over the years.

   However, though Viskar’s appearance encouraged fear and though she was perhaps the deadliest fighter their race had ever seen, there was still one more distinction that set her apart: she was Garrix’s blood sister and her closest friend.

   “Well met, Nebkha,” Garrix said, embracing the black sobek.

   “You don’t call me that. You know that.”

   Garrix grinned. “Sister, then. It has been many weeks since I’ve seen you last. I feared something might have happened to you.”

   “If it had, would you have not heard about it?”

   “You have a point there. Where did you travel?”

   “To the lands ahead. I needed to know what will come next so that we might plan more precisely in our favor. I have mapped the terrain and plotted our course. It won’t be straightforward nor will it be easy, but we will not be blind.”

   “Will you be returned for a while, then? At least long enough to share a meal and tell me of the things you saw, I hope. Did you encounter anyone? Were there strange beasts? I long to taste something new.”

   Viskar laughed, a sound not unlike scraping sandpaper. “Patience, Garrix. Of course we will meet and converse. You would be no good as my general if you were never kept informed.”

   “In your absence, I have felt less like a general and more like the carpenter I never wanted to be.”

   “I thank you for that, my friend. It is all necessary, I assure you. The harvesting is going well, then?”

   “Mostly. We have more than enough wood and have secured a generous amount of oil, but we will need more iron and more steel.”

   “In time. Our ally is securing arrangements as we speak.” Viskar clapped the other sobek on the shoulder. “It is truly good to see you, and on such a beautiful day. Enjoy it. Take a break from this work and come meet me at dusk. At dusk, we will discuss the future.”

A Captain’s Duty Part Three

A Captain’s Duty Part Four

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