The Skull in Shadow glided through the sea. Its prow cleaved the calm waters smoothly. Aldrek the mistweaver stood to the rear, motionless as if entranced, channeling his Gift of weather-magic to funnel wind into the ship’s billowing grey sails. Propelled by the young weather mage’s Gift, the ship almost flew across the water at thrice normal speed.
The light of the newly risen sun glimmered on the surface of the sea, granting it an almost glassy sheen. Scintillating rainbows of light refracted through the natural prism of the water to play across the oak of the ship’s hull where it reared up out of the sea.
“Avast, ye bluidy layabouts! Mind yer duties, an’ nae bluidy lazing about!” Rathgar, the first mate, roared at the sailors on deck. The red-bearded dwarf strode the deck from fore to aft and back, keen eyes missing nothing, making certain that all was as it should be.
Atop the forecastle, Maarek Goldgrin stood and calmly watched the sea ahead through an ornate telescope as his bellowing first mate kept the crew on their toes. A ray of sunlight glinted off the gold tooth that gave the captain his nickname as he allowed himself a smile. Ship and crew alike had been through a lot over the past few tendays, since their harrowing departure from the Isle of Crows, and the captain knew they would all rest more easily once their home port was at least in sight.
“Ship ahoy!” Came the call from the lookout up in the crow’s nest. Maarek frowned. They were still days away from land – any land, not merely their own destination – and, moreover, returning from a benighted place where outsiders were killed on sight, not welcomed. Any other ship in these waters was likely to be up to no good.
The captain’s suspicions were validated with the next call from above.
“Sea wolves, Cap’n! Sea wolves!”
Maarek cursed under his breath. His fingers flickered through the air in the symbol of appeasement to Maelra, dreaded goddess of storms and sea hazards. Pirates – sea wolves, to the Maragashic people – were, after all, one of the deadliest hazards on the water.
The captain peered through his telescope again, and bared his teeth in a grimace at the sight ahead. Not one but two ships approached, moving swiftly, clearly on an intercept course. Sitting high and light on the water, not low like a merchantman, they were clearly hunters rather than prey, and their billowing, wind-filled sails were jet black.
“Ill times, Cap’n,” Rathgar the dwarf declared as he rejoined Maarek on the forecastle. “Yon reavers’re nae friend tae any honest vessel afloat. They’ll be after slaying an’ stealing, ye mark me words.”
“We’ve nothing to interest them,” Maarek growled. “We’re not carrying the sort of cargo that they’re after.”
The captain hoped he was right. The ship carried no trade goods nor riches, after all. On this voyage, its treasure was a half-dozen magically Gifted children from the eastern tribes across the sea, rescued from death at the hands of their own kin and bound for the Black Skull School of magic in Maraport. Not the kind of cargo that could easily be sold, and even slavers tended to steer clear of the Gifted. But these pirates had no way of knowing that.
“Secure the children below, First Mate,” Maarek instructed. “Call our necromancer passengers up on deck – they can damned well help fight for their charges, as the Dread Lady is my witness! Mistweaver, turn your winds on those black-sailed scavengers – if you can becalm them, we can outrun them! And if not, we won’t go down easily. We’ve weathered storms, deep goblins and sea monsters on this voyage, and we won’t fall to reavers now! They’ll regret ever picking a fight with us.”