Excerpt from book three, more to come:
When the Lion Empire was expanding beyond the mainland of northern Westia to the islands of the Sirrion Sea, they sent many expeditionaries under their banner, or that of the highest ranking imperial families, laden with supplies and citizens to establish new homes and trade posts. The Claws, a stretch of high, rocky islands with little soil and prone to strong currents and storms, was one of the first places to be settled. A tower, doubling as a lighthouse and a defensive structure, was built on the easternmost island and garrisoned by a small force, with a camp for resupply and shore leave built below.
Much earlier expeditions, around 1025 After the Exodus, or AE, had led to the foundation of Swordwatch far to the south on the distant western coast of the Vastness. But resupplying Swordwatch and those in command had proven difficult with pirates and opportunists scouring the waters from the Sirrion Peninsula southwards. The founding of this small outpost in their territory was put in jeopardy many years later by the heirs apparent to the Pirate King of Plynth’s throne, who sought to prove their worth through conquest. Bralm Bloodblade, after failing to take the Sirrion Peninsula and her wealthy cities, retreated to the Claws and sat off the coast, licking his wounds and contemplating his next move. Unwilling to go home, he decided to attack the outpost and get his revenge on the Lion Empire.
Bralm’s attack was thwarted by one Jorgan Emera, a legionnaire and commander of the 29th Legion in the Lion Empire. Jorgan used his singular tower to rain small cannon fire onto Bralm’s fleet, while he and his men desperately held the still just-begun fortress they were building on a larger island across from the one holding the tower. Bralm was repelled, as were a number of other attacks in the years after this first famous battle. At first, men and women came from far corners of the Empire to settle there. Later, they came from all over Teth-tenir because there was no discrimination in the fledgling settlement and all sorts were needed to keep the place going.
Bralm Bloodblade abandoned his assault in 1759 AE and the outpost was officially named Emera’s Watch in Jorgan’s honor. It would face a similarly daunting threat during the Arcane Wars in the year 119 AW. The fortress would be utterly decimated, a mere ruin since, by the prolonged siege of a dread commander named Blackclaw. The young Tobias Ratchet, then commander of the still active 29th Legion, would eventually defeat his foe and save Emera’s Watch; but the 29th disbanded shortly thereafter, and the fortress was abandoned.
Since that time, Emera’s Watch had become even more independent of the imperial authority it still maintains a loose subservience to. Imperial law is not enforced in Emera’s Watch, where a local police force keeps the peace under the oversight of a locally elected mayor. All manner of people flee to Emera’s Watch, where things are less lawless than the pirate port of Baradir and less prone to violence and dark magic than the cutthroat towns of Redsand Haven or Netian in the Vastness. Every outcast that can board a ship headed for the Claws goes to Emera’s Watch, where they can expect to be relatively safe and left alone. No one will ask after other residents’ origins, and most prefer it that way. The town is still not heavily populated. There is little to do for work outside of manual labor, tending bar, or selling one’s body to those who will pay. Most live on a temporary basis, crewing a ship for a voyage and coming home to a small apartment, flophouse room, or, if fortunate, one of the few proper houses in town.
Edgewulf el Vac had been at sea with Daleth Kette for almost three months. The first part of the journey had taken them to Ilanis, the last home Edge remembered before joining Wolfbane. From there, at Daleth’s insistence, they had gone south towards Emera’s Watch. Daleth had put the Stormrider into port at Evertide to resupply, and Edge had chosen to remain onboard the ship to avoid being identified. Indeed, in all the time they had traveled together, Edge rarely left his spacious cabin unless Daleth explicitly told him to. Thus, he’d done little more than read through the books the captain had on hand and train regularly so he would be fit for any danger once they reached their destination.
Once, on the voyage to Emera’s Watch from Evertide, Edge was brought out of his quarters by the sounds of a strange, shrill, instrument playing loudly in the middle of the night. A lantern in hand, the Lost Elf went searching for the source to find Daleth Kette standing at the tiller, his hands not steering the ship but instead frantically working a bow across the strings of small fiddle. Daleth was moving so violently that his long, wavy hair was thrashing about and his eyepatch catching the light of the lantern off of the silver binding of the dark leather. Edge listened to the sound, a haunting, rapidly paced cacophony of undulating waves of noise that had a rhythm so complex but so compelling it gripped the lone member of the audience.
When Daleth finished he stared out at the sea a while, clearly unaware he was being observed, and then set the instrument down with slumped shoulders. As he did, he noticed Edge at last and, for perhaps the first time, the swashbuckling captain seemed uncomfortable. “Master el Vac, what brings you out here this evening?”
“The music was rather …insistent.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. My crew is used to it by now; they’ve known me longer than you I suppose.”
“I knew you played the guitar, but I didn’t know you could play other instruments as well.”
“I can play most anything. Anyone can. They just don’t all play well.”
“What was that song? I’ve never heard it before.”
“And you likely won’t again. It’s just something that I …came up with.”
“In the moment? Something that complicated and fast-paced?”
Daleth straightened a bit then, having leaned on the tiller, lashed on course, as he was putting away his fiddle. “Some sounds are worse than others, and in the desperation to drown out one we can compose the most wondrous noises.”
“But it’s quiet out here, almost silent.”
Daleth’s feathery cloak fluttered in the breeze of the sea air. “For you, I suppose it is.”
The captain was moving by Edge then and the Lost Elf did not see him again for the rest of their trip. When they sighted Emera’s Watch, about a day after the Claws became visible on the horizon, Edge came up to the deck to catch the first glimpses of the small seaside town built between the narrow shore where ships anchored amid the shadow of a broken fortress. Houses and shops ran up the angled road from the docks to the fortress, all of different designs and most looking inexpertly constructed. Daleth pointed past the main shop fronts and explained that further up on the heights of the island were farms and some other homes or inns, all of varying sizes and styles as well. To Edge, the place looked like someone’s vague idea of a town, but with all possible variances thrown into the design.
The Stormrider slowed as she came into the bay and dropped anchor, a small rowboat having been lowered for Daleth, Edge, and some of the crew to go ashore. Through the web of masts and rigging, Edge could see people moving on the shore and amid the other ships. They lowered the rowboat and clambered down the ropes on the side of the ship. As Edge settled onto one of the small benches, Daleth turned to him, his back to Emera’s Watch as he made the occasional furtive glance in the direction of the town. Edge noted his apparent nervousness, and soon Daleth noticed his attention and sighed. “I’m rather well-known around here is all.”
“You’d given me the impression you were known everywhere.”
Daleth puffed his chest out a moment, clearly enjoying the flattery, then swiftly slumped once more. “In Emera’s Watch my reputation is a bit less positive. It’s a lawful place, even if the Empire doesn’t hold sway, and I’ve done some jobs that blur the lines of good taste in my past.”
Edge shifted nervously in his seat. “Is there going to be trouble?”
“Not with the guard, at least nothing serious. There might be others with a grudge on shore. Just keep your eyes and wits about you, and we’ll be fine.” Daleth thrust his chin at Edge’s halberd. “And you’ve got that oversized axe of yours still, in case we need it. Don’t do anything without my say so, though; agreed?”
Edge noticed then that on his hips Daleth had two long, slightly curved, knives strapped. They were almost the size of shortswords. He did not remember seeing the man armed on his ship even once, and took notice. He nodded at Daleth. “I’ll do as you say. I don’t know this place.”
“They know you though, or at least your name. Any person of significance that has passed through Emera’s Watch has heard stories of the el Vacs. Some of them you hear on the mainland; others are less common. People come through here, and they see things, hear things. If there’s some hint as to who left you and your brother in Ilanis, we’ll find it.”
They didn’t speak for the rest of the ride through the maze of ships to the docks. Once there, the crew tied the boat off and Daleth hopped onto the sturdy planks, offering a hand to Edge who was less sure-footed than his companion. A few parcels were slung over to the captain and they made their way to the small shack on the beach with a sign for port authority.
Daleth strolled in all smiles and, when he saw the woman behind the counter, he became even more boisterous. “Elmena! My dear, you look ravishing! How goes the law and order business?”
The woman behind the desk, dressed in billowy white sleeves and a leather corset with a number of rings in her ears, did not even look up from her paperwork. “What are you bringing ashore, Daleth?”
“Elmena, come now.” Daleth sat on the edge of the desk and leaned over her work, obscuring some of the sunlight from the window. “Must it be all business with you?”
“Yes.” The woman pushed him out of her sunlight. “Answer the question.”
Edge, having come in behind Daleth and catching up to speed on events rather slowly, angled his head around the sea captain and saw the woman at the desk had oddly colored skin, tinged with red and orange to an alarming degree. Then he noticed her teeth, sharpened like fangs or those of a carnivorous beast. It was unnerving, but perhaps more so because Edge could not place her race or region of origin. As he was studying her, Daleth was rattling off a list of small items as she copied them down furiously. She never missed a beat when Daleth interjected more platitudes and praise for her appearance and character, simply using the pauses to recheck her work. “And, of course, three of the crew and my good friend here: Edgewulf el Vac. They’ll be joining me on shore leave.”
At Edge’s name, Elmena’s head snapped up and she looked hard at Edge. “What did you say your name was?”
“Edgewulf el Vac.”
Elmena waved a clerk over and passed a small piece of paper to him, her eyes never leaving Edge’s face. “Captain Kette, you should go to see Guardswoman Brynhalla immediately. You’re cleared to go ashore provided you stop in at the guards’ barracks before going anywhere else.”
Daleth seemed unperturbed by this request, handing off some pouches with money to his crew so they could enjoy their shore leave on him. “Oh, believe me, Elmena, I know Brynhalla wants to see me again, but are you really trying so hard to pawn me off on another woman? Have you married since we last saw one another?”
There was no response, just a casual wave of the arm as she dismissed them. Edge followed Daleth out the door to the main shore area of Emera’s Watch where stalls hawking fish, clams, and other various aquatic delicacies were stretched in all directions. Anything Edge could have wanted was on offer, as well as cheap textiles and trinkets for bartering. Daleth strode confidently through the shouts of salesmen and their customers, making for the road up the cliffside. Edge caught up to him and asked, “So are we going to the guard first to find this Brynhalla?”
“Hm? No, of course not. Bryn’s an old flame, and I wouldn’t mind seeing her again, but I just went through their little customs interview, and I’ve had enough documentation of my whereabouts for one day.” Daleth paused and turned to Edge, halting their progress through town for the moment. “Bryn is a member of the local guard, and while she’s a real beauty, she’s also rather critical of some of my previous business decisions. She can be even less personable than my beloved Elmena.”
As they continued to move further into town, Edge caught up to Daleth and asked, “Why did she have that skin, and those eyes? I’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Daleth laughed and shoved Edge in the shoulder playfully. “She’s a Planar, el Vac! You’ve never seen one?”
“They allow Planars here?”
Daleth smirked. “Not everyone who was touched by the daemonic energies from the Arcane Wars turned into a complete monster. Many of them were just irreversibly changed, some more visibly than others. Half the reason you think of dangerous criminals and beasts when you hear of Planars is because people treated them that way. Most just want to live normal lives, and in many parts of this world they can’t.” Daleth stopped outside of a door and turned to face Edge. Driving his finger into his chest he concluded, “But in Emera’s Watch, Master el Vac, everyone is welcome as long as they keep to themselves and don’t cause trouble. Follow the rules and you’ll find you fit right in, and best of all, no one will care who you are.”
“But you said a lot of people here knew about you, and not in ways that cast you in a good light.”
“When you’re as dashing as I am, Edgewulf, all light is good light.” Daleth pushed the door open and strode in like he owned the establishment, and it was only then that Edge noticed the sign hanging above him was that of a tavern: The Lonesome Gunner. Sighing deeply, he stepped inside and braced himself for the trouble he was sure his guide was about to cause.