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"Tacks and sheets!" Berlin cried in his resonant voice that overpowered the crashing of water against the bow and the whipping of the wind through the crew's ears. He himself was at the helm, matching the pressure against the rudder as his orders were carried out. Aloft, Rohaan, a young boy of ten with wild blonde curls that would never stay in a ponytail, sprang from his little nest in the rigging where he typically slept and kept what little things he owned to grab a rope with small tanned fingers, unhitch it, and pull it towards him with all his strength. When the wind wasn't too strong, he could often pull the ropes by himself as he was, but when it got rougher and he needed more strength, his body would change, morphing larger like an older version of himself in the blink of an eye. This was one of those times, and the suddenly muscular young man had no trouble pulling the rope into position and hitching it in place, then unhitching another rope attached to a corner of one of the lateen sails of the small Caravel he called home. In another instant, the man disappeared and a wiry youth took his place, blue eyes shining brightly in the sparkling sun.

The ship came about, heading back towards the distant land that was only a faint blotch on the horizon. Rohaan hung cavalier from one of the taut ropes aloft, bare toes gripping one line while one hand wrapped around another to steady himself. He was glad it was only early autumn and still warm, as he did not like being up aloft when it was cold (especially since he refused to wear shoes at sea or on land, unless it was snowing or very cold. Like the cold, Rohaan hated shoes, too. He spotted a gray albatross with its huge wingspan gliding further out to sea not far from the Borealis, and, grinning, he simultaneously leapt from the rigging and changed into a much smaller gull, swinging off after the other bird.

"Oi! Rheoaan!" Berlin knew as soon as he called out that it was a futile effort; Rohaan did not even appear to hear him, though he knew the boy had keen ears and most certainly did. "Back to the ship or I'll leave your sorry feathered arse out here!" Berlin got a shrill caw in response, and his brow furrowed. "Damn that boy," he grumbled. Louder, and with a harsher edge, he called, "Rheoaan Rohaan Rio Ja'aisen! Get your arse over here and that's an order!"

That did it. Hearing all three of his given names and his surname being used, Rohaan knew he was in trouble, or at least, he would be if he didn't obey. No one else was allowed to call him by his full name except Berlin, as he was the only one Rohaan felt had earned the right to use the first and longest, Rheoaan, which was usually reserved for immediate family or a spouse in his culture. But in a way, Berlin had become his father, so Rohaan bestowed that honor on him and him alone. Rio was a name he gave to strangers, and Rohaan, which was how all but Berlin knew him, was reserved for friends. It had taken him a long time to explain this at first, particularly since he started out without any knowledge of their language, and they had none of his.

The boy banked, diving back down to the deck at high speed before pulling up a little and changing back into his natural form. The young, wiry blonde touched down in front of Berlin with a soft thud and gave a salute. "Aye, Ca-mm." Unlike the others, who used the abbreviation 'cap'n', Rohaan called him a very distinctly pronounced 'ca-mm', as it was the best he could do when he was first learning the language, and it sort of stuck.
"Get down to the galley and start fixing some grub, boy. I'll call you back up if Uban needs an extra hand aloft."
Rohaan nodded, tight curls bouncing. "Aye Ca-mm!" He released his salute and bounded down below, bare feet slapping the hard wooden deck.

Uban, who had been at the base of the mast securing rigging, climbed deftly up the rope to take his place on Rohaan's little hammock, straddling the fabric like a saddle as he watched the horizon and kept his ears open and tuned to the sound of Berlin's voice. From above, he watched Pieter go about his business, the old salt doing it with the practiced motions of a man who'd done it for years. Uban himself had only been at sea for five years and was completely green when he met Berlin, though that never seemed to have mattered to the sea captain. Uban grew up milking cows and mucking stables, or occasionally helping out the village carpenter with his work when he had the time, so sea life was a strange experience. And yet, as he grew accustomed to the rocking of the ship, which lulled both he and Rohaan to sleep so well, it felt strange to sleep on land, Uban found that he was very comfortable in his new life, and over the years he preferred it to his old one. Besides, here, he had a family. It was not the one he imagined as a young lad, nor was it the one he pictured when he was courting Delorah before he was imprisoned and his life turned upside down. But the crew of the Borealis was his family all the same. On that ship, no one cared that he'd spent time in prison, or that he had a mark to prove it burned into his wrist. No one cared that he'd killed someone by accident. Besides, most, if not all, he guessed, had killed people themselves. Even Rohaan had shed blood, as though he was only a boy, he was a vicious fighter when his life was on the line.

The wind shifted a little and Berlin called for the sails to be trimmed; Uban scurried about the rigging and masts to carry out the orders. He was just finishing when he paused, straightened a little as if to see over some imagined obstacle, then cried out, "Sail, ho!"
Berlin's attention snapped upward. "Can you tell who?"
"Not from this distance," Uban answered, even as he tried to see through a telescoping spyglass.
"Can you determine their heading?"
"No, Cap'n. Er...well...looks like they might be heading towards us. Either that or away, but since I hadn't seen them earlier, I'll wager they're coming, not going."

Berlin nodded, casually leaving his post at the helm to shout down to the lower deck. "Rheoaan, on deck!"
A moment later, the little shifter, dressed in his usual black trousers that reached just below his knee and a loose fitting white shirt with the collar always hanging open, appeared on the main deck. "Ta," Rohaan said, reverting back to his native tongue for a moment.
Berlin, who had learned much of the Vokurian language from Rohaan, did not miss a beat. "Ship on the horizon. Check it out for me, will you?"
The boy grinned mischievously. "Is it hostile? Can I light it on fire?"
Berlin sighed. "We don't know."
"If it is, can--"
"No. No burning, not unless I give an order. It's a pitiful thing to destroy a good ship, Rheoaan. I only want information. Do not engage. Do you hear me? That's an order."
"But I wanna take the ca-mm's hat if he's got a fancy one."
"I said no."
"C'mon, Berlinnnn, I'd swoop in all quick and take it in my talons and they'll just think I'm a regular gull. OH, or a hawk!"
"No," Berlin said sharply. "Gulls don't take hats and we're too far out to sea for there to be a hawk any where nearby. They'll get suspicious. If you get discovered, there'll be real trouble. Now go on, get you gone."
"Aye aye!" The boy changed into a gull once more, pumping his wings a few times before catching an updraft and gliding off towards the approaching ship for a quick flyby.

Not long after, he returned, landing in front of Berlin much the same way he had before. "Soldiers, Ca-mm. Yonin flag, heading right for us."
"Yonin..." Berlin gave a casual nod, looking out onto the horizon as he thought it over. "Last I checked, our little troupe's got a bounty on our heads in Yonin." Instead of looking worried, Berlin grinned. If it was a land encounter, he might be concerned about a host of soldiers heading their way, but at sea, the Borealis was a deceivingly dangerous opponent. Not only were they all we’re capable fighters but Rohaan was capable of single-handedly sinking ships. To attack the Borealis at sea was pure folly, and anyone who attempted was usually held hostage and robbed blind, if not actively counterattacked. The size of their little ship and crew made them a target to other unwary pirates who were not familiar with the name, and any attempts to board or commandeer the ship always backfired.

Berlin's voice rose, addressing the whole crew. With a grin and a twinkle in his eyes, he instructed, "All hands...prepare to be boarded."
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The child rattled about abovedeck as Wheel sat and polished his blades in the hold, crouched between two piles of ropes. A small lamp perched itself on his leg as he worked the rag over the ax heads. He felt breathless. Even when he gasped and filled his lungs, he felt short. The buttery light from the lamp pinched his eyes, making him squint. He felt like a wreck, and he'd felt like one for a week now. He knew he could stay this way.
Choke on nothing but hunger and an ache. Black out from the weariness and never wake up. The best person he knew did it.

He didn't want to do it. Not until he had to.

Wheel sprang up in a single rolling moment. There was no reflection on how to snatch the lamp as it fell and stand up holding the tended axes. The ache was burning faster than usual. Picking his way through the boxed supplies to get abovedeck, he listened to the Cap'n yell at the kid for transforming into some crazy shit. Wheel hadn't seen anything that fucked up in a while, but that's why he liked this ship. Wheel didn't have to hide his shit. Not since he owns it. Daylight broke on his face, clean shaven cheek warming to the stiffly hot sun. Blinking his eyes, he saw Pieter cross the deck.

Pieter took pride in how clean the deck felt as he walked across it, carrying a keg of blackpowder to the small cannon on deck. He and Uban had spent the entire week before scrubbing the ship top to bottom, and the result was a pirate ship that would have had an admirals approval! He rubbed his stomach, just above his tattoo of a wolf shark. The only way to reliably take down some of the biggest creatures in the sea was through hunting like a pack and coordinating together. If there was a fight coming, they'd need to work together. They have been, of course. Pieter felt good about the Captain, about the Borealis. Pieter could trust the Captain wouldn't be piss dumb, so that meant Pieter could do what he needed to do without doing what the Captain needed too. Rohaan was bright enough, quick to work and eager to prove himself. He wasn't an angel, but who was? A shapeshifter pirate already stretched belief, but Pieter loved the kid for who he was. And Uban was good. Pieter meant to talk to him about the Salt and the Kraken and the older gods who bargained with sailors. Uban had the makings of priesthood, he just didn't know it. Setting down the keg, he began to prep the station, readying for the fight. It wasn't something to be proud of, but what could he do? It had to be done.

Wheel rolled his shoulders, lighting a cigarette with a match. Nothing better before a fight than a cig. It helps you berserk faster. Means you spend less time in the best place on earth. The place he'd die. But first, he'd feel good again.
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Berlin strode to where Pieter was prepping the one cannon the Borealis had, which the man kept in tip-top shape, as well as the rest of the ship. The old salt always did like a clean ship, and it was something Berlin appreciated about the man. They’d spent many, many years together, and he was an easy choice for first mate. Experienced and steady tempered.

“Hold fire until something goes south. It’s a pretty ship, I’d hate to ruin it. I’d like to see if the captain will just...gift us some guns and powder. They won’t have much coin on board, but they will have weapons. Not to mention rum and coffee.” Berlin grinned. Many times, he’d been able to charm his way out of a battle and have another captain just haul over some goods and sail away, due to his unique abilities. But it didn’t always work. In order to maintain control of a person, or exert influence, Berlin needed physical contact with the person, and his influence faded a few minutes after breaking contact, especially if the person was very strong willed (he learned this the hard way with Rohaan, who had all the fortitude of a bear and the stubbornness of a cat).

“Alright lads,” he said to everyone. “The captain and I are going to...chat. If anything goes wrong, then we show them why it’s folly to attack the Borealis. Pieter and Wheel, you know what you do best. Pieter mans the guns and Wheel will give them a taste of steel.” Berlin spoke more out of habit than instruction, as the two men were very good at their roles and needed no guidance from him. Uban and Rohaan, however, were generally more flexible in their roles, whether it be defense, offense, or sabotage. “Uban, stay on board and repel any attempts to board. Rheoaan, I want to make sure they don’t blow holes in my pretty ship. Destroy their cannons before they have a chance to fire. Once you’ve done that, set fire to the sails. Half those men are likely pressed into service so no sense in killing them all. Just enough to bring the sharks ‘round, and enough to survive to tell the tale of the woe we cast. If you can make off with a barrel of powder, I’ll let you have a taste of rum, eh lad?”

Rohaan pumped his calloused little fist in the air. If there was anything the boy loved more than theft, it was arson. Berlin wondered briefly, and not for the first time, how his mother, rest her soul, had ever handled him. By the stars, what a terror he would be without someone to raise him. Hell, he already was a terror sometimes.

“Good. Standby then.”

Rohaan scrambled about halfway up to his hammock nest atop the main mast and waited, one bare foot hooked over a section of rope while one hand held another, the opposite half of him dangled free in the wind. From here, an aerial attack would be fast and effortless. Or at least, as effortless as it could be to shape his body from a scrappy lad to a sleek black dragon-like creature called a cyradan—his favorite form. They were smaller and much less armored than the standard mountain variety dragons depicted in most children’s tales, but extremely agile, fast, and difficult to detect in the dark. They also had less firepower than their larger kin, and instead of a vast wash of fire that would paint its target with wide destruction, cyradan spat small jets. And their cry, much more shrill than a dragon, was bone chilling. It took lots of effort to maintain the form and usually left him exhausted afterwards, but it was well worth it.

Uban went down to the crews quarters and from his locker produced two large knives and a sharpening stone. On his hips, he already had both his flintlocks, but for cutting lines, his blades would do better. He even gave them a quick sharpening as the military ship drew closer and their flag became apparent to the naked eye. He waited, occasionally testing his swing and the weight of his knives, though he tucked them behind his back when the ship came closer.

Thankfully, it was not a dreadnought, though it was still a warship. The deck was impeccably clean, excess rope dressed and coiled neatly, and the green and gold flag whipped in the wind above amidst their cream colored sails. Their men were also standing by, though they seemed to be puzzled by the meager numbers of the Borealis’ crew. The men had crisp uniforms, each accented with green or gold, and shiny brass buttons on their jackets. As a single rope came over the rail and a little gangplank followed, Berlin smiled warmly at the approaching captain.

“Ahoy. A fine ship you got, sir. What can I do for you this fine day?” He asked, immediately reaching a hand out to shake the other captain’s.
The man did not return the gesture. “So. You must be the infamous Berlin...?” The man asked, searching a little.
“Just Berlin,” he supplied.
The man gave a small snort of disapproval. “How uncivilized. I’ve heard of your ship. It, and you, have a bounty. A large one.”

Berlin chuckled, a sound full of mirth but also mischief. He moved beside the other captain, reaching up to put an arm around him like an old chum. The other man’s face went sour and he actively removed himself from Berlin before he could get his arm all the way around him. “Hands to yourself, pirate! I’ve heard tales about you...you and your devilry.”
“Oh, that’s just hearsay...” Berlin chided, still smiling. But Uban could see the tension in his brow. The pirate glanced to his crew, a silent signal to ready themselves, as it was not going as he had hoped.

The enemy captain balked at that. “I didn’t come aboard to bandy words with a criminal. I came to accept your surrender. If you won’t see the wisdom in that,” he said, eyeing the single cannon and sparse crew. “Then we will be forced to take down your vessel. What’s your choice? Come quietly and live? Or die?”

Berlin gave a disappointed sigh. “You’re right. Alright, alright. Master Wheel, come here for a moment would you?” Berlin’s shoulders were slumped, his face downcast and defeated. Little did their opponent know, it was all part of his plan. As soon as Wheel came within striking range, Berlin simultaneously took a step back and gave one sharp, short whistle to unleash his crew. It was a familiar signal and everyone knew their roles well. Leaving the captain to Wheel, Berlin shoved the gangplank into the churning blue sea between the two ships to prevent any more of the (very startled, now) enemy crew from boarding easily.

Rohaan was a blur. Perched in the rigging one moment and a dangerous black streak the next, a bone rattling cry echoed out into the air, cutting through the sound of blades and wind and spray. If the crew had any kind of hopes of winning the fight, they were squashed then as someone called out in warning, “silverblood!” And that was the last thing he ever did. He swept down, aiming for Wheel in a practiced, well rehearsed maneuver in which he wrapped his talons around the man’s thick arms and banked right sharply, closing the distance between them and the enemy ship, where he dropped the warrior into a waiting rank of victims like bowling pins for Wheel to pummel down in a bloody crash.

He angled upward, pumping his wings hard to get altitude and momentum before turning as fast as a hammerhead shark back the way he came, black tail whipping behind him. Rohaan descended, velvety wings folded halfway to missile down towards the impressive lineup of cannons, which he either smashed upon collision or scooped up in his graphite talons and dropped into the sea with a deep thundering splash. He gained speed and altitude, circling back once more for another sweep.

Uban had already fired off both his pistols, his bullets finding their mark quite well considering the distance, before he began hacking at ropes and pushing away rope ladders of those attempting to board. Several began to swing from ropes, but they were either intercepted by Berlin, who, between managing the helm to now steer the ship clear of the other vessel, merely took hold of their arm and commanded them to turn around and leap into the water (which they all did), or by Uban, who wielded a knife in one hand. The other he kept free, so that when he would come to a man just on the cusp of climbing over the rail, he would reach his hand out and give them a little tap in the chest with his open palm as a bright blue arc leapt and writhed between him and his prey, who then made a “hurghhh” sound as the air was forced from their constricting lungs and their stunned bodies dropped numbly to the water.

Another cry ripped through the air as the enemy cannons were destroyed. It was answered by terrified screams of men, some of which threw themselves in the water voluntarily to avoid being skewered by the beast’s talons or whipped hard with his tail. Then the mainsail caught fire, and chaos descended upon the military ship. Trained men, once so confident, now scrambled in panic and abject fear as orders were shouted and unheeded. Two more jets of flame, and the fore and aft sails went up in bright light like a harvest bonfire. Rohaan swept around again in another great arc, pumping his wings to gain more height for another attack. He turned, glided for a moment, then—

CRACK.

The sound of a powder rifle preceded another cry from the beast, but this one was high, shrill, and pained. Berlin’s eyes turned skyward at the noise, his heart already sinking into his stomach. “Rheoaan!”

The cyradan was gone. Twenty feet in the air at least, was the limp figure of a boy plummeting at worrying speeds towards the ocean. In the half seconds during his fall, Berlin cursed himself for calling for an aerial attack. He knew Rohaan would pick a cyradan. He knew they were not heavily armored, and Rohaan generally did not know how to defend against guns as well as he did arrows. He could run or hide, but not defend, and he hadn’t yet the experience to know when to be on the offensive and when to retreat. He was too eager, Berlin should have known. He’d never forgive himself if Rohaan didn’t survive. Though he never guaranteed his safety when he adopted him into the crew, he felt more responsible for him than he did the others.

SLAP.

Rohaan hit the water with a sharp crack and a burst of white spray, plunging down so deep that Berlin could only see the churn of white that turned the water turquoise where he hit. “Surface....c’mon boy, come up.....” his anxiety was visible, palpable. He veered the helm hard over, making a tighter turn than the much larger military vessel could manage, towards the white froth. “Surface, damn you!” He hissed between his teeth. Berlin did not know he was holding his breath until he saw a little blonde head pop up from the depths and he let out the air in his lungs.

Rohaan was alive. His head was above water, and that was all the reassurance Berlin needed. Rohaan had once told him that, growing up as an islander, he could swim before he could walk, and the many times Berlin had seen him swim, even without shifting, he believed it. But Rohaan was weak. The cyradan form took a lot of energy to hold, and then he’d exerted himself physically on top of that. He was always wiped out when he came out of that form, but the wound he sustained made it all worse. Rohaan didn’t try to swim back. Instead, he focused what little energy he had on floating on his back, one hand paddling feebly at his side, his feet fluttering slowly, and the other hand wrapped around to his left side. A reddish silver sheen pooled around him as he bobbed.

The other ship, once a grand vessel named Brightstar, was now in chaos. The hull had not caught fire yet, but the rigging, sails, and masts were in ruins. The men aboard realized that trying to commandeer the Borealis was futile, and they stopped attempting altogether. The battle was won, and now they needed to flee the scene.

“Wheel! Abandon that rathole and come back aboard any way you can! We have to move, NOW.” Berlin’s tone was harsh and strong, as he knew it had to be in order to get through to the Berserker in his fury. But this time it held an edge that normally was not there, a note of worry.

Uban, now freed from the task of repelling boarders, found a length of rope, secured one end to a cleat on the rail, the other to his waist, and leapt in the water even as Berlin steered the ship towards their overboard companion. He reached the boy, wrapping one arm under his armpits. “Hey bud. I gotcha.”
“I...I think I...I...g-got shot...” Rohaan said, his eyes a little glassy and his voice and body shaking as it went nearly limp in Uban’s grasp.
“I know, I know,” he said softly, swimming back towards the ship even as the rope was reeled in. “But look, we got em. We got em and everything’s gonna be fine now, yeah?”
“T-t-ta.”
“You gotta stay with me though, Kay? Rohaan?”
“Ta.”
“Atta boy.”

They were hauled up and Uban lay Rohaan on the deck, soaking it with water and inhuman silver-red blood that glimmered in the sunlight. Berlin was there, abandoning the helm. Uban, without being spoken to, left Rohaan in his care and took Berlin’s place at the wheel. The captain slipped Rohaan’s white shirt over his head and tossed it aside to inspect the injury. The little ball dug into Rohaan’s left side, though it hadn’t come through the other side. “This is going to hurt, Rheoaan. I’ve gotta see how far in it went. Stars above, please don’t bite me,” Berlin said with the kind of exhausted tone of a man who’d made that mistake before. Carefully, Berlin prodded the area to feel for the ball, and out came a fount of words in the Vokurian language from the boy in a pained rage. Berlin finished and a small, worried smile touched his lips. “Gracious, boy, if you ain’t got a mouth on you. The lad’s saying things that would make a seasoned soldier blush,” he explained, though he wasn’t about to translate directly. “You’re gonna be alright though, Rheoaan. It didn’t go too deep, and doesn’t look like there’s anything too important there to damage. You tough sonovabitch,” he said softly, wiping Rohaan’s wet, matted curls out of his face. “We’ll stitch you up, get a little stiff drink in you, and before you know it, you’ll be driving me crazy in no time. How’s that sound, lad?” The boy just gave a kind of acknowledging whimper, as he was in too much shock to really say much. With all the tenderness and care of a breath of wind, Berlin lifted the boy in his arms. “Pieter, help me fix him up down below, would you? The rest of you, set a course East. We need to resupply anyway, and some time ashore might be good for the lad.”
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Pieter watched the Cap'n try and sweet talk the navy to let them go, a faint smile on his face. He'd been a pirate for a while before he met Berlin, and he always found the big mans method comical. His own experience told him to just fight or cut tail and run. The Captain had a little different way of doing things, but it worked well for them. He was glad he'd met Berlin. This felt like a home the way other ships wouldn't of been. Pirate ships had a quicker turnover rate than Pieter liked now that he wasn't so full of vinegar. It certainly wasn't a slow life on this ship, but it wasn't as.. Harsh as others. His fingers drummed lazily on the cannon as he watched. Glancing down, he noticed a chip in the paint on the cannon. Hmph. Uban should've had that, he cleaned the cannon a few days ago. It was important to keep the weapons in perfect condition, it was foolish to treat your weapons cheaply. A priest needed to be especially dedicated- the curses of the Sea and Salt fell quickly on those who didn't attend diligence. Perhaps he was being hard on the man. He'd lived on a farm for much of his life, he was still learning. And Pieter hadn't yet asked Uban into apprenticeship. It's unlikely he'd become as practiced a priest as Pieter, but the lad had the wits for it and the vinegar the Sea and Salt liked. A whistle pierced through Pieter's thoughts as the Cap'n leapt away from the other ship, the gangplank thudding first against the ship before splashing into the water below. Rousing himself, he swiveled the cannon to face the enemy ships bunched crew. The loud roar shook Pieter's ears, though he ignored the ringing and set to swabbing the cannon down, readying to fire again.

The sharpened spike Wheel punched into the neck of the pompous captain
Wheel was grinning as he fell from the dragons claws. The ache was gone. He only saw red. As he struck the astonished sailors looking up at him, he realized that it was absurd so many men saw him as the last thing before they entered hell. Then he didn't bother to ponder as he crushed the first man with both of his boots landing on his neck. His hatchets struck the men beside him, and he yanked them out from their skulls as he looks for the rest of the enemy. Men piled out from beneath the deck and rushed him. Firing his pistols at the crowd, he launches himself into them, axes swinging faster and harder than anyone around him. And is it really a surprise? Wheel is what happens when you strip everything from a man but violence. The swords that slash his skin merely scratch, the lead balls flatten and break themselves on his skin, mottling it a dark purple. The curse hung over him, a malevolent protector who gave his arms strength far beyond that of ordinary men. Finally, the fighting stopped. The remaining sailors around him had parted, watching him, ready.
"What are you waiting on? You fucking cowards. What? You dogs don't have enough balls to face a man? You're pathe-" He flung an ax at the closest sailor without pause. Another fired at him, but Wheel had already moved, crushing a mans windpipe with a balled fist. He took a dropped cutlass, hefting it once to decide it was good enough. The rest of the sailors had tried to board the ship, or were scrambling to put out the small fires started around the ship. Wheel chose to search the ship for some rum, descending belowdecks for the pursers office that held all the fine luxuries aboard ship. No one stood in his way as he kicked down the door to the office, nor when he filled a sack full of booze, tobacco, and silver coins, all stamped with the ram and crown of Yonin. He stumbled up the stairs happily, the curse having lifted itself from him. His body was thrumming, the coppery air filled his lungs as he breathed deeply. He felt like he had just finished in some fine Hrillian whore. The ship was listing slightly beneath him, and what he had mistaken for quiet was actually the slow roar of the burning flames, which were spreading across the ship.
Berlin was standing at the prow, yelling for Wheel. "..ove, Now!"

He didn't need to be told twice. Bunching his legs, Wheel sprinted across the deck of the ruined ship, gaining speed before he leapt over the side, freefalling before his feet hit the deck of the Borealis and he rolled. As he steadied himself, he saw Berlin and Pieter crouched next to one another, tending to Rohaan. Fucker must have gotten hit. Groaning, Wheel stood and checked himself, scratches and bruises. A busted rib where he'd been shot. Another man would have been dead. For him, it'd be a week at most. The Berserker curse looking out for him. Checking on the sack of loot, most of the glass bottles had shattered, but the tobacco was still dry and the coins were all there. He'd get a fine cut of that, and, since the Cap'n had ordered to head East, was going to be enjoying it soon enough.
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The two older men brought the youngest member down below deck and set him down a small table in the crew’s quarters. Berlin lit several lanterns and prepared some bandages, boiled water, needle, and thread. He also found a bottle of rum that he used both to clean the wound (which made a Rohaan howl like an angry bear) and to give him to help settle his nerves. Usually the boy jumped at any opportunity to have liquor, but he was not in the mood now and Berlin had to coax the lip of the bottle in his mouth.
“Big swallow, lad. It’ll make you feel better. One more. There ya go.”

Occasionally Rohaan would speak, but in his shock he no longer spoke the common tongue and reverted back to his own. Vokurian was a lilting language and an accent appeared where it hadn’t been before. Berlin would reply in kind, speaking softly. His grasp of Vokurian was solid, but not altogether fluent. Still he was able to communicate with Rohaan well enough. Berlin kept one hand wrapped around Rohaan’s small one and didn’t let go, pouring feelings of calm and stillness into the boy as Pieter, who was much better at sewing considering he had so many years of mending sails under his belt, stitched the boy up. Berlin’s role in this was crucial, as Rohaan had a tendency to snap wildly at whoever was trying to dress his wounds. Once, when Rohaan was eight and after they first met, he’d broken a few fingers and Berlin attempted to set them back into place. Frightened already, Rohaan had shifted to a wolf and bitten Berlin’s arm hard and fast. Then he was the one needing medical attention. Berlin alone could keep him still at a time like this. Again, he thanked the stars that he found the boy, not someone else. Only when they were finished and Berlin was assured the was stable did he carry him over to an empty hammock, put a blanket on him, and let him sleep.

Berlin was quiet as he saw to it that the ship was clean again. He felt guilty. He shouldn’t and he knew it, but he did anyway. He was just glad the wind was favorable and there was hardly any maneuvering to do for a while; they’d have a little down time after their adventure.

Uban took this time to break out his lute—one of the few nice things he bothered to own. He played most of his life and was quite good at it, but after he’d lost a finger in his prison escape, he had to teach himself to strum with his left hand instead. For slower songs he did fine, but he still preferred chording with his left if the song was faster. This of course would lead to an odd, off note every once in a while. His fingers moved so much out of habit that he often forgot he was missing one.

“How soft the breeze in the island trees now the ice is far astern. Them native maids, them tropical glades is awaitin’ our return...”

he was playing right handed, so his notes were true and bright. He loved music. Though he had a repertoire of old folk songs, bawdy tavern tunes, and sometimes things he made up himself, Uban had grown to appreciate the music of the men at sea. It didn’t typically have instrumental accompaniment, but he Liked to have it anyway. After a while, he was pulled away from his lute to see to the next meal, which he was beginning to lust after even as he prepared it.

It wasn’t much. They always had potatoes, often carrots, onions, and an unleavened bread that usually tasted like sawdust. They kept a supply of salted pork, and sometimes these were made into a thin stew, and other times they were merely roasted together with salt. Another thing they tried to keep on hand, depending on where they were at the time, were coconuts. The water inside made their stale water taste a little better when mixed together, and the hard meat was as good a dessert as any. Tonight, there was freshly caught fish. Just the day before, Rohaan had disappeared into the ocean depths to herd a small school of mackerel into their small net. Unlike some ships, the Borealis always had fresh fish.

The crew was called down for their meal. Since the borealis was too small a crew to have multiple shifts, they furled most of the sails during mealtimes so that they merely drifted along. The smell of pan-fried fish drew a very sleepy Rohaan out of his hammock despite his injury which made him move slowly, and his continued exhaustion made him sway like a drunk. He looked like hell. Despite efforts to clean him up, he had blood crusted a little in his hair and on his trousers, glinting metallically in the lantern light.

“Boy!” Berlin barked. “Get your arse to bed! Or so help me I’ll tie you up myself.”
“But I’m so hungry I could eat Wheel’s filthy shirt...” the lad looked miserable. Though he was dry now, his posture was hunched and stiff, one arm still holding his bandaged wound. Still, ever the street rat, he was not about to pass up an opportunity for a meal.
“You got no business being upright. I know what color your face ought to be and it ain’t that. Get! I mean it, or I’ll put you there myself. Uban will bring you something to eat, don’t you worry. Now go!”
“But—“
Berlin tossed a little piece of bread at him and it bounced off his face while the boy just sort of blinked at it, confused. “Rheoaan, haiadi!”
Rohaan shuffled away slowly, muttering. It took a lot of effort to get up and just the act of supporting his own weight felt uncomfortably tiring. But he never did like the idea of missing out on anything and he hadn’t the wisdom of self preservation enough to stay down when he ought to. Every time he’d been seriously injured in his life, Rohaan was forced to keep moving just to survive. It was all he knew how to do, and this ‘resting’ business was new to him.

Berlin also muttered to himself quietly. Damn, he was stubborn. He shook his head. “I think we’ll spend a couple days ashore,” he told his crew. Longer, if we can find some...opportunities on land. I’d guess we got another...two days? Day and a half? The wind ain’t that strong. Anyhow, assuming the half-pint-terror heals up nice, I figure we can take those two days to ourselves. After we resupply of course. In fact, Uban, it might be good for you to bring your lute along. Find you a crowded tavern and see if someone won’t buy you a few drinks.”
“Yeah?”
“Aye. Anything to give the people something to chat about besides the Borealis being docked in the harbor, though I’ll see to it the right people don’t ask questions. And, most importantly, NO BARFIGHTS.” Berlin looked first at Wheel, then at Uban. While it wasn’t Uban’s nature to be generally violent when drunk, there’d been a few occasions when he’d been drunk enough to engage an unwitting and usually equally drunk idiot. Uban typically won, and not because he was a master at bare-handed boxing. An arc of electricity would somehow find its way into the mix, and that always drew lots of attention. And Wheel…well…he was just Wheel. “We’ll get us a room in an inn somewhere and some honest to goodness beds, some bread that doesn’t taste like arse, and good ale. Not to mention it’ll be a good chance to pick up some good rumors about what’s happening ‘round these parts. Sound agreeable?”
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Pieter and Wheel nodded, silently.




"Four drops in water the first day. Three on the second and third, and one on the last. This will clear him of the worm inside him. Do NOT let him eat fresh grass. That would enliven the goat and let the parasite get stronger. If that doesn't work, bring him back, I'll do something more.. Forceful."

The wrinkled grandmother smiled widely and bobbed her head in thanks, grey wisps of hair escaped from the simple bun she had piled on top her head. A few coins and a wheel of cheese were handed over, and Hanabaptiste accepted them with the same grace as when she'd received a gift from Emer or her other suitors. She certainly wasn't the catch she used to be, but she'd much rather have cheese than another damn silk scarf. A twitch of a smile played on her lips as she helped the old lady out of her stool and led her to the door, sickly looking goat in tow. Mle. Seuville cursing? Her time on the road must have made her uncouth. After she had led woman (and goat) out the door, she slid the bolt and let out a sigh. Stretching, she cast her eye around the room. Small and sparse, it held everything Hanabaptiste owned. A large rucksack pushed into a corner, a low cot with a threadbare quilt. Two chairs that had come with the room next to the fireplace which had a log still smoldering. A small cabinet served as her pantry, which, along with a few apples and a half stale loaf of bread, held a small wheel of goat cheese. But next to the pantry was a bottle of Etilean wine. It had been payment for getting termites out of the wine merchants house. A fair deal, even if she'd had to come up with the spellwork. Four years at the Schools, and she didn't even know how to get termites out of a house. She wasn't very good at being a hedgemage. The wine, however, knew how to do its job perfectly. Dry, a little fruity, warm in her stomach. She sipped from a chipped clay mug, staring at the fire.
She was tired. She didn't know how much longer she could keep this up. She had a deeper grasp of the fundamentals than most, but she couldn't keep reinventing the wheel. It meant her jobs took longer. Which meant she made less money. Which meant it would take longer to buy her passage aboard a ship going to the Ramos Isles. Which meant that the Schools debt collectors would be getting closer to her.
Maybe should start selling stronger curses. Exhausted, she stripped and changed into her bedclothes, fumbled into the cot, and fell asleep. Maybe tomorrow things would turn out all right.
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Berlin gave a short not. "Good. Finish up your grub and get back to your posts, and there'll be rum in store for the lot of you tonight. You all performed well." Despite Rohaan's injury, he was proud of them. They all knew their jobs and did them well, each one specialized for his task. It's why he picked them. That, and he tended to find the sorts of people no one else would take. Pieter was an exception, as he was a worthy seaman and a veteran that any ship would take. But they'd been friends for ages and Berlin was ecstatic when he'd gotten his own ship and found that Pieter was willing to follow him. Uban had the misfortune of both being green-handed and branded with the mark of a former prisoner. Exceptions could be made for lawless men skilled at sea and willing to follow orders, but a complete landlubber and a criminal was a tall order. Not for Berlin though. And Rohaan was a desperate case. Berlin knew that his story would end in one of two ways: either he'd die of starvation, or would spend his life in slavery. Nobody, not even the saltiest pirate of the sea, would take him. Shifters were a liability, wild things that could not be controlled and their violent spirit could never be quenched. But not to Berlin.

After delivering some food to Rohaan and cleaning up after the meal, Uban positioned himself up in the crow's nest. Since he knew the wind was favorable and not much work needed to be done in the rigging, he brought his lute and his notes and voice carried on the wind from aloft.

"Fare thee well my own true love
there were many fare thee wells
I am bound for the open sea
A place that I know quite well

Fare thee well my own true love
when I return, united we will be
it's not the leaving this here shore that grieves me
but my darling when I think of thee.

Oh the ship is in the harbor, love
and you know I can't remain.
Oh I know that it will be a long, long time
before I see you again.

So fare thee well my own true love
when I return, united we will be
It's not the leaving of this here shore that grieves me
but my darling when I think of thee.

I am bound for a jolly pirate ship
the Borealis is her name
And her captain's name it is Berlin
And they say that she's a floating hell!

So fare thee well my own true love
when I return, united we will be
It's not the leaving of this here shore that grieves me
but my darling wh--"


There was a sour note and his playing paused, punctuated by a quick "Damn!" But in true form, he continued on. Uban always loved that song. It made him think of Delorah. He wondered to himself if she was married now--probably--or if she still thought of him--probably not. And he held some tiny seed of hope that he'd see her again, and he'd have a chance to explain what had happened so many years ago. She'd take him in her arms and welcome him home.

Or not. But he liked to imagine so anyway. Not that he could imagine going back to farm work after life at sea under Berlin's command.

The night came and went in peaceful quiet, the only sound besides Uban's gentle strumming was the hiss of waves and the creak of timber as the ship softly rocked. By morning, land was not yet visible but gulls were--a good sign that they were getting closer. Unlike the night before, Rohaan had not attempted to come to the galley for breakfast and instead Berlin found him sleeping hard--enough that the boy barely woke when Berlin changed out his bandages. The wound itself was warm and a little puffy, which made him worry. He knew that rum, the only thing they had that was close to cleansing (and that was a long shot) wouldn't do any more good than it had and that he just needed to wait it out.

The boy did not improve. They made good time getting into the harbor of Telor, a typical bustling port city, and for that Berlin was glad. The wind had picked up more than the day before, and by nightfall they made it to shore. Berlin was a quiet mountain of anxiety as he paced the deck upon their approach. Rohaan's condition had declined fast, faster than Berlin would have thought possible, and the boy was sweating, shivering, and somewhat delirious. When he was awake, he spoke only in Vokurian, but not clearly enough for even Berlin to understand much. He needed attention, and more than Berlin could give him.

The captain approached Pieter. "I've got to find someone to help the lad or he might not make it. The wound's festered. Assuming I can even find someone willing to help a silverblood...if we find trouble, I don't want anyone else to get involved if we can help it. Take charge for me, will you? See to it our supplies are restocked and the ship is in good order. I'll do my best to keep the dock officials quiet about our anchorage here, but if it comes to it, bribe anyone you have to. You know what to do if that doesn't work." Berlin clapped a hand on his thin shoulder. He trusted the old man implicitly to take care of business in his absence. He was a good man, steady, experienced, and sharp.

Berlin went below and wrapped Rohaan in his little black cloak, pulling the hood over his face. If he wanted to avoid trouble, he had to be sure nobody would see his blood soaked bandages or his bright eyes, which were usually closed now anyway, thank goodness. He hoisted him on his back, earning a groan from the kid. Rohaan's head rested on his big shoulder, feeling dizzy.

They moored the ship and a man with a parchment and a bit of charcoal approached Berlin, glancing a little suspiciously at him and the vessel. But Berlin smiled warmly in that way of his and took the man's hand, shaking it heartily. However, he did not let go. "Good evening, good evening. Do me a favor, lad, you don't need to record my vessel. It's better you don't. And if anyone asks, we're a merchant ship, eh?"
The man just sort of stood there, blinked, and then nodded numbly. "Okay."
Berlin's smile spread, eyes glinting. "Good lad." And then he handed over a few gold coins, which the man accepted in pleasant surprise. "If you find us on our way out and things go well, there's more where that came from."
The man smiled a bit. "Thankee sir!" And turned away like nothing strange had gone on between them.

Berlin looked over at his crew, particularly the younger two. "Behave," he warned. "I better not find any of you in the stocks tomorrow morning." And then he was gone, striding quickly through the masses of people clustered around the docks with a sweating Rohaan on his back. There were several places within sight that Berlin suspected would be able to provide some help, but he needed to find a place that WOULD. In theory he could force someone to, but he'd have to be touching them during the whole visit and he wasn't sure how he'd manage that well. What he needed was someone he could charm and bribe. After asking around the wharf for a physician who wasn't set on asking questions, and one who had experience with strange, magical troubles, Berlin found himself at an unassuming door. Unassuming was good.

Unsure if this woman he was told of was asleep this time of night or not, Berlin rapped hard on the wooden door with his broad knuckles, knocking until it opened. When he did, he gave his trademark smile and said, "Evenin'. I was told you're handy with healing. Especially when it requires something...perhaps more than medicine. My friend here needs some help, and I'll pay if you can give him some. I'll pay you even more if you don't ask too many questions." Berlin took a leather purse from his belt and held it out to her. It looked heavy. And then, with some of the worry showing through in his stormy eyes, Berlin added, "Please."
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"Please."
Hanabaptiste blinked, her mind foggy. Shaking her head to clear it, she opened the door and stepped aside, letting the big man in. It was late, and while she could hear the bands of sailors whoring and gambling further away, the street was empty. "Alright. Come in." She stepped aside, letting the blond man inside.

"Is there a place I could put him?" He asked, almost sheepishly.

Hanabaptiste went to her cot, folding the quilts and moving them to one of the chairs. She gestured, and the man placed wrapped bundle on the cot. Moving the (sailcloth?) wrappings, she saw the face of a young boy, golden curls plastered to his sweaty forehead. He was pale, and shifted and turned, muttering to himself in a language she didn't know. Behind her, the man stood perfectly still, watching intently. The only light in the room was from the street lamps outside, sputtering a faded yellow that had been collected from the days sunshine. It was hard to make out detail in the gloom.

"Lad's been shot in the side three days ago. I've been keeping it clean but I don't know how to do anything else."

Hanabaptiste straightened abruptly, and went to the fireplace. Placing a fresh log in, she muttered something and a blaze of fire engulfed the log, lighting the room abruptly. Returning to the patients side, she threw away the rest of the coverings and pulled back the bandages. The wound was festering, pus oozed when she withdrew the bandage. Turning her head sharply away, Hanabaptiste concentrated on breathing, trying to ignore the smell. When she attended to the wound again, her face was a mask. This will not get to me.

"There is a well down the street. If I am to to attend to this boy, I will need fresh water. The bucket is by the table."

She turned back, waiting. Her heart pounded as the man fetched the bucket and left. She'd helped pirates in the past, but it was unusual that only one man had arrived, instead of five. They would crowd around her, questioning and challenging everything she did, suspicious of her (admittedly flimsy) expertise. And she was treating what looked like the cabin boy. Strange.

Going to her bag, she withdrew the small case that held her medical supplies. Some of it was normally found in a doctors bag, but much of it was scrounged together, implements and medicines that she had found use for as her time as a hedgemage. It wasn't much, but she'd been able to get by with it.

Returning to the patients side, she began further examining the wound. Though the stitching was crude, it had held. Taking a pair of scissors, she cut away the stitches, revealing the wound. Taking a small knife from her case, she cut off a sliver of flesh from the edge of the wound. Walking to the fire, she cast an inspection spell and threw the flesh into the fire, hoping to discover more about the patients condition and determine if she could use his inborn magic to expedite the healing. The fire jumped again, and the flames changed to a greenish yellow briefly, before returning to a reddish silver. Hanabaptiste, gasped, frowned, and looked back at the patient. He seemed like any ordinary child.

The door opened again, the man carrying the bucket of water in one hand.
"Why is there a shapeshifter on my bed?"
The man gingerly set down the bucket, walking over to Hanabaptiste. He placed a warm hand on her shoulder and looked deeply into her eyes. His face was haggard and lined with worry. Dark bags circled his eyes.

"I've sworn to protect and raise the lad. Please. There's nothing left I can do. Help him."

She wasn't a mage. She wasn't even a doctor. But she had a job to do.

"Very well. Wet a clean rag and bring it to me, then set the kettle to boil."

She returned to the boys side, chewing her lower lip. She wasn't sure she could use a regular healing spell, those relied on it's subject being human so the spell could target and heal the specific parts of the body. What she could do, however....
First she had to remove the ball.
Cleaning the patients wound with the rag, Hanabaptiste removed the pus and discharge, exposing the raw, angry wound. Gently pressing her fingertips against the wound, she cast Hyur's Fifth Removal, causing the ball and any splinters of lead left in the bloodstream to slowly work its way back out. The man swore as the wound began bleeding heavily again, but it stopped once the ball and a few bits of metal lay bloodily in her hand.
Cleaning her hands with a rag, she handed him the shrapnel.
"A memento."
Taking the kettle from the fire with the metal hook, she poured the water into a wooden bowl. Taking a satchel of powder, she measured out a dosage and mixed it into the water, mixing it into a thick paste.

"This is a powder made from the shell of a Moss Island turtle. They have magical properties that bend and shape magic. It's typically used in enchantment when trying to bind two or more magics together."

Taking the bowl to the patients side, she gently smeared the paste onto the boys side, thickly covering the wound, wheels still turning in her head as she figured out what to do next. A trained mage would have known how to modify a healing spell on the fly, but she didn't have the vocabulary to even begin to figure out how to do it. So she'd have to get inventive.

Taking a length of thread, she cut it, saying, "I bought this from the market yesterday."

Working one end into the paste, she handed the other to the man.

"May I see your hand, please."

Brow furrowed, he complied.

"This will only hurt a moment." Hanabaptiste drew the knife across the palm of his hand and pressed the the thread into the cut, smearing a dollop of the paste on top.

"This will hopefully create an umbilical between the two of you, letting the spell work itself downstream from you to the boy. This way I can work healing magic on you, and the effects will go to the boy. It'd have been simpler to enchant the paste directly, but I can't recall the conversion clause. Anyway, a moment, please."

She chanted steadily for a moment, looking intently at the cut. Berlin felt his hand grow uncomfortably warm, like holding it too close to a fire. Eventually, just when he was about to pull away, the sensation stopped.

Hanabaptiste returned to the patient, scraping away the paste. The wound was completely healed, raw skin flushed red where the jagged injury had been. Berlin checked his hand, the end of the string was red, but his hand was fine.

"There. He shouldn't run or do anything strenuous for about a week. If that skin tears, the entire spell might come undone and he'd bleed out on you. That said, once the week passes and the body heals naturally, it'll be fine. Make sure he eats meat and fish, he needs the animal humors to help replenish the blood. Wine, too, so long as it's watered down and with meals. We can let him sleep for now."

Hanabaptiste and the man sat down at the table. The sun was starting to rise.

"Can I uh, can I get you some tea?"

The man smiled, so she quickly prepared a pot of tea and returned with it, setting a bowl of sugar cubes next to them.

"My name is Hanabaptiste. And you are?"
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Berlin never once hesitated to follow her directions. He was a man with little to lose, but Rohaan was one of them. In two years, he'd put so much work into that boy, suffering through bites and scratches, wrestling matches, and on multiple occasions incidents involving a bathtub and the boy changing into an octopus and clinging to Berlin's arm. Berlin didn't know back then what he'd been through but he guessed it was a poor lot in life. Without being able to speak the same language for months, he'd saddled himself with a reactive, nearly feral, terrified, and spirited shapeshifter. Many times he questioned his own wisdom on this. He debated letting the boy go, sending him off into the blue, but he knew that wouldn't be right and it wasn't what he needed. He needed a kind hand and a place to belong. When he was about to give up on him, the boy had come into the captain's quarters one quiet evening and taken an interest in the book he was reading. Rohaan could not read (he still struggled, but was learning) but he watched the man turn the pages anyway, page after page, until the boy had slumped over and fallen asleep against Berlin. He had never done that. Rohaan always found some dark corner to sleep in, or the crow's nest--anywhere he was alone. But that night, Berlin knew with certainty that he'd gotten through to him and that he loved that boy with his heart and soul. He could scarcely imagine losing him now.

The woman coolly went about her business despite knowing what Rohaan was, and in what felt like a blink of an eye, the boy was healed. He'd whimpered and writhed a little, but then he settled down and was silent except the soft inhale and exhale of his even breath. Berlin felt a wash of relief; he'd been holding more tension than he thought. While the woman began to make tea, Berlin knelt beside the boy and mopped his damp face with a cool cloth. "Tena osaio je'ola da'ai, kikana," ((you aren't getting away from me that easy, boy)) he whispered, then wrapped him back up in his black cloak like a linen cocoon.

Berlin smiled at her as she returned. "Hanabaptiste? I'm Captain Berlin of the Borealis. This here is Rheo--er, Roh--well, to you, Rio. Cultural thing," he explained. "I might have lost him without you. He's my...well, I never did have a son. But him...he's the closest thing I've got. I'm in your debt. Not many people would help him, considering...They aren't demons, you know. Vokurians--that's what they're called. This one's wild, sure, but he's had a hard lot in life that made him this way. Speaking of...er...if he comes to, let me talk to him first before you approach him. Lad doesn't do well with strangers, see."

Berlin reached for the cup of tea with one hand, but with the other, he laid down copper coin on the table as payment. She'd done more than she was obligated to and he'd be damned if he was ungrateful. He would see to it she was not put out by them as much as he could. He watched her, studying her with his storm gray eyes. Now that his mind was freed from his worry, he couldn't help but notice how odd the situation was. He'd never seen any one perform magic like that, and he could tell she was not a local.

"Forgive me if I'm intruding..." For a pirate, Berlin was mighty polite. If he'd been in a naval officers uniform, he could pass for one more often than not. "But would it be alright if we spent the night? If not, that's alright. My crew will have found a place to stay by now...and...secondly, if you don't mind my asking, what brings a lass like you to a place like this? Telor's a rathole. And you don't seem like a rat." Still, his eyes watched her, but they were not unkind or harsh. They had a glimmer to them. Grey, but with a light to be seen like a ray of sunlight haloing clouds after a storm.

-----

Uban threw open the door to the tavern--The Rusty Nail--like he'd just come home. Pipesmoke, sweat, and spirits flooded his nostrils. "Ain't nothin' like it, is there Wheel? Hmph, and not a musician in the place! I'll fix that. Come! I'll see if I can get us some free drinks, eh?" He nearly skipped inside, plunking himself down at the hearth like it had his name on it, and he took his lute from off his shoulder. He made no announcement--he never did, just began to tune it softly and strike a few experimental cords. Sure enough, a few heads turned and watched him, pausing their conversations to listen. And then he began to sing in a loud but true voice:

"When I was a lad in a fishing town
me old man said to me
you can spend your life, your jolly life
just sailin' on the sea!
You can search the world for pretty girls
till your eyes are weak and dim,
but don't go searching for a mermaid, son
if you don't know how to swim.

I signed onto a sailing ship
My very first day at sea
I saw a Mermaid in the waves
a-reaching out to me
Come live with me in the sea, said she
down at the bottom of the sea
And I'll show you a million wondrous things
you never seen before

Oh her hair was green as seaweed
her skin was blue and pale
her face it was a work of art
I loved that girl with all my heart
but I only liked the upper part
I did not like the tail.

So over I jumped and she pulled me down
down to her seaweed bed
and a pillow made of a tortoise shell
she placed beneath my head
she fed me shrimp and caviar
from a silver dish.
From her head to her waist
it was just my taste!
But the rest of her...was a fish.

Yes her hair was green as seaweed
her skin was blue and pale
her face it was a work of art
I loved that girl with all my heart
but I only liked the upper part
I did not like the tail.

Then one day she swam away
So I sang to the clams and the whales
Oh how I miss her seaweed hair
and the silver shine of her scales!
But then her sister, she swam by
and set my heart a whirl...

CAUSE HER UPPER PART WAS AN UGLY FISH
BUT THE REST OF HER WAS A GIRL!

Yes her hair was green as seaweed
her skin was blue and pale
her legs they are a work of art
I loved that girl with all my heart
and I don't give a damn 'bout the upper part
'cause that's how I get my tail!"


Uban had people clapping along and roaring with cheers and laughter at his song, which was delightfully bawdy and befitting of his audience. "Thank you, thank you. Now this singin' makes me thirsty...whiskey for the shanty man, eh?" And like they usually did, people did in fact buy him booze, which he accepted with a big grin, passing a helping of whiskey to Wheel and patting him on the arm. "There ya go bud. The first of many," he said with a shit-eating grin.
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Pieter watched Wheel and Uban nearly sprint for the nearest tavern, a small smile on his weathered face. He remembered when he used to be like that. Hell, he was still like that. But not tonight. Tonight he had to take care of something else. Pieter walked away from the Borealis, the old girl. She'd stay afloat without her priest in harbor. He scratched his neck, spat on the rough wooden logs laid out for the street, and began to amble through the docks. To anyone watching, they would have seen an old sea dog walk in a drunken stupor, taking random corners and turns, even backing up once or twice. The slumped figures watching in alleys of warehouses and rare tavern turned away from him, bored and contemptuous of another drunk sailor. The magic streetlights that lit other neighborhoods in the town were nowhere to be seen, and so Pieter navigated in the dark, the only sound the lapping hiss of the waves.

Finally, he stopped next to an old, shuttered warehouse that had been frequently vandalized. Lewd carvings were etched into the wood surrounding the warehouse, and one particularly ambitious miscreant had graffitied an outrageously busty mermaid in yellow paint. A small brazier burned next to the door. The entire street was abandoned, there was no reason to be here at night, and nothing left to steal. Pieter approached the door, pounding twice on the stained wood with his fist. Pieter waited silently for a minute, straightening his waistcoat and adjusting his trousers. Sucking on his teeth, he went to pound on the door again. As his hand raised, the door swung open, revealing a young boy in a nightgown holding a scuffed candlestick, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

"Sir?"

Pieter sighed, and put a hand on the boys shoulder.

"Lead me to the temple elder, boy. Tell him that Pieter Seablood is here."

The boy nodded, turning and letting Pieter into the temple.

The hallway Pieter entered looked like it hadn't been maintained in years. Broken wooden chairs were piled on both sides of the hallway, and Pieter tripped on rubbish the boy deftly stepped past, darting around corners that Pieter hadn't realized was there. Finally, they came to a doorway that was hidden by threadbare curtains. The boy pushed aside the curtain and led Pieter in.

The room was richly furnished with stolen goods, a princes bedchamber transported in a dirty warehouse. A thick Barizian rug lay on the floor. A wrought iron four poster bed was in the corner, Pieter wondered how they managed to bring that in. A rack displayed fine swords and pistols. A dusty chandelier lit the room. A tired looking woman near Pieters age sat at a wooden table, silently writing a letter with a large ostrich plume. Pieter stood in the entryway, waiting.

"Come in, Pieter. You're a regular bastard, don't pretend like you're not. Fix yourself from the drinks cabinet."

Pieter crossed the room, boots sinking into the rich carpet. Not bothering to inspect the other drinks, he took the rum bottle and had a swig. It was good.

The woman scoffed and said, "Jack. You're dismissed. Thank you."

The boy bobbed his head, turned, and left the room. Pieter stood silently until the sound of footsteps faded away.

"Maria. I've missed you."

"Like hell you did, you old fool. Come here, let me see you."

He stumped over, propping himself on the corner of her desk. Looking at her, Pieter saw the young woman he had known so many years ago. The small, delicate nose. The wide mouth that broke into a dazzling smile. Her long black hair, now gray, hung in ringlets framing her face. Her soft brown eyes hadn't changed, though.

"Sea and Salt, you've gotten uglier."

"Ha! And you've lost none of your vinegar."

She sighed, carefully setting aside the letter and stoppering the inkpot.

"I wish you were right. Sometimes I think I made a mistake coming ashore to run this temple. I'd rather be aboard a ship, my only concern making sure my crew was set right with the gods."

Pieter slipped off the desk and knelt in the carpet, his hands clasping hers.

"Maria, you've kept this entire damn coast in line since you stepped up. You've still got the vinegar."

She turned her head to face him, hair cascading down her face.

"You're a terrible liar."

"Hmm. Am I lying when I say this?" He whispered intently in her ear, and Maria's face turned pink.

Pieter rarely slept ashore. He didn't sleep much that night, but he did stay ashore.
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Uban had a way with crowds. He was the sort of guy who everyone wanted at their party--jovial, playful, good tempered and quick to laugh. He was the sort who people liked talking to because he would laugh at their jokes, look surprised at the unfolding of their tales, and was generous with his purse when it came to buying drinks. Money itself meant little to him. He'd never had much of it to begin with, and when he came aboard the Borealis he had more than he imagined possible for one man to have. He always had a secret stash tucked away for rainy days or retirement, but mostly it was no big thing for him. What he loved more was the camaraderie that blossomed around a round of drinks like they were fertile soil and the ability to forget his troubles, decorum, and the rest of the world for the night. Not that he had many things he needed to forget, but it was just...nice to let go. Pretty soon, he had the whole place at a new level of uproar, either with his bawdy singing, occasionally lewd jokes, or the amount of drinking he encouraged.

Uban himself was sporting a happy buzz when he put his lute back in its protective sack and slung it over his shoulder for safekeeping. Two crusty men, one missing an eye, were chatting with him, debating loudly about Uban's ability to put away liquor.
"Yer too thin, lad. You wouldn't last against ol' Gregory here," the man called Dax said as Gregory gave a confident chuckle.
"What makes you so sure, old man?" Uban was grinning ear to ear. "Gregory might be an ox, sure. But me? I'm made of stronger stuff than most!"
Dax snorted.
"You callin' me a liar?" Uban said, still smiling.
"I ain't callin' ya for dinner, lad."
To that, Uban roared with laughter, his green eyes glimmering with sheer jubilance. "Okay ya old salt. I got an idea. WHEEL!" Uban tipped back in his chair as far as good sense would allow, tilting his head even further back to find his shipmate seated in a corner with a scantily clad lass on his lap, who was giggling as he fondled her roughly. He ignored Uban, so the smaller man hollered again. "WHEE-EEEL!"

Wheel did glance up this time, giving Uban a sour glare that clearly said, 'what the fuck, Uban?'.
Uban waved him over. "C'mere, bring the girl, there's drinking to be had and coin to be made." As Wheel somewhat begrudgingly obliged and came over to sit beside Uban, the girl placing herself behind his chair to massage his head with her delicate hands, occasionally tilting his head back a little so that it rested nestled between her bosom, Uban turned to the two men. "Alright. Since you two think you're all full of so much piss and vinegar, I say we have ourselves a little bet, eh? You two against me and Wheel, here. We drink until one team vomits, blacks out, or surrenders. We each put in five silver and winning team takes the pot of twenty. Whaddya say? The two of you against the two of us?"

Dax and Gregory looked at each other, silently considered, and then both nodded with a grin, fishing out the required coins. A dark smile spread on Uban's lips. They had no idea what they were up against. Gregory was a large, rotund individual, but Wheel probably outweighed him in muscle alone. Uban might have been a bit smaller man than most, certainly more so than Dax, but there was a reason he wasn't some hulking beast to begin with. With his magical ability, he, like the majority of the crew of the Borealis (except Pieter, who had no magic to speak of as far as Uban knew), burned through energy faster than most men.

The barkeep was notified and a maid brought over four glasses and a bottle of dark rum, pouring equal amounts into each one. The first round went quickly, as did the second, the third, the fourth... A small crowd had formed around the table, watching the four square off, clapping when a glass was emptied and turned upside down and making low "ooohhhh" sounds when someone hesitated even briefly or made a face. Under the table, Uban held his thumb and pointer finger merely an inch apart with a constant steady arc of electricity dancing between them the whole time. He could feel it sapping at his energy, but this was a strategy he'd employed many times before.

Several more rounds went by. Dax began to fumble and slow, and after a few more rounds he turned sharply and vomited, hitting the shoes of several bystanders. There was an excited uproar and someone helped Dax out of his chair and guided him outside. One down. One to go. Uban looked to Wheel, clinked his glass to his, and tipped it back. "How ya feel'n Greggy?" Uban's nose was red like a summer rose, but he was steady and still mostly alert. "Y'partner's out. Maybe y'should cut y'losses now."
Gregory made a sour face and picked up his glass. "Keep dr-drinkin' ya twat."
"Ayyye sssir. I will. Wheel, care t'join me in another?" Wheel gave a smug chuckle, knocking another shot back with Uban like it was water. To him, sometimes it felt like water. In comparison to a good fight with blood on his hands and in his hair, the screams of desperate fearful men in his ears, and the rage in his blood gleefully sated, a little rum was nothing.

Other men around the table began passing coins around, continuing to bet on who would hold out longer. They watched intently as the rounds passed and the barmaid kept filling the glasses, burning through multiple bottles. Then, finally, Gregory took a steadying breath and slowly inched his fat hand towards his glass. His fingers missed. They crawled along the poorly lacquered surface of the table, finding the glass and fumbling to get it between his thumb and forefinger. It lifted. One inch. Two inches. Wobbled. Three inches. Dropped. Gregory's hand went limp, his eyes rolled back a little, and he slid sideways out of his chair and to the ground with a thump. The crowd cheered loudly.

Uban laughed like a madman, scooping up the coins and splitting them between him and Wheel. "G-good work mate," he said slapping his shoulder. He stood, wobbled harshly, and used the barmaid to steady himself. "Yyoouu, kind lady, y'buxom piece of ass, you. Care t'show me t'my r-" he burped. "Room..?"
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Hanabaptiste sipped her tea, studying Berlin. For someone who showed up at her door in the middle of the night carrying a wounded shape shifter, he was awfully polite.

Placing the chipped mug back on the table, she delicately cleared her throat, saying,

"I am-was- a student at the Schools. I was studying to become a weather mage. Unfortunately, there was ah- a deficit in funds for me to continue my education. Since then, I've been traveling west, and I am presently gathering the funds to purchase passage to the Ramos Isles."

There was a lull in the conversation and the sounds of the city outside waking up drifted in. Hanabaptiste studied the boy laying in her bed, and Berlin drank his tea and thought. Finally, Hanabaptiste turned to the pirate captain and asked,

"If you don't mind my prying, how is it that you came to travel with a shape shifter? I had been under the impression that they're not considered good traveling companions."
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Rohaan made a soft noise in his sleep, his finger twitching slightly as he dreamed. Berlin's head was up, looking at him in an instant, but he relaxed when he saw that all was well. He'd heard of the Schools, but only in passing. To him, they were a place on a map and nothing more. Of course, he was interested in her answer, but his interest sharply peaked when she said she was training to be a weathermage. Berlin did not know the full implications of that, but he knew without a doubt that a weathermage on board could make his little caravel ship just as intimidating as a dreadnought in the right circumstance. And, what was more, she was apparently in debt and looking to gain passage across the sea.

Berlin couldn't believe his luck.

At first, he didn't answer her question and instead simply studied her over the lip of his cup. He did love tea--he'd have to get some before they set sail again. He just watched for a moment, some other thought forming in his mind as he began to slowly answer, "From what I understand, the lad came from somewhere down south on some more or less uncharted island--not even he knows for sure where it is now. A whole colony of shifters. Imagine that! An entire island full of them. I guess it was raided by hunters and slavers and in the chaos his parents died fighting. He was captured and was to be sold into slavery but he somehow escaped and found himself in the port city of Iranos, some ways up north. He picked my first mate's pocket and the old man caught him. I knew he was going to die one way or another if he didn't have some help, I mean, goodness, the boy was eight and half starved, beat up, and clearly had no idea how to dress for winter. If he wasn't sold into slavery first, he'd either starve or be killed in the street so...I took him. He doesn't talk too much about his past. There's probably a lot he doesn't want to remember. He's a good kid, generally. Devilishly mischievous sometimes but he just needs a good firm hand to guide him is all. Someone who understands how he is. Needless to say, he doesn't do well with strangers, but now that he speaks good Carisian it takes him a lot less time to open up to someone, especially if I say they're a friend."

Berlin looked over at Rohaan through the steam of his cup. "Don't get me wrong. Shifters can be dangerous. The things they are able to do are...well," he pulled up his white sleeve, showing old white scars around one arm. "Got bit once--er...more than once actually, but once in particular trying to set some broken fingers of his. He didn't know what I was doing to him and he reacted. Turns out, wolves have very sharp teeth..." But Berlin laughed it off like it was now just some cute childhood accident. "But he's come a long way. And I tell you what, nothing melts your heart like when he decides to get sweet. I'm teaching him to read, actually." Berlin smiled, every bit the proud father.

"I Suppose now it's my turn to pry a little, if you'll forgive me. You say you were heading for...Ramos, yes? That's a long way away," Berlin said knowingly, letting that sink in for a moment. "To buy a place on a passenger ship would cost you a mighty sum..." The man set down his cup and brushed a loose lock of his straight, sandy hair back out of his forehead. "If I had to wager a guess, you'd rather leave sooner than later, eh?" Berlin leaned back, a glint in his eyes. "I know I'm not really the kind of man your mother would approve of you being seen with. I'll be honest with you, I'm a pirate of sorts. And I don't pretend to be a good man, but I'm not a demon either. But I think you and I can help each other. I'll make you a deal, and you can sleep on it. But I could use someone of your skillset on my ship. I can offer you a place to call home, money, to be fed and taken care of, and some level of protection from any demons you might have in your past. Hell, make friends with Rheoaan--sorry, Rio, and he'll defend you tooth and nail. Literally."

Berlin held up his hands before she could react and said, "now hear me out. You don't seem like the pirate type, and that's alright. I won't ask you to commit. But come aboard, take a share of the work and use your talents, and I'll take you to Ramos. When we get there, you can choose to part ways and wash your hands of me and my crew...or you can join us." Berlin smiled warmly. "What do you say, miss Hanabaptiste?"
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Hanabaptiste closed her eyes, mind racing. Sunlight, coming through the window, washed her face in light. Holding herself perfectly still, it felt like that moment stretched out for a small eternity. Berlin, sitting quietly, saw that while her face was perfectly composed, her hands had bunched into tight fists. He took one last sip of tea, waiting.

She opened her eyes, let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Berlin saw her hands open, palms facing upwards.

"When do we depart, Captain?"
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If Berlin's smile was already a light, then it exploded into a bonfire when she agreed. He gave a small friendly laugh. "Good to have you aboard. We set sail in two days. Take with you anything you hold dear, because we ain't coming back any time soon."

And set sail they did. The crew had been introduced to her when Berlin was certain that Uban or Wheel wasn't a drunken mess, and he had explained to her what made each of them special, from his long history with the cleric Pieter, to Uban's mastery of electricity. Generally, the crew was receptive to a new member. Rohaan, however, struggled. Berlin knew he would, he expected it. And despite the fact that she had probably saved his life and had the captain's stamp of approval, Rohaan was wary of her. He made very certain that she knew him as Rio, even as the rest of the crew called him Rohaan. Berlin assured her that this would pass, and the lad would warm up to her eventually as he began to trust her and that she would soon earn the right to his second name.

Berlin had also taken the cast iron ball that had given Rohaan so much trouble and, while ashore, had a smith put a hole through it. It was presented to him as a necklace--a battle trophy to be worn with pride--and the boy could not be more proud of it.

Their first evening at sea, Berlin called them all down to the galley for their meal. Rohaan was mostly confined to the kitchen for a few days as he healed further, but Berlin did allow him to sleep up in his hammock amidst the high rigging. He made his rounds, bringing out dishes of food for each person, but when he came to Hanabaptiste, he kind of timidly slid the plate over to her across the table while watching her suspiciously. As he turned, Berlin called sharply, "Ah! Rheoaan! That ain't no way to treat one of our own. Turn your arse around and tell her hello." Rohaan turned, opened his mouth, and Berlin cut in, "In Carisian, and nicely!"
Rohaan huffed, foiled. He glanced at Hanabaptiste briefly, then at the floor. "Hi."
"Don't you take that tone," Berlin warned. "She's one of us now. And we stand up for our own, don't we Rheoaan?"
"Aye Ca-mm," Rohaan relented.
"Right. So start acting like it. She ain't a devil, Rheoaan. She helped you when she didn't have to. She's not out to hurt you, I can promise you that. Now, get you gone and fetch a bottle of Rum. We're going to celebrate a little tonight."
Rohaan brightened. "Can I have some??"
"You can have grog. But not straight. Y'hear me?"
"Aye Ca-mm." But Rohaan glanced to Pieter with a hopeful gleam in his eye. If anyone would sneak him booze, it would be Pieter.

Drinks were served and Rohaan, finished serving, took his seat among them. By no accident, the only available seat was next to Hanabaptiste, so he sat there eating his food and occasionally looking over to watch her. New people always made him nervous, but she was also kind of fascinating too. He was very curious about what kind of magic she could do besides healing.

Uban lifted his cup. "To the Borealis." It was repeated around the table and they drank to their health. "So! You studied magic at a school, then?" He asked Hanabaptiste. "Tell me...can you summon lightning...? I wish I could, but I can't do anything that big, y'know? Just little things."
"What's school?" Rohaan asked through a mouthful of actual fresh bread purchased while onshore.
"Tevira's scales, boy, I thought I taught you manners. Don't speak with your mouth full. Anyway it's where decent boys and girls go to learn things. Like reading books, or the study of the stars," Berlin explained.
Rohaan blinked, looking at Hanabaptiste with a new interest. "You read books? What kind of books?" He asked her.
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The flood of relief Hana felt with the Captains words told her she made the right choice. And so, like all reasonable people facing a major change in life, she went shopping.

First Hanabaptiste visited the apothecaries and magical supply shops- This was her first time serving as a Weather Mage on a real ship, and she needed to make sure that it went as smoothly as possible. She bought all the fundamentals she could think of- Moss Island turtle shell, dried punuuy bark, ehtrigs imported from Corf (the lemony smell gave Hana a twinge of homesickness,) olive oil (this she bought from the apothecary. The oil merchant was a fool who didn't know what elemental neutrality was if it bit him in the ass,) and countless other ingredients and supplies she'd be able to use while casting. And, realizing that she'd also be serving as the ships medic, bought a dog eared copy of The Yonnin Navy's Official Chiurgeon Manuael from the apothecary, as well as medical supplies that let her be prepared for anything, from shot wounds to snake venom to cures for the clap (they were pirates, after all.)

When she presented her supplies to the Captain to be loaded aboard ship, asking if there was anything else he thought they might need, the big man just laughed, "I'm starting to wonder how we managed to survive this long without a Mage aboard, but I think you should concern yourself about being comfortable aboard ship." Nodding to the drab gown she was wearing, he said, "Get a new wardrobe, what works on land doesn't always translate to being at sea."

So she went out again, this time in a different part of town. She purchased linen knee breeches, clean white poets shirts, and a pair of ankle boots she enchanted to be waterproof. Admiring herself in the mirror at the tailors, she thought she looked like a gallant straight from one of the plays. Maybe the pirates life is for me.

The last day she spent in the book stores, she'd be at sea for a while, and didn't expect there to be many books on a pirate ship. She found an old textbook from the Schools; it had been printed before the Green Grass Fallacy had been disproven, but since she didn't plan on working sophisticated thaumaturgy, it was still useful to her needs. There was a folio of popular songs for the harp which she purchased on a whim, maybe they'd steal a harp for her to play (How quickly she adapted to piracy!) She also found a collection of Vhilliers plays which she couldn't resist, some thought that he pandered to the base crowd, but she always enjoyed the witticisms Vhilliesrs excelled at. There was a travelogue by the explorer Des Enrolo which promised to be exciting. Finally, she purchased a complete set of the Midengarium, the ancient epic that had been recently translated and had been the favorite of the courts when she left. She wasn't willing to pay the outrageous amount the book merchant had been asking for it, so she agreed to ward the book store from mildew in exchange.
Berlin and another sailor, a cheerful man missing a finger, helped load her supplies onboard. Hanabaptiste was committed now, she'd sold her furniture, settled rent, and had moved all her possessions onto the pirate ship. Better or worse, this was her life now.




Pieter kissed Maria on the cheek one last time as he swung his bag over his shoulder.
"I half wish I could come with you. Give up on trying to corral these idiots and go back out to sea. It'd be nice."
Pieter laughed, stepping out of the dirty entryway to the temple,
"Darling, you'd draw a kraken onto us before we left the port. Stay here, it's not many priests who live this long. Show the young curs how to treat with the gods, and enjoy that four poster bed of yours. Trust me, the bunk isn't as pleasant as you remember it."

She sniffed, glared at the sea dog with contempt, then shook her head and hugged him again. "It's just rare to see old friends like you now. Don't make me come cut you down from a gibbet, you hear?"

He mocked a courtly bow which was only ruined by his canvas bag hitting the splintery wood of the dock, throwing him off balance. Maria returned with a curtsy and a rude gesture, and returned to the temple. Pieter looked up at the sun shining brightly, and turned to walk back to the Borealis. He'd had a pleasant leave, but he'd feel better back out at sea. And Maria had helped him with how he planned on teaching Uban the ways of the Salt. No more hemming or hawing, he knew what he had to do.




Wheel didn't remember much of his leave, but his crotch itched in a way it hadn't before. That wasn't unusual, so he returned to the ship on time for once, carrying a barrel of rum under one arm and a new cutlass in the other. The curse was starting to mutter again, and he planned on letting it out in a place he wouldn't be arrested. He was surprised when he found out the Cap'n had hired a mage for the ship, although he was less impressed when he found out she didn't seem to be the fighting type.




Hanabaptiste adjusted to the ship, the pitch of the waves still made her a little queasy, but she welcomed the call for dinner all the same. Sitting in the galley next to the boy, Rio, she tried to ignore his slights. So when Uban- the friendly one- asked her about the Schools, she replied,

"Yes, I studied for awhile at Cleaup School. That was the institution that taught weather magic. Summonining lightening? Well, I certainly wouldn't do it in here!" Pieter, the old sailor who had shown Hana how to fit everything into her sea chest, chuckled. "My instructors could summon lighting, as could any fully trained mage. It's incredibly dangerous, however, to directly control weather in such a way. If I tried to, I'd probably be burnt to a crisp as well as the rest of the ship." Seeing the slight disapointment on the mans face, she continued, "I can, however, do this." Taking a pinch of salt, Hana made the bumbo in Uban's cup freeze solid as he was about to take a drink. Smiling at his surprise, she waved her hand and the spell reversed itself, returning the drink to it's liquid state. Relieved, Uban sipped it, it was pleasantly chilled, but otherwise the same.
Watching intently, Rio blurted out, "What's school?" breadcrumbs spilling onto the table. The complete breach of etiquite was so startling that Hana answered simply after Berlin had rebuked the boy,
"Yes, school is a place where boys and girls go to learn about the world to become upstanding young men and ladies. Well, when I was your age, I was reading my grammar books and arithmetic. When I was older I attended Cleaup School, which was founded by other Elbari five hundred years ago. When I was there, I read a lot of different things, but mostly books about magic. And since I was becoming a weather mage, I read a lot about how the weather works. If I had stayed, I would have started practicing what I'd learned. What kind of books do you read, Ro- umm, Rio?"
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Uban rubbed his short-bearded chin. "I wonder...could you direct it to me? Lets say were were on land, and you called a bolt down and directed it to me...you think that's possible? Cause I wonder if I could, once you actually summon it, harness it. Bend it. See, 'cause I can summon electricity if it's small, and once I have it I can move it around and the like. Here, see?" Uban clapped his hands together and then spread them apart, dragging a wild purplish blue arc between them like opening an accordion. It buzzed and flared and crackled, making Pieter's hair stand on end beside him.
Berlin snapped his fingers. "Oi, Uban, not at the table. You can start a fire like that you know."
"Right..." The arc fizzled out in an instant, a silence filling the space where the crackling and buzzing had been. "But imagine if I had a whole lightning bolt." He gave a wild eyed smile and a small manic laugh for a moment before sobering. "Ah, but you're probably right. It'd likely fry me, too."

At the near use of his second name, Rohaan's sharp eyes focused on Hanabaptiste with a dark intensity that had not been there since he'd first come to in her little room. Then, he'd seen her first and not Berlin, and growled as a wolf with bared teeth, ears back. That same look was in his eyes for just a flash, just a tiny moment before the expression settled back into curiosity. Rohaan could tolerate the misuse of a name from someone who was new and did not understand...once. But she had caught herself, so he let it go quickly.
"I don't read," he huffed. "And what's ar...ari..."
"A-rith-ma-tic," Berlin sounded out for him slowly. "It's...rajinai," he translated. "Kind of. And besides, you do read a little. You're learning anyway. You can write your name. All three of them, right?"
"Aye."
"Well," Berlin began, "Maybe if you asked nicely, Hanabaptiste might teach you to read. She's got a lot of books with her, maybe you'll find one interesting. But you'll have to ask her, Rheoaan."
The boy sighed, poking his finger into his piece of bread just to watch the soft air bubbles collapse before he tore a piece off and chewed it thoughtfully. Rohaan was quiet for a while as he considered this idea, and even as the meal went on, he kept looking at her, mulling it over. It wasn't easy for him to ask, and Berlin knew it. When it came to their interactions, Berlin was very intentional about gently coaxing Rohaan to be more friendly towards her, or finding ways that they would need to interact further.

Uban absently twisted the stem off a bright red apple. "Are you a music person, Hanabaptiste?" He asked casually. "I myself play the lute and can sing reasonably well, if you can believe either of those things." He smiled, holding up his left hand, on which the ring finger was missing. He wiggled what was left of the stump. "Traveling so much has been fun, just to see all the different cultures, including different kinds of music and versions of songs. Speaking of which, where you from originally, anyway? I mean, I'm assuming you're not from Telor. And, if I had to guess, you're not from Yonin at all, are you?"

Finally, as the meal was mostly finished and at that point it was mostly just the crew sitting back and enjoying their rum, Rohaan reached one small hand out to tap Hanabaptiste's arm. When she turned her attention to him, he spoke very quietly. "Maybe...could you teach me to read? And...um...what do I call you?" Hanabaptiste seemed like a long name to him, and long names were not ones usually given to strangers. But he knew also that most humans did not have three names like he did, which just left him feeling unsure. "Do I call you Hana? Or...?"
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Hanabaptiste's eye widened as she saw the arc of lightening flare between Uban's hands. The bright, guttering light lit the galley, throwing the grilled fish on her plate into harsh relief. "No, that's very unusual, I've never seen anything like that before. If you'd like, we could arrange to have some tests, figure out what exactly you're capable of. We'd start with something small and work our way up," she glanced at the Captains unreadable face, "With the Captain's permission, of course."

Hana saw the boys restrain the feral look in his eyes, and a slight chill settled on the back of Hanabaptistes neck. He was, she reminded herself, an incredibly dangerous and powerful creature whose kind had been kept from Elbar for over a decade. But the split second of icy fear faded and she was left looking at a boy admitting he couldn't read. Clearing her throat politely, Hana turned back to her meal.

Wheel watched the crew interact and sweet talk the girl. Yeah, she was fine enough and had a good backside, but her fancy manners she showed off to everyone was starting to piss him off. She was a pirate now, but she was still acting like she was a godamn noble. She should have pissed off somewhere else, and the Cap'n had been an idiot when he took her on. He rocked back in his chair, propping his feet on the table, drinking deeply from his rum and ignoring her. Even her voice was annoying, fucks sake. Even Uban was trying to charm his way into her pants, it was driving him up the wall.

Pieter listened to the girl and Uban talk. That boy was able to make friends with damn near anyone he met, and the Elbari girl was no exception. He had been to the girls homeland before, and he was curious when Uban would figure out that he was talking to someone whose nation had been at war with his until fifteen years ago. Pieter'd been a pirate long enough that he didn't even pretend to have a shred of national attachment. A mark was a mark, didn't matter if they were your countryman or some other bastard. While Berlin was distracted, Pieter tapped Rohaan's foot with his shoe. At the same time he slid his cup across the table so it was within Rohaan's reach. The boy looked up with an eager, expactant look, giving him a wide grin as he took a massive swallow of rum.

Uban was toying with an apple when he asked Hana bout music. She had finished her meal and was now sipping a cup of rum. She wasn't able to put away as much as the pirates did, and was already a little tipsy. She was glad that her dark skin and the dim lighting hid the blush on her cheeks as she turned slightly away pretending to look out the porthole. She imagined her mother watching her play harp with a Telorian pirate. She'd probably have died of shock, the impropriety of it! The thought of it made her uncomfortable as well, but it wouldn't do to be rude. "Well, I've always enjoyed going to the operas and the singing plays, since I was a girl. I like to sing as well. I haven't had a need to play the harp for a while, now. Tell me, how did you learn to play lute? I once met a man in Gabelburg that had lost both his arms fighting during the civil war. He had been a harpsichordist, so he'd taught himself to play with only his feet! He sat in a tavern and played songs with his feet all day! He was rather good, too."

A small hand tapped roughly on Hana's arm. Turning, She saw Rio, gaze fixed down, saying, "Maybe...could you teach me to read? And...um...what do I call you? Do I call you Hana?... Or?" She smiled sweetly, speaking softly, "Hana works just find. And yes, I'd be honored to help you learn to read. We can start whenever you'd like."
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Uban brightened. "Now there's an idea! Whatcha say Cap'n? We could carve out time for a little training session, eh?"
Berlin gave a slow nod from behind his wooden cup of pungent rum. Berlin himself was not into whoring or gambling much, except maybe the occasional card game here and there, so there wasn't much he blew his money on. Instead, he spent a good deal of his personal share supplementing what they set aside for the crew as a whole. He made sure to buy good rum and not the cheap swill, and whenever they came into port, he splurged on getting fresh fruits, meats, bread, and other perishable foods that they normally didn't get out at sea.
"I always encourage training and experiments. I'd rather have you test something when we're anchored off some remote sandbar than in combat. And besides, we've developed a fighting strategy amongst us, but now we've got new talent. It might be time for a slight revision, as well as having Hanabaptiste looped in on some of our current strategies. Aye, I think having a day off from sailing would do us all some good. I'll set a course tonight for the Irah Archipelago and we'll have ourselves a mini tropical vacation for a day."

Uban smiled. "You play the harp? Beautiful things, those are. I never have played one before though. Nor have I seen any plays or operas or the like. See, I was a farmer most of my life. I'm from Unata, it borders Yonin to the East. This tiny little hillside village called Oak Hill. Anyway I learned to play on my own as a lad, and I got good at it eventually. But then, y'know, life had other plans. Accidentally killed a man, got sent to prison, lost a finger in the escape, and now I'm a little hampered when I chord with my left hand. I learned to do it with my right, but never quite as well. But I can't imagine playing with my feet!" Uban laughed. "Maybe I'll try it sometime, just because. Do you sing at all? You'll have to teach us some songs from your homeland! And maybe one of these days we'll find you a harp, eh?"

Berlin was relatively quiet, listening to the conversation happening around the table and enjoying his liquor. Mostly, he was watching his crew, gauging how well they were receiving their newest member, as teamwork and harmony within the crew was important--nay, crucial, to success in their profession. Unlike Rohaan, Berlin did not press Wheel to engage with her. The man was naturally quiet anyway, and he was a grown man. He would learn to trust her, if nothing else than out of necessity. Besides, despite having a temper, Wheel did not bite. Rohaan, occasionally, did.

The boy answered her softly, and if one did not know him, it could almost be mistaken for shyness instead of just hesitancy. "Maybe...after dinner...?" His eyes flicked to Berlin as if he were asking him, too.
"Chores first, Rheoaan," Berlin answered without even looking up from his cup.
"Oh. Aye Ca-mm. Chores first. But then...when I'm done cleaning up the galley after the meal...well, I'm not supposed to be aloft yet for a bit, so maybe then? Aye Ca-mm?"
"Aye," Berlin allowed. He turned in his seat to stare at the boy with all the intensity and authority of an admiral. "But don't you test her Rheoaan." When the boy looked somewhat offended, Berlin did not buy it. "I know you, you little scoundrel. You push limits like a conquering army challenges borders. Don't. Any shenanigans and I'll have you scrub the deck until it surpasses even Pieter's standards. Y'hear me?"

Rohaan sighed. "Aye Ca-mm." He turned his attention back to Hanabaptiste. "So....do you have any books that are..." He scowled, his little golden brows wrinkling his suntanned skin as he tried to search for the right word. Not the most eloquent of speakers, he gave up with trying to find something more specific and simply went with, "interesting?" It was not meant to be a condescending sort of question and his tone showed that plainly. He was merely curious was all.
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Hanabaptiste was taken by how collected the Captain was, ordering his crew with a practiced air that expressed courtesy and brooked no disagreement. It wasn't anything like the other sea captains she'd known, who were taciturn men prone to vice. Well, he was comfortable with silence, and it wasn't like he was a saint. Still, she thought, the man had something about him.

Uban, meanwhile, had a way with words. While conversing with him, she found herself laughing and enjoying herself. Most of her time traveling as a hedge mage had been in solitude- traveling alone was generally safer for those with a shaved scalp on the continent. Petty highwaymen would rarely target mages without the incentive of great wealth. So the only dangers Hana faced on the road was her own inexperience as she adapted to a lifestyle on the road. Consequently, it meant the long stretches of empty road dragged on in silence. Hanabaptiste rarely stayed long enough in a single town to put down roots, and she never felt safe in the rowdy taverns. Friendly company was welcome, and even if slightly rough, it was sincere.

The man with the propped feet languidly stood up, moving with the relaxed grace of a lionhawk. "I'll check the traps, Cap'n. Maybe when the hedge mage is done with her pet projects, she could curse the fucking rats off this ship." He left the room, leaving a palpable chill.

It was in this chill that Rio huskily asked her, "So...do you have any books that are.....Interesting?" The first thought was the strict governess she'd had that taught her how to read High Thasyne- rote memorization and a switch to the inside of the knee for every grammar mistake in the essays she was forced to write.

"Let's start with Militie Huns. It's a new comedy that came out, and it should be easy to learn from. Find me after you're finished with your chores."
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