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Uban listened quietly, still rowing only out of force of habit, not because he was paying attention. Not to that. He couldn’t imagine watching his friends die like that, knowing he only survived by luck or some extra strength or force of will. But mostly luck, he guessed. And he could’t imagine someone thinking that throwing lives away like expendable coin was okay. His own life had been devalued at one point, but that was because he had technically committed a serious crime and it wasn’t like they all wanted him dead. No, he couldn’t quite imagine that.

He wanted to thank Pieter for not being that way, but he didn’t feel the time was right.

He gave a weak smile. “Those things get sloshed?” He started to laugh, but then he recalled that not everyone was pleasant or amusing when drunk. “Stars above, I hope they aren’t anything like my ol’ Da when he drinks.” But even this was a bit of a joke, so his smile stayed even after the brief chuckle fizzled out. But then his smile did fade and melted into a more sober expression as he said, “If you think I’m worthy, I’d be honored to take up the helm.”



Rohaan thought he would listen in to gain some insight, and for a while he thought he’d get it even through all the sharp banter. But in the end, he just found himself…angry? Though at what, he couldn’t quite figure out. Some detached part of him that was not mired by exhaustion wanted to jump in and defend one of them but…to be honest, he had no idea which one he felt was to blame, and which one he felt he should defend.

This just served to confuse him in an uncomfortable, irritating sort of way so he tried to shut it out and go back to sleep now that he knew he wasn’t going to learn anything about the Barizians and what he would be up against. But…

”Is that what you're going to do to Rohaan after you're done civilizing him?”
“We shoot rabid dogs in Elbar.”


Rohaan didn’t like the way his stomach twisted. It got tight and uncomfortable and like a wave of strong nausea he just gritted his teeth and waited for it to pass. Did she mean him, or Wheel..? He didn’t know. And it might have just been his unfamiliarity with her and the kind of automatic fear that feeling brought with it, but it wouldn’t be the first time he’d been called a rabid dog.

Rohaan physically shook his head, curls bouncing as he tried to shake away the tension in his gut. He didn’t want that right now. He just wanted to relax and forget about it.



The two men returned to find only Berlin on deck. And after giving their Captain their new heading, Uban studied Berlin and asked, “Do you know about this stuff? About what this one does?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder at Pieter. “And the kinds of things he gets up to? About….” He looked down at his feet as if he could see through the deck and straight down to the ocean floor. “About what’s down there?”
Berlin chuckled drily. “No, lad. Only about half a clue, which is why I have him. Someone’s gotta navigate the dark seas. Anyhow, take a few moments to regroup—We’ll be underway in half an hour.”
“Aye, Captain.” And Uban disappeared down below.

Berlin looked at his longtime friend. “So? How’d he do?” He asked when the younger man was out of earshot.

Uban strode down to his own little corner of the ship’s underbelly only to find that his hammock was occupied. He stood over it, looking down at the spray of pale curls that spilled out from under the blanket. “Seems I’ve got a thief!” He gently rattled one of the ropes holding it up, earning a disgruntled moan from Rohaan. “I’ll stitch him up in the canvas and make him walk the plank, that’s what I’ll do!” He playfully gathered the edges of the hammock and folded them in.
“Nooo, dooon’t….”
It wasn’t the equally playful reaction he expected, so Uban let go of the canvas and instead scooted onto the hammock beside him. “Wheel kick your ass?” He asked more softly, tucking one of his arms under his head and letting the other dangle off the side.
Rohaan sighed. “Maybe. We started with a sword and a s…h..eild. Shield?”
“Aye, that’s the word. Damn, no wonder you’re in a bad way. Swords are big. How’d you do?”
Rohaan gave a little shrug where he lay. “Bad. I put a dent in the gunnel. Don’t tell Ca-mm.”
Uban couldn’t help laughing. “I won’t. You got bruises, then?”
”Eroa.”
“What’s that one mean?” Uban asked. He didn’t know vokurian like Berlin did, who could speak it with the boy almost as well as the boy could speak Carisian, but he picked things up from time to time.
“Very many. What did you do?”

Uban took a breath and thought for a moment as he absently pushed the hammock to swing back and forth with a couple fingers pressed against the floor to push against. “We uh, sort of summoned a giant sea turtle, got it drunk and then I very nearly got us killed with sheer stupidity. You know. No big deal. Normal stuff.” Each turned his head to exchange a look with the other; Rohaan poorly concealed his own twisted smile.
“Was it big?”
“Uh, yeah. Bigger than this ship. I thought for sure it was going to eat us both.”
“Whoa…”

The two continued to lay next to each other in amiable silence, Uban gently pushing off the floor with his fingertips and Rohaan twirling a loose thread from the blanket around his finger.
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Pieter chuckled and took another sip of the gin, "Don't worry lad. No need to take the helm just yet." Red cheeked, he passed the flask to Uban, "You're fine at the oars."

---

Once they had returned to the Borealis, Pieter went to his captain, pausing only to retrieve the bottle of soldiers wine he'd stashed behind a stack of ropes. Uncorking the bottle with his pocket knife, he tipped the bottle back, organizing the report in his head. "We're sailing south three days to a small island. They have nine galleys, though one of them is bigger than the rest. The waters around them smell of blood." Handing the bottle to Berlin, he looked down to the sea. "The lad... Handled it. We were lucky, the turtle was a happy drunk. We got what we wanted, we made it back alive. I'll call that a success. It's a start." He grew quiet.

---

Hana leaned back from her desk, closing her eyes. She was trying a new method to apply the enchantment. Well. Really, it was a cantrip to shine your shoes that she'd modified to work on the sails. Well. It would work. She just had to make sure. Just a double check of the grammars. Which meant recalculating every spell variable. Which meant that she'd been bent over her small desk, scribbling equations on her paper. But now none of it was making sense. A dull ache had formed between her eyes and it grew worse everytime she looked at her work. She needed a break. A sullen, stubborn voice in her head insisted she work through it. It wasn't very loud, and it gratefully shut up when she stood up and left her room, prowling the ship for company.
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Berlin took the wine, realizing as if for the first time that they were alone on deck. Which was...nice. Nicer, now that they had a bottle between them. He swigged it. The stuff tasted like grape piss but...not entirely in an unpleasant way. Whether that was objectively true, or he'd just learned to appreciate it over the years, Berlin couldn't guess. "Handled?" That, admittedly, wasn't the answer Berlin had hoped for...though he wasn't sure what he was supposed to realistically expect. "Uban's a likable sort. Probably remains true even with...large...creatures. What exactly did you get drunk out there, Pieter?" The question was asked out of curiosity rather than a need to know. He was glad they had a heading though. In theory, he could have had Rohaan fly patrols all day in search of the ships, but the exhausted lad wouldn't be able to do much in the way of rigging, so they'd be down a member. All of it translated to losing time, but now he had a direction. The chase was on, now.

--

Rohaan always thought the creaking of the ship's timbers made a kind of tune. Not one he could whistle out, not one he could describe. But it hummed along all the same like the whisper of wind or the pounding of waves on the shore. Each note punctuated by the soft sway of the hammock back and forth. He was back asleep in minutes. Nestled in beside Uban and borrowing a little of his warmth, he drifted back off to a dreamless sleep as his body struggled to recuperate from all he'd done today.

Even Uban let his eyes close a bit, as the sway of a hammock and the creak of the ship was a call he had not the will to ignore. Though he never fully went off to sleep, not really, he dozed very lightly. It was nice, now that he was coming down from all the adrenaline. That was an experience he'd not soon forget. But as he heard footsteps, he peeled one eye open to find Hana exiting her room.

"Oi!" he said softly. "What've you been up to?" The question was relaxed; a casual curiosity. At his words, Rohaan stirred back awake, but seeing Hana and not knowing really how to interact with her at the moment (or in general, really) he stayed silent and occasionally stole glances at her. Uban hooked a thumb at the lad. "Found a rat in my bed. Tried to shoo it away but I lost that battle." He smiled a little at his own joke.
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Pieter scratched the back of his neck, "Just a sea turtle. They're old bastards, and they see a lot more than they let on. We got some rum in them, and they told us what we wanted to know. They mentioned an eel, though I don't think it's an actual eel. It must be something the Barizians have." He shrugged, "Of course, it might be nothing. The troubles of the sea rarely touch the surface." He looked wryly at Berlin as he scowled at the wine. "Drink well, Captain. We'll need our strength."

---

Hana smiled gently at the boy curled up in the hammock, "Well, when you find Rohaan, ask him if he could turn into a cat so he eat it." Sliding down the bulkhead, Hana sat, long legs splayed out. Her breeches had a tear in the knee. She wasn't sure when that had happened. She'd need to fix it. After she'd enchanted the sails. "Too tired to sleep. How are you?"
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An eel..? Berlin wasn't sure what to make of that. Was that supposed to be some kind of joke that only the turtle knew about? Or was it really something the Barizians had? From the little Berlin knew of the great turtles, he guessed it could really be either. They would find out soon enough, though.

Berlin smiled at his old friend and lifted the bottle of wine to his lips once more. "Cheers, mate."

---

Uban got ready to answer Hana and got so far as even drawing in a breath when he felt a disturbance beside him. Rohaan had sat up a little, but that's not what made him pause. It was the way the kid bristled. It wasn't something he could see, not like a dog's fur being raised up, but he could feel it all the same.
"IT'S RIO!" the boy snarled, hands balled into fists. He had a hard, mean look in his eyes.
Uban put one hand on the boy's chest as if preparing to hold him down. Not that he could if he really decided to put up a fight. "Whoa, whoa, hey, easy bud."
"She--"
Uban cut him off. "Easy, Rohaan. She's new around here, and you're probably the first shifter she's ever met. Maybe you should explain the name thing to her--it's not something that comes naturally to us." He spoke coolly, taking a page from the book of Berlin and keeping calm. It was infectious, because Rohaan showed no signs of escalating any further, though he didn't appear to want to explain either. At least, not at the moment. He was tired, sore, and irritated, and he wasn't really sure how he felt about Hana at the moment. Eventually though, the boy relented.
"Vokurians are given 3 names. And it matters which one you use. The short one, Rio, is for anybody. For people you don't know real well. The middle one, Rohaan, is for friends. That's something you gotta EARN," he said sternly. "The long one, Rheoaan is for family only. You haven't earned the second one yet. It's for people I trust and I don't know if I trust you yet..." The last part came as a very quiet, very soft admission. It was true, too. He hadn't decided one way or the other and in general, it took him a long time to trust new people. After all, if his life's experience was to be considered, the had very little reason to dole out his trust readily.

Uban gave Hana a small, sympathetic smile. Earning Rohaan's trust was something of a rite of passage on the Borealis--every one of them had done it at one point or another in their own way and time, including Uban. It had been difficult for him to recall those days as he lay snuggled up to the kid like his older brother, but now that he thought about it, he did remember his own 'trial period'. Rohaan had come a long way since then, and Uban noted to himself, amused, that Hana had it easy. "He'll come around eventually," he assured her. Uban stretched a bit as Rohaan settled back down beside him. "I uh...had an eventful day. Came a little too close to death for my own liking but um, yeah. You know." He smiled and shrugged. "Summoned a massive turtle from the deep, got it smashed, probably almost got eaten...But hey, we've got a heading now."
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The night was clear, and the stars sparkled gaily in the sky. Pieter's contentment was like a solider's. He knew full well the danger he was walking into. Dragon or not, an eight to one fight would be ugly. He didn't assume he would get to spend his time at the rail with Berlin, or anyone, after the battle. So, he thought, as he tipped back the bottle, he would appreciate the moment. They were all starting to think about what was coming. The sea was happy, and Pieter was fatalistically at peace.

---

Hana flinched. The boy's angry voice cut through the tired fog around her. The suddenness of his snarl, the anger that exploded in the quiet space. It carried the threat of a shapeshifter. Then Uban had intervened, a sailor throwing sand over a sudden fire. Seven virtues, what was going on? She was going to fight slavers on a pirate ship. She was teaching a boy who could turn into a dragon how to read. And now she'd angered him. Cascading waves of emotion rolled over Hana, numbing her. She watched through half lidded eyes as Uban coaxed Rio to explain. Hana sat silently as Rio spoke, her legs crossed, palms resting on her knees. She didn't trust herself to speak. Finally, after Uban finished giving his fragmented explanation of the days events, she rose. "I apologize for my crassness. It was a slip of the tongue." She gave a habitual half-bow as farewell, "If you'll excuse me, it is late, and I should like to retire." She slipped behind her cabin door before either could speak.
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Uban had opened his mouth to say something but the intake of air stuck in his throat when she bowed and excused herself. Watching her go, he let loose the breath in an exasperated sigh. Rolling over, he looked at Rohaan. "NOW look what you've done. You can't go fly off the handle like that, Rohaan. C'mon."
The boy was indignant and though he kept his volume low, his pitch went up a bit. "But she was rude first!"
"She didn't know! She never had nobody explain it to her, not proper. Now you went and made her nervous--you do that to people you know. You can be a scary little shit sometimes."
Rohaan folded his arms, glowering. "Good."
"No, it ain't." Uban's tone was firm, but cool and calm. He had learned long ago that escalating with Rohaan never led anywhere productive and could outright be dangerous. "She's probably heard all kinds of stories--just like we all did--about how vokurians are demons."
"But I'm not a demon!" Rohaan demanded, a tiny, tiny note of desperation in his voice, as if he had to convince Uban. "I'm a person..."
Uban softened. "I know. We all know that because we know you. And she wants to believe that too, I know it. But when you snap all the time," he made a biting motion with his hand, repeatedly striking Rohaan's arm with it to illustrate his point, "It makes it really hard for people to see that. Right?"

Rohaan was silent, musing over what exactly he wanted to say. His lack of clarity in this frustrated him. Finally he spat, "But I don't trust her."
Uban nodded knowingly. "I understand. You don't have to, and no one will make you. But you gotta give her a chance. You didn't trust me either, did you?"
"...No..."
"And Berlin trusts her. I trust her. She saved your life. Doesn't that count for something?"
It did. But Rohaan wasn't ready to admit it out loud. "I don't want to get hurt."

Uban blinked at him for a moment. Emotional honesty was not a strength of Rohaan's, and on the few occasions it did happen, it usually only scratched the surface of what was happening in the boy's head. What was it like, he thought, to be so widely hated and despised? To be so fearful for his own life and safety so often? "She wouldn't hurt you, Rohaan."
"She said she was gonna light Wheel on fire..."
Uban tried not to but he couldn't help laughing. "Really now? Huh...I'd like to see that," he said, knowing fire would probably do little to Wheel except irritate him.
Rohaan waved a hand. "Well Wheel is...different, he can do that kinda thing. What--" Rohaan let out a defeated breath, took a moment, then started again. "What if she lit me on fire? Would she?"

Uban stared. Another rare moment of clarity, and a tough question. Not that the answer was tough to give, but it was an ugly thing to try and wrestle with all the same. That was how the boy thought. Day in. Day out. But Uban began to understand. He'd overheard something that bothered him, something that scared him, and his way of coping was to lash out. The man shook his head. "Stars above, Rohaan...no, she wouldn't do that. She's one of us now. And we look after our own."

That quieted the boy. He didn't say anything else, just leaned back in the hammock and quietly sorted through what Uban had said. It was nearly half an hour of this silence before Rohaan said softly, "Uban?"
The man had been half asleep but at the sound of his name he forced one eye open, raising his eyebrows as if lifting them would drag his eyelids open too. "Mmm?"
"Can you help me with something?" Rohaan explained his thoughts to Uban, who did indeed help the boy. It took some time and diligent effort, but soon Rohaan slid off the hammock and padded over to Hana's door, sliding something under it before climbing back up into the hammock beside Uban. It was a little piece of parchment. Written on it in the wobbliest, most rudimentary penmanship was one single misspelled word.

Sory

--

The next morning held sunshine and a healthy wind that made all of them feel a sense of momentum and vigor. It wasn't just the motion of the ship cutting merrily through the waves, but a feeling like things were going to happen that day, and like they were getting closer to their goal. Their mission felt more real, more imminent instead of a far off ideal they hoped to someday reach. This battle would happen, and thanks to the turtle's heading, it would be sooner rather than later.
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The cabin door shut behind Hana as she let out a heavy sigh. So much for her hopes of a night of quiet camaraderie. The seed of a headache had started to sprout behind Hana's eyes, and she scowled as she crossed the small room to her desk. She laid several pistol balls on the scratched wooden desk next to several sheets of fresh paper. Sitting down, she went back to work.

---

Morning found Hana asleep in her chair. Massaging the tight knots that had formed in her back, Hana wondered if she had finally found her sea legs. The movement of the ocean hadn't disrupted her work last night, and evidently it didn't keep her from sleeping at the desk. Her headache had flowered overnight, and she walked up to the top deck with her head lowered to avoid the bright sunlight. She found Pieter splicing rope, holding his pipe in his mouth while he worked with his hands. "Good morning," he said, glancing up to look at her, "sleep well?" Though the pipe in his mouth kept him from smiling, there was easy humor in his voice. Hana greeted him, and went to the water bucket for a drink, "I slept well, though I woke up at my desk. I have something I think you'll be interested in." She withdrew the pistol and shot and held it up, "Do you know where Uban is?"
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Rohaan felt like he'd died overnight. If he thought he was sore that evening, his body reminded him that it could get so much worse the next morning. Usually full of energy, he was very subdued and slow as he ate breakfast and went about his usual chores. If shields made his arms feel like that, then he decided then and there that he did not like them. But of course, he wasn't about to tell Wheel that, and whenever the man passed him he stood up straight and tried to pretend like he wasn't in pain and his bruises didn't bother him.

"I ought to make Wheel work you every night. You're much better behaved when you're spent." Berlin smiled, slapping the boy's chest with one big bear-paw of a hand and earning a soft, 'oof' sound. In retaliation, Rohaan punched Berlin's leg, but he was smiling.
"Is it true that Uban and Pieter saw a big turtle? Like a really really really big one?"
Berlin nodded. "Yep. I haven't seen one but I hear they're the size of a house. Also..." the captain leaned in closer, his tone growing soft and conspiratorial. "I found something for you. Something special."
"Rum!?" Rohaan beamed.
Berlin snorted, thinking for a moment that he and his crew had created a ten year old alcoholic-to-be, and shook his head. "Nah, something more special than that. Here." Berlin handed him a little rectangular object wrapped in waxed paper. The boy unwrapped it excitedly but frowned up at Berlin when he saw the smooth, dark brown brick inside.
"You got me...mud...? Or...is it some kind of special stone?" The boy held it out in his palm, scrutinizing it.
"Sweet Tevira, boy, did I never introduce you to chocolate?"
Rohaan's frown deepened. "Ch...oc--say it again?"
Berlin looked like he'd just made some kind of grievous error and clapped one hand to his brow, eyes horrified. "I've obviously failed you, my boy! What kind of guardian am I? It's like caramel, it's a sweet. You eat it."
"Car...a..mel?"
"Sun and stars, lad! We've got some work to do. Well go on, eat it!" The captain watched eagerly as the boy took a timid bite and chewed slowly. Rohaan's initial scowl made Berlin fear he didn't care for it, but then he started to chuckle as he watched the young shifter's expression evolve from one of absolute confusion to one of delight.
"It's good!" The boy wrapped the rest back up, no doubt to stash away somewhere hidden to enjoy later.
"I'm only sorry I hadn't told you about it sooner. I just didn't think...anyway, I've got a favor to ask of you. We're two days out from the Barizians, but I don't want to walk in there blind. Tonight when the stars are out, will you fly overhead and see what we're dealing with? It'd be quite the distance, but I'll excuse you from morning chores tomorrow if you do. Are you up for it?"

Rohaan considered this for a while. He wanted to, and he knew it would help them when it came time to engage. But he was very sore. Then again, depending on what form he chose, flight would potentially use different muscles.
"Hana might have something for your sore muscles, if you ask nicely..." The boy glowered. "C'mon Rheoaan, she's not out to get you."
"How do you know?"
"Because I know. And you trust me, right?"
"...de'i," Rohaan nodded.
"Think about all the people who have tried to hurt you. Did any of them save your life first?"
"Je."
"Did any of them teach you how to read?"
Rohaan sighed. "You ask her."
Berlin laughed. "No! That's not how this works. You want it, you gotta ask. Anyway, think you can do a fly-by for me? You can't be seen, that's very important."
Rohaan mused for a moment, then nodded. "Aye Ca-mm."

--

Uban was at the wheel with Berlin's telescope in one hand and a map pinned to the helm with another. He was a decent navigator--far better than he was a cook. Seeing Hana beckon him, he stashed the telescope and rolled up the map, handed both to a passing Berlin, and joined her, looking at the pistol she held.
"We gonna shoot someone?" he beamed, then more seriously asked, "What's this for?" The sun was high and warm, so Uban hadn't bothered with shoes, and he'd broken out his spare shirt since his other one stank of sweat and saltwater too much for even his tolerance. This one was dark burgundy and actually had a little bit of embroidery around the open collar; clearly it was a small prize from a prior plundering.
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Wheel went topdeck, finding Berlin and the boy. He was silent as they spoke. The curse wrapped itself around him so tightly he could barely see out of it. His throat was dry and he kept salivating. When he spat, the spittle burnt his lips. "Berlin."

---

"We gonna shoot someone?" Pieter called out, "Aye, lad. You'll be our target." Hana laughed, and answered, "I want to test an idea I have with your lightning." Pieter perched himself on a nearby barrel as he watched. He saw Hana's gaze catch on Uban's shirt before it returned to his face. Life first as a farmer and then a sailor had left Uban rather trim, and he wondered idly where Hana's thoughts led. Evidently, the tall mage was driven to professional matters. "I want to find out if we can use Uban's lightning with firearms." Gesturing as she spoke, she laid out her thinking to them, "We know it's possible for Uban to strike objects from a distance with his lightning, so long as the object is enchanted. If Uban can strike a ball shot from a pistol, we could shoot lightning." Her face fell and she chewed her lower lip as she worked through a problem that she'd agonized over, "If the ball is moving too fast, of course, something else would have to be tried. We could try electrifying the ball with touch, and then firing it. Since blackpowder can't be ignited from lightning," She left out that she'd tried that last night when everyone was asleep, "There's little danger of the pistol exploding when you try to shoot it." Her initial flush of excitement had given way to steady philosophy. She had no personal attachment to the outcomes; her only concern was accurate testing. Maybe, Pieter thought, she hoped that if she were calm outwardly, it'd become true within.
"Any questions?"

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Berlin looked up with his stormy eyes at Wheel, studying his expression for a moment before looking wordlessly back down at Rohaan. The lad knew that look and quickly shuffled stiffly away to perch himself on the barrel Pieter was sitting on, though the lad turned into a little black cat that shoved his little head under Pieter's calloused hand to demand pets. Rohaan was never particularly good at articulating feelings and verbal affection was no exception. He did, however, have other ways of showing he liked someone's company, and it came out in different ways with different people. He liked to share silence with Pieter, though he did occasionally ask for old legends or for some of his own sea-tales, knot-tying lessons, or to ask him about the patterns of the stars and how to use them to navigate.

Berlin watched Rohaan go and, when the two were alone, the captain inclined his head. "Yes, Wheel?" Whether it was obvious to all or just some character of Berlin's innate magic, the captain could see the berserker was a little more tense and knew the curse was dogging him, gnawing at him. Berlin had educated himself a bit about the berserker curse either from written accounts of others or from asking Wheel directly. He had a vague, basic understanding of its effects, or at least enough to read Wheel when the curse was particularly restless in him. Berlin said nothing of this though, as was his way. He just silently watched and listened.

--

Uban chuckled and listened to Hana's idea. It was a good one. A wild, mischievous grin spread on his lips without really meaning to; he always got excited about trying new things with his lightning. He plucked one of the balls from her hand, turning it over a few times before experimentally tossing it a foot or two in the air and letting a thin little tendril of purple-blue lightning leap up towards it. Like the medallion from their practice, he could feel the object as though he could reach out with his mind and 'touch' it. Another toss--higher this time--and another jet of lighting, and as he caught the ball again, his green eyes seemed to have a slightly lighter, more yellowish hue though they hadn't turned completely.

"I think this could work. I mean, in theory. I've obviously never done it and I don't know how fast I can be. But let's say chasing a fired ball doesn't work, say it is too fast. If I'm the one holding the gun then the answer is easy, I just electrify the pistol and then fire. But if I'm on an enemy ship, say, or up aloft, and Pieter's the one holding the gun, then he runs the risk of getting zapped. Unless we made new handles with--wait! Hana, you did something that protected you from it when we practiced, a mark or something. Can Pieter do that before a battle?" He grinned toothily. "But I wanna try the first way though. Here, let me see that pistol..."

Uban took the weapon and, after rubbing the ball between his fingers for good measure as if to 'feel' it more strongly, he loaded it, cocked it, and fired straight up. With his right hand he sent a melon sized ball of lighting after the bullet, turning his eyes full golden. The lighting moved blindingly fast, almost like natural storm lighting, to seek its enchanted target. It found it with perfect accuracy and faster than Uban ever thought possible, and at his unspoken command the energy lingered around the ball as it streaked upward, arced a little, and then plummeted back down. Both ball and lighting struck the ocean's surface with a steaming pop, then both were gone.

Uban was laughing. "That...that was amazing. I've never seen it go that fast. Not even when we were practicing--then it just kinda, like, streaked across instead of literally jumping to it." And then Uban realized in a flash it had done so now because he had wanted it to. He looked down at his hands with a new appreciation. Just how much control did he really have...? "The only thing is though, with that way, I've got to be ready for it. If Pieter fired off a shot, I'd have to be watching him and wait for a given signal or else I'd miss it. So maybe you give him that enchantment to protect him and I try the method where I pre-zap it?"

He wondered with a surge of wild glee just how much lightning he could infuse a ball with at one time. She could enchant the cannonballs too, now that he was thinking about it. And if water conducted, what kind of damage could he do if they could ensure the deck of an enemy ship was thoroughly wet? Would he need a puddle? Or would soaked wood suffice? He didn't know, but he wanted to and his anticipation seemed to be boiling over. He got that way when he summoned lighting. Physically more drained the more he used it, perhaps, but was otherwise invigorated. A little more enthusiastic, a little more eager, a little more jubilant. It made him feel incredible like a jolt of adrenaline, and like he was tapping into something outside himself and yet a part of himself at the same time.
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Wheel looked at Berlin with lidded eyes. The captain silently dismissed the boy with a pointed look. He moved stiffly away, he'd need to recover before they continued their training. Of course, they'd be fighting the Barizians in a day or two. Berlin's feet were planted, and he looked steadily at Wheel. The man was confident. In himself, in his ability to handle the situation. Part of him wanted to push Berlin, see how he'd react. He needed the job, so he said, "How are we going to take out 9 galleys? You need three men to an oar. They board the Borealis, it's hard to imagine how we'd survive." They were tough, but the numbers meant a head to head fight would kill them.

---

Hana smiled tightly. The excitement that made her want to shout was instead channeled into reloading the pistol Uban had fired, as well as loading it's sibling. "Now, I want to see if you can chain the lightning from one ball to another."

---

Pieter lifted his hand up for the cat, then settled it behind his ears, scratching gently as he watched the lights show. "Not causing any trouble, are you lad?" He said to the purring cat.
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Berlin didn’t speak for a while. He stood as if in a parade rest, hands behind his back and his feet slightly parted, looking thoughtfully out to sea. Wheel raised some good points. They were only six after all, and the Barizians were many. Any of them, even Rohaan, could be overrun by sheer numbers, though they all stood a better chance than most. He sighed. Berlin wanted an assured answer to give to his crew, but he frankly didn’t have one. They’d never planned an assault this large before and their normal, casual tactics wouldn’t apply here. Normally they could sack any ship they felt inclined to, or at least sink it. But this would be different.

“I’m not decided yet,” he said honestly. Wheel wasn’t the sort who liked dancing around truths anyway. “I want the lad to scout out late tonight, see what we’re up against. According to Pieter and Uban there’s nine ships, one of them larger than the others. But that’s all I know for certain. The lad will tell me what this island is like and where they’re situated. But I think a frontal assault is not the best way to start things off. It will probably end that way, but I think we need to be careful in how we approach. I don’t want to give them time to prepare, so stealth is of the utmost importance. We’ll strike at night for sure. But I think…” he tapped his lips absently. “I think our best weapon here is chaos. I want to cause as much as possible. Rheoaan can provide fire—nothing breaks ranks like fire. But I have…other things planned. Well trained men can deal with fire. They can deal with cannons. They can deal with a man coming at them with a sword. But there are some things you can’t train for…” he looked at his hands, then back up at Wheel and said frankly, his voice hard and resolute, “I’m going to make them kill their own captains, and then each other. It draws fire away from us and dwindles their number at the same time it cuts off their leadership. It means I’ll leave the ship in command of Pieter and Hana and lead the attack. Rheoaan can bring me in close and keep me moving and once the alarm is sounded, we begin the attack in earnest. That, at least, is my thought on it, but I welcome your input.”



Cat-Rohaan offered only a purring meow in reply, a bubbling, “Bbrrreeoow” as he closed his eyes and leaned into Pieter’s hand. Truthfully he was too tired and sore to cause much trouble and whether it was because he was currently a cat or because he really was that tired, part of him wanted to curl up and go back to sleep. He put that aside as a future option as he watched Uban and Hana work. A soft scraping noise came from the barrel’s surface as his little claws raked it with kneading paws.



“Chain it?” He couldn’t help but still be grinning, though some of his jubilance faded along with his confidence at that. “Well..I don’t know. I guess I’ve never tried. Maybe ah, let’s try a smaller scale version. Instead of firing them at full speed maybe we start by just tossing them up? This might take a few tries…”

He was right about that. Even at a slower speed he struggled to get the lightning to connect from one to the other. He could hit one perfectly, and on the next round he was able to hit the other, but both? It didn’t seem impossible. Uban compared it to learning a language—the words were out there, he just didn’t know what they were yet. He had to think of how to ‘phrase’ it, how to will the energy to do what he wanted. After a few more tries he managed to get both lit at the same time, though the lightning didn’t connect.

His eyes were a bright gold and the stray strands of hair that wandered out of his ponytail began to stick to his forehead and the sweat that beaded there. But he was determined. He could see where she was going with this and, if they managed it, it would be incredibly useful. If only he could get it. With the other things he’d tried, it had come so quickly; one or two failed attempts and he had it. But this eluded him. He was making progress, which was the only reason he didn’t write it off as impossible, but his exuberance gave way to frustration as he tried, failed, and repeated. But finally, sweaty and short of breath, he had a breakthrough. The lightning hit one ball and then moved over to the other almost lazily, leaving a trail of squirming bolts behind it, though the arc did not stay.

“This time! I think I’ve got it this time. I think I understand how it works….” He wished he could describe how it worked, but he wasn’t really sure himself. He just had abstract feelings of a connection, a link between him, the objects, and the lightning. A few deep breaths, a moment of focus, and then he nodded. The balls were tossed into the air once more and this time, blessedly, the arc jumped from his hand to one ball, then arced across to the other and stayed, forming a bridge between them. However, as the balls traveled at slightly different angles, they began to move further away from each other and as they did, the arc between them split and withdrew back towards each ball separately.

“YES!” He bellowed, relieved that he’d actually managed it. For one thing, he wanted to prove he could. But he was also getting tired. “There’s a problem though, if they’re too far apart, more than two feet or so, I can’t hold the arc between them. It just breaks. It’s like there’s too much space to fill and not enough….’stuff’ to fill it.”
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Wheel grinned slightly, and the edge of the curse sharpened so that the pain cut through him, leaving his eyes clear as he said, "Well, unless you intend to shout at them, we'll have to find a way to get you over to the ships. And we'll need to be mobile. Rohaan can't get caught in the fighting. Without him, you won't be able to leave the ships." He leaned against a barrel. His thoughts of rebellion had left, he was intent on tactics, trying to solve the problem with Berlin. "They're all galley ships. We could see about getting you on one ship, sweet talking the crew into killing each other, and leave enough oarsmen to ram the ship into the next." Catching the gleam of light in the corner of his eye, he watched Uban fling lightning around. "They're working on something- that's good. You're right, though. We're few and they're many. With chaos, we'll be able to reach our goals before they can figure out what we're doing." He rolled a cigarette, lit it, and offered it to Berlin.
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Berlin smiled too, just a little, and clapped one bearlike hand on Wheel's arm. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around," he said lightly, a twinkle in his eyes. He took the proffered cigarette, took a steady puff from it, and passed it back to him. Berlin was more of a pipe man, but he wouldn't refuse a cigarette, especially at a time like this. Smoking helped him think.

"Yes, I think that's a fantastic idea. Perhaps I can sabotage multiple ships that way. I can still use Rheoaan to get in close with stealth--If I take a rowboat, I'll surely be seen. Even an aerial drop, I'd be too visible, not to mention audible once I reach the first boat and it will expose him too early, too. But I have an idea. I'll have to talk with him and see how well it would work, but I'd like to approach under the water. If I swim out there, I'll surely make a bunch of splashing noises and it would take a long time. But if he were something strong and quick, a dolphin maybe, he could speed me along under water and bring me right to the first boat. I could board, set things in motion, and then slip back into the water again and get to another boat. He's safer in the water anyhow."

Silent in thought for a moment, Berlin absently smoothed his blonde hair back with one hand and then undid the tie binding it in a tail. He shook it out, the otherwise straight hair holding a kink where the tie had been. I'd like to keep the Borealis nearby but hidden somehow, though I won't know if that's possible until Rheoaan tells me about the layout of the island. If there's a bay or something we can hide in until the alarm is sounded and then spring out of nowhere, that would be nice. Mmm," he said suddenly, wagging a finger at the air like he'd just remembered something. "You know their ways better than I. Is there one ship we should attack first? The larger one? Or does it matter?"
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Pieter stroked the cat and chuckled at the response. "Awh, you're a good lad." He thought that it'd be nice to get a ships cat. Not every ship carried them, but many folks liked having a mascot. And so long as Rohaan wouldn't eat it, he didn't see why they couldn't.

---

Hana sucked her teeth, thinking her way through the problem. Uban had already passed the first challenge, but he wasn't able to split lightning. Not yet, and not in the way she'd like. Inside, she felt a slight twang of disappointment, Oh, why couldn't this be perfect? She chastised herself for thinking like that. He was able to strike the balls, and that could be worked with. And if he could split at a few feet... She wasn't sure yet how she could use that. She'd find a way.
Well, onto the main event.
"Excuse me, Pieter. Could you prepare and fire the cannon, please?"

The sailor stood up, apologizing to the cat for having to end the scratches. "Just a moment." After he had swabbed and packed the cannon, Hana hefted a cannon ball into Pieter's arms. It was covered in carvings, strange symbols in looping curves and right angles. "Sorry, I went into the armory last night. I don't think I broke anything." Pieter merely grunted, and rammed the ball into place.

"Alright. Before we test the actual weapon, I thought it'd be a good idea to try a miniature. It took me uh," Hana wondered briefly if she should tell them that she'd spent two painstaking hours carving the cannon ball, decided against it, and said, "A while. To make this. So, let's see if it'll work at all." She gave a smile with such beaming intensity Pieter nearly dropped the pipe he'd just picked up.

Taking a cast iron ball with a long metal rod attached to it from her pocket, (How much room in her pockets did she have?) she handed it to Uban. "When you're ready, hold the rod as far away from everyone as possible and zap it." She was blisteringly unconcerned, and Pieter wondered if the woman who always ate with a fork and knife had been replaced in the night. She had deep bags under her eyes, but she didn't seem tired. Which meant she was most likely exhausted. Well, he was curious to see what tricks she had up her sleeve. Stepping back from Uban, he could tell that the ball had as many symbols on it as the cannonball, except scaled down. How had she worked so delicately? It might explain the bags under her eyes. Pieter lit his pipe and puffed, hiding his nerves.

---

Wheel took a long drag off the cigarette, a flash of inscrutable emotion passing over his face. "They're all dangerous. But I wouldn't set foot on the big ship until we're sinking it. I don't know what would happen if you went aboard. But it's... Don't try to sneak onto the big ship."
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Rohaan really was thinking about curling up in Pieter's lap and taking a little nap. The petting and scratches was so nice, so relaxing, that all he really wanted was to go back to sleep. It was something he doubted most humans would understand. People did not pet other people like they pet dogs or cats, and the sensation was quite nice. Humans would never quite know that joy, but then they would never know the joy of being many things and one, to have no part of the world barred from them, not valley, not peak, nor ocean depths or sky. Rohaan had all these things in his grasp; he could not fathom being only one thing, bound to the ground and to the surface of the sea. He had heard stories about enchanted steel that was capable of binding a vokurian to his one humanoid form, though he had never experienced it himself. By all accounts, it was painful, excruciating, and terrifying. Did humans not feel trapped in their single forms only because they had known nothing else? Or were they miserable too, being locked into a single shape...?

His thoughts of naps were ruined as Pieter rose to assist with the canon; he actually meowed indignantly and sat with his black tail twitching for a moment before releasing the form and returning to his natural state, staying perched on the barrel Pieter had vacated. Oh, he was tired. But he was interested to see where this exchange was going, partly because he wanted to see what Uban could do and partly because he found himself looking at a very different Hana than the one he thought he knew. The boy, young but perceptive, had the inkling that she had been putting on a front, or at least was very guarded. People wore masks all the time and he had no time for them. They were all used to hurt and manipulate and he wanted no part of it. But this, this was something a little more real. He felt like he was seeing her unguarded for once, and he was curious to see just what kind of person she was. Berlin had faith in her and Uban liked her, Pieter didn't seem to mind her either. That counted for something. But Rohaan stubbornly held his doubts, for that was the only way to survive.

--

Uban took the metal rod and inspected it, studying the markings on the surface of the ball as if he could decipher any of it. He couldn't. Not a lick of it, but he did marvel at how precise it was. Cast iron was not an entirely smooth surface to work with, nor a forgiving material. It was hard and brittle and he wondered how exactly she'd carved it. She must have been up all night... He wondered also if she had proper tools or was managing with something made for another purpose, and thought idly that the next time they went into port, he would see if Rohaan would steal some to give to her. He wasn't exactly sure how, but that lad was impossibly good at pickpocketing and theft. He would disappear into a crowded square and return at the end of the day with a variety of impossible objects ranging from coin, clothing, interesting food items, or keys.

"Hold it away from everyone eh? What's uh...what's it gonna do?" He asked without expecting or wanting an answer; he would find out soon enough. But he had a kind of giddy nervousness about him as he leaned over the gunnel and held the rod out over the water. His gold eyes looked at the surprisingly excited Hana for a moment; it was good to see her loosening up and Uban realized he had a solemn duty to get that woman drunk until she finally relaxed. They'd make a pirate of yer, yet. Uban grinned and brought forth a tangle of buzzing lightning that swarmed his hand a bit before transferring obediently to the rod and then the ball at its end. Holding a conductive object was easy to connect with, he could feel it as an open space to send the energy like an open dock in a harbor.

--

Berlin's brows knit together a little. Not the big ship. That was easy enough, he could do that and would make sure everyone else knew the same. But it was the why that unsettled him. Berlin heard rumors of Barizians and their dark magic, blood magic he thought it'd been called, but he hadn't actually seen or known it firsthand. What was waiting for them on that ship?

His tone was measured, though his gray eyes betrayed his inner concern. "Something else I should know, Wheel?" he asked, arching one brow.
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There was a moment of silence as Uban stood on the deck, holding the misshapen sparkler over the water. Hana scratched an itch on her leg. Pieter blew his nose into a rag. There was a brief crackle of lightning, and the ball exploded. Hana wasn't much of an expert when it came to packing munitions, and she was relieved that instead of explosive shrapnel tearing everyone apart, a puff of white smoke wafted away.

Hana smiled and clapped her hands together, "Well, that was exciting. Shall we move on?"

---

The curse throbbed, and Wheel's vision blacked out. Grinding the heel of his hand against his eyes, the sight of Berlin's concerned face swam into focus.

"I'm fine." He snapped, "Don't touch me." Straightening up, he flicked the butt of the cigarette into the water.

"I'll attend to the ship, Captain." He said as he quickly walked away, his head aching.
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Berlin said nothing. With Wheel he found it was usually best not to, and he usually just left him to it when he got like that. Uban was usually quite forthcoming, especially if the two of them were alone and they had a moment of privacy. Heck, even without privacy Uban was still fairly easy to get things out of about himself. Rohaan, Berlin knew, took gentle coaxing and occasionally bribing in a calm environment. Wheel, however, was a closed book in comparison. A lockbox, more like it. And Berlin also knew that unless he planned to force the information out of him as a command or by some other means, it was better not to pry. Besides, Berlin knew enough by now that he didn't need to.

Still, he didn't like the way Wheel talked bout that ship. What exactly was going on there, and were there magical traps of some kind? Ordinary mechanical ones? He did wish he knew, but he also trusted his master-at-arms, particularly in this matter. He knew now not to sneak onto the ship and to deal with the other smaller ones first. The rest he would just find out later.

---

"Huh." Uban blinked up at the ball just as the lighting reached it. He didn't know what he expected exactly, but he had expected...well...something. "So wha--" Bang! He didn't even finish the question before the little ball burst in a cloud of smoke. The look on Uban's face was like a child receiving presents on his birthday; wide eyed, mouth open, and absolutely awestruck.

Rohaan, however, did not feel the same. He had been sitting on the barrel, thumping his bare heels against its side in a steady rhythm as he watched. But as soon as the thing went off, he leapt to his feet and with blinding speed changed to a sable wolf--his second favorite form--that was snarling with his head down low and his tail tucked behind Pieter's legs. He was only that way for a moment before he realized fully what had happened and that whatever it was, it was finished. He reverted forms back to his own and became a boy sitting on the deck behind Pieter, looking shaken but obviously trying to brush it off. He was pretty used to cannon fire at this point, and though he had absolutely no love for guns, the sound of them didn't make him panic. So why did this? Partly, he realized, he wasn't ready for it and it simply surprised him, and partly because though Uban set it off, it had come from Hana and he was still very very wary of her yet unquantified magic. He was generally jumpy, too, though he wasn't quite aware of that, or at least not consciously.

Their upcoming battle weighed on him, though he wouldn't admit it. After all, he had fought many times before. He was Rohaan Ja'aisen and he was not afraid of humans and their stupid guns. But he hadn't fought them before. And never had he been forced to wait for a battle and deal with the resulting buildup. They usually just happened across a target and struck as soon as they could catch them, and that was that.

Still, he thought as he picked up the end of a coiled rope and began to practice his knots for the sake of something to do with his hands, what Uban did with that thing was pretty cool. And he did admit to himself that he was maybe a little excited to see what else Hana had up her sleeve.

Uban was beaming. "You mean you have more!?" he laughed, almost manic with joy. "What else do you--" realization dawned on him. "Are you going to put one of those into the cannon?!"
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