Wydawca: Work On Color Kategoria: Fantastyka i sci-fi Język: angielski Rok wydania: 2017

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Opis ebooka Tales from Altro Evo - Mala Spina

* Get 3 books of fantasy adventures! *Altro Evo is a series of adventures in an alternate fantasy world (some sort of Sword & Sorcery magic-punk).Every story has a different hero, the story is independent but closely connected to the other episodes. All events take place over the same day, within the walls of the same old city, like a jigsaw puzzle.The series can be read in any order and each one is a self-contained ebook.THE DAY OF THE DRAGONGillean Conroy, sailor on the fastest merchant ship of the South Seas, has two problems: an amnesia, deep as a bottomless pit, and a stinking alcohol hangover.He has to find his way back to the port and reach the rest of the crew, but he woke up in a tough city to figure out.Gillean will run through the maze of the strange old city, trying to escape from bizarre characters and dangerous situations.He will find out that he is the only one who can solve the mystery of the dragon mark, and he need to do it fast because time’s running out and he has to put together the pieces of his memory before dawn.KAFRA THE MAGNIFICENTJelicho is an old bounty hunter and all he wants is one last job to get enough money to settle down.Kafra is a poor trickster and a phoney but there's a big hit out on him.It seems a child's play to kill him, but Jelicho doesn’t know how much he was wrong. Killing Kafra is easy, but keeping him dead is a hell of a problem.In the old city, nobody is safe and plans never go the way you want.UGLY AS DEATHLife is tough in a lawless frontier town and things don't get better if you’re ugly as death.Zira, barmaid in the worst tavern on the port, looks for a new job, but she has no idea she's going to be the only one to know when the whole city will be destroyed.And to make matters worse, she has to deal with a deadly and uncontrollable trunk, a crazy alchemist and creatures that are not supposed to exist in the world.Follow the Series on http://www.altroevo.com/english/

Opinie o ebooku Tales from Altro Evo - Mala Spina

Fragment ebooka Tales from Altro Evo - Mala Spina

Fantasy and Adventure

Talesfrom Altro EvoVol. 1

The Day of the Dragon

Kafra the Magnificent

Ugly as Death

Copyright

TALES FRON ALTRO EVO

It contains "The Day of the Dragon", "Kafra the Magnificent", "Ugly as Death"

Property Copyright ©2017 Mala Spina All rights reserved by law and international conventions. No part of this ebook may be reproduced and re-sold using electronic systems, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the author. First Edition 2017 Graphic Project and Book Cover Design Altro Evo Thanks for the beta-reading P. “Penna tra le nuvole” Rasetti, F. “Crom” Carretti, Alessio Rossi, P. Geroli and Maurizio “Zack” Vicedomini for Editing. Translator from Italian language Pasha Di Cicco.

This book is a work of fiction. Any reference to events and people really existed is purely coincidental WEB: www.AltroEvo.com

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/storiedaunaltroevo

Summary

Copyright

Summary

A couple of words on Altro Evo

***

THE DAY OF THE DRAGON

I - A Wonderful Beginning

II - The Short Straw

III - The Qader Witch

IV - Everything Will Be Fine

V - The Fugitive

VI - In Deep Water

VII - What Not To Do

VIII - The Red Garden

IX - The Lóng Clan

X - The Game

XI - A Lucky Man

KAFRA THE MAGNIFICENT

I - The Execution

II - Our Man

III - The Widow

IV - The Conman

V - Scene Props

VI - The Ambush

VII - The Drunk Dragon

VIII - The Hidden Lodge

IX - That’s Three

X - The Almaventosa

UGLY AS DEATH

I - Born in the Old City

II - The East Tower

III - Finishing up Business

IV - Bad People

V - How to save the City

VI - The Arcane Guild

VII - Take the trunk and run

VIII - The Odd man out

IX - The new way

 ***

THE SERIES

A couple of words on Altro Evo

Altro Evo is a series of adventures in an alternate fantasy world (some sort of Sword and Sorcery magic-punk).

Every ebook has a different hero, the story is independent but closely connected to the other episodes. All events take place over the same day, within the walls of the same old city, like a jigsaw puzzle.

The series can be read in any order and each one is a self-contained ebook.

This is not an epic story about heroes, but rather a series of novels about petty thieves, bounty hunters, unsuccessful alchemists and tavern women, that move through the narrow streets of the worst district of the city. The characters cross each other’s paths and affect each other’s stories, getting in or ending up in big troubles and often in humorous situations. Intrigue, betrayal, mystery, magic out of control and monstrous creatures, that’s what you’ll find in Altro Evo.

There are three episodes by now and one free Art Book with all the illustrations made for the Day of the Dragon.

THE DAYOF THE DRAGON

IA WONDERFUL BEGINNING

Darkness.

The stink of vomit and stale beer bombarded his nostrils. His mouth was pasty with a horrible taste, bitter as poison. The vague pain in his head, which he had woken up with, quickly got stronger, becoming a full-fledged headache. It was hard to even form a rational thought except for a string of curses aimed at random gods, or to remember anything at all from the previous evening. In spite of it all, the worst part of waking up was the usual sense of confusion that he had felt every morning since becoming a merchant sailor. It was one of the burdens of not living in the same place for more than a few days and not having more than an off-hand idea of his next destination.

“Where the hell am I?” Gillean Conroy muttered, trying to open his sleep-laden eyes.

It was the wonderful beginning of a new day, wherever he was.

The world seemed to whirl around him and his stomach clenched tightly just as it did when he was going through a storm on one of his journeys. Judging from the horrible state of his insides, he had to be tossing on the waves, on the ship of Captain Fahd.

“It’s going to be all right…” he said again.

Millions of dots of light swirled furiously around him, darting in every direction, so fast that he barely understood where the top and bottom were. He managed to open his eyes enough to make the lights flash stronger and stronger, turning into a single blinding beam. When the dots broke up, a central dark spot appeared in the shape of a reptilian head with gaping jaws. His eyelids felt scratchy with sand, and only with the flow of tears caused by the bright light was Gillean able to focus on what seemed to be the inside of a tavern, the walls black with soot. He was lying on a floor of unevenly laid wooden boards, on which a heap of rickety tables and stools stood. He planted his palms on the ground and heaved himself up, fighting back the waves of nausea. He struck the back of his neck against something hard, with a deafening thump that echoed inside his skull, from one side to the other. He fell back to the ground dizzy, realizing only in that moment that he was under one of those heavy wooden tables.

“Drunks! Drunk sailors everywhere!” yelled a female voice. The pleats of a long dirt-colored skirt marched closer to him with every step.

Gil got back whatever was left of his balance and managed to crawl up from under the table with his head lowered, and once up, he looked for the most stable position by sitting down. He looked up, rubbed his sore neck, and what he saw almost made him faint.

In front of him stood a woman brandishing a knotty broom handle ready to hit him over the head. “We’re closed, for Sheriamon’s sake! Will you leave already?”

That unpleasant voice grated on his ears, but even worse was the woman’s face. The sagging cheeks, the flat nose, and teeth that protruded from her massive jaws as if escaping made her look embarrassingly like a pig.

The woman frowned and went on ranting. “Did you hear me? Get over your hangover somewhere else!” She screamed, with no compassion for his eardrums.

The sailor’s memory was a dense, dark stream of molasses from which his memories re-emerged sluggishly. Like the night before when, as soon as he had entered the tavern, he was shocked by the appearance of the horrible barmaid behind the counter. She had quite a knowing expression on her face, as if she could read every one of his thoughts.

Gods of the seas, how ugly could she be!

It wasn’t as if the sailor was in such great shape; just the opposite. Considering the violent nausea he felt, his face must be ashy and his burning eyes made him think they were bloodshot. On the whole he was very far from being the respectable young man that the Conroy family had raised. He ran his fingers through his fine blond hair, which was plastered to his sweat-soaked skull, trying in vain to improve his sorry state.

The sailor raised his hand in surrender and managed to pull himself up by leaning on the edge of the table. The bar’s door, the only opening in the room that let in daylight, seemed to be a very distant destination. Under the soles of his sandals, the floor creaked with broken plate shards and spilled beer, together with other bodily substances that were much stickier.

Gil held back a wave of nausea and widened his eyes. In that moment he felt a painful twinge at his ribs which made him double over and his sandals slipped on a greasy spot on the floor. The sailor turned his arm, looking for a place to hold onto so he wouldn’t fall, while slipping backwards. His back was up against the counter’s edge, and with a sinister screeching and a tinkling of silverware, he found himself face to face with the owner, a powerful man covered in tattoos and with a beard that went down to his chest, intent on organizing the few intact pitchers that had survived the night.

“Listen, buddy,” the owner said in the deep, hoarse voice of someone who’d had a hard day at work, “last night you and your pals had a good time. All of them have been gone for some time, so you’d better get your legs moving if you don’t want me to grab you by the collar and slam you out into the street with my bare hands. You’re lucky the gentleman in the hat paid your bill!”

“Who?” Gil asked in a choked voice. After seeing the owner’s scowl he knew it would be wise to follow the order straight away and keep his mouth shut, especially out of fear of throwing up on the tavern floor and provoking the wrath of the owner and his horrible barmaid.

He staggered to the exit, his hand pressed to his side. Once outside he felt revived by the fresh air of dawn. “One step at a time will get me back to the ship.”

The light was blinding and it reflected off the whitewashed buildings, confusing him even more, if that was possible. He was in an unmarked narrow street, and the houses, a couple of floors high, hid the sun’s position, making it impossible to understand which side the sea was. Above the door he had exited there was a colorful wooden plaque with a drawing of a dragon clutching a mug and a simple inscription: The Drunk Dragon. Gil stared at it for a few seconds and started thinking that the strange vision of the monster that he’d seen before didn’t look anything like the one on the tavern sign. He shrugged and went back to studying the street, trying to figure out how to get back to the ship. Another time he would have guessed the direction to the port in no time thanks to his unerring instinct for the salty smell of the sea. Sometimes in his past journeys it had even been essential to find the road to the coast and these were the moments when he felt in a state of grace. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those moments.

It had been his first chance for shore leave since the ship’s arrival and the powerful liquors of this frontier town had knocked him down before the night was over. The long months at sea, without being able to touch a drop of alcohol, hadn’t helped him with this gigantic hangover and the real trouble was he couldn’t remember how he had found himself under that table in the first place.

“I swear that is the first and last time I’ll drink like that.” He sheltered his eyes with his hand, trying to block the sunrays and to figure out where the hell the sea was.

He couldn’t believe he was in such awful shape and, until that moment, he would have sworn that he wasn’t the type of man who would get drunk in such a degrading way. Perhaps the solid values of the white cliffs from which he came were not so strong and his morality had been subject to a modification thanks to the boiling hot climate of the frontier lands. He searched his memory for some clue that would explain what could have led him to that point and he could only sense a vague feeling of anxiety, a vise-grip at his throat, and as the northern man he was he immediately realized it was an undefined sense of guilt.

He seemed to hear the voice of his father, old Conroy, and to see his face, so hard and inexpressive it seemed as if it were carved in granite. “You want to leave, Gil? You’ll turn into a degenerate like the rest of them or end up with your throat cut in some alleyway.” And that was the longest dialogue they had ever had.

And had he been right after all?

He smiled and rubbed his eyes again, trying to focus. He had wanted to hop on a ship for the other side of the world, mostly to get as far away as possible from the suffocating atmosphere of the High Empire, but he had also been fascinated by the boisterous and hot-headed foreigners and by the exotic stories they span. Captain Fahd, with all his tales of adventure, his powerful laugh, and his ready jokes, embodied what Gil had always wanted. He had signed up with the crew without looking back. Soon he had accepted the fact that the discipline and pragmatism with which he had grown up were so deeply rooted in him that they couldn’t be wiped away in a mere few months, and thus he couldn’t understand the superficiality of his companions, who ran into the arms of prostitutes or threw their money away on drink and gambling. At least it had been like that up until that day.

Gillean came to the conclusion that the most irritating thing about his feeling of guilt was the awareness of having done something that, where he was from, was considered a horrible act and not in the least worthy of the Conroy family, who had always been known to be honest workers.

What the hell! My conscience is clear. They might have given me some rancid concoction.

Something pushed him roughly to the side and he felt a pain in his side, so sudden and violent that he almost lost his already precarious balance. An old man covered in rags, who stank as if something had died in his pocket, supported himself with one arm while with the other hand seemed to be giving him paternal slaps of encouragement.

“Excuse me young man, is everything all right?” A mouth full of pitch-black teeth was smiling at him. “My eyesight isn’t what it used to be,” the beggar added a high-pitched laugh and pointed to the filthy rag that was covering his eyes.

Gil had a hard time catching his breath and pushing away the mass of bright dots that had started dancing before his eyes once again. “Every…thing is fine,” he mouthed while trying to free himself from the old man’s grasp.

“Are you sure? Can I do something to ingratiate myself?”

“Yes, it’d be enough if you tell me which way to the port.”

“Over there, straight ahead!” The beggar broke into a falsetto laugh and fled limping in the opposite direction, together with the clacking of his crutch.

The road was empty again and the tavern door was locked shut. What’s more he had the distinct feeling that something was amiss, but he didn’t have the strength to think further than that.

***

Inside the tavern, the barmaid had already begun sweeping the litter left by the customers, forcefully pushing the broom with an annoyed huff.

Through a small window, the tavern-keeper was still observing the sailor who was standing in the middle of the alleyway whirling aimlessly, looking to his right and left, clearly trying to get a grip and remember where the port was.

“Sailors! In the evenings they come waltzing in as if they were all admirals, spinning more tall tales than a politician, then in the morning we have to pull them out from under the table. May I be damned if I have to spend another night like this one.” The huge man shook his head and placed a chipped mug on a shelf. “Bah! Zira, have you ever seen anyone so pathetic?”

The barmaid stopped her work to glance outside, towards the blond sailor, with his sharp-featured face and evident dark shadows around his light-blue eyes, visible even a meter away. He was tall and skinny, and his sloped stance with a curved spine after the bad night suggested he hadn’t gotten back his balance. She saw him disappear, weaving down the street, and then she answered back with a grimace. “Yeah, myself, every morning, after I’ve finished cleaning up this place.”

***

Gillean began going uncertainly in the direction pointed out by the old man and hoped the sun would be up shortly. Maybe Captain Fahd was still not aware of his absence on board. That day something big was happening for the whole crew, something he couldn’t miss. If only he could remember what.

IITHE SHORT STRAW

The old city was a maze of dusty streets piled together, crisscrossing and dividing randomly. Getting out of that hell would be harder than he thought, but luckily, the stink of vomit and beer that Gil emanated was able to keep the inhabitants at least two steps away from him. Judging by how the passersby stared at him in disgust, every one of them would have bet that his stomach’s contents would have spilled on their sandals. All the better for him since he was able to get through with little effort and create a bubble around himself without trying to force his way through the crowds. The air was heating up under the summer sun and Gil was already sweating, despite his light clothes.

Supporting himself on the walls, he managed to find a wider street. Wedged in an irregular recess he saw one of the small wells that were a source of fresh water for the city’s inhabitants. He imagined he had drunk all night, but his throat was bitter and parched like that of a drowning man. He stumbled to the well and sighed with relief: there was an old metal bucket attached to the chain. He lowered the bucket down into the hole and when he brought it back up, full of crystal clear water, he drank until he was as full as a wineskin, then he poured three bucketfuls of water over his head before feeling more clear-headed.

He pressed his hands to his forehead, trying to remember how he ended up under that table. He closed his eyes for a moment, hoping to ease the throbbing pain that ran through his head from side to side. The only thing he managed to focus on was the silhouette of the reptilian head, massive and thorny. The vision of that form was etched in his mind and he saw it every time he closed his eyes. Everything else was a complete blur, as if he was wrapped in a thick, dense fog which gave away few details. That barmaid was horrendous!

He opened his eyes again quickly and looked at his reflection in the half-full bucket. He had an enormous blue bruise that was spreading beneath his right eye as far as his cheekbone.

“And this?”

Had he got drunk? Had there been a fight? He pulled up his shirt and saw a second bluish bruise on his chest. Maybe one of the ribs was cracked.

Yes, it had definitely been a fight.

Just the fact of being drunk seemed inconceivable to him, but having discovered he had been involved in a fight was even stranger.

A gull flew over him, shrilly crying. His luck was changing. The sea had to be close and he would soon find the Qader Witch, the old but fast ship on which he had traveled throughout the Southern seas.

***

The morning before, they had arrived at the port after a long voyage of the colonies through a dangerous stretch of sea and treacherous southern coasts. It had been a damn tiring day and the ship had been cleaned top to bottom after a month at sea. Captain Fahd had been very reserved on that voyage and this had unnerved the crew, already highly strung from the dangers on that route. In the late afternoon, satisfied with the work, he had cinched his belt over his prominent belly and gone up on the stern. He gripped the polished wood railing with his hand, which was huge as a skillet, gathering all the breath he had as if he had to make himself heard in the midst of a storm. “Men! All on deck!”

The first mate, who had been right behind him, covered his ears with his hands, his eyes bulging.

Anyone at a stone’s throw heard the call. The crew quickly rushed to the deck. There were about twenty of them: sunburnt and salt-encrusted men who, after weeks of forced cohabitation, were starting to show impatience to get off the ship, piled as they were on the quarterdeck waiting for the captain.

“All right, you bunch of bilge rats! You’re on leave until tomorrow! Go to Mr. Carver to get your pay. Sleep, eat, find yourselves a female, and by dawn tomorrow I want to see you washed, shaved, and ready for the unloading!” He had been about to turn around and dismiss them, then added: “Ah, I forgot. Five of you unlucky bastards will stay behind with me and the first mate to babysit the cargo.” In that moment the captain seemed to be a big fat toad that was grinning, pleased with his dirty trick.

The sailors were looking each other square in the eyes, ready to cut each other’s throats if it would earn them the right to a night of debauchery in the city. Gil was squeezing the broom handle in his fist, ready to wield it against his angry companions.

“You’ll draw straws.” The first mate came forward, knowing already how things would go. Then he turned to Gil. “You, beanpole! Take apart that broom and cut eighteen twigs!”

An hour later the lucky bunch had run off into the narrow port alleys, while the five destined for guard duty raged over the sides of the Qader Witch, making sordid gestures towards their companions on leave.

***

What Gil remembered perfectly was having drawn one of the longest straws from the bunch and feeling relieved that he had not missed out on an incredible opportunity to get lost in that chaotic and mysterious city. From that moment on his memories became indistinct, blurry, and confused.

“Gods… I missed out on one of the most important deliveries of the season,” he said.

He felt his head pound as if a flock of seagulls was pecking on his skull, but at last he managed to stand up. Finally, refreshed by the well water, he smelled the salty sea air. He trusted his nose.

The streets of the old city were filling up with people and carts full of fruit, fabrics, and pottery. Where the streets widened, making a square for a makeshift market, traders of all kinds were fighting to grab a corner where they could set up and show off their wares. Gil had the odd feeling he had already been in that particular corner and he seemed to remember it full of clothes, with the stalls surrounded by shouting people fiercely bargaining.

“Maybe I was looking for a jacket…” He scratched his chin, which was covered in bristly short hair, and looked at the shirt he was wearing, torn, now filthy. “The clothes! The beard!”

He rummaged through the folds of the dark sash that was holding up his pants. “I’ve been robbed!”

He was hours late, he hadn’t managed to buy clothes or find a barber, and his wages were gone. Yet, when he had just left the tavern while he was pressing his hand against his sore ribs, he had felt the fabric tight on his hips and had heard the metallic clinking.

“The beggar…” Gil gave himself a hard slap on his forehead. He wouldn’t have been surprised if at that moment he had sprouted donkey ears and started braying his own stupidity. “This is the unluckiest day of my life!” He spread his arms towards the sky, invoking a curse, then decided he didn’t need to attract more bad luck and his arms abruptly dropped down.

Captain Fahd wouldn’t let him get away with this. He sped up, still unable to walk in a straight line or to focus on what had happened. He barely remembered joining a group of seven or eight sailors who’d decided to spend the night at the Drunk Dragon, the most notorious local tavern. He remembered big slaps on the back and great speeches about being brothers of the sea, even if shortly before they would have beaten each other up rather than stay on the ship guarding the cargo.

“Brothers! Oh please!” Gil snapped, raising his voice and making more than one passerby look at him oddly. His “brothers” had left him under a table in a squalid tavern, and it was only by luck that he hadn’t ended up with a knife stuck between his shoulder blades.

The oppressive heat had dried his wet clothes and now he was sweating like a pig. He wasn’t made for this muggy and humid climate. He prayed to Enkili to find another well so he could get some refreshment. A bucket of putrid water fell from the sky, missing him by mere inches.

“I hate this city!” he barked at the housewife at one of the windows, who continued to shake the bucket until all of its contents spilled out to the last drop.

“Like all of us, buddy!” replied the hoarse voice of a stranger from the other side of the street.

He’d do better without counting on the help of the Gods.

Once again he heard the cry of gulls and quickened his pace. The port had to be right around the corner and, after yet another turn, finally the street widened. Gil felt the sea breeze like a caress on his sweaty neck. For a moment he seemed to feel better. The wide avenue and the square in front of the pier were a blessing after the claustrophobic maze of the old city. His eyes could finally wander along the blue line of the horizon.

***

From the moment he had embarked on the Qader Witch, the routes had always brought them into sticky southern climates with mosquitoes, hot air, and dust that got into everything. Perhaps not even Captain Fahd would have accepted a new voyage in those waters, if it wasn’t for the huge pay-off that the last load would have guaranteed. None of the crew knew any details about who they were carrying cargo for or what kind of goods were stowed in the ship. The sailors figured out on their own that it must be important because of how dangerous the voyage had been, dodging the pirate ships that infested the seas between the colony islands and the extreme border of the Empire. When the lookout from the crow’s nest at the top of the main mast had yelled “LAND!” everyone had taken a breath of relief, thanking the Gods, their own luck, and the undeniable speed of the brig. They had arrived safely and longed to celebrate their good fortune at being alive.

***

The feeling that something wasn’t quite right came back and it was a restlessness he wasn’t able to identify. Some sharp images mingled with other confusing and blurry ones and he saw himself freeing the enormous crates of cargo from safety ropes that held them firmly anchored to the sides of the hold, which were as thick as mooring lines. However, he remembered that the delivery would have been that very morning, in fact maybe at that very moment. Why then prepare the boxes for unloading the day before?

Gil tried to be optimistic: at that hour the cargo load would have already been unloaded and new cargo delivered, and he could do nothing more to be there. With some luck he would have just enough time to join in the set-up and then make sail. Maybe the captain wouldn’t be so angry after seeing his bags fill up with gold.

IIITHE QADER WITCH

The Qader Witch had just sailed into port and the crew had begun their mooring operations. Gil noticed that the piers were protected by heavy, dark stones and the boardwalk was intricately tiled. It was an easy bet that, during the construction of the city, the craftsmen and masonry workers had spent most of their time reinforcing the docks rather than planning the urban development within the city walls. Given that the piers were so impressive, Gil wondered about all that attention to detail at the expense of size. For a frontier city on the colony routes, the harbor was too small. It didn’t measure up to the other ports he’d visited, some of which held several dozen ships.

“Try falling in the water while you clean the hull and you’ll be food for the leeches!” Captain Fahd had told him. “Those damn beasts corrode and eat away the wooden hull of the ship, which is why ships don’t stay at the dock for more than a few days. Everyone prefers anchoring offshore in the bay, that is if they don’t have any goods to unload or load up.”

While he was descending to the ground towards the solid-looking pier, he remembered having looked past the footbridge at the dark water that crashed over the sea walls, and had discovered that it wasn’t moving from the currents generated by the boats or from the lazy roll of the Qader Witch. The waves churned from the pitch-black creatures rutted with red veins and spots, shiny and thick as a man’s arm, that seemed a single sprawling monster in mayhem. They really did seem like bloodsuckers, similar to those used as fish bait, only that they were much bigger. He saw from close-up those hooked jaws with three or four circular rows of curved fangs. They quivered, looking for something to sink their teeth into. He heard the scratching noise of fangs scraping the stone slabs of the jetty. Gil found himself thinking that they were big enough to rip pieces of flesh or the entire face from anyone unlucky enough to fall into the sea, and being the first to stand on land, he thanked the builders of those enormous solid stones.

***

The port was full and about twenty ships were moored to the dock. The hot season favored voyages since most of the storms and winds coming from the east ensured a fast crossing on the route between the Empire coast and the colonies. He saw in the distance the furled sails of the Qader Witch and gave a sigh of relief.

“They haven’t left yet!” An involuntary smile appeared on his face.

The crews on the ships swarmed like ants, busy with maintenance, loading and unloading. The port activities had to be done in a hurry and the captains were screaming as if possessed; they couldn’t wait to set sail and get away from those black beasts that ruined the ships’ keels.

The sharp outline of the Qader Witch was unmistakable: narrow and long like a blade cleaving the waves, the ideal ship to transport hot goods in the fastest time possible or to flee in a flash from the pirate ships. The two masts were slowly swaying, the sails furled, the pier and deck completely deserted.

The captain will have gathered everyone in a corner for one of his speeches, Gil thought.

The closer he got, the more he felt the mounting uneasiness which had become a familiar feeling. It started to rise in his throat, as overbearing as a tide, together with the undigested gastric juices from the previous evening.

He wasn’t wrong to feel uneasy. Not a soul could be found on the deck, nor the quarterdeck, and not even on the stern. The only noise was the creak of the rigging, the rustle of the moving sails and the roll of a wooden bucket from one side of the bulwarks to the other.

Gil covered his eyes from the glaring sun. “What the hell…?”

“Kid, keep walking!” A voice came from a group of sailors that had come ashore from the Almaventosa, a cargo ship moored on the side dock, her crew busy securing ropes and scaffolding. The boatswain glared at him and gestured with a jerk of his chin to get going.

The sailor remembered that, soon after his arrival, the boatswain and Captain Fahd had stopped to talk, slapping each other heartily on the back. He didn’t answer back and just kept walking.

In front of the plank that connected the Qader Witch to the pier, three city guardsmen were sitting on barrels, uniformed in red leather armor and metallic buckles that shone brightly in the sun. They were sweating like fountains, trying to loosen their sheath-belts and cursing their superior for giving them such a thankless task as guarding a ship.

He looked at them for a few moments and involuntarily raised his eyebrows.

“What are you staring at, broomstick? Get out of here and slouch in some tavern!” One of the soldiers made an angry gesture with his hand. Another snorted, wiping sweat from his brow with a wet rag. He got up and stood in front of the wooden entrance, staring at Gil with an expression of contempt on his shiny face.

Gil lowered his gaze and kept walking, forcing himself not to turn around, but feeling the guards’ eyes boring into his back. He distanced himself by at least a few feet, just until the people and carts could hide him, and he got behind one of the tall sign posts. He slowly leaned out; the Qader Witch was still deserted and the guards continued sitting in front of the entrance steps. His ears were ringing and his fierce headache made it hard to make sense of his thoughts. The uneasy feeling had turned into a suspicion that something terrible had happened. And that it was his fault. He couldn’t get the image out of his mind of himself preparing the load to be delivered.

He took a long walk around the square, which was filling up with people and carts, and he retraced his steps back to the Almaventosa. He got lost among the sailors busy with the mooring lines and ropes and looked for the boatswain.

“Hey! Mate!” Gil called out. The man was on the deck of the ship talking with another sailor. He heard him and gestured him to shut up with a wave of his hand. He went down to the pier with his bushy eyebrows making an annoyed expression and he pushed him rudely behind a stack of crates. “Are you an idiot or what? Get out of here, get lost in the crowds here. If any of my men recognize you, you’re dead!”

“What the hell’s happened?”

“Everyone’s been arrested. By this time, they’re all rotting in jail.”

“Arrested? We’re a merchant ship!” Gil widened his arms in disbelief.

The old boatswain lowered his bleary eyes. “They stole the cargo load during the night, by hell! Captain Fahd had tried to set sail and flee, but the Alchemists of the Arcane Guild and a couple of advisors, accompanied by a guard patrol, had arrived sooner than expected.”

“They robbed us… I don’t understand! Why did they arrest the crew then?”

“For the tits of Enkili! Don’t you know what was in the damn cargo hold?”

Gil muttered something, surprised by the old sailor’s reaction. “I, we… the captain told us not to worry, that we’d get our fair wage and it didn’t have anything to do with contraband.”

The boatswain drew a deep breath. “Kid, I’ve made this route for ten years. When there’s all this fanfare over a delivery… I know it’s got something to do with Cynerem.”

“Shit,” the north man concluded.