Colken reluctantly takes charge of the mercenaries once commanded by the Gray Man and continues his journey towards the High Places. Hoshea, the self-proclaimed Protector, leads his army out of Hasan. His intention is to defeat the High Bloods and unite Temeria, but he has an ulterior motive known only to his shadowy acolytes and a certain demon. Meanwhile, Captain Wade smells an opportunity too good to pass up…
Captain Wade sat in his cabin, casually casting his eye over a battered nautical map. A long, elegant cigarette holder hung lazily from his pale, well-manicured fingers. A wisp of sweet smoke curled about his head, shining brightly in the sunlight pouring through the cabin window.
“Landfall is but a heartbeat away, Erlo, but a heartbeat.”
Erlo stood on a chair opposite Wade’s desk and passively gazed at the map showing the eastern coast of Temeria. As usual, the dwarf was silent.
“Soon we shall drop anchor just off-shore, a short distance from Hasan. If our increasingly erratic employer is correct, and I hope she is, Erlo, the city will have but a small garrison. The vast majority of the city’s army has left on this insane quest to find a child. Such insanity seems to have infected everyone, Erlo, but not me, not me.”
He paused to suck deeply on his cigarette. “I’m still unclear as to the reasons why everyone wants this Sorrow creature, Erlo,” he went on. “But I do know one thing. Whatever the reason, her desire for him has driven the Raven Queen even deeper into her particular brand of dementia. Whatever unimaginable properties this child possesses, they are enough to have Knights of the Temple coming all the way from the Winter Realm in a boat full of refugees, and enough to motivate a General to lead his entire army out of a city weakened by siege and civil war. So, naturally, that city is our first stop. We are pirates after all, Erlo, and some good, old-fashioned burning and looting is in order. If anything else, my miniature enigma, it will keep the crew happy for a while. Vile creatures, my crew, brute beasts. I think of them and shudder.”
Wade lounged back in his chair, taking a deep lungful of smoke, then propped his head artfully on one hand as though posing for a portrait which, being a man of not inconsiderable vanity, he had done many times. Unfortunately, none of the portraits he had commissioned had flattered him quite enough, so he had been forced to have the fingers and eyes of the painters removed to prevent them from causing further insult. In the past few years it had proven difficult to find a painter brave or stupid enough to put brush to canvas for him. At least not one who had eyes or fingers, which he considered essential for the job.
Erlo stood and watched his master, his tiny, beady eyes hardly blinking, like a murderous doll.
“They need a taste of blood and booty to butter them up a bit before our little jaunt inland. We can’t have them mutinying now, can we, Erlo?”
At that moment they heard Gristle’s rasping bellow from the crow’s nest, which was a fitting place for a man with such a voice. He had spotted land to larboard and his voice could be heard all over the ship from port to stern.
Wade slowly exhaled a thick cloud of smoke, hiding his head behind its haze, and smiled.
“But a heartbeat, Erlo.”