Takir hummed a merry tune to himself as he sat on a large rock, his line cast out into the sea as he enjoyed the sounds of the waves. To his left, a small hole was dug in the sand, filled with water and two large fish – a decent reward for his hard work. He let out a comfortable sigh, relishing in the salty sea air as the waves gently lapped against the shore. It was a moment of peace Takir found with himself – one that was only interrupted slightly by the distant sounds of shouting and the ringing of a bell.

“Ah,” he let out a soft laugh as he shook, his head, “that must be my darling sister. No new jobs today.” he hummed to himself, and he felt a tug on the line, “Oh, three for three,” he smiled, and he pulled up on the pole as he began reeling in the line.

The line was heavy, but Takir felt no resistance as he continued to reel in his prize. His brow furrowed slightly, but understanding flickered in his eyes as a dark-skinned hand slowly emerged from the sea, gripping the line. A soft sigh escaped his lips as they curled into an amused smile, and cherry-red locks peeked out of the water, darkened by moisture. Cheri’s feet kicked at the water a bit meekly as Takir continued to pull, and it wasn’t long before she was coughing on the shore, with her brother’s hand gently patting her back.

“You make a good fish,” Takir mused, and Cheri panted as she flipped him off, “The undarians would be envious.”

“Fuck… you… Takir…” Cheri breathed before coughing again, and she flopped to the ground, “Ugh…”

“I take it things went as well as you expected then.” Takir hummed, “Did you try the city guard?”

“The guards here suck.” Cheri sighed, burying her face in the sand.

“You say that in every city.” Takir remarked, and Cheri lazily slapped the sand beside her, “Have you tried-”

“I’m not lowering my standards Takir.” Cheri cut him off, “We didn’t study and train all this time to end up in a dead-end.”

“Very well.” Takir shrugged, “If nothing else, we can eat tonight.” a slight smirk found his lips as Cheri looked to him, “It would seem fishing does put food in our bellies.”

“I was drunk.” Cheri pouted at him.

“This is true.” Takir conceded.

“I’m just… so pissed off, Takir.” Cheri sighed, “Those assholes wouldn’t even give me a chance.”

“But your coat was so nice.” Takir fretted.

“Yeah, well apparently that just pissed people off.” Cheri shook her head against the sand, “You know what they say about us shalgras…”

“Ahh…” Takir’s gaze fell to the ground, “so it is like that here as well…”

“We should have known…” Cheri lamented, “Even the undarians can’t seem to make a life here, and this is a big fucking port.”

“Hmm… come to think of it, I’ve not seen any of the sea-folk since we arrived.” Takir held his chin in thought.

“I saw a few…” Cheri grumbled, earning his gaze, “In little glass bottles…”

“Ah… I see…” Takir breathed a heavy sigh, “May they find their peace.”

“How much gold do we have?” Cheri pressed.

“Two copper.” Takir hummed, “Enough for one drink.”

“Fuck it. Do you mind?” she sighed.

“Yes.” he nodded, “But I’ll pay you two copper for good rumors.” he smirked slightly, and relief washed over Cheri.”

“Thanks.” she held out her hand lazily, and Takir dropped the coin in it, “We’ll get through this.”

“Aye sister.” Takir hummed, “but let’s get through dinner first.”

~

“You’re sure you want to be back in the city so soon?” Takir pressed as they stepped along the cobblestone streets.

Night had fallen over the city, and oil lanterns hung from above, illuminating the streets while candles flickered in the windowsills of nearby homes. The streets were far from empty, however, and the taverns were quickly filling up with those who’d spent their days browsing wares and trading coin. A cool breeze gently brushed against the dark teal hood of Cheri’s cloak, and she cinched it tighter, keeping her face obscured.

“I’m sure.” Cheri answered a bit coldly. “We’ve still got a job to find, and the guards have better things to do than to bother searching for a hot-headed shalgras.”

“Perhaps I should get you a damp cloth,” Takir hummed, and Cheri paused, blinking at him, “For your hot head.”

“Thanks.” Cheri replied dryly, then let out a heavy sigh. “I just hope those assholes get what they deserve.”

“Now Cheri…” Takir frowned slightly, “It is unhealthy to focus on the doubters. Let us think of what you deserve, instead.”

“Hey, I’m just saying…” Cheri shrugged slightly, “I wouldn’t be too broken up if they had a run-in with The Crimson Tempest or something.” she paused, “Hey, maybe if we don’t find something here…”

“A pirate’s life would prove their point,” Takir reminded her, “Aren’t you the one who wanted to leave and build a reputation?”

“I hate when you’re right.” she grumbled, and she nodded towards a nearby tavern. “Come on. This place looks good for a drink.”

Finding Work

An Aphuanian Tale

By Cecillia White

 

    Remember to breathe…

    Cheri took a deep breath as she walked the cobblestone streets with her head held high. Takir had done good work in helping her clean up. Her cherry-colored hair was tied back neatly, with a tress of pink resting gently beside her cheek, free of her eyes. Her white button-up blouse clung to her form beneath a crimson jacket, and navy trousers fit snugly while still offering plenty of room for her to move freely. She moved with a purpose, unable to help the slight smirk that found her as the townsfolk shuffled out of her way, but lingering eyes caused her smirk to falter as doubts began to swirl. She’d grown used to the looks of worry and fear. They’d been with her and Takir ever since they left Shalgrim, but in Sevis it was worse. Whispers of savagery and of monsters in suits carried on the breeze, and she gritted her teeth as her fist began to clench.

    Don’t make it easy for them.

    She let out a heavy sigh, shaking her head clear as her hand rested on the hilt of her saber. Her velvet eyes flickered to a sign in a window. ‘Now Hiring’. It was a potion shop, ‘Tarin’s Tinctures’, not the ideal place to get a start, but better than the grunt work that was expected of her elsewhere. She hesitated, and stepped inside.

    A small bell chimed as the door shut behind her, taking in the shop’s sights in wary curiosity. Most of the medicines were the usual fare; ointments and salves made from aloe vera and numbroot, potions of eleris with a hefty price tag attached, and elixirs claiming to give speed and strength, often overstating their effects. Cheri’s eyes furrowed on a small cluster of bottles in the corner however, their contents a deep blue with a faint glowing aura. They were tucked away, out of sight of most, but just out in the open enough for the desperate to find. Cheri chased a different kind of desperation.

    “Welcome to Tarin’s Tinctures! How may I-…” the shopkeeper paused, eyeing Cheri with suspicion, “Can I help you?”

    “No. I don’t think you can.” Cheri frowned, turning away towards the door, “Thanks.”

    “That’s what I thought.” the shopkeeper huffed, folding his arms, and Cheri slammed the door on her way out.

    “Asshole.” Cheri grumbled, shaking her head before catching sight of a guard, “Oh thank fuck. Hey, guard!” she hurried over, and the guard paused, turning to face her.

    “Yes?” the guard pressed, placing his hand on the hilt of his sword.

    “You might want to check out that shop back there.” Cheri pointed to the potion shop behind her, “They’ve got bottles of undarian blood just sitting out like it’s nothing.”

    “Uh-huh…” the guard frowned, “and how is that my problem?”

    “Are you kidding me?” Cheri pressed, “It’s your job to uphold the law, isn’t it?”

    “No law against selling undaris.” the guard stated, and Cheri’s face flushed, “Only in extracting it.”

    “That- Where the hell do you think it came from then? Thin air?!” Cheri snapped, and the guard scowled.

    “Who do you think you’re talking to, sand-woman?” the guard scolded, and Cheri’s eyes widened, “Don’t think that just because you found a nice coat you can tell me how to do my job. Stop wasting my time, or I’ll have you put away for harassment.”

    “I-…” Cheri gritted her teeth as she clenched her fist, “Fine. Good day, sir.

    “Good. You can take your attitude with you.” the guard huffed, and he walked off, leaving Cheri shaking in the street.

    Don’t make things worse.

    Cheri steeled herself, taking a shuddering breath as she gripped her arm. She let out a sigh, and began counting.

    Breath in. One, two, three, hold.

    She held her breath, counting for seven seconds, and finally released. She repeated the process, caring not for the looks given by strangers who couldn’t understand. 

    “I should have stayed in fucking Solene.” she grumbled, but she shook her head clear.

    She would find a way forward. She had too. Takir was talented, and smart, but too soft for his own good. He’d get taken advantage of, accept less than what he was worth. She wasn’t about to let that happen. She’d seen too many good men and women waste their lives loading cargo and scrubbing floors. She was going to make it.

    Her eyes narrowed, and she took a deep breath. Slowly Cheri marched to the docks. If nothing else, Dravensport had a reputation. There would be men of wealth there. Officers came and went. She could prove herself – she had the knowledge. All she needed was a chance to impress. Her feet tread upon the hardwood of the docks, and she tried to ignore the sense of awe as her eyes lingered on the ships before her. Their hardwood siding was trimmed with gold, decorating the ships in swirling patterns as a sign of their wealth. Each was manned by sailors in fancy dress, suited not for travel, but for style as they mingled between docks. These were men of luxury, calloused only in spirit.

    Cheri focused forward. A captain and his first mate were standing by one of the ships ahead, sharing stories of travels to a small group of would-be-sailors. This was her golden opportunity, and a fire sparked in her eyes as she clenched her fist, pushing towards them. She would push through the crowd, look the captain dead in the eye, and he would say to her-

    “You’re kidding.”

    Cheri’s eyes widened, but they narrowed as she gritted her teeth.

    “You heard me correctly.” Cheri stated, “I want to join your ship.”

    “I… did not ask if I misheard you.” the captain cleared his throat, “I said you must be joking. If I need someone to sew a shirt, then perhaps I’ll call on you, but I’m not having a woman on my ship, especially one of…” his gaze lingered on her dark skin, “your demeanor…”

    “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Cheri growled, her heart pounding as her face seared, “You think I can’t handle myself out there? You know what? Fuck you. I don’t want to work with your bigoted ass anyway!” she snapped as she turned to leave.

    “I’d heard you shalgras were a savage people.”  the captain huffed in amusement as she froze, “I suppose even your women can’t be-”

    The captain’s final word was cut from his tongue as Cheri’s fist collided with his face. He went down, and immediately Cheri felt a pair of arms wrap around her waist.

    “Captain!” the first mate cried as Cheri struggled with her assailant.

    “You’re not going anywhere!” the man holding her shouted as two others approached, “This bitch needs to be taught a less-”

    Another last word taken without mercy with a sickening crack as the man yiped, holding his nose. Cheri gripped the back of her head, but she threw herself out of the way as another man lunged at her. Swords were drawn, and Cheri’s saber flew from its sheath, but as the men stared her down, her eyes scanned for an exit. The guards would come running soon, and she’d be damned if she’d let the city take her.

    “You’re outmatched, little girl.” the lead sailor grinned as they moved to surround her, and she backed up to the edge of the dock, “Lay down your sword and we’ll let you pay us back for the damage you caused.”

    “There’s just one problem, dickhead.” Cheri smirked slightly, “I know how to swim.” she winked, and she jumped back, flipping them off just before she disappeared into the waves below.

A brilliant sun glistened on deep blue waves as salty sea air moved gently across shifting sands. In the bustling city of Dravensport, the sounds of cawing gulls were simply part of the backdrop of everyday life. Their cacophony of hunger ravaged the ears of those who’d pay them mind, and many a piece of bread was snatched from the hands of the unwary. Some would call them rats with wings, but they would be quickly corrected, for many in Dravensport had heard the tales of the hordes of literal rats with wings that descended on the town some forty years prior.

Despite the aggression of the local fauna, Dravensport had made a name of itself as a place of opportunity among the aphuanians. Merchant ships, loaded with cargo, beckoned travelers and would-be-sailors with promises of gold and drink, while taverns flourished with tempting rumors of wealthy men looking for hired work. The Knights of Sevis, known as The Jurors, were actively recruiting to keep the kingdom safe, and the town had no shortage of shops and merchants eager to keep the coin flowing. It was a city of greatness, a place where travelers from all walks of life could make their fortunes.

It was the most amazing port in the entire world.

“This place sucks.”

The bottle kicked back, its owner taking a deep swig before slamming it down with a heavy sigh. She was slumped against the alley wall, her legs stretched out along the ground while her brother sat on a wooden crate, feeding a line through a fishing rod.

“You should practice patience, dear sister.” the man hummed with a soft smile, “Perhaps you would like to join me fishing?”

“Fishing’s not going to put food in our-” the woman started, but furrowed her brows as her brother smirked slightly, “Fishing’s not going to put a roof over our heads!”

“It will if we’re lucky,” he informed her.

“I need to get back out there.” the woman staggered to her feet, swishing her bottle, “I need to find a nice job, and get some nice coin, and then you and me…” she swayed the bottle between them, “We’re gonna get a nice fucking ship.”

“And I’ll be expected to call you captain, then.” her brother mused.

“Yes!” she shoved the bottle in his face, and he gently pushed it to the side before the woman flopped back onto her rear.

“We will need a crew.” he hummed.

“You kiddin’? We’ll be having to beat people away with your fishing rod.” she waved him off.

“Why not use a sword instead?” her brother laughed softly.

“That’s another thing!” the woman held up a finger, “Do you know how many of the guards around here got uneasy seeing me with my sword on my belt?” she drew the saber from her hip, “I mean, it’s not like they give anyone else shit for having a sword!”

“What is in this bottle?” her brother pressed, looking the bottle over, “Eighty proof. I see.”

“Eat a dick, Takir.” she waved him off.

“Cheri.” he sighed, shaking his head as he lowered her sword, “Let us get you cleaned up. I have no doubt you will do well.” he winced as she let out a deep sigh in his face, “But perhaps you would do better if you did not smell of drink.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Cheri relented, and he helped her to her feet, “I just…”

“You want your worth to be seen.” Takir nodded with a smile, “Do not fret, sister. It will be.”