Path of Defiance. Prologue: Damnation

Dear readers,

Before you read on, here’s a little bit of a background on this novel:

I wrote this when I was in my early 20s. It was meant as a bigger piece, the first of a trilogy. It wasn’t my first big attempt at worldbuilding, and it brought much joy to me as I learned and explored the ways of the scribe (chewah). I spent nearly two years finishing this novel, and although it got close to publication, it wasn’t picked up. I decided that I need to learn to write more, but it felt strange to leave the story just hiding in the bottom drawer of my desk while I work on something else.

So here’s my attempt at the first of a trilogy.

Happy reading 🙂

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Art by: Maximilian Tan Wilson

BOOK 1: AVERNEUS

Be wary of the man you choose as your enemy. Be warier still of the one you choose as your friend. A friend  would break you faster than an enemy, should circumstances require such treachery. – Kharvath D’Arvian, Supreme Overlord and Overseer of Khathmir. 

 

The whip cracked the air like the sound of thunder, breaking the sound of the waves lapping against the ship’s hull. Davek jerked awake, the sound of the woman’s voice in his dreams dissipating into a young man’s piping shriek. He rubbed his eyes, stared at the crescent moon peeping through the scarves of clouds up above, and sighed. Wouldn’t be the first time he got up in the dead of night to some god-awful screech. He was certain it would be the last.

The quartermaster’s face appeared above him, yellow-teeth glistening in the light of lanterns hung about the ship. “Glorious night, eh, Davek?” he said and took a deep, noisy breath. “The smell of the salt in the air, the breeze -”

“The stink of piss and blood from that slave you just whipped.” Davek yawned and rolled out of the coil of rope he had fallen asleep in. “Must you do that?”

The quartermaster snorted, but took his hat off and bowed low. “Oh, begging your pardon, Saint Davek The Merciful and Benevolent. Didn’t take you for the sort who gives a shit, considering how you’re so keen on making a profit out of this slave galley.”

Davek smoothed his hair with his fingers. “And The Brimstone would make a hefty profit, wouldn’t she, Arham? I don’t want my Master to slit my throat for making a pittance out of a fine ship. I went through a lot of trouble getting her.”

Arham, quartermaster of Damnation, and chief advisor to the most dangerous pirate in Khathmir, snorted and gave a quick, calculative sweep of Brimstone’s deck. Davek did the same, but while the quartermaster took that moment to measure the quality of the ship’s timber and the masts, or whatever it was that mattered to a pirate, Davek gave a pointed look to several of the slaves chained to the oars. They had lifted their oars and sat, tense, on their benches. Tense, but ready. The unfortunate young man who had been whipped shot him a furious look, but there was no helping that.

It was almost time. Davek suppressed the urge to giggle and peered out into the sea instead.

“Will we be seeing the Damnation tonight?” he asked. “We’ve weighed anchor for hours.”

“Over there.” Arham handed him a spyglass and pointed west towards an expanse of black ocean. Two small balls of light could be seen in the distance, but if the quartermaster presumed Davek could see no more, he was wrong. Davek had in fact guessed where Damnation stood the moment he awoke. He could smell the gunpowder, even from a mile away. Could hear its creaking timbers, and the flag. If he tried harder, if he tapped into  that pool of energy he had possessed his whole life, he would even be able to see through the darkness and see the faces of the crew moving about the ship.

“There she is.” There was a hint of pride in Arham’s voice when Damnation’s lanterns were fully lit and she at last sailed into view. Even in the dark, the war galley cut an impressive figure. A ship as black as the dark, murky waters below. A vessel with iron-tipped spikes on her rails and a snarling, vicious figurehead that made the fiends of hell seem friendly in comparison. She suited her captain’s sinister nature all too well, the personification of vengeance and blind rage wrapped in one ugly façade. Davek would know. He had spent many weeks studying Parvus’ movements and on many such occasions were made privy to his wrath while he pillaged and plundered along the shores of Deepwater.

Someone shouted orders. Damnation’s crew moved with well-oiled efficiency, weighing anchor, furling the sails and setting a plank between both ships within minutes. Davek had no doubt that should the situation require something drastic, the guns were already pointed towards the Brimstone.

Captain Parvus Diam, chief of the Black Hats, strode across the plank and onto Damnation with his First Mate and half a dozen other well-armed Hats behind him. Davek made a show of being the humbled merchant, awed by the presence of so rich and interesting a customer. The Captain strode past him to approach the slaves, inspecting them without so much as a glance to see if Davek would mind the blatant intrusion.

“So you would have me believe that you stole this ship from General Srostrus?” Parvus asked in a gravelly voice, grabbing one slave’s chin and tilting the man’s face into the light.

“Right from under his nose,” Davek said and bowed. “Although, I had the help of my men.”

“So Arham tells me,” Parvus said. “All seven of them, yes? Where are they now?”

“Ordered belowdecks, Captain, as is the term of our arrangement,” Arham offered an answer, with a sideway glance to Davek.

Davek pretended to look uncomfortable and to seem as though he was trying to compose himself. “Truly, Captain Parvus, I must express my deepest gratitude for your arrangement of this rendezvous. I was afraid you wouldn’t agree –”

“And how exactly did you manage to steal her with only seven men?” Parvus ignored his simpering and moved to examine the next slave. They made no resistance to his prodding, to Davek’s relief, although he could smell their resentment for the Captain as one would smell wood smoke. His senses worked in such strange ways, attuned to the slightest sounds sometimes even when he did not will it. The quiet creaks of false planks being removed reached him then. Followed closely by the sound of men moving very quietly in the water towards Damnation.

Davek cleared his throat, well aware that there was no turning back now. And loving every moment of it. “I’m…ah…afraid my Master has given me strict orders to keep the method of her theft a secret, Captain. I am tasked to bring this ship to you, and to, of course, negotiate terms which would satisfy us both.”

Parvus stopped his inspection and turned around to face Davek. “And who is this mysterious Master of yours? Only a fool would risk such an endeavour. We’re pirates right down to the core, but Sostrus is one of us. And when you harm one pirate, you raise arms against all of us.”

Davek dared a nervous chuckle. “Noble words for a man who sends his quartermaster to evaluate this ship as soon as he hears of its theft.”

Parvus gave a loud, bellowing laugh.  “Ah, you’re a sharp one. Davek, is it?”

Davek bowed once more. “At your service, Captain.”

A predatory gleam crossed Parvus’ eyes then. Davek could feel the pirate crew stirring at his back. Heard the sound of their swords sliding free, and their murmured caution to one another.

“There’s only one problem with that, Davek,” Parvus said.

“Oh?”

“Srostrus has been dead for five years. And this?” Parvus tapped his foot on the deck. “This isn’t The Brimstone. I should know. I sank her, five years ago, with the same cannons that’s now aimed right at your arse.”

The crew laughed, Arham, the loudest of the lot. In a split second Davek was shoved towards Parvus, blades pressed to his back, threats hissed into his ear. He spread his arms to his sides, knowing better than to resist. The chaos on Brimstone muffled the scuffles and cries coming from Damnation.

“Did you really think we don’t know who you are, Averneus?” Parvus said as Davek was thrown at the Captain’s boots. “Scoundrel, thieving bastard! Did you really think you can fool me? Did you think I wouldn’t see you lurking about in those taverns in Deepwater, watching my every move?”

A second wave of laughter filled the air. The crew whooped and laughed and slapped the back of his head, but their mirth soon died, drowned by Davek’s own hearty chuckle. He sounded quite mad, and must have looked the part. Nothing like the captured foe, frightened into submission by the threat of swords and the certainty of death. Parvus must have shared this sentiment, for he stared at Davek with an expression of bewilderment and deep suspicion, not quite certain how to react.

“Oh no, Parvus, you have me all wrong.” Davek said and heaved a happy sigh. “You see. I was hoping that you would recognize me. Counting on it, in fact. And I knew once you heard the name Davek Averneus, you wouldn’t be able to resist arranging this rendezvous.”

“Oh really?” Parvus’ attempt to look amused and intimidating at the same time had the effect of making him look like a complete idiot. Far from the terror of the seas his brethren back at the thieves guild always spoke of.

“You clearly have no understanding and experience dealing with a Huntsman of my calibre. But.” Davek shrugged, then smiled even wider. “I shall remedy this situation for you.”

“What are you blabbering about, you son of a bitch?”

“Goodnight,” Davek said with a wink. Parvus opened his mouth to speak, but his face lay frozen that way. For at that moment, darkness descended on them. There was no way to describe what it was. Davek didn’t understand his hidden talents well enough to be able to put a name or method to everything he does with magic. He only knew to imagine what he wanted, and the pool of energy inside him answered, and called to the shadows. A flash of fire, and pain, coursed through Davek’s body. But in the blink of an eye the entire ship, and Damnation, was shrouded in black mist, blinding everyone save for the man responsible for its sudden appearance.

The slaves were not slaves at all, but hired thugs lured into his service by the promise of gold. At the flick of their wrists their fake manacles dropped to the deck, their loud clattering interspersed with shouts of alarm and cries of confusion. Weeks of training in absolute darkness and blindfolds taught them the lay of the fake Brimstone by instinct. Weapons stored in hidden compartments underneath the benches were produced quickly. But the real test lay in finding their way towards Damnation, and navigating their way once they managed to climb on board. All this must be achieved while being surrounded by furious pirates, who at that moment were swinging their swords in wild and reckless abandon. Heedless of the fact that they were striking their comrades as well.

No one aboard Damnation fired at the ship, afraid to strike their captain and crew. The whole operation was as chaotic and confusing as Davek thought it would be. He slipped towards the Damnation while slaves and pirates alike were knocked down around him, made his way towards the cannons, where his reliable, if unreasonably expensive crew were already waiting.

“Make ready to shoot, lads!” Davek shouted.

“Make it quick, Davek. We can’t see!” one of them shouted back. He waited until more of the slaves found their way across the gangplank. The more suicidal lads swung themselves across, with the expected shouts of surprise as much as triumph. Someone cried orders to weigh anchor, and Davek heaved a sigh of relief to see his men on the act instead of Parvus’ crew.

“Hurry, lads!” Davek shouted to the slaves, to little effect. Water splashed as more fell or were thrown overboard. In the mass of bleeding, cursing pirates and wounded slaves, Davek searched for Parvus and found the Captain, frozen where he had left him.

“Davek!” someone screamed. Davek braced himself against the rails and drew a deep breath. The force of the spell’s removal was as painful as its creation. He clenched his teeth as the power inside him burned and sent that all too familiar fire through his veins, straining to remove the darkness from both ships. All at once, a great weight was removed from his shoulders, and the darkness was lifted.

A confused Parvus shook his head and turned towards the Damnation, blinking and rubbing his eyes. The look on his face as he locked gazes with Davek was that of absolute horror, as realization sunk. Davek waved, as though to an old friend, and gave the order to fire the cannons.

The last thing Davek saw of Parvus was his bald head emerging from the water. The last thing he heard as he sailed away in Damnation, with less than half of his hired thugs and only three of his crew left alive, was the Captain’s sputtering, and his screams of bloody murder as he clung what was left of the Brimstone.

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