The ship was entirely black from its hull to its sails, as though its appearance had been deliberately designed to mirror its mournful purpose. Its masts were so tall they seemed to reach almost to the moon itself. Enormous gold letters were painted on the side of the ship, and though they were too close for Sol to read properly, he already knew exactly what they spelled.
The higher the net lifted them, the greater Sol's desire to breathe became.
"Let it out," said Anyel beside him, seeing his discomfort. "The water. Let it out."
Sol didn't want to, but he no longer had any choice; his lungs were thirsty and needed replenishment. He exhaled, letting out a steady stream of water from his mouth like one of the statues in the Emperor's atrium.
"Keep going," said Anyel. "Get as much out as you can, then breathe in very slowly."
Sol kept exhaling, draining his lungs of every drop of water he could squeeze from them. When he could manage no more, he took as small a breath as he could manage, but the tiny sip of cold air was a shock to his system and made him cough violently. He felt like he was drowning again. Every cough made him gasp for breath while every gasp made him cough harder. Specks of salty water shot from his mouth and nose as he retched and convulsed, his eyes blurred and streaming. When the worst of it was over, he felt a tender hand rubbing his back accompanied by a gentle voice.
"That's it," said Anyel, "just breathe."
Sol's coughing eased as he spat out the last few trickles of water.
"That was nasty..." he croaked.
By this time, the net they were ensnared in had finally reached the top of the ship and they were hoisted over the gunwale where, in an instant, Sol forgot all about his troubled breathing.
Standing on the deck of the ship were a dozen sailors, all of them at least fifty-feet tall. Each was uglier than the last, but Sol did not get much time to look at them. While their ascent had been slow and steady, their descent was anything but. They plummeted what felt like a full story to the deck, and Sol took most of the impact, landing on his side with a wet thwack. It knocked what little air he'd managed to take into his lungs straight back out of them.
"Hello, little fish," rumbled a deep voice from above.
Sol was too winded to turn over, but he twisted his head just enough to see a pair of huge black feet standing beside him, each as big as bathtubs. They were shoeless and their yellow-stained toenails were as thick as tabletops.
"Ramgor..." whispered Anyel.
Their net was immediately hoisted high again. Sol grunted as he was thrown onto his back, his limbs tangled in the ropes. He looked up and saw a giant hand holding the top of the net. In no time at all, it had lifted them to a dizzying height where a pair of big brown eyes squinted at them. The man was dark-skinned, thickly stubbled and wore a black tricorne hat.
"You thought you could hide from me?" said the Demigiant. His breath was as rotten as a dead whale. "Nobody hides from the Kharkalis!"
"Captain Ramgor," said Anyel, "we were not trying to hide from you. We came to find you so we could talk to you."
Ramgor laughed. "You did not find me; I found you! And you have wasted your time; I know exactly who you are, Princess."
Sol and Anyel shared a bewildered glance.
"News of your crime has spread quickly throughout the sea," continued Ramgor. "I did not believe you would be so foolish as to bring the human to me so willingly, but then small minds often surprise me."
"We came to you for your help," Sol said.
"Did you indeed? And what would you have me do for you, human?"
"You're transporting a man called Arthur Goone."
"The Warlock... An unusual prisoner. What of him?"
"He's innocent. I want you to let him go."
There was a short silence before the sailors erupted into laughter. Ramgor was the only one who did not laugh, but he smiled a crooked smile, revealing an entire fish wedged between two of his upper teeth like a piece of salad. He waited until the laughter had died down before responding.
"Goone was found guilty by the Order and sentenced to exile by the Emperor himself. He murdered Pan Magal, and you want me to just let him go?"
"He didn't murder anyone," said Anyel. "Pan Magal was killed by the Emperor."
The last sailor still laughing stopped at once while Ramgor's smile faltered. He swiped his enormous tongue over his lips. "That is quite a lie for a Princess."
"It's not a lie," Sol said. "The Emperor killed Pan Magal and he was gonna kill me, too, but Goone saved me."
"You really expect me to believe such a story?"
"Commander Tiruk believes it," said Anyel. "He tried to help Solomon escape the Palace, but he was stopped. That's why I took him. The Emperor has lost his mind. He's using Goone as a scapegoat for his own crimes. You are taking an innocent man to Teruntila."
The wind whistled through the sails as Ramgor paused to think. For a moment, Sol thought their efforts had paid off and that Ramgor was starting to see sense... but then the Captain shook his head and his foul grin returned. "You two tell a good tale, but it is not for me to decide who is guilty and who is innocent. I am the captain of the Kharkalis, and it is my sworn duty is to transport the banished."
"Even if the person who banished them is corrupt?" Sol said.
"If the Emperor is guilty, then I will gladly welcome him aboard my ship as one of my prisoners. Until then, I will carry out my duty as I always have. We sail for Teruntila."
As a cheer went up around the crew, Ramgor lowered Sol and Anyel's net to his side and strode off along the deck in the direction of a dark doorway. Sol and Anyel held on tight to their rope prison as they swung back and forth through the air.
"But the Emperor is looking for me!" Sol shouted. "If he knew you had me, don't you think he'd want you to turn back?!"
"Turn back?!" chuckled Ramgor. "Clearly you know very little of this world. I will send word to the Emperor that I have found you, and if he wants you so badly, he can come for you himself—it would not take him long—but the Kharkalis never turns back."
They reached the door and Ramgor kicked it open with a boom.
* * *
YOU ARE READING
Manhattan, 1929. The City is on its knees following a devastating crash in the stock market. Thanks to the Prohibition, criminals are making a killing off illegal bars while thousands of honest labourers can't find a single day's work. And in the Bo...