Chapter 1

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Picaro took a full drag from his pipe and let the thick white smoke dribble down the corners of his mouth and navigate through his goatee. He glanced at his ring. It was orange. The cries of seagulls and land merchants hawking wares filled his ears and excited him, a school boys excitement, like running through the fields on the first day of summer.

Behind him the rest of the crew conducted docking chores. Decks were mopped, sails furled and unfurled and checked for rips, food barrels rolled from cargo hold to kitchen. A day at port and the merchant docks was a day of rest. The open seas held trouble enough of their own.

An unshaven strong man with no grey in his beard punched Picaro in the shoulder. "Your break's been long enough. Help me with these wine barrels. They'll fetch decent coin."

Picaro swiveled and glanced at the latest score. "You always say that, Charem." He hopped down and slapped the man on the back then headed for the cargo hold.

The Bronze Bellwether was a good ship all things considered. It was large enough for a small crew and small enough to outmanuever large vessels, which happened as regularly as the new moon. In all honesty Picaro never set out to be a pirate. But Captain Wilhelm had convinced him that there were many slave rich merchants never brought to justice for their ill-gotten gains. Better to return the wealth to common men than let the merchants get away with quick slave riches. And pinch a coin or two off the top for the trouble, of course.

Picaro and Charem walked down the docks and turned left onto the main promenade. It was a merchant's street. As was customary at port, the entrance to the market was filled with booths to the gods. Each booth housed a man in robes surrounded by a collection of potions, elixirs, trinkets, symbols, charms, pamphlets, and a small altar on a pedestal.

On the right were three gods. Their booths looked nearly identical except for the writing on bold signs hanging above them. In blood red letters: Pot, the all powerful, blessed be. In sunset orange letters: Res, the all creative, blessed be. In golden yellow letters: Fam, the all renowned, blessed be. On the left were three gods with equally lean common booths. In fern green letters: Ben, the all giving, blessed be. In sky blue letters: Sci, the all knowing, blessed be. In iron purple letters: Per, the unchanging, blessed be.

Picaro spat in the dirt as he walked by. He didn't want anything to do with the gods. He pitied those who chased after their false and empty promises, like children who believed their parents never told a lie. Charem eyed the blood red letters of Pot, shook his head, and walked by too. He had once been a follower of Pot. But no longer.

The market was weekend busy. Soon their ears and sea eyes were accosted by exotic wares from all corners of Telldion. Charem almost stepped in a horse pie, stopped the toe of his mud brown 3/4 boots inches above it, and then stepped over it. Picaro laughed and then slowed to a crawl as they made their way through the throng of people.

Charem scratched his chin. "How do you think the gods got their magic? Was it given to them or just innate?"

Picaro picked up a fragrant purple fruit, sniffed it, put it back. "Of course they were born that way. And it's not magic."

"It is. They manipulate space and matter." Charem gestured with smooth sweeps of his arms around him.

"But that's not magic. They're gods. If it were magic, anyone could do it."

"Their followers do it."

"That doesn't count. Only if the gods give them some of their power."


"So you can't study it. It's not some ability you develop. And besides, the gods are unpredictable. You could have it one day and it could be gone the next. That's not 'magic'."

"It's not gone if Per gives it to you."

"Yeah, but that's Per. He never changes. And that's just one god. All the others are different."

"Maybe. It still seems like magic, though..."

"It is not. If it were magic, you could pick up a book and do it. Or, maybe you would need some aptitude. But it would be accessible. It wouldn't rely on the silly whims of some...immortal power hog. It would be independent, And nothing with the gods is free. You of all people should know that."

Charem sighed, scratched his chin, and thought for a while. "I don't regret it. 6 years I spent serving Pot, working to gain power. I was one of the reasonable ones, too. I didn't want him to give me the ability to change things, just do a spell—"

"They're not spells."

"That's what we called them, okay? Just do a one-off spell and grant me some power. Some people work for Pot for 6 months and get their request granted. But not me."


"Yeah, yeah, you always say that. But I really don't regret it. I was bitter for a long time. But I guess I realized that life is a roll of the bones. You win some you lose some."

Picaro scoffed. "If I wanted to win some, I'd play throwing daggers. If I wanted to lose some, I'd play cards. I don't need to suck up to some idiot with a power trip and wait for scraps."

"Gods, you really hate them, don't you?"

"I don't hate them. I just don't need them."

Charem spat on the ground. "Nobody needs them. But you expect that if you follow them things would go according to plan. Do you see the crack in the kraken?"

Picaro rubbed his ring and slapped Charem's back and laughed. "Yea, I see the crack."

The market had thinned out. Up ahead was a tall blonde woman, maybe thirty years of age. To her right three burly men stood closer than what looked comfortable. To her left a rangy archer cleaned his fingernails with his teeth and glanced around, while a short boulder of a man stood with his hands on his hips.

The boulder man huffed. "If you knew what was good for you, you'd give us what we want."

The woman shivered slightly but maintained her composure. "Or what?" Her accent was rich. Although this was a wayfarer's port, her speech gave away that she was a foreigner.

The boulder man glanced at the three boulder men, two grabbed an arm each, and before she could scream the third gave her a hard slap across the face and clutched her throat. She gasped in shock, and then for air. The ringleader reached into his pocket.

"Hey!" All five men turned to see Picaro and Charem charging at them, swords at the ready. The archer was the first to react and fumbled to grab his bow. Before he could string an arrow Charem slammed into him. Both men went tumbling to the ground in a jumble of limbs.

Picaro wasn't as lucky. The two burly men holding the arms had drawn crude blades. The short man held a dagger. Behind them the third man held the woman in a choke.

"Tell your friend to let go of my archer." The ringleader and Picaro glanced over at Charem, who had pinned the archer to the ground with a boot on his back and cutlass to his throat.

Picaro glowered. "Not until you let go of that woman."

The ringleader didn't flinch. "This is no concern of yours. Besides, we've got you outnumbered."

Picaro laughed. "We'll see about that."

The boulder man narrowed his eyes and noticed a shining red ring on this scrappy man's little finger. It would make a nice addition to his collection.

He gave a nod and the two burly men lunged. Charem pommeled the archer, knocked him out. Picaro charged, ducked an overhead chop, parried a stab, and rammed his head into a nose. The burly man covered his bleeding nose with his hands, and Picaro parried a slash that knocked him out of range of the bleeding man. The second man crouched defensively in front of the other but Picaro gave him no rest. He feinted high, slashed low and anticipated the parry, spun with its momentum and ducked and hacked. His blade sunk deep into the guarding man's ribs and there was a wet yell. The man swung wildly and Picaro let his blade go, ducked the chop and gave a surprise left hook to his chin, knocked him out.

The other burly man was on his feet now but held his blade shakily. Picaro grinned and didn't pause to remove his sword. He kicked the sword away, ducked a wild swing and drove his elbow deep into the man's stomach. There was a heave and then the man collapsed. Charem was already closing in on the ringleader. Picaro calmly grabbed his bloodied blade and joined the conversation.

"Stop!" The boulder man gulped and shook and held his dagger out, pointing it back and forth between Charem and Picaro. Picaro pointed to the woman, then pointed to the ground next to him.

The boulder man didn't want to listen. "We'll kill her!"

Picaro shook his head slowly "Then we'll kill you."

The man gulped again. "We just want her to grant us coin. It was such a simple request. can't do this!"

Picaro was amused at the man's blabbering. It always ended this way. "You've got five seconds to make a decision. Or I'll make it for you."

Behind the boulder man the third burly man stood with raised eyebrows. Picaro could tell he didn't think this woman, whatever she could do, was worth dying for. He released his hold, slowly backed away, then turned and ran.

The boulder man didn't hold the same opinion. He turned and lunged for the woman. Picaro was faster. He leaped and hamstrung the man. Then he rolled, stood, and lopped the man's head clean off. It rolled two, maybe three feet and bobbled. The woman fainted. 

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