We have all come to grips with the passing of one of our own members of the Phoenix Rising. I would like to dedicate this episode to Greg Shullerts, a devoted father, brother, veteran, hero, friend, and most importantly, a real genuine human being. His passing has touched us all in different ways, and while he may be physically gone, he will always live on in each of us. So, with a heavy heart, this episode is to the real Captain of our crew. Greg, you will always be legendary in our hearts.
1952 – 2019
“Forever riding the waves of the afterlife.”
The drawstring of the knapsack is cinched tightly, the large bulky bag then hoisted up and over a shoulder, the owner adjusting the comfort of the luggage – the only items he owns – and takes one last look around the room, knowing this will be the last time spending the night inside of it. With a heavy sigh, he turns towards the door and exits the room, thus putting him on the path of his next chapter in life.
“Ahh, Mister Greg.” The innkeeper greets as Greg walks down the stairs and enters the common room of the inn.
“Aye, Baxter.” Greg says, meeting the man’s welcome. “Pretty dead for mid mornin’ no?”
Baxter the innkeeper nods, seeing his empty common room, all except for a couple of men lazily leaning on a table, probably still drunk from last night’s binge drinking. “Not everyday is a good one.” He says smiling, then notices Greg’s bag for the first time, his smile turning to a frown. “Leaving for a trip?”
Looking back at Baxter, then to his pack on his shoulder, Greg nods. “Aye, my friend. The road calls me name and I believe I stayed here longer than I intended.”
“Shall I save your room for your return?” Baxter asks hopefully, this man standing before him someone he can consider a friend. Still, while he has spent a fortnight and a day, they had covered the fact that his stay would not be for long.
Sadly – to Baxter – that day has come.
“Nay.” Greg confirms. “I’m not for knowin’ if I will be back here, let alone when.”
With a feigned smile, Baxter embraces Greg’s firm handshake. He watches him walk out of the inn, and seemingly out of his life.
Salty air fills his lungs, Greg embracing this exodus – like the many before this – with a deep breath, the intake of air is almost like the changing of the tide. This wave of time in his life has ended, only to ride the next oncoming one. Opening his eyes and licking his lips, Greg searches for the tavern that will give him the liquid encouragement to actually leave the port city.
“That one.” Greg says, deciding upon the ‘Mermaid’s Tear’. As good a place as any.
The half door creaks as he pushes his way in to find a small hole in the wall establishment smaller than it appears from the outside. Regardless, this is the “lucky” place he will last visit before he leaves.
Plopping his sack on the stool next to him, Greg’s vision goes from the occupied table in the corner – the five men watching him enter without actually watching him – and comes to the barkeep, a thick bald man who looks like he would eat glass just for the fun of it.
“Drink.” He demands, asking what Greg wants with a grunt.
“A dark mead.”
“No mead.” The barkeep growls. “I serve one thing and one thing only. Rum.”
Thinking bout it, Greg has never had it before, so what the hell. “All right then. Rum.”
Paying for the drink, Greg looks at the bottle of the dark brown liquid, wondering if he has to pour it himself or…
“You gonna stare at it, or drink it?” The question is asked, the barkeep’s arms crossed over his chest, the fact that the bottle still sits at the counter an insult.
Not wanting to anger the large man, Greg takes the neck of the bottle and brings it up to his lips, the potent liquor entering his throat. Two heavy gulps later, Greg puts the bottle down, coughing as he feels his stomach and throat are on fire.
The table of five men laugh at the expense, two of them getting up and coming over towards his seat. “Got us a live one, Chad.” The one on the left jokes. “A real drinker we gots here.”
Greg, with tears in his eyes, senses their approach. “Whew!” He exclaims. “Quite the potent drink if I do say so.” He nods to the man on his right. “Care to join me fellas?”
“Ha!” The speaker from before says. “You be buying?”
Thinking about how much coin he has left, Greg wonders if it would be a smart idea. As the two men flank him, however, it may not be smart to not buy them a drink. “Lemme guess.” Greg answers. “Rum?” He turns to the other man. “And Rum?”
“Here, here!” Chad says patting Greg on the back. “And a smart lad, too!”
After Greg’s coins are all but diminished, he smiles as the men are handed their own bottles of rum, both of them returning to the table to enjoy their free booze with the rest of the table. Turning back around, Greg notices several sheets of paper nailed to the wall, some with scribbles of handwriting, one of them totally void of any.
“Job offers.” The barkeep answers Greg’s confused expression. “The ships that come in from the seas post them, lookin’ for laborers.”
Greg looks at them more intently. “I see. And what be these jobs you refer to?” He asks, not liking the idea of manual labor, but the idea of traveling aboard a boat would be quicker than the heel-toe transportation he has been accustomed to.
“Varies.” The barkeep answers, getting bored of this conversation.
“And the pay?” Greg asks, still looking at the blank sheet.
“Don’t know. Lets just say there is a reason I am behind here instead of on a ship.” The barkeep walks away from the counter as Greg stands up and takes a closer look at the forms.
“Demon’s Diamond.” He says quietly, reading the ship’s name on the manifest. “Why is this one empty?” He points to the form, looking back towards the patrons of the establishment to see if they can shed some light upon this.
Instead, they all seem to be reluctant to answer his question.
“This one.” He looks back to the name once again. “Demon’s Diamond does not have any signatures. Is there a reason for it?”
“That one there,” The barkeep finally answers. “Is not a ship you wanna be on.”
“Yeah.” Chad, glad that the barkeep has broken the awkward silence, feels brave enough to speak up. “Tis co-captained.” He states, as if that alone should answer the question.
“Co-Captained.” Greg echoes, looking to the other forms. “And that is, bad?”
“It is because of who captains that ship.” He looks out the window as if he is expecting the two of them to enter the tavern at the mere mention of them. “One of them, she has dark blue, piercing eyes. Eyes that seem to stare directly into your soul. St-stripping you naked.”
“She?” Greg, catching the mention of the female narrative, asks.
“And the other.” Chad continues, ignoring the question. “She is even more…” He searches for the right word to categorize her. “Wicked. Her skin is so pale it appears almost gray.” He shivers.
“So these two women, co-captain their ship. A blue eyed and grey skinned duo.” He smirks. “And what seems to be the problem with that?” He asks, not knowing the protocol of having two captains, let alone them being women.
“I don’t know.” Chad says, running a hand across his chin. “People that leave with them, ain’t for coming back. It’s always different workers aboard their cursed ship.”
Intriguing. Two women, cursed ship…
“This ‘Demon’s Diamond’, it is here in port?”
“Yup.” Chad’s friend says. “Seen it the other night. Far end of the dock.”
Ripping the form off the wall, Greg folds it in half, and half again, before he places it in his over coat’s pocket. “You done got my interest. I will be seein’ this mysterious ship and the captains for meself.” They look at him as if he is crazy – or a dead man – and shake their heads. “Mus’nt forget about this.” He says reaching for the bottle of rum on the counter. Slinging his bag back over his shoulder, Greg exits the tavern on his way to the docs and this ‘Demon’s Diamond’.
* * * * *
“That’s him?” The gray skinned co-captain asks her counterpart, the blue eyed woman using her innate abilities to scry upon the man holding a bottle of rum and a pack slung over one shoulder.
“Yes, Bladen’Kurst.” She replies. “The fates have shown me this man. For what reason, I do not know.”
The gray skinned woman peers into the image of the man. “Kind of skinny.” She shakes her head. “Blue, I think you are confusing your information. There is no way the fates chose him.”
Blue sighs. “Bladen’Kurst, I’ve told you before, I am only shown the images. It is not my job to ponder what the fates are up to. It is beyond you, or I.”
Bladen’Kurst looks at her with a sidelong glance, and snorts. “What makes them so special anyway? If it were up to me, we would be the ones in charge.”
“This again?” Blue snaps. “Is power the only thing you think about, sister?” Does not being a demon suffice enough?”
The demon winks. “Trust me, when power is there for the taking, you wouldn’t hesitate to grab it and hold onto it for as long as you can.”
Blue clears her throat and looks back to the image of Greg making his way to the docks. “Anyway, back to the task at hand. Are you ready?”
“For?” Kurst asks, running two fingers over her bicep, tracing them up her ash colored shoulder.
“To see what the fates have in store for us?”
Bladen’Kurst sighs loudly. “Fine. Let’s get this over with.”
* * * * *
It is not like the other ships, not at all. The ‘Demon’s Diamond’ looks like it needs a lot of work and care, thoughts that make Greg second guess his decision. With his bottle of rum still in hand, he takes a large pull of it, pursing his lips as the burning liquid travels down his throat and body.
“Here goes…” He reaches for the guide rope for the boarding ramp, the old line of rope snapping apart and falling to lazily lay in the harbor.
“And you are?”
Greg, looking up at the origin of the question, finds the woman to be the gray skinned co-captain of the ship. He meets her gaze, nearly frozen in place by the intense stare.
“I…” He stutters, trying to make his tongue work under his command. “I’m.”
“Sister, what are you doing?” The second co-captain asks, coming to the rail. She looks down upon Greg and nods. “I see. Are you here about a job aboard our vessel?”
Fumbling in his coat pocket, putting the rum between his legs, he produces the form. “Aye, ladies. I am.”
“Captain!” Bladen’Kurst shouts, her tone far more terrifying than the barkeep could ever hope to be. With a smirk, she reiterates. “First thing you will learn, you refer to us as Captain. If you do not, I will cut out your tongue so you will never get it wrong ever again.”
“Ignore her.” Blue intervenes, seeing the blood drain from Greg’s face. “But listen as well. As a crew mate aboard the ship, you will only refer to us as Captain. Anything else and…” She grins and pats Bladen’Kurst on the shoulder, leaving it to Greg’s imagination. “Welcome aboard, Greg.”
Looking up at Blue with full shock, he takes a step upon the rickety ramp. “How? How you be knowin’ me name?”
Blue laughs it away, and walks from the rail, Bladen’Kurst standing at the entrance, glaring at him. She wonders what absurd reasoning why they, the fates, have chosen him. Nevermind what they have in store. Why this particular mortal? She cocks her head to the side. “What is that in your hand? A gift for your Captains?”
Looking at his bottle of rum in his hand, he shrugs and thinks maybe it could be a peace offering to get on her good side. “Rum.”
“Rum.” She echoes. “Ooh, a real pirate aren’t you!” She mocks and laughs, joining her sister and walking away from the ramp.
“Very strange.” Greg replies quietly, slowly making his way up the ramp. “But I likes it!”
A year passes like the sun rises, Greg being mostly used as a labor mule. Although, with the strenuous work, he has gotten into great physique, his skin tanned from the sun, and his legs firm and able to withstand the roughest of waters. While throughout the year, each of the Captains have had their own way of dealing with him. Bladen’Kurst is seemingly always angry when she is around him, but there are times when he feels the other Captain, Blue Diamond, seems to want to make sure he is learning while he is aboard the ship. To what extent, he doesn’t know, but he prefers it when she is around instead of the demon Bladen’Kurst.
“Greg.” Blue calls out to him one day, the man looking up from tarring a new piece of wood into place.
“Captain.” Greg answers, rising to a standing position.
“Greg, it has been over a year at sea.” She looks out at the ocean, it’s calm waters an indication of her demeanor. “What are your ambitions? What do, are, you hoping to get out of this?”
Wow. Thinking of it, coming from a traveler who thinks two weeks is too long to stay in one place, a year out at sea. What is he actually hoping to get out of this mind numbing work?
“Do you like being out at sea?”
He nods. “Yes, Captain, I do.” He does? He thinks about why he answered it, and so quickly. Being out here, you are forever chasing the waves, arriving in a different port city regularly. Is that the reason? But the sea, being out here for so long, he strangely feels at home.
“And you enjoy doing all the grunt work?”
No, but he doesn’t want to openly state it to her. “I do what is asked.” He clarifies.
“You have my permission to speak freely.”
After a few moments to gather his thoughts, Greg clears his throat. “To be true, it is not what I like doin’. After a year, and all that time, only a handful of other members have come aboard, yet I be here, at the bottom of the pole.”
Blue nods, urging him to get it all out.
“I think I should be movin’ up by now.”
“To be a Captain of your own?” Blue asks coyly.
She gazes off in the distance. “Than perhaps it is time you start acting like one. For starters, your attitude.” She shakes her head. “You act as if you are a plank. Flat and unimaginable. You need to find your own voice, your own way to go about the day.”
“How I be doin’ that?”
“Practice.” She says, turning around and walking away. “You should practice upon my sister.” She laughs softly. “I would very much love to see that.”
Greg sits there, pondering the conversation, and what she means by it.
* * * * *
“I spoke with him.” Blue replies as she enters the Captain’s quarters, looking upon Bladen’Kurst as she is plotting their next course.
“And?” She asks, not looking up, sounding as if she doesn’t care.
“It is as I expected. He does have higher aspirations than a lowly deck hand.”
“And” Bladen’Kurst asks again, her same bored questioned response.
Stopping at the desk and gazing at the maps, Blue puts her hands down upon the edges of the surface. “You know, dear sister, you could help out.”
The demon finally looks up from her maps with a smirk. “Oh, forgive me, my sister, but was he not your visionary objective? As far as I recall, I am of the demon race, therefore have no obligation to whomever you believe has been ‘chosen’.” She looks back down upon her maps and adds, “So, no. I will not help you.”
Blue nods. She never really expected differently. Whenever she had received the visions, the individual had always been her responsibility. However, with a grin of her own, Blue begins to think of a way to get her involved in a different way.
“What if we made a bet?”
Bladen’Kurst snorts the thought away. “As if you could bring something that could even entice me enough to even consider it.”
The bait has been set.
“How about we forget, for one moment, that Greg has been ‘chosen’. Why don’t we each try to sway him.” Blue puts in, leaning in towards her sister. “Hmm?”
Thinking it ridiculous, Bladen’Kurst sighs.
“Let us give it a years time. We will bring him to know what the rank of Captain is, inside and out. I will teach him my way, you teach him your own. When the year is at it’s end, we give him a choice.”
“A choice?” Bladen’Kurst asks, having stopped to actually listen.
The fish is on the hook.
“Mhmm.” Blue answers. “Let us see what path he will take. Mine, or yours.”
Leaning back in her chair, looking into Blue’s eyes, she does love the sibling rivalry they share. “So let me get this correct before I say anything. You teach him what you want, I show him what I want, then we let him decide which style he prefers?” She begins tapping the armrest as she wonders about the logistics. “What is the endgame? Just to see what he prefers?”
Time to yank up and reel the fish in.
“You can have him.” Blue answers. “If,” she adds seeing the seductive smirk. “He chooses you.”
“HA!” Bladen’Kurst shouts as she stands from her chair. “As I recall, no mortal has yet resisted,” she motions along her curvy body with her hands, “what I have to offer.” She grins and chuckles.
Then suddenly stops.
“Wait. What will you receive in all of this, if, and that is unlikely, if you win?”
“The satisfaction of proving to you that I won, is more than enough.” Blue answers confidently.
Leaning on the desk opposite her sister, Bladen’Kurst matches the stern gaze as they both size the other one up. “Why don’t we up the ante?” Her smirk disappears, replaced with a mock look of fright. “Unless you don’t believe you can win?” Her grin quickly returns. “Whomever wins, be it so. But when I win, this partnership upon the seas is over.”
“Over, as in how?” Blue asks, suddenly worried by her phrasing of the words.
Looks like the fish is putting up quite a struggle.
“Don’t worry.” Bladen’Kurst replies. “We will always be sisters, but what I mean is this.” She raises her arms to encompass the whole cabin. “Is over. There will be no more co-captain this, co-captain that. It will be my ship, my rules.”
Trying to see through the added prize, Blue begins to see the divide between them more clearly.
She is a demon, after all.
“And where would I stand aboard your newly acquainted station?”
That evil grin does not diminish. “You would be forced off my vessel.” She eagerly replies. “Never to set foot upon it again.”
There it is, the line snapped, the fish able to get off the hook.
Shifting her weight, Blue looks passed her sister’s mocking grin, trying to see where this could lead her.
Greg is only human after all.
“Interesting ploy to be rid of me.” Blue finally answers. “But I counter. He chooses me, you are then bound at my side for the remainder of your existence.” It is Blue’s turn for an evil grin. “And demons live for quite some time, do they not?”
The queen of demons squints her eyes at the remark, knowing Blue desires the connection they both have. She, however, is getting tired of it. With one last measuring look, she extends her hand.
Reaching to secure the deal, Blue’s hand extends towards her sister’s
Then Bladen’Kurst pulls back.
“Any way I wish to teach him?” She asks against Blue’s somewhat startled expression.
“Any way you wish.” Blue reiterates, her arm still extended.
“Deal.” Kurst responds, snapping her hand out to shake her sister’s own, each of them staring at the other with a steely, determined gaze.
“May the better path win.” Blue adds as she releases her grip.
But her sister does not let go.
“Prepare for the worst, sister of mine. I have no intention of losing.” With an evil chuckle, Bladen’Kurst let’s go, the wager sound, and binding.
* * * * *
“This is how you wish to speak?” Blue asks one day sometime later, months after the bet. She looks at Greg with an eyebrow cocked.
“Aye.” Greg answers. “Ye be tellin me I be as flat as a board. I took yer words to heart and thought ‘bout how I be wantin’ to be seen. Back on that first day aboard yer ship, yer sister called me a pirate. And so I be one now. Full o’ grit.”
“And rum, by the look of it…” Blue says, looking at his ever growing stomach. It appears that Bladen’Kurst has been using it during her times with the man.
“Aye, Blue.” Greg answers, not referring to her by her title. “Tis the nectar o’ the gods. Puts the hairs on me chest.”
Blue sighs, only so she doesn’t chuckle. “Ok, Greg. We will be putting into port within the next few days. I will see to it that the ship is stocked with fresh workers. I want you to see to them. Show them that you are the Captain of this vessel, and that they must respect you and your decisions.”
* * * * *
Seeing Greg alone shortly after Blue had conversed with him, Bladen’Kurst slips from the shadows and walks up to the man. “Greg.” She greets.
Standing up, he nods. “Kurst.” He looks at her folded arms, seeing no rum. His frown tells his distaste in that move.
“Trust me, you will have your fill of rum when we make port.” She walks him to the rail of the ship, the silhouette of the mountains off in the distance.
Turning over, his back leaning against the rail, Greg nods. “I’ve got me orders to stay on the ship ‘n greet all the new squids that be comin’ aboard.”
“Is that all?” She asks. “Sounds like you will have plenty of free time once we are in port. Do you not wish to see the city and all it offers?”
“Ya be meanin’ the rum?” Greg asks with a chuckle.
“And more.” She turns to face him. “If you are to be a Captain someday, you must do yourself a favor and sample the offerings. Rum, the pipe and exotic herbs, the food.” She tails off to make a dramatic addition. “And the women…”
Greg turns towards her at the mention of that. As far as he is concerned, this demon before him is very, very attractive, but he has not felt that way with her, despite her lusty attempts to bed him.
Kurst grins seeing his opening. “Oh yes. The women go crazy for the Captain of a ship. And, with you acting as such from now own, you are sure to have your pick of any nestled inside the city.” She laughs. “Or many!” She licks her lips and watches the inner workings of his mind at the wonderment of the possibilities.
“Drink.” She adds. “Make love. Do whatever makes you feel alive.” As she has done what she came out here to do, Bladen’Kurst leaves Greg to ponder the realization of her statement.
* * * * *
“Mmmph.” Greg grunts, his mind coming back into focus. The dry mouth and swirling head are not helping him whatsoever. With a seemingly ‘fuzzy’ tongue, he licks his teeth so his lips will stop clinging to them. The room smells like rum and other various scents, but he is oblivious to it all. He brings a hand up to scratch his face, the act causing his limb to brush up against another occupant in the bed – and by the feel of it, she is still naked – and tries to recall the events of last night.
Scratching at his chin stubble, he cannot seem to recall anything after… What? He stares up at the ceiling for a few minutes, then looks to the other side of the bed to find yet another female occupant. Not remembering her either, Greg pulls up the blanket enough to see that she, too, is naked. He chuckles and thinks that not remembering a great night might not be so bad.
Until he spots a familiar, blue robbed woman standing by the edge of the bed, her folded arms tightly hugging her upper torso. “You are late.” Blue says in a scolding manner.
Greg grunts, taking one more peek at the naked females under the covers.
“Greg.” Blue says, a little bit of magic behind her words. “Get up. Now!”
“Nah.” He answers, shaking his head, his only thoughts are that of enjoying these women’s company again, but in a state where he can remember it.
Stepping over many bottles of rum, Blue picks up a bottle, telepathically, and hurls it above the bed so that the glass shatters and rains shards and moisture down upon the three bodies.
The two women bolt up in bed looking around, and then look at Greg – who shrugs in reply. “Sorry ladies.” He consoles, then looks at Blue. “Big sister says the fun be over.” He grins at Blue’s unamused expression.
With in a matter of a blink of an eye, Blue, not even moving, makes all twelve bottles of rum raise as one in the room.
“Leave!” She says, the weight of a thunderstorm behind her voice. The women, not coherent enough to understand the significance of what is happening, are smart enough to understand not to stay any longer. They both exit the bed, grabbing their scattered clothes, but not bothering to put them on as they exit the room’s doorway, Greg watching their backsides with a smirk and a defiant grin.
“Ta think, she been right this whole time.” Greg dares to speak. “All business and no fun. Sure sis, you could enjoy life more if ya’d just loosen up ‘n pull that stick outta yer-”
The words get caught in his throat as – with but a snarl – a magical hand appears to grip Greg’s throat, stopping the insubordination. “I had given you a task.” Blue states, still angry and powerful. “And you failed me. And the ship. And the new recruits you were intended to command.” She growls, the hand gripping Greg’s throat tighter, his face turning different shades of purple.
“Wondering if you had gotten into some unforeseen trouble, I went off to find you, expecting to come across your dead body! But instead, I find you naked with two women, still half drunk from the nights activities!” The hand releases it’s grip, Greg falling back to the bed as the anger had caused the magical limb to raises the man during her rant.
Sputtering, coughing, and gasping for air into his burning lungs, Greg lies there on the bed, now horizontally across the top. “T-tas-sks.” He manages to say.
“What!?” Blue, slowly calming down, asks, her heartbeat thumping in her head loudly.
With a spat of coughing, Greg holds his hand up. “Kurst. S-she told me t-to enjoy the life of a cap’n, so I did.” He rubs his tender throat while trying to clear it. “I only did as she asked.”
Sister! Blue says to herself, seeing the other side is slowly winning this man over. Her love of debauchery and chaos is more befitting the man before her now. With a long – and calming – breath, Blue opens her eyes to view Greg as he puts his trousers on.
“Very well.” She finally says. “With you obeying, at least one of us…” She grits her teeth knowing that Bladen’Kurst had intentionally caused this to happen. “I very well cannot continue to punish you.” Her face turns stern once more. “But know this, Greg. While you enjoy your new station in life, know that it also carries the heavy responsibilities of your ship and crew. You are Captain, yet you are bound to your vessel and her occupants. Finish getting dressed, you are wanted upon the deck of the ship.”
Slipping his shirt over his head, he looks at Blue – or rather where she was. Now there is only empty space. With a grin, and a look back to the bed, Greg gathers the remains of his belongings and leaves for the ship.
* * * * *
“Another ‘chosen one’?” Bladen’Kurst asks with sheer disbelief. Other than the bet between the two, Greg has seemingly been a waste of time. He is neither special, or chosen, in any way. Looking at Blue’s scrying, however, she watches a duo of people, instead of the normal single human. Now intrigued, BK cocks her head to the side to watch. “Why two?”
“I do not know yet.” Blue answers, confused by the sight of the two of them. By the looks of them both, they may be lovers, or at least they are fairly close to each other.
“Well spit it out already.” BK demands. What are their names?”
“Thought you didn’t care about this sort of thing?” Blue asks coyly. “In either case, she is Mejoltman and the large young man beside her is Alex.”
“That is quite the war hammer he has strapped across his back. A barbarian of some sorts?”
“Ho, Ho! Look who is interested now.” Blue says with a chuckle.
“Hardly. I am just sizing up another opportunity for another bet.”
“Easy, sis. You still have not won the first one.” Blue says, knowing she may have anyway.
“HA!” Bladen’Kurst shouts with a loud chuckle. “If this morning was any indication, than dear sister, it is only a matter of time before you lose the wager.”
It’s true. Blue doesn’t know what hurts worse. Seeing Greg in a situation of debauchery, or the fact that her sister has found a hidden niche in the man to further coax him to her ways.
However, the final outcome has yet to be decided.
“I will go to them and see to it they join our merry crew.” Blue announces, more to change the subject. “I can sense something in the woman. A kindred spirit much like my own.”
“Great, so she is boring and a stickler for rules?” The demon jabs.
“No.” Blue responds with a slight glare. “Magic tingles around her. I can feel the budding energies from within.”
Yawning, Bladen’Kurst shows that she has become bored once more. “Oh boy… Fun.”
“Kurst, if this is not something you are interested in, by all means, quit looking in to the images.”
“Fine!” Bladen’Kurst cries, storming away from the images. “Maybe I will see if Greg is feeling up to some more company.” She laughs as she exits, her echoing laughter stinging Blue more that she would like to admit.
Sitting in her chair, watching as the images of the two new humans dissipates, she snarls and slams her fist down on the table. “Damn you, sister!” Stewing in her simmering rage, she peers at the spot where the scrying images were, and a small smile comes to her lips. “I may have lost Greg, but this one, this Mejoltman, I will succeed with her where I had failed with him.” She leans back in the chair, putting her hands behind her head, interlocking her fingers and cradles her head and neck.
* * * * *
“Do you trust her?” The big man, Alex, asks, the young man knowing when a deal is ‘too good to be true’ when he sees one. And, to make matters worse, the whispers about the ship do not calm him down either.
“I actually do.” Mejotlman answers honestly. Since the chance encounter two days ago, Mejotlman has walked around with a renewed spring in her step. It is no coincidence they were sought out and, as she knew the mystical Blue Diamond saw the beginning magical prowess with in her, she, too, saw the wealth of knowledge and power inside the mysterious woman.
Alex, having taken out his war hammer for – what seems like the hundredth time – spins the weapon over in his hands, nearly expecting an ambush from this ‘mystical being’.
“It is almost time.” Mejo says, watching the gleaming hammer’s head – the weapon catching the last rays of sun off of it’s magnificent craftsmanship – spinning as it is a sign that Alex is nervous. Deep down, she feels this is the right path to take. And besides, looking at Alex’s muscular frame, maybe ship work is right up his alley as well. “Come.” She says quietly. “Let us not keep her waiting.”
* * * * *
“Ya be late.” A gruff voice meets the two before they step foot onto the vessel, both of them still on the loading platform. “Not a good way to be impressin’ yer Captain, now, is it?”
Feeling embarrassed, Mejo tries to offer an apology, but Alex, not wanting to be intimidated by this man, grunts. “We were told to come here at this hour. Blue Diamond, Captain of the ship, requested us. We answer only to her.”
“Oh ye do, do ye?” Greg asks, shifting his weight to the other foot, his surprised expression lost on them. “Ye don’t think a scruffy lookin’ maggot, such as meself, is worthy of yer time?”
“Again.” Alex says before Mejoltman can get a word in. “We only answer to the Caption of the ship. So tell Blue, that we have arrived.”
Sizing him up and down, and seeing the hammer sitting across his back, Greg grins, playing into the young man’s anger. “Ye be thinkin’ to cause a mutiny on this here ship? Me thinks yer tryin’ to claim her as yer own?” He ends with a raised eyebrow, challenging him to do something stupid.
“We,” Mejo finally interjects, her arm held across Alex’s chest to stop him from speaking. “Hold no such temperament. As stated, we were given a choice to join this ship at the behest of a Blue Diamond. We have come to accept her offer, and enjoy a life out at sea. No thoughts of treachery, or mutiny, just two new recruits.”
Still looking at Alex with a raised eyebrow, Greg slowly nods. “Ye be wantin’ to speak to the Captain, so I’ll be gettin’ the Captain.” He turns from the rail a full 360 degrees, and returns to look Alex in the eyes. “I be the Captain o’ this ship. You squids be young, so I’ll give ye a pass.” Looking ominous, he adds, “This time.”
* * * * *
The months roll on and as the bet nears it’s deadline, things are seemingly going superb. The new crew mates have found their stations, Mejo and Blue have found, shared, and enhanced their common interests. Alex, the stoic man himself, has become Greg’s right hand man – or bodyguard – and has openly been enjoying life thus far. While things on the surface seem great, behind the scenes is a different story.
Pacing back and forth, Blue knows she has all but lost her bet with Bladen’Kurst. Trying to show Greg what it is to be a Captain, BK has trumped her every step of the way by showing him what being a Captain brings to the table. Worried now that the day draws near, she wonders if her sister will hold true the bargain she agreed upon by banishing her from the ship.
“She wouldn’t.” She states, not very confident in her own voice. The more she thinks about it, the more it seems a destined reality. Every path, every conceivable outcome points in one direction.
Thinking of a back up plan, she stops her pacing as Bladen’Kurst enters the room, the door shutting behind her. Trying to act as if nothing is wrong, Blue tries to be cordial. “Sister.”
“Indeed.” BK responds, a grin on her already devious face. “But for how long?” She shrugs, further mocking her. “What will Blue Diamond do after she is gone from my life?”
There is her answer.
“You would really break up something that has benefited the both of us, just like that?”
BK snaps her fingers. “Just like that.”
“What do you plan to do than when I am gone?” Blue asks, still trying to formulate an escape plan. “What will the mighty Queen of demons want with an old rickety ship and a crew of humans?” She embellishes the last word to make her sister aware of the boredom facing her.
“Well.” Bladen’Kurst answers. “Since you gave Greg command of the ship, technically I am able to go, and do, whatever pleases me. So, I guess I will let ‘fate’ (she uses finger quotes) decide.”
Not caring for the joke, Blue stares hard at her, feeling like she has been backed into a corner. “Be that as it may, since the victory is all but yours, grant me one request.”
“A request?” Kurst echoes. “No, I don’t think you are in a position to receive such a thing.” Still, that competitive nature of hers is leaving the door open for the possibility of perhaps sweetening the deal.
“Bladen’Kurst, it was I who began this wager. It is I who see that I am defeated, and thus I ask you this one thing.”
“Go on…” BK says curiously, her arms crossed over her chest.
With nothing coming to mind, Blue simply grins, further delaying the outcome as she scrambles for anything.
Then she sees it.
“Let me acquire the young woman, Mejotlman.”
Tapping her bicep as she thinks about the reasoning behind it, Bladen’Kurst tries to decipher if there is anything abnormally special about her. “Why?”
Not wanting to sound too eager and tip her hand, Blue shrugs. “I felt that she would do better with me.”
“Another wager than?” The demon, grinning at the prospect, frowns as Blue shakes her head in response.
“No. The way I see it, one less, attractive, female aboard the ship will give you a better chance to win over the men.” She is making it up as she goes, but wonders how it sounds on the other end.
“I do not have a problem enticing men to my side, or bed, with or without other women aboard the ship.” Bladen’Kurst counters.
“Really?” Blue asks, finding a possible chink in the armor. “So then how was Greg?” She flashes a grin, knowing he has denied her advancements repeatedly.
Growling at the barb, Bk sends the chair beside her flying, the wood breaking against the wall. “He is a fool!” She snarls. “A pathetic human who wouldn’t know a good time if it bit him on the ass! She breathes heavily, her upper lip quivering.
“A lost cause.” Blue puts in. “But Alex? How might he sway if Mejoltman was not by his side? Perhaps the young man could satisfy your needs?” With the little bit of daylight showing through her sister’s resolve, Blue drives her point home. “Or will he, too, be another human to deny the Queen of demons her desires?”
“Take her.” Bladen’Kurst replies with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “She doesn’t fit in with what I have in store anyway.”
Glad to have the young woman as a companion, she still cannot let that last statement go by unchecked. “In store?”
“Yes.” Kurst laughs. “I think it’s time the crew was shown some… livelier… seas. Don’t you agree?” Not following along, Bk answers the befuddled look upon Blue’s face. “Chum Waters.”
* * * * *
“The rocks will prohibit the ship from getting all the way into Chum Waters, so you will have to navigate by row boats.” Blue says, speaking to Greg for – what she perceives – the last time.
“By the sounds of it, yer not for comin’.”
“No.” Blue answers with a shake of her head. “I will remain aboard the ship. If anyone out here decides to add the Demon’s Diamond to their collection, I will show them how wrong they are.” She truly feels torn over the bet hanging in the air, but she is loyal to her word. Without mentioning anything that would cause treachery, Blue departs her final wisdom upon the man.
“A Captain, true to his station, remember, will stay with their vessel, to the end. If it ever goes down, they will remain aboard to be with it till the end. Now that you are the leader of the ship and crew, that falls now upon you.”
Greg snaps his gaze back to her. “Ye be sayin’ what I think ye be sayin’?”
“I am. The ship is here by yours. You are now it’s full time Captain.”
Elated by the thought of not having others looking over his shoulder, he begins to catch on. With a look of anger, he stares at her. “Ye be leavin’ the ship, never to return.”
“It is not mine to return to.” Blue says, smiling and placing a hand on his shoulder. “I have enjoyed getting to know you, and teaching you all I had to offer. The rest is in your hands now.”
“When are ya goin’?” He asks, feeling angry and sad all at once.
“After you all depart on the row boats. I will take my leave then. But speak this to no one.” She adds, seeing him about to argue. “My time here with you and my sister has come to an end.
“But this is yer ship, aint it?” Greg asks, not sure where this is coming from all of a sudden. In the near two years they have come to know one another, he has never thought their time would end like this. As it becomes evident that her statement rings true, he shakes his head.
“It was.” Blue confirms. “But it has become clear to me that I no longer hold a station I once thought I had obtained. The ship is no longer feared in the eyes of an onlooker, the rumors dying away to stories of adventure.” She smiles warmly, remembering when she first saw him in the images, teaching him how to properly perform his Captainly duties, and now, seeing not the young traveler, but a man who can take care of himself and, in the future, his own ship and crew.
“Aint gonna be the same without ya.”
His words are lost in her ears as she begins to see a vision form in her mind. It is jumbled, not appearing to be in order, and as she continues to watch them play out, she sees images of a great turn of events. One is Greg, at sea, but with a wooden leg, talking to a young woman about planning a party of some kind, then jumps to an opening of a cave where a blue orb rests deep within. The orb pulsates with power, the kind of power she has not felt in a very, very long time. Before she can touch it in her vision, the image changes to Greg and Alex rowing away, navigating Chum Waters, the looks upon their faces ones of pure dread. For a split second, she begins to rethink her plans of departure.
The images continue to pull her this way and that.
A gigantic struggle is shown to her. Bladen’Kurst and herself locked in a battle to – what appears – the death. They both have gashes and wounds about themselves, but what Blue catches in the background are the piles of dead bodies near their battleground, bodies of the same crewmates getting ready to disembark into Chum Waters.
Bladen’Kurst opens her mouth to speak, the motion causing Blue – the one watching it all – to focus more on the words spoken;
“To think that the carnage you see before you was facilitated by your charity case. Greg, after all the nonsense about honor, duty, and how a Captain goes down with their craft, blah, blah, blah, he chose to turn his back on honor and decided that his life was more important than the people you put him in charge of!” Bladen’Kurst flashes that mocking grin, her eyes like roaring fires as she basks in this moment, the moment of her ultimately winning their wager nearly a year ago.
“I’ve won, dear sister. I’ve won!” She throws her head back in a cackle of glee. “You’re banished! You are finally banished from my side! I have spent an eternity trying to find a way to make this a reality, and that day has finally come to pass. How sweet it feels!”
Then suddenly Blue is thrown back to the present, standing on the deck of the ship, and looks at Greg still watching her with a puzzled expression.
“What?” Greg asks, slightly alarmed. “Where did ye go?”
“I… I…” Blue stutters, not fully getting the story, but knowing well enough what will come to pass. She looks at the man in front of her again, wondering how she went so wrong. Bound by the fates to not interfere with destiny’s outcome, she has to bite back her thoughts of striking him down and calling him a fool.
“There is much to consider.” She absently states, trying to mentally piece the images in the correct order. “I will see you after your journey. Right now there is much I need to try and understand.”
As she abruptly exits the deck, Greg calls after her. “This mean you ain’t leavin’ yet?”
* * * * *
“Is this what is to happen?” Blue asks herself as she paces back and forth, an action she has seen more of these past few days. “Or what could?” She stops for a second before pacing once again. “No. But maybe?” She mentally sends her anger out towards a shelf of glass bottles – empty – shattering them into nearly dust. “AaaAarGggh! Damn the fates for putting me through this!”
Blue whips around suddenly as she is no longer alone, but rather sees Mejoltman standing with the door cracked open, her head peeking into the room.
“I knew you were all powerful,” Mejo begins in order to displace Blue’s anger for being intruded upon, “but I never thought it was this extensive. The fates? Are,” she shakes her head, not conceiving this question to be true. “You a goddess?”
Over the initial shock of being interrupted, Blue sighs and digests the question. “Not in the way you think. I do not control the weather, animals, or humans like the ones of myth, but a powerful being nonetheless.”
“And the fates,” she asks, entering the room hesitantly. “Call upon you?”
“They do.” Blue answers, seeing no point in trying to fool this woman she has chosen to be her successor. “Albeit in strange and frustrating ways.
“Ways you cannot seem to understand?”
Blue nods. “Images. I get visions of things that may, or may not, happen. The problem, or my limitation, is they are not in order. I may receive the final moments first, or perhaps the beginning will be eluded all together. It is never one coherent, consecutive episode.”
“Like a rock in the river, it changes it’s path accordingly.” Mejo, catching onto the meaning, concludes. “Maybe the fates are not toying with you, as you suggest, but are rather pushing you through your limits and beyond?” She is standing next to Blue now, her hand placed upon the supreme being’s shoulder.
The instant her hand is firmly placed, it is Mejoltman’s turn to have a glimpse of a vision. Hers, however, is not about the upcoming conflict, but rather is one of study and tutelage. She, along with Blue, are working together, the latter teaching the former, on all matters related to their shared powers.
When the vision washes away, she looks up at Blue with a knowing smile. “I think I can help you.” Mejoltman believes, wholeheartedly.
Blue had seen the first image clearly, upon Mejoltman’s touch; the crew rowing and maneuvering the rocks and reefs that make up Chum Waters, Greg and BK heading each of their boats.
Then the vision stopped.
“I do believe you can.” Blue says, to coincide with Mejo’s statement. “In fact, I know you can. Come, let us get comfortable, this may become taxing upon us both.”
After getting themselves to the level of comfort they need, each sitting crossed legged upon soft pillows, they begin by holding each other’s hands as they sit in front of each other. “Relax.” Blue begins, motioning for Mejoltman to take a calming breath. “Our breathing must connect and be exact. Clear your mind and fall into the rhythm of the breaths, drawing deeper and deeper into the flow of your power…”
As the two of them work in concert, the images of the fates comes to them as if it was an out of body experience. From beginning to the horrible end, the vision is explained in full. When Blue comes back, she knows this is what will happen. Torn and sad, she watches Mejoltman wake.
But her thoughts are not as calm.
“Alex!” She cries, frantically looking around, realizing she is back aboard the ship. “Alex, he needs me!”
“Mejo.” Blue calls out, to deff ears. “Mejo, listen.”
“I, I must help him!” Mejoltman states, still panicked and worried. “Alex!”
“Mejoltman!” Blue yells, her magical tone stopping the woman’s nervous actions. When she calms, Blue explains to her. “You have seen a glimpse into the very near future. These are things that will come to pass. There is nothing else we can do, but let them run their course.”
“But Alex!” Mejoltman begins again, after a moment. “I, he must be warned! We can stop this from happening! And Greg!”
“No.” Blue says firmly. “I know enough of the fates that you cannot change destiny. The fabric they weave is final and unbending. To go against their design is to be erased from existence, to be physically removed and forgotten.”
Tears in her eyes, Mejo cannot come to terms with the warning. “I have to do something.”
A long sigh escapes from Blue’s lips. “Forgive me.” She reaches up and touches Mejoltman’s forehead, the residual, magical power knocking the woman out. Prepared for such, Blue cradles her down to the floor. With profound sadness, Blue tries to smile. “You will thank me for this one day. You mean well, but this is something that has to happen. But, I simply cannot have you going against the fates and alter destiny, thus removing you and your powerful talents from this world. You will be needed after my time has expired, after all the lessons I will pass on to you, and when the world is in great peril once again.” She stands tall and firm, her eyes closed, and clears her throat.
When she opens them back up, they are of the crystalline beauty she is known for.
“Let it begin…”
* * * * *
7 Years Later
“This ship’ll be the fastest in the harbor. I’ll not part with it unless you make it worth my while.” The man says. He spits a wad of black spittle onto the deck to accentuate his point.
“Not interested in me gold, eh?” The man, simply known as Pirate, asks, shifting the weight off his wooden leg. It has been a few years since he lost it, and it still doesn’t feel comfortable, in any position.
The ship owner shakes his head. “Not if you had all the gold in the world. She ain’t for sale.”
“Hmm…” Pirate responds. “Ye be a bettin’ man, Scabby?”
“Scully.” The man corrects – and by the sound of it, not the first time – again dealing with this man before him.
“Aye. Scully.” The pirate Captain chews his bottom lip, scanning the docks for something to possibly wager against.
Then he sees his play.
“‘Ere we go, Sca-Scully.” The Captain points to a barrel of gunpowder used for the cannons, at an empty dock, a great distance away. Enough so that Scully has to put his hand up on his forehead to block out the glare of the sun. “That barrel. If’n it can be hit from ‘ere, you sell me yer ship.”
Scully laughs openly seeing the ridiculous distance he has to cover. “By the god’s arse, you are daft! That barrels, what, three? Four hunnerd feet away?” He chuckles thinking this man is crazy for even suggesting it. “I think you are beyond your abilities, oh mighty Pirate.”
Unblinking, Pirate stands firm. “I ain’t heard no answer.”
“Fine, ye old barnacle.” Scully says with a shake of his head. “I’ll gladly take yer money, if that’s what you are after.”
“Ah, ah.” Pirate clarifies. “Just so we be doin’ this all fare like, I get yer boat when the barrel has been struck. We clear?”
“I’ll do so if you can hit it.” Scully answers, still believing it is very, very unlikely.
“That’s what I be wantin’ to hear.” He says with a grin. He turns to his left. “Alex?” The large man leaning on a post walks over and begins to undo the pack upon his back, the piece actually a hiding place for the massive war hammer he possesses.
“Wait, what?” Scully, looking confused, asks as the weapon is picked up in the gnarled hands of the burly man.
With a grunt, Alex whirls the hammer end over end in a straight line. All three watch as the projectile – gleaming in the sun – whirls in and destroys the barrel with a loud crunch, followed by a splash as the hammer falls into the sea.
Scully, standing with his jaw hanging wide open, stares hard at the destroyed barrel. “I… You…” He scratches his head trying to comprehend how anyone could do that from such a distance.
“Scabby.” Pirate says with his mischievous grin. “Here be yer payment, as promised.” He places it in Scully’s palm, Pirates other hand holding it up to receive it.
Looking at the pouch, and back to the empty spot, Scully is still dumbfounded by it all. “But yer hammer…”
“Oh?” Pirate asks. “Ya mean that one?”
Scully looks to Alex and nearly jumps out of his skin as, sure enough, the weapon rests in the big mans hands, Alex wrapping it back up in concealment once more.
And that is how the mantle of Alexander The Hammer, was born.
“Heh, heh.” Pirate chuckles, adding in a wink. “Pleasure doin’ business with ya!”
“Well now, three weeks returned to us an she’s already payin’ dividends.” Pirate says when he and Alex are aboard the ship.
“I never doubted Mejo’s mastery. Having Blue training her for all those years, I believe it is only the tip of her knowledge.” Alex puts the pack down and looks about at the deck of the newly acquired vessel.
“Aye.” Pirate says, he, too, admiring this new vessel. “But to be puttin’ the magic on it to return to ye like that, with no word or nothin’. We could be causin’ quite the stir with such.”
“We don’t have time for children’s games.”
Both men turn to see Mejoltman coming aboard the ship, a bow slung over a shoulder and a cinch sack in her hand, the chords wrapped around her palm and knuckles. “Besides.” She says, pulling back her hood. “To go on and not name this fine ship is a bad omen. You’d best choose, and quickly.”
“Thoughts?” Alex asks Pirate.
“Aye. Been thinkin’ bout it fer some time now. Phoenix Rising. Sounds ‘bout good, don’t ye think?”
“Phoenix Rising.” Mejoltman echoes. “May the wind forever be in our favor.” She faces the man in charge, the Captain she left gone, but a hardened version of him none the less. “What next, Captain?”
“We be needin’ us a crew.”
* * * * *
Peering into the dark opening of the cave system she has been searching, the one known as Blue Diamond has found what has been tugging, pulling, at her since leaving Mejoltman’s tutelage. Before her sits a large, dark blue orb nestled within a pile of rocks, the boulders keeping it upright. As she slowly nears it, she deems it a beautiful thing, the small black freckles upon the object seemingly reaching into her soul.
With a moment of hesitation, Blue finally places her hand upon the bumpy texture, and can feel the inner power.
Is it alive!?
“I knew it!” She gasps. Leaning against the orb, Blue stretches her arms out wide to hug the object, feeling the warmth deep with in her.
“The visions have all held true. And now this, a dragon’s egg…” She takes in a deep breath, the name of the majestic beast floating in her mind. “Horadrim, I cannot wait for your birth. Rest well, grow strong, and we will see what the fates have planned for you, my dear!”
* * * * *
Seven, long, boring years have passed since Bladen’Kurst had proven the victor of the massive wager, and in those seven years, they were lacking. Severely lacking. Maybe it was the companionship, the fact that Greg had sacrificed the crew and fled, or maybe it was the thrill of competition with her sister. Regardless, Bladen’Kurst is in the mood to ‘play’ once more, but on a much more grandiose scale.
Deep in a mountain, on an island in Chum Waters where cannibals run wild, she has carved out a home base of operations. She sits upon her throne, awaiting the arrival of one of her minions.
A puff of smoke, and a strong smell of sulphur announces the arrival of her guest, a minor demon, as it enters the room. “Ah, my queen.” It says before dipping into a low bow.
“Mmm.” Bladen’Kurst purrs. “Rezzik, I presume you have located what I had asked for? The most powerful shade in the Shadow Realm?”
“Indeed, my mistress.” It replies, rubbing his little clawed hands together. “He is making his way to you as we speak.”
“Excellent!” She exclaims, clapping her hands together. “It’s name?”
“How delightful! Thank you, Rezzik, I release you from our arrangement, you have fulfilled your duties.” Rezzik bows again before leaving in a puff of smoke, leaving her there all alone once more, that tingling anticipation returning after seven years. She can hardly control her excitement at besting her sister yet again, and throws her head back laughing loudly, the simmering fires coming to her eyes once again.
“Get ready, dear sister.” She chuckles at the realization that they will battle again, this time a little differently. “Let the games begin…”