Both me and the first mate left the captain’s cabin while the others stayed behind. Although the order to apprehend Aqia was given to the first mate, I felt that some extra help would be useful. Once outside he closed the door, crossed his arms and glared darkly at me.
“I don’t need your help, beast.”
Thornfang gave a low growl in response, but I decided to just ignore it.
“Look, how about you stay on the ship, do your duty while keeping an eye out for the deckhand, while I’ll go to shore and hide behind some crates. That way we’ll have her cornered the moment she shows up.”
A look of utter disdain flashed over the mouse’s face.
“As much as I hate to admit it,” he said with an acid tone, “You actually have a point.”
“And, that way, we’ll be as far away as possible from each other.”
“That makes the plan even better. Very well, beast. We shall do it as you proposed.”
“Great,” I said. “I’ll just grab my bow and head to shore.”
“Your bow?” he scoffed. “Captain Tot demanded her capture, not her death.”
“I know, mouse. I can shoot her in the legs if she tries to run.”
“Asura are quite small, in case you have failed to notice, beast.”
“I have fought them before, mouse.”
For a few seconds we glared furiously at each other, before separating without another word. The plan had been discussed, there was nothing more to say between us. I headed below deck, grabbed my bow and quiver and moved back up. Within a minute I was on the shore once more. Looking around, I quickly found a pile of crates that would block the view to anyone approaching but would allow me sight of the ship’s gangplank.
Sitting down behind the crate, I scratched Thornfang behind the ear.
“I’m counting on you to tell me if anyone approaches the ship.”
He whimpered softly in response, although I was not entirely sure he understood the task I had given him. Although I was used stakeouts like these when laying in ambush, taking care and communicating with a pet was completely new to me. Some charr scouts and warriors did take a liking to bringing tamed devourers with them, but I was never one of them. I preferred to rely on my own skills alone.
I sighed as I leaned against a chest and stared up into the sky. There were no clouds to be seen which left the heavens a black cloak, speckled with fragments of glowing iron. It made me remember all the stargazing I had done with my mother and later with Allia and Karto, and sometimes even Taryc joined us. However, that was when we were still young cubs in the fahrar. When we got deployed in the field, we rarely had any time for stargazing.
The pain of missing my old warband members and the pain of my memories of them burned like a white-hot glowing blade in my heart. It was almost too painful to bear, only made more excruciating by the way that I saw them last. I shook my head, as if I could shake away the memories, but it did not help. So, instead, I focussed on the moving point of light that I knew was the first mate’s lantern.
An hour after I took post among the crates Thornfang suddenly jerked his head and his ears pricked up. He walked to me and gently nudged my elbow. Unshouldering my bow, I peered over the crates to look at the gangplank. Although nobody was expected to return for at least another hour, a small figure walked towards the ship.
Even from this distance I could see the unsteady gait, being caught between wanting to hurry and knowing that it is best not to. It seemed that releasing the assassin had the effect I hoped it would. I nocked an arrow, but did not yet draw it as I kept observing the character.
Suddenly, the figure stopped, and glancing at the ship I could see why. The lantern of the first mate was close to the gangplank. Maybe the mouse was blinded by the light, because he failed to notice the hooded figure at the base of the ship. As I expected, the figure quietly backed away from the ship. Going solely on my gut feeling, I drew the arrow and whispered to Thornfang.
“Sic ‘em, Thornfang.”
Without any further encouragement, Thornfang dashed out of hiding and straight for the character. The hooded figure did not see the hound coming as he was surprisingly quiet. By the time it did notice him, Thornfang jumped against the figure, knocking it to the ground after which I stepped from behind the crates, training my bow on the figure.
“Move too much and I’ll put an arrow in you! And that’s just what I’ll do!”
The figure only just started struggling, but ceased immediately.
Good, that will make things much easier.
As I moved closer, Thornfang stayed on top of it, growling menacingly. Once close enough, I could see in the dim light that the figure was indeed a female asura.
“Deckhand Aqia?” I said once I was a few feet away.
Although she did not answer, her eyes grew large which told me that my guess was right.
“I’ll be taking you to the captain now.”
I shouldered my bow and returned the arrow in the quiver, after which I drew my blade and dragged the asura to her feet. Thankfully, she did not struggle or resist. Regardless, I held a firm grasp on her upper arm as I guided her towards the ship with Thornfang flanking her.
Once on the ship, I could not immediately locate the first mate, so I decided to take her to the captain instead. With every step the asura seemed to grow more fearful, probably dreading to face the captain. We arrived at the door and I swung it open without knocking and entered. At once, Amethyst, Kaya and Garron jumped up as they stayed behind to give the captain a sense of safety, but they relaxed the moment they saw it was me.
All eyes, however, were immediately drawn to the asura in my grasp. I shoved her forward and she only just managed to keep her footing. The moment she looked up, she stared right into Tot’s dark glare.
“So, deckhand,” he said slowly, “ya paid to get me killed, didn’t ya?”
She opened her mouth and closed it shut again, shook her head as if trying to get rid of something, before her eyes turned glassy and she finally answered.
“Why?” Tot shouted, slamming his fists on his desk.
“I wanted to obtain the position of captain, sir.”
This surprised me, for sure. Not only the fact that she aimed so high, but also that she remained so formal, even when admitting to murder.
The captain slumped back into his chair, aghast.
“Well, ya failed mate.”
“Send her to the brig. We’ll see ‘bout her in the next port.”
“Wait a minute,” Garron suddenly said, holding his claw in the air. “I can sense that her mind has been meddled with.”
“What now?” Tot said frowning his brow. “Meddled?”
“Mesmer magic?” I asked, remembering the strange things that Karto could do.
“Yes, yes, it does seem like it,” Garron said nodding.
“Mesmers?” captain Tot said with a sigh. “Kaya, fetch the first mate. He’s a mesmer of a’least some skill.”
Kaya nodded before sprinting outside. The captain looked at each of us in turn.
“I couldn’t send any of ya, c’sidring how the first mate feels about ya all.”
“No problem,” I said, waving my claw dismissively. “I, for one, felt little for going out and finding him.”
While we were talking, the asura fidgeted absently, not making any attempt to escape.
“Aqia?” Amethyst asked with a soft voice. “Did you hire someone for the murder on the ship as well?”
“No, I did that myself,” she said as if she was talking about the weather.
“Why did ya do that?”
“He spotted me on my way to you, captain, so I had to silence him.”
“Well, that solves that murder,” Amethyst said with a sigh of relief.
None of us, however, knew anything to say, so we passed the time in silence. After a minute or two, Kaya came rushing back, followed by a bewildered looking first mate.
“What’s the matter? This asura told me I had to come as quickly as possible,” he said slightly out of breath.
“This deckhand confessed to tryin’ to murder me, but this lot senses mesmer magic at work.”
The first mate arched his eyebrows.
“And you want me to take a look at her?”
“No, I jus’ wanted to tell ya this,” Tot said sarcastic.
Nodding, the first mate took a close look at the asura from several angles for a minute.
“I can’t sense any memory-altering spells or spells of control, so I’m afraid it’s a false alarm,” he said.
“Hmmm.” Garron narrowed his eyes. “I guess I could have been wrong.”
“Anyway, now that’s resolved, off to the brig with her!” the captain said.
Two days had passed since we threw Aqia in the brig, and knowing that we had apprehended the murderer made everybody on the ship a whole lot happier. Still, something about all of this just did not sit right with me.
“Calm night tonight, right?” Garron quipped.
“Indeed it is. Thankfully.”
Somehow we managed to drew lots together for the night’s watch.
“So, what’s on your mind?”
“Is it that obvious, Garron?”
“Yes, yes, you see, it really is!”
I let out a deep draw sigh as I stared over the smooth blackness that was the sea.
“This whole case just doesn’t add up.”
“What do you mean? The mesmer magic?”
“That too, I guess.”
Garron chuckled softly.
“Then, do tell.”
“Allright,” I said, turning my full attention to Garron now, leaning against railing. “This asura admitted to murder and attempted murder, but she seemed completely unperturbed by it.”
“Well, yes, yes, that is strange, but she could easily be a total nutter.”
“Yea, I suppose so… But wasn’t the very first thing we confirmed that the assailant was not an asura?”
“… Yes, yes, we did. We all make mistakes, though. Look at my error with the mesmer magic.”
“I guess, but a mistake by both me and Kaya? Shouldn’t she at least be able to tell that it was done by an asura?”
“And did we not confirm that the murderer was most likely a human, because of the blade used?”
“Yes, yes, but she could have easily bought the knife to sow confusion.”
“Sow confusion?” I scoffed. “She seemed hardly coherent enough to speak, let alone make such an elaborate plan. Besides, the dagger was expensive, more than she could afford. Moreover, it was bought in human lands, somewhere she was unlikely to go.”
“Oh, she might have stolen it, though,” I said with a sigh.
“No, no, I don’t think so. If a dagger of that price was stolen, it would have been noticed right away. Also, it would have been found among her stuff during regular inspection.”
I arched my eyebrows.
“Do you have your doubts, too, Garron?”
“Would I be listening to you rambling if I didn’t?” he said with a grin.
“Ha! Good point. So that means that none of this adds up.”
“No, no, indeed not…”
“Wait a minute!” I said as I gripped the railing. “You remember what she said her motive was, right?”
“Oh, yes, sure, she said she wanted to become captain.”
“Yea, but if the captain is assassinated, there would be no way she would end up as captain. The crew would never follow another deckhand just like that. It would be way too suspicious!”
“Indeed!” Garron said enthusiastically. “The command would go to the first mate, so she would have to assassinate him too!”
Realization dawned and we stared at each other.
“The first mate…” Garron muttered.
“We never even mentioned memory-altering nor control spells.”
“Yet that was the first he came with!”
In silence we looked at one another. How on Tyria where we going to proceed from here?
List Of Recurring Entities:
The following is a list of characters—apart from Kumara and Thornfang—who have made an appearance before this part, sorted by order of appearance. With all the different stories on CoT, I understand it is hard to keep track of all the characters.
Tot: The asuran captain of the cargo ship Serendipity.
Amethyst: A charr clothes merchant from Lion’s Arch that loves to travel from time to time.
Kaya: An asura that Kumara got to know in a krewe they both worked in. Now, she sets out with Kumara to see the world.
Garron: A pitch black charr deckhand working with Kumara to solve a murder.