Vampirates 6 immortal wa.., p.1

Vampirates 6: Immortal War, page 1

 

Vampirates 6: Immortal War
 



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Vampirates 6: Immortal War


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  Table of Contents

  Copyright Page

  For the Nocturnals.

  Thank you for making this such a memorable voyage.

  No captain could ask for a more supportive crew.

  Prologue

  FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO

  The Vampirate captain stepped into the room, dressed in his familiar garb of mask, gloves, and cape. He bowed to Mosh Zu, who acknowledged him politely.

  “Cardinal North.”

  The two of them turned toward the doorway, waiting for the others to arrive.

  Now an identically dressed figure arrived at the threshold and strode over to greet them.

  “Cardinal East,” Mosh Zu proclaimed, before he and the first captain bowed at the new arrival, who tilted his head reciprocally.

  Mosh Zu’s assistant, Olivier, moved from the center of the room over to the doorway as a third, then fourth, figure arrived. They nodded perfunctorily at Olivier, then joined Mosh Zu and the others.

  “Welcome, Cardinals South and West,” Mosh Zu said. “Now that all four of you are assembled, it is time for the ceremony to begin. Cardinals, please take your positions.”

  At these words, the four captains moved to stand on the points of the mosaic compass on the floor—North, East, South, and West, in accordance with their title. Mosh Zu remained inside the circle. He was surrounded by the four Vampirate captains. They each raised their arms and joined their gloved hands, forming an unbroken circle. Their four capes began to billow. As they did so, they sparked with light, as if the joining of their hands had created a power surge. The light crackled for a moment, then diminished to a flicker. The capes continued to move but more gently now, like sails in the breeze.

  “I shall not waste any time,” Mosh Zu said. “It is rare for you to come together, but I had to call you here tonight.” He paused. “A prophecy has been revealed to me, one I must share with you. If I have interpreted it correctly, this prophecy has the power to change everything.”

  “What is the prophecy?” The captains spoke as one, their voices rolling over one another like soft waves, in a strange whisper.

  “A time of war is coming to the oceans,” Mosh Zu announced.

  “War?” answered the captains, their voices once more united in that strange, watery whisper. “War between us and the pirates?”

  “No,” Mosh Zu said. “War within our own realm. Our precious union will splinter and the greatest threat will come from within.”

  “What is this threat?” asked the captains. “Give it a name!”

  “I do not know its name,” Mosh Zu said. “But the chief warmonger belongs to one of your crews. Be alert to him or her.”

  “When will this war commence?” the captains asked Mosh Zu.

  “Soon, I think,” Mosh Zu replied.

  “Soon?” There was a note of scorn in the captains’ whisper. “Soon is an unhelpful term for immortals like us.”

  “Agreed,” Mosh Zu answered. “But it is time to make plans.”

  “What more does your prophecy tell us?” asked the captains.

  “Our hope rests with twin children, who have yet to be born.”

  “What are their names?” inquired the captains.

  “Their names are not yet clear to me,” Mosh Zu said. “But they are the children of this warmonger and their powers will be unprecedented. Their role in the future of our realm will be great, and, when war comes, they and they alone will have the power to deliver our victory.”

  “We must find these twins, these children of the warmonger,” the captains said. “We must search for them across the oceans.”

  “I repeat,” said Mosh Zu. “They have yet to be born. When the time is right, they will seek us out. That will be the sign that war is imminent.”

  There was silence for a moment; then the captains spoke once more. “Is this the end of your prophecy?”

  “There is one more thing,” Mosh Zu said. “In order to bring about peace, one of the twins must enter the void. I saw darkness surround one twin, and auguries that signified death.”

  “The death of mortals or our immortal death?” pressed the captains.

  “I cannot be sure,” Mosh Zu said. “But my sense was that though the child will be born of a Vampirate and will therefore be immortal, he or she will have to journey to the realm of the mortal dead in order to achieve peace. That is as much as I could ascertain.”

  “We thank you,” the captains said, their whisper more haunting than ever. “We will take our leave now and ponder these portents.”

  At these words, their capes began to undulate more strongly and to spark with light once again. A mist began to circle around them. Soon it had completely surrounded them and it was no longer possible to discern their outlines.

  As the mist receded, Mosh Zu found himself alone in the center of the mosaic compass.

  The Four Cardinals had taken their leave. They would not meet again for a very long time.

  1

  TICK-TOCK

  The ancient offices of Mizzen, Mainbrace, Windvane, and Splice, “lawyers to the pirate community, by appointment to the Pirate Federation, since 2015,” were at the top of a cliff and took the form of the upper three decks of a pirate galleon, which had been braced directly onto the rock itself. The impression was of a ship sailing—indeed flying—right off the peak into the bay far below. The main conference room of the famous maritime firm of solicitors had once been a pirate captain’s cabin and possessed floor-to-ceiling windows. Once these windows had looked out onto a seeming infinity of ocean; now they afforded a queasily vertiginous view down the cliffs.

  It was before these windows that old Mr. Mizzen currently stood, his back turned—though with no intention of rudeness—to the other inhabitants of the room. Mr. Mizzen’s still-keen aquamarine eyes traveled from the similarly colored waters of the bay below up to the ticking clock on the conference-room wall. There was reassurance to be found in the tick and the tock, but also a warning. Old Mr. Mizzen was under no illusion—the clock was always ticking. Whether fate decreed that one was gently eased out of this life by natural means or snatched from it in the cruelest terms possible—as Molucco Wrathe had been—it was advisable to make the necessary preparations for that final voyage.

  A not entirely discreet cough sounded close by Mr. Mizzen’s right ear. A sudden arctic chill caused the profusion of white hairs protruding from said ear to stand on end. Turning away from the window, Mr. Mizzen saw that he had been joined by Trofie Wrathe. The glamorously intimidating deputy captain of The Typhon was dressed from head to toe in black. A lace veil—patterned with skulls—covered her face, while her legendary golden hand was, for the moment at least, encased in a long black glove, as was her other, regular, hand. It was not uncommon for visitors to wear black to attend these offices—but though de rigeur for funerals, it was not required for the reading of a will. Even through her veil, Trofie Wrathe’s penetrating stare caused Mr. Mizzen’s old eyes to smart a little. She raised an eyebrow inquisitively before asking in her distinctive accent, “Must we wait any longer?”

  “I’m afraid we must, Madam Wrathe. It is a matter of some importance that we do not begin the reading of your brother-in-law’s will until all the beneficiaries have arrived.”

  “Whom exactly are we waiting for?” she asked. “Don’t they know that time is short? There’s a war on, in case you’d forgotten!”

  Mr. Mizzen heard her words but chose, as he sometimes did, to feign deafness. Instead, he surveyed the others, who were also waiting in the room, with varying degrees of irritation, for the formalities to begin.

  In the front row, on either side of the chair temporarily vacate
d by Trofie, sat her husband Captain Barbarro Wrathe and her teenage son Moonshine. Barbarro looked solemn. He was the last Wrathe brother standing—the Vampirates having claimed his younger brother Porfirio’s life before finally closing in on Molucco.

  Moonshine Wrathe had yet to prove himself worthy of the family name. Still, Mr. Mizzen noted there had been some improvements since last they’d met at his uncle’s funeral. Moonshine’s skin was now clear and his hair tied back from his face. His locks were as long and black as his father’s but without the lightning strike of silver shooting through them. He was neither handsome nor otherwise, and it was hard to believe the young pirate was heir to such fame and fortune as came with the Wrathe name.

  On the other side of Barbarro—separated by another empty chair—sat Matilda Kettle, owner of the eponymous tavern, which had been drawing in the pirate hordes for as long as anyone could remember. Once, “Ma” Kettle’s beauty had been the feverish talk of the oceans. She was still attractive, granted Mr. Mizzen, but tick-tock… He smiled ruefully. No, he thought, it was not the tick and the tock that had stolen away Ma Kettle’s looks. Molucco’s exit had done that. It was no secret that Ma Kettle had been close to the rebellious captain for many a year, and Wrathe’s sudden death seemed—if a maritime metaphor might be forgiven under the circumstances—to have taken all the wind from her sails.

  Where once she might have worn a fur stole or a feather boa, now Ma Kettle sported something equally colorful but rather more unusual. Wrapped about her sinewy neck was Scrimshaw, the dead captain’s beloved pet snake. Ma had taken the snake into her keeping since the captain’s demise. The reptile’s glassy eyes were like two mirrors, reflecting the woman’s lost expression back at her.

  Mr. Mizzen’s own eyes migrated to Matilda Kettle’s traveling companion—a decidedly exotic creature who went by the name of Sugar Pie. Some kind of barmaid-cum-burlesque artist, according to the notes young Mr. Splice had prepared for him. Faced with the general mood, Mr. Mizzen found Sugar Pie to be a veritable oasis in the desert. True, her face was solemn—her eyes darting frequently to her aged companion—but a dazzlingly pure light seemed to emanate from those eyes. It seemed to Mr. Mizzen as much a cause for hope and celebration as sunlight.

  To Sugar Pie’s side was another empty chair. Seeing this, Mr. Mizzen was brought back to the matter at hand. His smile faded. He glanced again at Trofie Wrathe, who was still pacing back and forth. Catching his glance, her eyebrow lifted inquiringly once again. Tick-tock, he heard, tick-tock. Perhaps he would have to start after all.

  Just then, there was the sound of footsteps out in the corridor. Trofie stopped pacing and turned toward the door. Mr. Mizzen’s eyes traveled in the same direction as the door opened and the young and breathless Mr. Splice entered the room, nodding reassuringly at his superior while holding open the door and addressing someone in the vestibule.

  “Please, come this way. The others are waiting in here.”

  All eyes turned toward the open doorway.

  A figure stepped into the room, then paused, turning to face the others.

  “I’m so sorry we kept you waiting,” said Catherine Morgan, Molucco’s deputy captain, most often known as Cutlass Cate. Her trademark russet hair brought to mind a dramatic sunset.

  “It’s good to see you again, Cate,” boomed Barbarro Wrathe, rising to greet her. Taking her arm, his fingers briefly brushed the black armband she had sported for the past several months. She was a woman in mourning, too, but not, primarily, for Captain Molucco Wrathe.

  Releasing Cate’s hand, Barbarro indicated the vacant chair between himself and Ma Kettle. Nodding and smiling politely at the others, Cate took her seat, as Trofie sighed with relief. But, as the captain’s wife adjusted her skirt, she had a sudden realization. Cate had said, “Sorry we kept you waiting…”

  As she thought this, a young man strode through the door. A man of equal years to her own son but whose journey had been charted across far different waters. It was Connor Tempest—the shipwreck victim who had become a pirate but, more than that, the closest thing Molucco had had to a son. Their relationship, like so many of Molucco’s, had hit the rocks and ended when Molucco burned Connor’s articles. Yet here he was, as dependable as the tide, come to take his seat beside the others. Smiling minimally, Trofie turned to face the front.

  “Connor.” It was Ma Kettle who spoke first. “Of course. We should have guessed you’d be here.”

  Connor looked awkward as he stepped into the room, hovering before the others as if recognizing that he was the last and least welcome guest.

  “Mister Tempest,” said Mr. Mizzen, lifting his eyes from Mr. Splice’s excellent notes. “I believe there is a spare chair for you, to the right of Miss, er, Pie. Please sit down and we will commence our business.”

  “About time,” hissed Trofie to her husband.

  Yes, thought old Mr. Mizzen, once more attuned to the merciless rhythm of the tick and the tock. When all is said and done, it’s always about time.

  2

  MOLUCCO’S HEIRS

  “I, Molucco Osborne Mortimer Wrathe, being of sound mind and disposition…”

  A cackle from Ma Kettle caused Mr. Mizzen to pause and glance up from the scroll of paper in his hands. “Sound mind and disposition! That doesn’t sound like the man I knew these past forty years.”

  Mr. Mizzen smiled indulgently then began again. “I, Molucco Osborne…”

  “Wait!” Trofie Wrathe raised her right hand and, as Mr. Mizzen glanced up once more, she removed her black glove. The solicitor found himself momentarily dazzled by the sight of her burnished gold fingers and shimmering ruby fingernails. Seizing her advantage, Trofie spoke. “I’m sure no one would mind if you skipped some of the unnecessary formalities and cut to the chase.” A row of shocked faces turned toward her, but Trofie was unabashed. “As I said before, there is a war on.”

  “War or no war,” answered Mr. Mizzen, “certain ceremonies must be observed.”

  Now Barbarro entered the fray. “My wife has a point,” he said. “We are somewhat late beginning and several of us are due at the Pirate Academy for a Council of War this evening.” Barbarro glanced carefully at Cate, then back to Mr. Mizzen. “I think we all want to ensure that we leave here in good sailing time.”

  “Very well,” said Mr. Mizzen with a sigh. “I shall, as you say, cut to the chase.” He observed his audience through his spectacles with cool detachment. “Who gets what. Of course, that’s what you all came to find out.”

  There was a moment or two of uncomfortable silence while Mr. Mizzen glanced down the scroll and then began to read once more.

  “To my dear Ma Kettle, the most beautiful and exciting siren I ever had the good fortune to know across the Seven Seas. A goddess, who has been more of a comfort and balm to me over the years than she will ever know. To you, I leave the sum of five million…”

  “Five million!” Trofie exclaimed loudly. To her exasperation, Barbarro was beaming broadly, as was Sugar Pie. Ma herself was speechless, her moist eyes trained on Mr. Mizzen as he continued.

  “It was,” he read, “my hope that we would spend this money and our twilight years together but, if circumstances have decreed otherwise, then I see no reason why you, darling Ma, should not enjoy such comfort and pleasure as I can offer you. It is my one regret that I cannot be here to toast our future in oyster champagne.”

  “Mine too,” said Ma, gratefully accepting the handkerchief proffered by Sugar Pie.

  Mr. Mizzen reddened as he continued. “The very best of my days and nights—ahem—were those I spent with you. Remember to spend this money as recklessly as you know I would!”

  This last sentiment prompted a throaty chuckle from Ma. She nodded, smiling. Sugar Pie reached out and clasped Ma’s hand in her own. “I knew he’d take care of you,” she said.

  “He always did,” answered Ma, with a squeeze of her hand. “In his way.”

  Mr. Mizzen’s tone now grew more businesslike.
“Molucco did not specify whom he wished to look after his beloved pet, Scrimshaw, after his demise, but it seems, Madam Kettle, that you have taken this upon yourself?”

  “Oh, yes,” said Ma with a nod. “Scrimshaw will always have a home at the tavern.” Her free hand stroked the snake’s scales tenderly. “We have a connection, me and Scrim. I, too, have shed many a skin in my time.”

  “Well,” said Mr. Mizzen. “Molucco set aside a further ten thousand to cover Scrimshaw’s rather particular gastronomic tastes.”

  “Ten thousand?” Trofie mouthed to Moonshine. “For pet food!” Moonshine grinned at his mother’s disbelief, then glanced over at Ma, who was nodding once more.

  “Scrim shall never go short of honeyed dates or rosewater-dipped pistachios as long as he’s in my care,” she assured Mr. Mizzen.

  The solicitor scanned Molucco’s will once more, then resumed reading with renewed vigor. Barbarro wondered whether he was imagining it or if Mr. Mizzen was actually trying to impersonate his dear departed brother.

  “My ship, The Diablo, has been my home for many years—one of the few constants in my life. I have thought long and hard as to who should be the heir to my ship and I have decided to entrust it to my nephew, Moonshine Wrathe.”

  All three attendant Wrathes listened carefully as Mr. Mizzen forged on. “Moonshine, I hope this ship is the making of you as a pirate captain. If rigging and cannon and old deck boards could talk, this old galleon would have plenty of tales to tell under my captaincy and—I’ve no doubt—under yours, too! Take good care of her, my boy. I trust you will make me proud.”

  “Thanks, Uncle Luck,” said Moonshine breezily. “Though I’d have preferred a ship that wasn’t in Vampirate hands…”

  “Presumably,” Trofie interrupted, lifting her veil as she addressed Mr. Mizzen, “the ship comes with a significant financial bequest?” Her ice-blue eyes bore into the lawyer’s.

 
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