The silhouette of Zhengrong Cape became clearer as a ray of light shone through the veil of fog, landing on the Bisca. Recognizing it as a guiding light, the sailors furled the sails under the first mate’s orders, awaiting the pilot boat to reach them. Captain Dailin held a pipe between his lips, a drenched coat hanging loosely from his shoulders. He glanced towards one of the sailors near him and winked. The sailor immediately ran below deck to spread the news.
Grey Harbor was right before them.
After receiving said news, Viscount Bernie immediately went to notify Babarn and Boymer. The latter two had already guessed what was happening based on the actions of the sailors. Rats were scuttling all over the deck, yet the sailors were ignoring the unwelcome pests. Most of the hatches were already open, allowing seawater to flow beneath the main deck, bringing along the smell of the salty sea spray. To put it mildly, it looked like a mess.
Bernie led Babarn and Boymer further below deck, in the opposite direction of the sailors who were rushing outside. The three of them wore a solemn expression on their faces, not a word spoken between them as they arrived in front of a chained door. The viscount glanced towards his compatriots, fishing out a key from his pockets. With a turn of the key, the chains rattled onto the ground, granting the three men unrestricted access past the door.
Behind the door was a storeroom. Most of it was littered with empty barrels and chests, but at the far end of the room was a golden crystal covered by a curtain. Viscount Bernie stared at the edges of the soaked curtain and said, “Is everyone ready?” His question was answered with a nod from Babarn and Boymer.
Originally, the return journey would have taken them through the Silver Lagoon, which was the territory of the Holy Cathedral of Earth. Even though the Holy Cathedral of Earth’s navy forces were very weak, the viscount did not want to take this risk. He chose the safer route, which was to land at Grey Harbor, then travel through Black Blade Bulwark on land to reach the empire’s territory. This route would cost them one week of time, and it was another month to reach Lusitar from the empire’s borders, but it was much safer than the sea route. The northern parts of Aouine were still under the control of the traditional nobles, so the empire still had some influence in these regions. Reminded of the negative effects brought by the battle at Ampere Seale, the viscount sighed internally. If it were not for House Cecil’s errors, the empire would not have lost its control over Aouine’s southern regions. Right in front of Bernie was the final obstacle of the Royal Family of Aouine, the First Fleet of the Imperial Navy which was stationed at Grey Harbor. The port officers had already been bribed, but the problem was how to move the giant crystal off the ship without attracting any attention.
Bernie’s first thought was to break the crystal and rescue the people trapped within, but he had already tried that a few days ago with his sabre. Just as the enchanted blade touched the crystal, it had shattered into pieces. He had spent thousands of Kirrlutzian money to purchase the silver grade weapon from the hands of another noble, but it had already shattered before it could see its first battle. The viscount had no time to feel sorry for himself. Although the hardness of the crystal exceeded his expectations, there was still some hope. Boymer had told him that Babarn had brought along his family heirloom, the Throat of the Silver Dragon. Perhaps the Mythical Artifact would be able to break the crystal. Initially, Boymer was hesitant, afraid of hurting the girl inside the crystal. Viscount Bernie scoffed at his companion’s naivety. “If we can complete this mission, once we return to the empire, we would have high status as well as all the women we want! Why should we care about some random highland girl?”
Luckily for Bernie, Babarn was easily convinced by his words. This time, Babarn readied his silver crossbow, aiming at the crystal without a hint of hesitation. The viscount looked on with satisfaction, admiring Babarn’s decisiveness which the more careful Boymer lacked. He looked towards Boymer, who hurriedly removed the curtain. The viscount sighed internally at Boymer’s actions, knowing that this had cemented Boymer’s position as the lowest of the three. His actions had cost a future of promotions and recognition. Bernie had given equal opportunities to Babarn and Boymer, but in the end, it was their own personalities that decided their fates.
Babarn pulled the crossbow trigger, a silver beam of light shot towards to glimmering crystal. Before anyone could react, the silver beam was reflected back at an even faster speed, piercing the right hand which held the crossbow, shattering every bone in it. Like a fish, the beam swam into Babarn’s chest and exited through his back. With a resounding “thunk”, the bolt shot into the wooden walls, its blood-soaked fletchings still quivering from the impact.
Babarn’s eyes and mouth were both wide open, fear and regret present in his blue pupils. The last thing he saw was the face of the slumbering girl in the crystal before he collapsed on the floor. His body stirred up a final white spray of water before it was dyed red with blood. Boymer was startled at the sudden development, while Viscount Bernie’s expression darkened. There was nary a scratch on the crystal.
“What are you standing there for? Carry Sir Babarn out of here!” Bernie snapped.
“Carry? To where?” Boymer almost yelled out, the panic in his voice evident. The meaning behind his words was clear too -- Babarn was already dead.
Bernie turned his steely glare towards Boymer and said, “Sir Babarn has sacrificed himself for the sake of the empire. Are you telling me we should leave his corpse to soak in the water?”
Boymer quickly grabbed Babarn’s shoulders, dragging the corpse out of the storeroom. “Stop!” The viscount immediately yelled out after he saw Boymer head above deck. “Don’t bring him back up, are you stupid? Bring him to his cabin!”
A sailor passed by Boymer and Babarn. He gave them a curious look before walking towards Viscount Bernie. He said with a low voice, “Lord Viscount, the port officers have asked us to dock the ship and prepare for inspection.”
“Tell them this is the envoy ship of the Kirrlutz Empire, we will not accept inspections from other countries. Also, have them prepare a doctor or priest. Say that we have someone who died during a pirate attack. We need to prepare a proper funeral and embalm the body, we cannot let a brave warrior of the empire be buried in foreign ground. Go,” Viscount Bernie answered calmly.
“Pirates?” The sailor was confused at first, but he understood after taking another look at Babarn. Nodding his head, the sailor quickly rushed away.
“Wait,” the viscount called out to the sailor. “Prepare a box.”
“A box, Lord Viscount. How big should this box be?” the sailor paused on the stairs and turned back to ask.
“Very big, one that can fit a horse in it.”
“Lord Viscount, unfortunately, there is no such box on the ship. We would have to obtain it from the docks.”
“Then tell the people in charge that we have prepared a gift for the Queen and we need their help in this matter.”
“Is that all, Lord Viscount?”
“That is all,” Bernie nodded. He waited until the sailor had disappeared up the stairs before turning back to look at the crystal. Only a Divine Artifact can break this thing?