Raulin felt awful and remembered nothing at first. He must have swallowed buckets of sea water before the crew had fished him out of the ocean. He was still drenched, but at least he was safe.
He opened his eyes and saw only the darkness. Several hours must have passed, based on the calm nature of the sea, but it was still too dark. His eyes adjusted, his night vision augmented by the properties of his mask, but the only light came from the stars. Even more frightening: there were no lanterns, either. He was in the water, not on the ship. His arms were around something…wooden. The mizzenmast, most likely. He kicked his feet and felt the weight of his boots. A quick survey showed he still had his pants, shirt, and the infernal mask. Everything else was likely lost, including all the trirec paperwork he had been carrying to the Gheny offices.
He tried climbing on top of the mast, but his weight displaced it enough that it sank below the surface. There was no way to comfortably lay on top of it. He tried very hard not to think of how many creatures were below him and how many of them might be hungry.
The sky began to gray a few hours later and he saw then how far the sea stretched. Again, he asked ‘why?’ to whomever had put him in this situation, though he saved his raw voice this time. He lived, sure, but for how long? Would he starve to death before becoming dehydrated or would something else get him?
The light showed the waves gently lapping against the flotsam from the ship. He had expected the captain, as a man of good intentions, to return to the area and search for survivors if he could. Sails entangled with masts, barrels, planks of wood, and bottles littered the ocean as far as he could see. There wouldn’t be a rescue for him. The remains of the ship and crew surrounded him, their graves below just as they had predicted with their song.
He began to panic, realizing how far away the ends of everything were. The sky went on forever. The sea’s bottom had never been touched. In every direction the ocean went on and on. He had to take several deep breaths before the fear dissipated to level-headedness.
He was surprised to find himself wanting to survive if only to find those people from the dream. He wanted to meet those two men. He wanted to figure out which person he had met that knew he was going to be king. But mostly he wanted to find that woman. He had no idea from there what would happen; he couldn’t marry her. Trirecs were forbidden from having families. But that dream had given him such hope that he could.
“Queyella,” he croaked, fingering the string of beads he wore on his hip. “I promise to donate one hundred gold to the first of your temples I find if I’m rescued. Please let me see land again.”
He waited,but no one came for him. He gathered some of the debris, paddling while still clinging to the mast. The ripped sail became a blanket, to protect him from the sun that had already starting burning his neck. He kept his mask on for the same protection, though he still wished he could be free of the damned thing. He lashed empty barrels and boards together, making a leaky but stable enough platform for him to lie on and finally rest.
Which he did. For the whole day he rested, alternately sleeping under the sheet and popping his head out to see if anything had changed. Nothing. Just sea, clouds, and sky. He tried to sleep as much as possible, more to stave off ennui than to recover lost energy.
Boredom was a terrible thing for a trirec. He had killed his first man at age fifteen and had been an assassin, thief, and spy in the eleven years since then. Some men were built for it, sick and twisted, enjoying their triumphs. Most weren’t.
Raulin was of the latter. He didn’t mind the spying, so long as he never heard about the consequences. Stealing was just relocating items, which were pretty things people shouldn’t be so attached to anyway. But killing… That was a permanent destruction of a life. That was the part that bothered him the most.
Arvarikor, the name of both the trirec school and the organization, chose their students at age four. It was impossible to tell at that point if the child would grow to be blindly obedient or grow a conscience. Instead of breaking little children, like some institutions and churches did, they worked with imperfections. They dispensed many philosophies about assassination. The past is a poison, they had taught him. Taste it, to learn from your mistakes, but never grow to love the flavor. Some would stick and rattle in the back of the mind so long as it was occupied. And occupation was fine, too, so long as you understood your loyalties and you didn’t compromise your job.
But Raulin was very much not occupied at that moment. He had no job to prepare for and, since his Noh Amairian jobs had gone well, nothing to review. He tried hard not to think of his life, but he was alone and with a lot of time to do only that. It made him feel heavy, guilty, disappointed in himself. He had killed dozens, maybe even a hundred men, and even a few women, over the years of his career. He’d never flinched at the idea, but he’d also never thought heavily about it.
You are just a knife, a tool, he thought, repeating the litanies of Arvarikor. You carry out what will happen eventually. Through you the world is balanced.
Take pride in knowing you are of the best in the world at what you do. You trained, you survived, you thrived.
Death comes to all. Kill because it’s fair for someone to pay for your parents’ deaths.
The last one was the one that worked best. His parents had not sold him to Arvarikor, like he had told Captain Lagres. (All those seeds sown in a salted field.) Every trirec was an orphan, including Raulin. It stopped them from bringing loyalties into the system and from avoiding potential conflicts of interest. His parents had been killed, by fire he had been told, though he learned later that wasn’t true. It didn’t matter much; they were dead and he had no one in his life that was family.
It was a slow, quietly burning rage inside of him, always constant. His parents had been murdered and he wanted someone to pay for it. He had latched onto this thought early in his training and used it as his motivation.
Only, so many deaths later and he still didn’t feel vindicated.
Could he stop assassinating? He wouldn’t miss it. In fact, he’d prefer a life of just stealing and spying. Spying was often fun for him, allowing him to play roles and hobnob with people. He excelled at it, too. Any trirec could sneak into a house and stab someone, but to get a man to spill his secrets was an art form. His expertise made him highly sought out in Noh Amair and Gheny, which was why he traveled between those two continents.
It was expected that he would take a balanced docket; Arvarikor didn’t like their trirecs growing stale in a certain skill set. It would look highly suspicious and might be noted if he suddenly dropped all of his assassination contracts. So, no, he couldn’t stop completely. But he might be able to reduce the number from one third to one sixth.
His second promise, if he survived.. He’d give money to Queyella and he’d take as few assassinations as possible.
He was thirsty and hungry, but thirsty more. He imagined the ladle and barrel on the ship where anyone could scoop water and drink, or douse themselves and wash away their sweat. He’d give anything for one ladle, the water overfilling his mouth and spilling down his chin.
Who was the god of fresh water? Was Queyella in charge of all of it or just the briny kind? He’d have to ask.
He began running through what he knew of Gheny. The places he’d been, the customs, the food, the culture. What he’d been looking forward to on his trip in Liyand was Courmet, with its high civility. The best food came from there, as well as the best art, the best fashion, and the best society. Of course, Genale was breathtaking. He wouldn’t mind spending some time in the Oloran mountains again, either.
Was there anyone to watch out for? Had he made any enemies? That was the nice thing about wearing a mask: if someone saw you, they’d have no idea who you were from all the other trirecs. No, he felt relatively safe in Gheny. In fact, he had a few acquaintances he could tap again for swift entry into high society. A little social call to Earl Remint in New Wextif could open almost any door to him in Courmet, perhaps even Shingden. He knew a few others well enough to lean on their relationship for invites to soirees, balls, and masquerades that would be closed to the public.
His long list of familiar people didn’t include any safe houses or spirit climbers, as they were called in the profession. He’d only been to Gheny twice and hadn’t needed to rely on making deeper connections. It was also harder to turn people into spirit climbers if he didn’t have the support behind him. Most were located in Merak and knew the ins and outs of the mountains well enough that they could escort trirecs out of hot situations. They were often families on retainer. There were few, if any, in Gheny.
He was relieved when the sky started to turn vivid pink and purple. He began thinking of other sunsets he’d seen. Which ones would he list as his favorite? It’s hard to beat a sunset in Kinto. It’s hard to beat anything in Kinto, for that matter. It was often known as paradise, written, sung, and spoken about as the most beautiful place in the world. He’d been to Kinto a dozen times, often vacationing there when he was done his quota of jobs for the year. Besides Merak and home, he knew Kinto well enough to understand that even the most beautiful place has its negative qualities. No land exists without its homeless, orphans, thieves, whores, swindlers, and thugs. Kinto was no exception. But, still, he loved the land and even a woman there.
He thought of Mayasena before the stars showed. They were going to be married once, but life has its own plans. He never knew, never wanted to know, if she had moved on and married, but at the same time hoped she had contentment. It couldn’t be him, but as the one person he’d considered a true friend in his life, he could only hope she was happy with a new love.
The air chilled and he began to shiver. He wrapped the sail around him tighter, but knew it wouldn’t be enough. The water would leech his warmth. He moved his arms and hands to generate heat, but he was still fatigued from the lack of food and water. He slept some that night, but not enough.