The three Ulysi monks walked in single file up the narrow gangplank leading to the Sea Lynx. Having shed their standard accouterments, they wore leather armor and were armed with a bow, staff, and belted short sword.
”Permission to come aboard? ” The only female in the group tapped the end of her staff on the wood plank, pausing while she waited for a reply. Her light brown eyes glanced at the first mate. ”Sister Yunali at your service. ”
The first mate stood near the dock-side railing; his dark brown skin, weathered face, and multiple piercings gave testament to a life spent at sea. He stared at the woman as if sizing her up. Her sleeveless armor emphasized the rippling of muscle beneath her pale skin. She had short black hair that had been cut like a mans, but her face was the picture of feminine beauty; if you didn mind a few scars.
”Granted. Come aboard; the captain is with the young lady in his cabin. ” He welcomed the group with a gap-toothed smile. ”Youll be sleeping on deck; our cabins are full for this voyage. ”
Yun frowned and stepped onto the deck of the Sea Lynx. There were supposed to be two rooms available, one for her fellow monks and the other for herself and Isadora.
”Yun? ” One of the other monks gestured toward a small group of armed men leaning against the starboard rail of the three-masted schooner. ”Isn that the Forli red wolf singlet? ”
Duscanti stood at the rail of his daughters bedroom balcony. The north tower had an excellent view of the city, including the dock. The Duke gripped the stone rail with his powerful hands; since learning of Demitris existence, he started consolidating his power base, pulling back from areas he had overextended in the past. The moves hadn gone unnoticed from friend or foe.
”Is the Sea Lynx going somewhere? ” A familiar voice spoke from behind him.
Duscanti nodded but didn turn around. He had explicitly given directions to keep Forli in the reception hall. ”Im going to start giving Isadora special missions; this is just a small errand to let her get some command experience. ”
Forli frowned at the Dukes back. ”A female taking a more significant role in your interests? Is that wise? ”
”She is my blood. ” Duscanti ran thick fingers through his curly black hair, noting that he was long overdue for a trim. ”My daughter is capable. Furthermore she… ”
The sentence was cut short when two hands slammed into the Dukes back, knocking him over the railing.
Forli stood at the edge of the balcony, hed expected a scream or shout, but his life-long friend had gone over the rail as silent as a whisper. A momentary glimpse of Duscantis eyes showed a complete lack of surprise before they brightened considerably. ”FUCK!! Head to the lower levels, ” he shouted over his shoulder. Immediately his trusted captain stepped into the doorway.
”Understood, Sir! ”
The Duke changed instantly, his body turning from a large man into three meters of black feline. Wickedly curved claws immediately made contact with the stone wall creating long grooves as the muscled limbs of the panther resisted gravity with all of its power. Less than twenty meters later, the enormous cats downward progression halted. Bright eyes stared at the distant balcony as it let loose a blood-thirsty snarl.
A beautiful stain-glass window burst inward as Duscanti once again entered the castle walls. His first impulse was to head up, but the sounds of multiple boots drove him downward instead. ”Ill rally my garrisoned men and then clear the castle of rodents. ”
Like a fleeting shadow, the black panther descended the winding stairs of the North Tower. Within minutes of his fall, he arrived at the garrison. ”Captain Tarl! ”
An unnatural stillness gave the normally bustling mess hall a stifling feel as Duscanti padded through the doorway. Bodies were strewn haphazardly throughout the room. Some were still seated while others lay across tables or on the floor. Each of them shared the same panicked expression and blueish countenance.
”My Duke… ” A feminine voice whispered from beneath the table. ”Run, Mylord, weve been betrayed. ”
The bright eyes of the panther focused on the speaker before effortlessly batting away the table that the woman was lying beneath. Her face was less blue than the bodies that surrounded her. He recognized her as one of his archers. ”Of course, poisons aren as effective on Manoas. ”
The woman managed to sit up, but her strength was waning. ”I wasn aware that youd seen my change. ”
The sounds of booted feet echoed in the distance as Duscanti quickly considered his options. He hadn ever seen the woman change, but he had carefully planned out every beast-type of his garrison, so he knew what she was. Manoa were amphibious creatures, scaled like a lizard; they could climb vertical surfaces and change colors to match the environment. As a result, they were highly resistant to most poisons and toxins and were perfect for infiltration.
Sweat ran down the womans tanned face, indicating that her body was detoxing itself. ”The captain has the keys. Leave me. ”
The panther moved closer and knelt. ”Get on! ”
”Sir? ” The young soldier shook her head, even considering such a thing seemed worse than death.
”Do as I say… ” The Dukes voice took on a desperate tone. ”I won be able to survive without help. ”
Already a few miles out to sea, Isadora stared at the endless blue horizon. For ease of travel, she had cut her brown hair short and traded her usual attire for leather armor and breaches. ”Well deal with this in a few hours. ”
Yun nodded without replying. Yakubs presence was the only hiccup in their carefully laid plans. He had been waiting with his men since dawn and had come aboard despite being told not to.
”Enough of this charade, Isadora. ” Yakubs voice carried across the deck as he paced toward her from the helm. ”The captain refuses to turn around without your permission. ”
Isadora kept her face expressionless and nodded toward the captain. ”Why would we turn around? Do you outrank my father? ”
”Your father is dead by now. ” Yakubs word held the vicious hatred of someone who aspired to great things but didn want to earn them. ”Youll return with me and become my wife. Then, with the House of Forlis backing, I will become the Duke of Duscanti. ”
Isadora reflexively glanced toward shore, even though it was no longer visible. Her upbringing had been harsh and, at times, filled with unnecessary hardships, but despite that, she bore her father no ill will. Instead, she had planned to escape to the independent Isles. Rumor had it there were several large islands still unclaimed. ”Killing my father? You don have the capability. ”
”You can even change forms. ” Yakub laughed at the Dukes daughter as his eyes started to brighten. ”Tell your people to step onto the dinghy, and Ill let them go. They should make it back to land by dawn. ” His voice took on the dangerous edge that always foreshadowed the change. An instant later, his image changed into that of a large red wolf.
Isadora glanced at her monk escort. ”You don need to show them any mercy. ” Her voice sounded sharp like a dagger; her bright eyes stared at the red wolf. ”As expected, poor planning and misinformation lead to a tragic end. ”
Her body transitioned so fast that it appeared virtually instantaneous. Her beast form bore a strong resemblance to her fathers but on a smaller scale. She was less than two meters long; beneath her dark coat were even darker spots.
The wolf snarled and charged the feline in an effort to use its size to his advantage.
The cat jumped to one side, raking its claws the length of the wolfs body from shoulder to hip before dodging a weak counterattack. Blood sprayed on the deck from four parallel wounds.
”Fuck!! ” Yakub morphed back into his human form and collapsed on the deck; the stark white of his bones was visible beneath his wounds. ”Ill call my men off! ”
Isadori stalked her prey; her familial duty required retribution if her father was dead. ”Your life has come to an end. ”
Yakub attempted to back away, his progress impeded by the blood-soaked deck beneath him. ”I need a healer. Help me and then put us in the dinghy. My father is not someone you can offend. ”
The cat attacked in a blur of darkness. It bit deep into the shoulder near the base of the neck and tore through the mans ribs with razor-sharp claws. An instinctive scream turned into a death rattle as the cat twisted her head from side to side, rending through bone and flesh until its black head was dyed red with blood and her opponent had stopped twitching.
Within a few minutes, the deck of the Sea Lynx was once again quiet. The corpses of Yakub and his men were tossed overboard while one of the sailors used a bucket and mop to swab away the bloody aftermath.
Yun patted Isadoras back while she retched over the side of the railing. Taking a persons life, even when deserved, was not something most people could easily do. So instead of consoling her, she stood silently while remembering her first time.
”Did I ever mention that I hate my name? ” The younger woman wiped her mouth with the back of her sleeve.
Yun smiled at her, utterly void of sympathy. ”Try being named Yunali. ”
Isadora smiled slightly, some of the color seeping back into her cheeks. ”No more Lady or Isadora. Call me Isa from now on. ”
e headed to the Isles? ”
Isa nodded. She had no future in the Beastmens Empire. Her brother was safe with the tribal nomads of the Four Kingdoms; when the time was right, they would reunite.
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