Will Frankenhoff

Lieutenant Grayson Korel crouched beside the ruins of the tower, a small crossbow in his hand. Clad in the black drakeskin leathers of the Republic of Almaren Marines, including a hood that only left a slit for the eyes, Grayson’s motionless form blended into the weathered stone; one shadow among many in the night.

Other ruins were visible amid the bloodthorn trees that covered the shoreline. Some were almost intact, lacking only a roof or a portion of a wall; others were little more than archways choked with rubble. All were constructed of obsidian blocks that gleamed in the moonlight. Legend held the ruins were cursed; the remains of a city built by when the world was young and the Elder Races still strode the lands. Grayson knew nothing about that. He only knew local fisherman avoided the island, making it a perfect anchorage for the Vilasshok, the Salarian galley sighted cruising the waters of the Shattered Straits the past moon.

The Vilasshok. Grayson’s eyes tightened. The flagship of the Fourth Salarian Fleet hadn’t been seen since the Treaty of Niems ended the Spice Wars between the Republic and the Salarian Khanate a decade earlier. Her appearance in Almaren waters raised questions Lord Marshal Dorrin wanted answered. Grayson’s squad of marines was one of a score dispatched with orders to “scour the islands of the Shattered Straits, locate the Vilasshok, and discern her intentions.”

Discern her intentions? Grayson stifled a snort. How was he expected to do that? The Republic of Almaren Navy was acknowledged the finest in the world, but the lizardmen of the Salarian Khanate were worthy of respect, especially the members of their warrior-caste. Known for their steel-sheathed fighting talons and fearlessness in battle, Salarian warriors were also renowned for their personal sense of honor. Grayson doubted his ten marines would intimidate one of the stiff-necked bastards, let alone the four hundred the Viharshok was known to carry. And intimidation or persuasion, were the only options open to him. Anything else would lead to a diplomatic incident and Grayson knew the Almaren Senate wasn’t prepared to risk another war with the Salarians.

He shook his head. Don’t go making problems where none exist. This is the third island you’ve checked and there’s been no sign of the galley. Odds are….

A voice whispered in Grayson’s mind, “Lieutenant?”

Grayson’s gaze sharpened. The “voice” belonged to Kard, the squad’s adept and unofficial scout. Grayson had sent him to investigate the shoreline east of the ruins.

“Yes, Kard?”

“I’ve found her, boss. She anchored in a cove about two leagues past the ruins.”

“Are you sure it’s the Vilasshok?”

“Pretty sure.” The thought was flavored with amusement. “Unless you think there’s another galley in the neighborhood with Sea-Dancers onboard.”

Grayson gave a mental chuckle. “Point taken.” Salarian flagships were the only vessels that carried the wizard-priests known as Sea-Dancers. “Any chance they know you’re there?”

“I doubt it. They don’t seem to be expecting trouble. I don’t sense any wards and I’m up on a ridge, far enough back in the trees that their sentries couldn’t see me even if they knew where to look. As it is, I’m only able to see them by using a Cateye spell.”

“Anything else?”

“The Vilasshok is anchored close to shore—less than a spear cast away. That seems strange to me.”

Grayson frowned. No captain worth his salt anchored that close to shore. Not only did you risk being driven aground by a storm, you also left yourself vulnerable to attack if the natives were hostile. It did seem strange the captain of a Salarian flagship would make such a mistake and Grayson filed the information away to consider at a later date.

“Good work, Kard. Hold your position and keep her under observation. I’m going to bring up the rest of the squad.”

“Want me to tell those puddle-jumpers to form on you?”

Grayson smiled. “Puddle-jumpers” was the traditional insult leveled at marines by their magical colleagues “I think I can handle it, but I’ll make sure to pass along your… compliment to the squad.” A feeling of apprehension flowed through the link and Grayson’s smile grew wider. “Regardless, you can only manage one link at a time and I want to maintain contact if case anything changes on your end. Report on any movement; otherwise, stay quiet. We still don’t know if Sea-Dancers can sense mindspeak and I’d rather not take any chances.”

“Shouldn’t I contact Lord Marshal Dorrin’s headquarters? Let them know we’ve found their elusive galley?”

Grayson shook his head. “No, not yet. We need to get a better feel for the situation. Figure out if they’re using the island as a permanent base or just a temporary anchorage. Wouldn’t be much use to report the location of the

Vilasshok only to have her vanish tomorrow.”

“Understood, Lieutenant.”

The link went silent, but Grayson could still feel Kard’s presence at the other end of the connection. All he had to do was reach out with his thoughts and the adept would respond instantly. Grayson nodded in satisfaction and turned his focus to his immediate surroundings.

The eight others members of his squad were concealed among the ruins, spread out in the star-shaped pattern Almaren Marines adopted for defense. Some were armed with throwing darts; others cradled heavy crossbows. All carried short-swords in blackened scabbards across their backs. They waited patiently in darkness and Grayson felt a sense of pride sweep over him. No commander could ask for a finer squad! I’d match them against any in the

Marines, including the High Guard itself!

Holstering his crossbow, Grayson cupped his hands and coughed out the throaty call of the sand wyvern, a reptile native to the islands of the Shattered Straits. Marines practiced sets of such calls and used them depending on location and situation. In this case, the call of the sand wyvern was a signal to rally and it was mere moments before Grayson’s squad melted out of the night to surround him.

Grayson relayed the information provided by Kard, including the presence of the Sea-Dancers and the fact the Vilasshok was anchored near to shore. The five men and three women listened in silence, expressions hidden behind their hoods.

Grayson was barely finished when Corporal Barrow spoke, his voice harsh. “Our priority has to be the Sea-Dancers. With the ship in close, they’ll be easy to pick off. Give me Slate and Packet,” Barrow named the two best shots in the squad, “and I’ll see to it none of those damned Snakes gets off a spell.”

Grayson started to reply, then shut his mouth. He was uncomfortable with Barrow referring to the Salarians as ‘Snakes’, but realized the corporal wouldn’t appreciate a lecture on the use of derogatory language, especially when it concerned the lizardmen of the Khanate.

Unlike Grayson, the corporal hadn’t grown up in Meridon, the cosmopolitan capital of the Almaren Republic where all manner of races lived together in relative peace. Nor was he a Korel of Evercreek, a member of the patrician family that traced its roots back to the founding of the Republic some fifteen centuries past. Barrow was of yeoman stock, raised to a different set of standards. He also had more reason than most to hate the Salarians. His family had been refugees from Silversea, one of the first independent city-states to fall to the lizardmen when they came sailing out of the Waking Ocean three hundred years earlier.

Choosing his words with care, Grayson said, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, Corporal. There’s nothing more I’d like to do than give the Salarians a thrashing, but our orders are to figure out what the Vilasshok is doing in these waters, not start a war.” He captured Barrow’s gaze with his own. “An unprovoked killing of a member of her crew would be viewed as an act of war by the Salarians.” The corporal gave a snort. Grayson ignored it, continuing, “Even if we managed to survive the battle, the Salarians would demand the heads of those responsible for such an attack and I guarantee you that Lord Marshal Dorrin would honor that request.”

A couple of the squad members shifted as Grayson spoke. He didn’t look around, his eyes never leaving Barrow’s.

After a moment, the corporal’s shoulders sagged. “You’re right, Lieutenant. An unprovoked attack on anyone—even Snakes—is dishonorable. Worse, it’s…murder.” He bowed his head. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“The Khanate isn’t going away,” Grayson said. “There’ll be another time to avenge your ancestors.” He gestured at the other members of the squad. “And when that time comes, I promise you that we’ll be right there beside you.” A chorus of assent greeted the statement.

Barrow straightened, eyes shining. “By the Gods, Lieutenant Korel! By the Gods! If I never serve under another officer or with another squad, that’ll be too soon for me!”

Grayson clapped him on the back. “It’s my honor to command such men as yourself, Corporal.” He turned to face the rest of the squad and said, “Let’s get moving. Sergeant Carra, you take point; Privates Slate and Quarrel… you’re on the flanks. The rest are with me. Travel fast and silent. Kard is waiting for us and you know how the old saying goes, ‘Adepts are subtle but impatient and quick to anger.’”

A collective groan went up, mixed with a few catcalls and Grayson smiled behind his hood. Focusing his thoughts, he reached out with his mind and sent, “Kard, we’re on our way.”

The squad headed into the night.


The twin moons of Pale and Prosper traversed less than a quarter of the night sky before the squad reached Kard’s position, their passage eased by the game trails that crisscrossed the island and the adept’s silent communication with Grayson.

Grayson found Kard seated with his back against a tree, gazing down at the cove below and the dim lights of a ship riding at anchor. The adept didn’t say a word as Grayson squatted down beside him, merely reached into his belt pouch and removed a crystal globe that pulsed red in the darkness. Holding it in one hand, Kard murmured a few words and passed his other hand in front of Grayson’s face.

Grayson’s vision sharpened. The dim lights grew brighter and came into focus, revealing themselves to be lanterns spaced along the railing of a black-hulled galley that rode high in the water on five banks of oars. Any lingering doubt Grayson might have harbored about her identity vanished as he caught sight of the Salarian who stood upon the afterdeck.

That’s definitely a Sea-Dancer, Grayson thought, noting the body tattooed with mystic symbols. Each symbol represented mastery of a spell and the Sea-Dancer’s green pebbled skin bore hundreds of such symbols, marking him as old in his art and powerful beyond measure. And if the Vilasshok is carrying a full Circle, there’ll be six more onboard!

Grayson quelled the thought and continued his study of the flagship, then turned his attention to the shoreline and the camp that had been hacked out of the surrounding forest. The camp was dark, but Grayson could see sets of tools stacked beside piles of timber and what appeared to be a portable lathe. He grunted in satisfaction.

Without looking away, he said, “Kard, you can send that message to headquarters now. Tell them that we’ve located the Vilasshok and she’s not going anywhere. Seems she’s had a rough time and is in need of repairs.”

“Will do, Lieutenant.”

Grayson felt his link with the adept vanish and knew Kard was refocusing his mind, reaching across the Shattered Straits to contact one of the adepts who served on the Lord Marshal’s staff.

“Done,” Kard announced. “Lord Marshal Dorrin is currently in a meeting with the Salarian ambassador, but she’ll be informed as soon as she returns.”

“She’s meeting with the Salarian ambassador?” Grayson turned his face to the adept and raised an eyebrow “That’s a strange coincidence, don’t you think?”

Kard shrugged. “You know I don’t believe in coincidences, boss. For what it’s worth, the meeting was arranged at the request of the ambassador.”

“This reeks of politics,” Grayson growled. “And I don’t like it.”

The adept kept quiet. Everyone in the squad knew the Lieutenant’s feelings about politics. Grayson’s father was Vander Korel, former Speaker of the Almaren Senate, and arguably the most politically powerful man in the Republic. The elder Korel’s love of political machinations was matched only by his son’s distaste for the moral ambiguities such machinations required.

Their opposing viewpoints led to a frosty relationship between the two and when Grayson went against his father’s wishes and joined the military, all hell broke loose. Things were said that required settling on the field of honor. Luckily, they were said in private so both father and son were able to ignore them, but the two hadn’t spoken in five years.

Grayson noticed the adept’s silence. “You think I’m overreacting, don’t you, my friend?”

“Perhaps a bit,” Kard admitted. “After all, Lord Marshal Dorrin isn’t a politician. She rose through the ranks and doesn’t play games with the lives of the men and women under her command.”

Grayson sighed “You’re right, I’m worrying too much. If the Lord Marshal wants us out here, it’s got to be for a good reason.”

“I’m glad you recognize my inestimable wisdom,” the adept said, a twinkle in his eye. “Speaking of wisdom, or lack thereof, where is the rest of the squad?”

“They’re in a dell about a hundred paces to the west. I wanted to check the lay of the land and there was no reason to risk….” Grayson’s voice trailed off, eyes narrowing as he gazed down at the Vilasshok.

Kard caught Grayson’s look and asked, “What are you thinking, boss?”

Grayson motioned the adept to silence as he continued to stare down at the Salarian galley. Could it really be that simple? His mind raced as he checked the idea against the other possibilities, examining and discarding them one by one. It’s the best solution, he concluded.

“Umm… Lieutenant?”

Grayson glanced over and found the adept watching him with concern. “Sorry, Kard. I was trying to figure out how to determine what the Salarians are up to without getting anyone killed. It struck me that sometimes the best solution is also the simplest one: why not just ask them?”

“What…?” Kard stared at him in shock.

“I’m serious,” Grayson said. “As marines, we’re trained to look for military solutions to the situations we face, but sometimes we have to accept there aren’t any military solutions. At least— none without unacceptable risks.”

Kard said nothing, just continued to stare at Grayson.

“Our orders are to ‘discern the intentions of the Vilasshok, ’” Grayson said. “The galley carries four hundred warrior-caste Salarians plus at least some Sea-Dancers. We have ten men. Grayson smiled. “The only reasonable solution is for me to march down there and ask our scaly friends what they are doing in Almaren waters. If they refuse to answer, then they’ll at least know we’re aware of their presence and are watching them.” He saw the adept was about to speak and raised a hand. “I know what you are going to say, Kard, and it has to be me. I’m the only one fluent in Salarian. I’m also the only officer and the warrior-caste is punctilious about rank.”

“If you’re going down there, boss, I’m coming with you.”

“No, you aren’t. There’s nobody I’d rather have guarding my back, but the fewer people involved, the less chance for a misunderstanding.” Grayson’s tone turned wry. “Besides, if the Salarians decide to be… unfriendly, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do other than provide them with some extra target practice.”

Kard nodded reluctantly. “When you put it that way….”

“It’s settled.” Grayson stood up. “Sergeant Barra is liable to object and I don’t have time to argue. Give me a few moments to work my way down to the shoreline, then summon the squad. They are to take up positions on this ridge, but under no circumstance are they to engage the Salarians. If attacked, they are to fall back to the ruins and signal the cutter for evacuation.” He fixed Kard with a stern eye. “That goes for you too, Adept.”

“Understood, Lieutenant.” Kard rose and sketched an elaborate sign, ending with his hands folded on his breast. “May the Ancestors walk with you and guide you in your endeavors.”

Grayson chuckled. “I’ll take all the prayers I can get, even if they are heathen blasphemies.” He tossed a salute to the adept and slipped over the lip of the ridge, heading toward the cove below. Aided by the magic of Kard’s spell, Grayson moved quickly and quietly down the hillside and soon stood on the shoreline, looking out at the galley riding at anchor a mere twenty paces away.

Up close the Vilasshok was even larger than Grayson imagined. She also bore more damage than he noted during his earlier inspection, damage that appeared to be the result of prolonged wear and tear. Grayson didn’t expect to see that kind of general disrepair aboard a flagship of the Salarian Navy. It added to the gnawing feeling he was missing something about the Vilasshok and her crew, something important.

Grayson itched to figure out the missing piece of the puzzle, but he heard muffled voices drifting across the water and knew the galley’s night watch was awake. They hadn’t seen him yet, but that was bound to change and Grayson needed to avoid any potential misunderstandings. Cupping his hands together, Grayson called out, “Greeshentsh ess Vilasshok. Sheretnesh beshelness ot paransnok.”

There were a few heartbeats of silence, followed by the curses of the lookouts as they caught sight of his black-clad form standing on the shoreline.

One lookout shouted in harshly-accented Common, “Sully not the Tongue of Warriors, human! By what right do you hail the Vilasshok and presume to speak with her captain?”

“I am Lieutenant Grayson Korel, Fifth Squad, Second Almaren Marines. As an officer of rank and honor, it is both my right and duty to speak as I see fit,” Grayson replied in the formal manner of the warrior-caste. He let a hint of arrogance creep into his voice. “And I see fit to speak with the commander of your vessel, not bandy words with a hatchling whose discourtesy brings shame to his Clan.”

The Salarian’s hiss of anger was overshadowed by grunts of laughter from his fellow lookouts, laughter that died abruptly as another figure appeared at the railing. Unlike the lookouts, this lizardman’s turtle-shell armor was chased with gold and his long reptilian face bore the black-diamond patterning that denoted the noblest of Salarian bloodlines.

The newcomer pitched his voice to carry across the water, “I commend you, Lieutenant, for your knowledge of our language and our culture. Few humans realize we Salarians treasure the beauty of a good insult, well-delivered. If I were not already inclined to hear your words, I would do so for that reason alone.” The lizardman raised his hands, talons spread wide and palms facing outward, then snapped them shut and crossed his arms across his chest. He bowed. “I am Talon-First Selesoth Viss, acting captain of the Vilasshok, and I consent to speak with you.”

Grayson returned the gesture, holding his bow as befitted a lower-ranked officer addressing his superior. “You do me honor.”

“Honor comes to those who act with honor,” the Salarian replied. He looked across the waves at Grayson. “It is unseemly that we should bellow at each other like some loud-mouthed Aldatians. With your permission, I will join you ashore to continue our discussion. I would invite you aboard the Vilasshok, but rules forbid the presence of non-Salarians on vessels of the Great Khan’s Navy.”

“I await your arrival, Talon-First.” Grayson bowed again, hiding a frown behind his hood. Grayson knew the rules in question; he also knew those rules were rescinded five years earlier by the Edict of Opening, a joint agreement between the Great Khan and his Council of Clan-Chiefs.

Mysteries atop mysteries, Grayson thought wryly, watching as a skiff was lowered over the galley’s side. Viss waved off his accompanying guards and boarded, followed by the Sea-Dancer Grayson recognized from earlier. The Talon-First grasped the oars and with a dozen powerful strokes propelled the skiff the short distance to shore; a moment later he stood in front of Grayson, the Sea-Dancer two paces behind him on the right.

This time, Grayson didn’t bow. The island was Republic territory and Selesoth Viss a guest. Instead, he saluted, clenched fist over heart, and said, “I greet you, Talon-First, in the name of the Almaren Republic. Though I wish it otherwise, duty compels me to ask: what are your intentions in our waters?”

Viss studied Grayson, golden eyes inscrutable. A rumble began deep in his chest, gathering in strength until it erupted in a roar of laughter. “Bold. Direct. Honest. Spoken like a true warrior, Lieutenant Grayson Korel of the Second Almaren Marines,” Viss said after his laughter subsided. “Such honesty deserves honesty in return.” He glanced at the Sea-Dancer who inclined his head. Viss swung his gaze back to Grayson and said, “My intentions were simple: to provoke an attack upon the Vilasshok by the Almaren Navy.”

Grayson blinked. They want to be attacked! The pieces of the puzzle fell into place. The anchorage close to shore, the lack of wards or detection spells, the strange inattention of the lookouts… it all made sense now.

Viss continued, “Unfortunately, I knew the moment you called to me—warrior to warrior, respectful in both custom and form—that I could not go through with my plan.”

The Sea-Dancer broke in. “Selesoth’s plan was folly from the start. We have our differences with the Almaren Republic, but your warriors are disciplined and, in your own way, honorable. How could we keep our honor intact if we caused you to forfeit your own?” He snorted. “Logic was never Selesoth’s strong suit.”

Viss’ facial scales darkened with embarrassment. “Sarass is correct. To try and goad you into an attack was unworthy.” The Talon-First bowed low to Grayson. “Please accept my apologies. Rest assured my warriors and I never intended to fight back. We only wished to die honorably in battle.”

“But why do you want to die in battle?” Grayson asked. “And why against the Almaren Navy? Our nations have been at peace for a decade, a peace that has benefited both our peoples.”

“The peace has indeed been a blessing to our nations,” Viss agreed. “It has also been a curse for the crew of the Vilasshok.” A pained look crossed his face. “Grand-Talon Tissala, our Clan-Chief, was the original captain of the Vilasshok. He died at Drakon Sound.”

“Drakon Sound? That was the final battle of the Spice Wars, just….” Grayson’s voice trailed off and his eyes widened in understanding. “…just three days before the Treaty of Niems was signed.” He locked gazes with the Talon-First. “Skala-Terheles?”

Viss nodded.

“The Nine Gods have mercy,” Grayson breathed. Skala-Terheles—roughly translated into Common as ‘shield-balancing’—was a fundamental duty each warrior owed his Clan-Chief. If the Clan-Chief fell in battle, his warriors were honor-bound to avenge him by slaying an enemy of equal rank or greater rank. Until they succeeded, they couldn’t return home. And when the Great Khan agreed to peace with the Republic….

“You are trapped,” Grayson said softly.

“Yes, Lieutenant Korel. Trapped between honor and duty. Honor demands we avenge our Clan-Chief; duty to the Great Khan’s peace forbids it. We have wandered the oceans for ten years now and we are tired. All we seek is an end to our long exile. Some have already found it.” Viss laid an affectionate talon on the Sea-Dancer’s arm. “My friend is the last of his Circle. The others chose to return to the Goddess’ Embrace, but Sarass did not want to leave me alone.”

Grayson stared at the two Salarians, seeing the weariness in their eyes. He cleared his throat. “I wish there was….”

He stopped as the mind-link was blasted open and Kard’s voice thundered into his head. “Boss, watch your back! I just got word from Lord Marshal Dorrin. The Vilasshok is a rogue, I repeat rogue, warship! Her name has been stuck from the rolls of the Salarian Fleet and her crew branded traitors.”

“Traitors?” Grayson asked, his thought heavy with disbelief. “According to whom?”

“The Salarian ambassador.”

Grayson gave a mental snort. “Damned politicians are all the same. It’s a pack of lies, Kard.”

“I believe you, boss, but the Salarians have requested permission to send three Circles of Sea-Dancers to take control of the Vilasshok and bring her home. Marshal Dorrin has agreed to the request. We’re to consider this an internal matter of the Khanate and take no further action.”

“I guess the Lord Marshal isn’t immune to political pressure after all. How and when are the Sea-Dancers arriving?”

Kard’s mind-voice was grim. “I’m to use my Art to create a beacon. Once activated, the Circles will be able to gate in within moments.”

“Can you stall them?”

“I’ll delay as long as I can, but the order comes directly from the Lord Marshal. Whatever you’re going to do, you need to do it soon.” The link snapped shut.

Grayson brought his focus back to his surroundings and found Viss and Sarass watching him.

“You were speaking to one of your ‘adepts’,” the old Sea-Dancer observed.

“Yes.” Grayson replied. “Your government is aware of your presence in Almaren waters and wishes you to return home. They are dispatching three Circles of Sea-Dancers to escort the Vilasshok back to Salarian territory.”

“Without obtaining Skala-Terheles?” This time it was Viss who spoke, his voice incredulous.

“We will be dishonored—they know this!”

Grayson remained silent.

Viss stared at him. “There is more, isn’t there?”

Grayson searched for the right words. “The question of your honor—or dishonor—may no longer be yours to decide.”

“I see,” the Talon-First said softy. He was quiet for a moment; then asked, “How long?”

“Not long. My man has been ordered to act as a beacon. He is stalling, but….”

Viss nodded. He turned to face Sarass. “Well, my old friend, there seems to be only one decision left to us. What say you?”

“I say the Lieutenant has bought us some time and we best make use of it.” The Sea-Dancer inclined his head toward Grayson. “You are an honorable sort for a human.” He spun on his heels and strode back to the skiff.

“Sarass has always been abrupt,” Viss said with a fond smile. The smile faded as he studied Grayson. “He is right though. You are an honorable man. We owe you our thanks.” He hesitated. “I do not wish to impose further, but as one warrior to another, may I ask another favor?”

“Of course, Talon-First,” Grayson replied.


Grayson stood atop the ridge. Half a bell had passed since he’d bid farewell to Viss. Down in the cove, the Vilasshok was ablaze with light. Glass-paned lanterns festooned her every railing; iron-clawed braziers spat flames high into the night. A globe of magefire crowned the galley’s mast, its crimson light etched hard against the dark armored ranks of the crew below.

“Boss, it’s time.” Kard said from beside him.

Grayson nodded. “Nothing more to be done. Send the signal.”

“Yes, Lieutenant.” The adept sounded as unhappy as Grayson felt.

A few heartbeats later, the night was split with the sound of tearing burlap and a blast of icy wind flattened Grayson’s leathers against his back. He turned. An oval of swirling light now stood in the clearing and through it came the Sea-Dancers.

Grayson stepped forward to greet them, but the wizard-priests brushed past him without a word. Moving in silence, they took positions along the ridgeline until three full Circles of Sea-Dancers stood there, looking down at the Vilasshok.

A magically-enhanced voice boomed out, “Crew of the Vilasshok, you are required to hand over control of your vessel and return with us to the Khanate.”

The response was eloquent, but unspoken, as the thud of axes biting into anchor lines was followed by the beat of the rowing drums. The Vilasshok began to move away.

“Warn them,” the voice said curtly.

A Sea-Dancer to Grayson’s right raised his arms and a bolt of argent fire hurtled downward, exploding in front of the Vilasshok.

The beat of the drums continued and the galley picked up speed.

“Again. With your full Circle this time,” the voice ordered. “And for the Goddess’ sake be careful. The Great Khan wants them alive.”

The Sea-Dancer nodded and raised his arms again, a gesture mirrored by the wizards beside him. Their hands snapped down together and seven bolts of fire shot toward the galley. The bolts were aimed to bracket the Vilasshok, but something snatched them from their paths and they slammed into the galley, one after the other.

The Vilasshok exploded.


It was just before dawn when Corporal Barrow approached Grayson as he stood on the ridgeline, gazing down at the still burning hulk of the Vilasshok.

“What can I do for you, Corporal?” Grayson asked.

Barrow spoke, his voice subdued. “I’ve been wondering, Lieutenant…what did that Salarian say to you, there at the end?”

“That Salarian’s name was Talon-First Selesoth Viss. And he said, ‘Witness our honor.’”

Out in the cove, the crackling roar of flames continued.