tagSci-Fi & FantasyLost at Sea Bk. 01 Ch. 05

Lost at Sea Bk. 01 Ch. 05

byKingOfHalves©

Janie's breath caught in her throat. Will slowly sat down at the table and held his hands up. "There's no need for that. Let go of the lady and we'll talk."

"We ain't here to talk," the brute with the pistol said. Another man walked through the door and closed it. He was short and unfortunate looking with no chin and an overly large hawkish nose. His choice to keep bushy sideburns but shave the rest only served to draw more attention to his worst features.

"Timmons?" Will said, confused at the appearance of the blustery merchant.

"Timmonds," the newcomer corrected. He moved to the table and slapped a map down on top of it. "You are going to give me what you promised."

Will looked at the map, then back up at Timmonds. "Alright. First I want you to let Janie go."

"Not a chance. She's going to make sure you do the job," Timmonds glared.

"This is a bad idea, Timmonds," Will said taking a closer look at the map and where they wanted to go. It was all he could do to keep himself from smiling. These three were idiots.

"Shut up. Make the route," the fellow with the pistol said.

Will looked between the two, starting to think this might not have been all Timmonds' idea. He shrugged and stood up slowly.

"What do you think you're doing?" pistol guy said moving forward and putting the gun in Will's face.

With his hands still up, Will slowly pointed to the shelf. "Charts. Books. I need to look some things up."

Timmonds gestured to the man with the pistol. "Let him."

The pistol lowered slightly and the big man backed up.

Will took a look at Janie while he gathered what he needed. She was holding onto the arm of the man who had grabbed her. He was holding a knife to her neck. She had her eyes closed tightly and she was muttering to herself. Praying.

An anger started building in Will's chest. He sat down and went to work. It was only twenty minutes later when he slid the map over to Timmonds. The man with the pistol leaned over Timmonds' shoulder.

"Well?" Timmonds asked his larger partner.

"Looks good. Takes us around all the places we knew were going to be dangerous. There's a few strange turns, but we can have someone do a fortune telling on the route to know for sure. Doesn't look like he's trying to lead us into anything," the man with the pistol said.

Timmonds rolled up the map and tucked it into his coat. "Pleasure doing business with you, Sterling.

The man with the gun aimed at Will and fired! Will was already diving behind the table. The man's aim had tracked Will's dive, but the table was just barely in the way when the shot rang. A burst of wood rained down around him. The big man was fast. He was drawing a second pistol before the echo of the first shot had finished ringing.

"Halt," Janie's voice said, ringing with power and authority. Around the circular room golden symbols lit the floor forming a perimeter of light.

Everyone froze. Timmonds' eyes slowly crept toward Janie, panic setting into them as he fought against the power of whatever she had just done. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

"You alright, Will?" Janie asked, sounding much more like herself. Will didn't answer. "Oh. Right," Janie said to herself.

"Let me go," she said, the authority coming back to her voice. The man holding her let go. She walked over to the table and saw Will laying frozen on the ground behind it.

"Will Sterling, I release you," she said. The lights around the perimeter of the room flared for a moment. Will relaxed and rubbed his arm where he'd landed on it. He stood up a bit gingerly and looked at the splintered gouge the pistol shot had torn out of his table. He ran his finger along it imagining the damage the shot would have done to him. His heart was pounding. "Well, he missed," half to reassure himself. "Why'd you wait so long?"

"He had a gun on you. When the Voice takes hold everyone tenses up. I didn't want him to accidentally fire," Janie said, slightly sheepishly.

Will threw his arms wide. "So you waited until he did it on purpose!?"

"Why didn't you move sooner!?" she retorted, moving around the frozen men.

"Because he had a gun on me!" Will sat down in exasperation and shook his head. "Thanks," he said with an earnest look at his assistant.

Before she could answer, something cracked, sounding like a thick tree branch over a strong man's knee. Timmonds suddenly bolted for the door. Will stood and had just started to follow but it was too late. Timmonds had wrenched open the door and fled out into the night.

"What was that?" Will asked, staring out the door after Timmonds? "Did he just overpower your Truthtelling?"

"No. That's... humans can't do that. The wards would have gone off if he'd been something else disguised as a human. He must have had some kind of counter-charm on him," Janie said.

Will whistled low. "Those are real?"

"Yes, but very rare. I've never seen one before. They're very expensive and hard to get. No registered Witch would dare make one," Janie said.

"Mister Timmonds is a very bad man," he looked at the two thugs still frozen in place. "If only the Magistrate had some way of learning more about him. If only they had someone who could tell them more. Two someones even."

"You may speak," Janie said with the Voice. The glowing calligraphy sigils lining the room flickered slightly as the change in the command took place.

"We'll pay you," the man who still held a smoking pistol said.

Will laughed, "From attempted murder straight to bribery. You think quick for hired muscle."

"Name your price," the big man said.

Will just rolled his eyes. "So what do we do with them?"

"The guard will be along soon. When the Telling took hold, it also alerted the wards at the Garrison," Janie explained. "Until then, we can leave them like this, or question them."

"Show me," Will said, looking slyly at their prisoners.

"You will offer no falsehood through speech or omission. You will answer all queries to the best of your ability. Now, speak your name," Janie said, her Voice echoing with power.

"Quincy Pleasant," the gunman said.

"Royce Boyle," the man with the knife choked out. He sounded like his throat didn't work right.

"Can I ask them questions too, or will they only answer you?" Will asked.

"They'll answer you now that the Telling has them. You're in the circle. They have to answer," Janie was looking over the men like she was memorizing them.

"What's your connection to Timmonds?" Will asked.

"He's the money. We're the crew. He owns a boat and we work on it," Quincy-with-the-gun answered.

"Crew," Boyle croaked, echoing Quincy.

"What the heck is wrong with your voice anyway?" Will asked Boyle.

"Sick," Boyle said.

"And you brought him along on an extortion and murder job? Timmonds must be really scraping the bottom of the hired goon barrel," Will snarked.

"He's reliable and expendable," Quincy answered. Royce did not look please at that answer. Quincy did not look pleased that he'd had to give it.

"How did Timmonds escape the Truthtelling?" Janie asked in a hard tone.

Boyle shook his head and shrugged. Apparently that was enough to satisfy the compulsion he was under. Quincy just said, "No idea."

"What was so important about getting me to make the map that was worth killing us for?" Will asked, seeming more confused than anything else.

"Timmonds hates you," Quincy answered. The barest hint of a shrug was all the motion his magically compelled paralysis would allow. "After you humiliated him in front of that crowd he wanted you dead."

"That doesn't answer my question. You were going to Ralost Harbor. It's not a hard place to get to this time of year," Will said. "Why not just hire someone who knows the way?"

"Timmonds has a very small ship. You're the only Navigator who doesn't need to come along to get the job done, and you don't ask questions. Even at your prices, it's a sweet deal. One less mouth to feed, one person's less space taken up onboard, and one less officer taking a cut," Quincy answered. "We needed to know the route to get through a blockade. You didn't even know there was a blockade, and your map looks like it avoids where the blockade is supposed to be."

"Yeah I did," Will said. "Found out earlier today when I was working with another client. Also found out that the blockade is the first wave of an invasion. You'd have gotten to port just in time to be in the middle of a coup."

"You sonofa-" Quincy swore.

"Enough. Answer the questions only, Mister Pleasant," Janie said, the calmness of her tone belying the power in her command.

"What are you smuggling?" Will asked. He was curious now.

Quincy looked pained, like he was struggling to lift something heavy. After a few moments he barked out, "Tears!"

"Tears?" Will was confused.

"You son of a bitch," Janie swore. It was the first time Will had ever heard a word like that pass her lips.

"I feel like I'm missing something," Will said, looking between his assistant and their captives.

"The Tears of Ashana," Janie said. "It's a drug. Well, no. More like a potion. They make a person incredibly attractive to women, and have a powerful aphrodisiac quality."

"That doesn't sound so bad," Will said, not seeing why Janie had been so upset.

"Will, they're mind control. Tears aren't just a special perfume that makes you attractive. They override a person's will. They make them do things they would not normally choose to do. They're as strong as a Siren's song, and they are addictive. After enough times being exposed to a person who's dosed themself with Tears, a woman will start craving them like an obsession. The Malahara Sultanate used to use the Tears to keep control of the Grand Harem. Do you remember hearing about that? When the Sultanate was overthrown they freed almost a thousand captured women. When the Sultan was executed, almost half of the harem tried to commit suicide." Janie looked sickened.

"That's what all that was about? A drug? I thought it was some kind of spell," Will shook his head in sympathy and disbelief. "Anyone can get ahold of that stuff?"

"For the right price," Quincy said, unable to stop himself from sounding amused.

"It's highly illegal," Janie shook her head, scowling at Quincy. "The Magistrate added it to the Freedom of Mind Accords after the conflict with the Sultanate. From what I understand it is also extremely hard to make. It requires a very rare catalyst, and a skilled spellbinder who must be a woman."

"I can't imagine most women would be willing to make something like that," Will said.

"No. That's one of the things every Spellbinder is asked in the Telling when they register with the Magistrate," Janie continued. "Anyone who would even be willing to make something like Tears of Ashana doesn't pass the interview process. There's a lot of places where the Magistrate doesn't have any kind of presence, but even in those places, Tears of Ashana are hard to come by. Very few people are willing to make something that could be used to enslave them."

"Who's your source?" WIll asked the captives.

Royce shrugged again. Quincy answered, "Timmonds is the only one that knows."

"I guess that explains where he got ahold of whatever it was that broke him out of the Telling," Will said. Janie nodded. They looked at each other, struggling to think of anymore relevant questions. "What now?" Janie asked after a few moments.

As if in answer there was a heavy knock at the door.

_________________

Janie smiled tiredly. "Thank you, Thomas," she said to the Magistrate Guardsman who stood in the doorway. His fitted leather cuirass and large pauldrons made the already large man practically fill the arched doorway. He had a slate in his hand with a small hole in it for a built in ink pot. A parchment rested on the slate. He was hastily marking it with a small quill. Outside three more guards had Royce Boyle and Quincy Pleasant locked in irons.

"Did you happen to ask the name of their ship when you had them in the Telling?" Guardsman Thomas asked.

Janie shook her head, "Sorry. It wasn't something I thought to ask."

"That's alright. I'll head down to the docks now. It's probably too late to catch Mister Timmonds, but maybe we'll get lucky," Thomas shrugged. "Do you have time to come in tomorrow and give a formal report?"

Janie looked at Will, who was sitting in his chair at the table looking at his empty glass and feeling worn. "No," she answered. "Perhaps late tomorrow night, but my week is full from sunup to sundown, every day."

Thomas nodded. "I'll make sure the Prelate sees my report and I'll let her know where you are. Perhaps she can come here to speak with you, rather than having you make the trek all the way out to Fort Deliverance."

Janie nodded. She doubted the Prelate would want to come all the way out to the lighthouse for this. Her time was important. It was a nice sentiment though. Thomas could have officially requested that Janie come to the Fort for testimony and she would have been required to go.

She gave Thomas a hug and he stepped out the door, shutting it behind him. Janie let out a long breath before turning and looking at Will. He gave her a weary smile. Without a word, Janie walked over, took Will's hand, pulled him out of the chair and wrapped her arms around him. She did not cry, but she did tremble slightly as the tension and worry and excitement all finally left her. "You almost died, Will," she said.

"I've been shot before. It isn't fun, but I don't think I would have died. Besides, I had you to save me," Will said gently, holding her tight and letting his thumb stroke reassuringly at the base of her neck.

Janie went still and then started shaking against Will's chest. At first he thought she had started to cry, but after a moment he realized she was laughing. "I suppose I did save you, didn't I?" she said, still muffled into his shoulder.

He gave her a strong squeeze. "Yes you did. Saved yourself too."

"I did not even like the idea of laying the Telling runes into the stonework when you first thought of it," Janie said, "Now I am very glad you insisted."

"As am I," Will agreed.

"Legendary adventurer, Will Sterling, rescued by an office clerk," Janie said, finally looking up at him.

"You're hardly just a..." his thought trailed off as he realized how close they were. Closer than they had ever been before. He felt a moment of electric tension that ran up his neck and felt like tickling behind his ears. She smelled faintly of honeysuckle. They were only inches apart. Will had always found Janie attractive. Her prim, graceful efficiency and sharp, dry wit coupled with her aristocratic cheekbones and wide blue eyes made her very endearing, but usually he kept those thoughts firmly controlled. Right now, with her looking so vulnerable and disheveled, he felt that control falter. He wanted to kiss her, she seemed to want it too. His head dipped slightly and he could feel the tension between them ratchet up. She took a deep, expectant, perhaps fearful breath. Her breasts pressed against him filling his head with even more uncontrolled thoughts. Somehow though, he turned his face away and simply laid his cheek against hers, holding her tightly. "Thank you so much," he whispered in her ear.

She squeezed him back, but didn't reply. She had felt it too, and had wanted it. That realization surprised her. She'd also always found Will attractive, but she'd very carefully cultivated a professional working relationship with him. She knew he watched her work with less than professional intent sometimes, but he did a fair job of keeping it to himself and never made inappropriate comments or touches. If not for her Magistrate training she probably wouldn't have noticed when his gaze or thoughts wandered. Even just now, in the electric moment after a near death experience, she'd seen the desire well up within him, and the struggle. He'd done the right and proper thing... and Janie wished he hadn't.

She was no demure, wilting flower, nor was she as straight-laced and puritan as she often seemed. Much of it was a carefully constructed facade to give her the respect women often did not get from men. Normally she worried a great deal about consequences, but now the aftermath of what had nearly happened, combined with the long, trying day, had her mind screaming for something to simply be good and satisfying and easy. She deserved that. She deserved this. There was no reason that she should always deny herself for the sake of others.

It all crashed through her mind in an instant, her careful control and poise suddenly thrown to the wind. Her hand turned Will's face from her cheek to face her and she brought her lips to his with a deliberate need. She felt Will stiffen. Her eyes were closed, but she knew he was looking at her. She could feel him thinking, sense his mind battling with itself. He was still trying to do the right thing. It was infuriating. In that moment she made a decision.

She let go. Their kiss broke. Will looked stunned. Not upset. He simply had no idea what to think about what he'd just experienced.

"Uh, Janie?" he said, not sure what else to say.

"Hush, Will. It's ok. It's time for bed," Janie said. She took his hand and gently pulled him to the stairs.

"I have a hammock..." he stuttered, stopping at the foot of the steps and gesturing feebly toward his office.

"Do you even know where it is?" Janie huffed. He was nothing if not stubborn. She started climbing the stairs, still pulling him after her.

"Well, no. I was going to find it," Will said, following, his reluctance wavering.

"Will, you almost died. We both almost died. You are leaving in a week. There is only one bed. And, even if all that were not true, I want this. I know you have wanted me since the day you hired me, and tonight I am saying yes." Janie opened the door to Will's bedroom.

"I didn't... I never did anything... I thought I was good about that," Will said, flustered. "I never wanted you to think.-"

"You were very good. I doubt any other office clerk would have noticed." Janie pulled Will into the room and gave him a gentle, steady push until his knees hit the bed and he sat down.

"You're hardly just an office clerk," Will finished his thought from earlier.

"Precisely." Janie began unbuttoning her high-necked blouse, exposing inch after of creamy skin. "The very first thing I learned as a Neophyte was how to pick up on the subtleties of body language to learn what a person was trying to hide. For all your efforts to keep your thoughts to yourself, Will, you are not very subtle. Your eyes wander, particularly when you think I'm not looking."

"You're always looking," Will laughed. He still wasn't quite sure what to do with this situation. He was having to rearrange all his careful rules about who Janie was and how he should treat her. It wasn't an instant process, but it was getting faster with every button.

"Yes, I am." The last button came undone and she tugged the hem of her blouse free of her skirt, pulling it open and off her shoulders. "You do not need to pretend you aren't looking any longer."

Will let out an involuntary breath and he stared in shock. Beneath Janie's high-necked, conservative blouse she was wearing a kind of undergarment he'd never seen before. It looked like a sort of soft, less rigid than usual corset. It hugged her curves and compressed her generous chest in and up. Her conservative blouse had been hiding the impressive cleavage her fascinating underclothes created. She was obviously more endowed in the chest department than he'd originally thought. Not nearly so much as Bella, but certainly larger than her lithe frame had made him think.

Janie was not a large person. He forgot that sometimes because her personality was so commanding. It made her seem larger than she really was. She wasn't short, but she was quite slender, with a narrow waist and shoulders that accentuated the curves of her hips, butt and breasts by contrast. All the walking back and forth from Fort Deliverance, and occasionally braving the staircase down to the docks (which she described as "clearly designed by a torturer") kept her in good shape. There was simply no bulk to her. She was one of those people who was reminiscent of a deer, all long limbs and grace and dainty features.

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