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“Once we land, I’ll meet with Uncle. He’ll definitely know what to do.”

The father of my cousin was actually the Dock Master for West Island. Given the desperate need for trade and commerce, that put the Dock Master at the same level as the Magistrate, and only just below the Governor. On any given island, there were three people that were of great importance. The Dock Master functioned to control all information, supplies, and personal leaving and coming to the island.  The Magistrate enforced the law and laid judgement on the people. Finally, the Governor ran the municipals and handled the distribution of resources as well as negotiations and agreements.

The Governor was said to represent the people, and thus he had a bit more power than the other two, but there was also a bit of check and balances built into it. Without the Magistrate, there was no order. Without the Dock Master, there was no commerce. Without the Governor, there were no people. That was a saying my father had once told me. In his case, he was on very good terms with the Dock Master and the Magistrate, and they always spoke jovially and friendly. However, he warned me that in some islands, this relationship could be tense.

As for the attack on the North Island, the Dock Master’s body I had found and fed to Zoe. I was never able to find the Magistrate, but his house had been burned to ashes, and I suspected a certain pile consisted of what was left of him and his family.

I pursed my lips, trying to push away those bitter memories. With the island quickly approaching, I had slowed the ship to a more reasonable speed. It had certainly already been seen, and I could even see with my telescope that the people on the dock were in a fluster as we approached. A ship like this had never been seen before, so it naturally would cause an uproar suddenly appearing and approaching their dock. Since I was standing at the helm, I was pretty sure they’d already seen me as well. Uncle would be the first to hear, and so I suspected that he would be the one to welcome me onto the island, exactly as I wanted.

“Alice, are there any docking procedures I should be aware of?”

“Anchor is currently operational up to a depth of 400 feet. It is recommended to leave fission power core running if ship docked for less than one month.”

“So… leave the lights running then.”

 I didn’t plan to stay on West Island. I just needed some crew, supplies, and assistance. Once Uncle sent me on my way with a competent crew and any other ships or weapons he could spare, I’d be heading to the other islands to try to get together a fleet. We had to take back my family. Even if I had to go the Citadel itself and ask for their resources, I’d do it. If I offered them this ship as collateral, they would assuredly be willing to help.

“Wait, did you say 400 feet? The depth of water is 400 feet deep?”

That was far deeper than I had ever imagined. At the dock, I once tried to touch the bottom. Father said it was fifty feet deep. My ears ended up popping and hurt endlessly, and I nearly drowned swimming back up. I never managed to touch the bottom.

I knew the ocean was deeper, but I was thinking 100, maybe 200. For the ocean to be 400 feet deep, it was hard to imagine.

“Our current depth is 263 feet. The local region is uncharacteristically shallow.”

“Shallow?” I cried out, coughing, “Um… how deep does the endless sea get?”

“Unknown… the deepest region measured at 60,000 feet deep. After this depth, no recordings were able to be made.”

I would have fallen on my butt had I not been holding the steering wheel. Sixty thousand feet was a distance I couldn’t even fathom. I was once again reminded of the last conversation I had with my father. This world really was bigger than I imagined. A 400-foot dock was practically nothing compared to the vastness of the endless sea. It was clear I still needed much to learn about this world.

As I got to the point where the dock was within sight, I realized just how small it was compared to the ship I was on. It was about twice the size of the dock of North Island, but this ship took about 1/5th of the pier. I remembered the dock once had seemed so massive to me, but it was hardly anything. All of the fishing ships we used were about 1/3rd the size of the Infinity, and even the ships that traveled between islands were only at the size of the scout ship which I had destroyed. That ship was only about 2/3rds of the size of my own.

The slower ship that had been following us was larger than my own, and would probably make the pier look like nothing. The Infinity wasn’t that particularly large, I realized. The dreadnaughts were made of metal, filled with weaponry, and fast… but they weren’t built to house large crews. It was probably built for tasks similar to the scout ship, although compared to the scout, it was filled with ancient technology like it was built by the Citadel itself. Well, it probably was at some point long ago.

I had tried a few times to replay the log that had started playing automatically during Zoe’s repairs, but Alice had been unable to locate such a file. It appeared to be some corrupted ghost. Well, I didn’t understand even how the recording was made. Although I knew that voices and video could once be recorded, the technology had been seemingly lost long before I was born, as most of the ancient technology had disappeared.

“Miles!” I heard a voice below.

Looking at the end of the pier, there was a man in a fine coat who was waving for us, gesturing for a spot on the pier that seemed to have been cleared just for us. He was a fat man with a large tricorn hat and large red cheeks. I had wondered how a man like him had a daughter who was as beautiful as Cousin. Then again, I didn’t know what cousin really looked like, since it had been an imposter the whole time.

I had never docked a ship before, but I did my best to bring the ship in. Even going extremely slowly and taking nearly a half-hour, I still slammed it into the dock, hearing some would crack. The Dock Master pulled off his hat, a complicated smile on his face as I lowered the anchor finally.

I ran to the side of the ship as soon as the anchor hit bottom. Looking around, I found a platform that could be lowered so that I would walk onto the deck easier. I ran down the deck. As soon as I was back on land, or rather a wooden dock, I locked eyes with the Dock Master and ran to him.

“Uncle!” When I reached him, my arms wrapped around his rotund belly.

As soon as my hands wrapped around him, I couldn’t help but break into tears. The last few weeks, from seeing death, barely escaping it and then fleeing for my life all build up. While on the ship with Zoe, I was able to escape reality a bit, but now that I reached the end of that harrowing journey, all of the stress was unloaded on him.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry…” I found myself saying as I wiped tears and a snotty nose on the man’s nice shirt.

“Lad? What are you doing here? How did you get here? This ship… What is going on?” He helplessly held out his hands, asking a barrage of questions that went unanswered as I continued to cry.

My father and the Governor of this island weren’t family, but we were bound across history with many marriages. Cousin was just one more of those exchanges in a long list of them. That’s when I realized that I would have to be the one to tell Uncle the fate of his daughter. Cousin was kidnapped, possibly killed by pirates. At least, she wasn’t eaten by a slime.

“Who is this now?” His question caused me to finally pull away and look to the top of the ramp.

I was surprised to see Zoe standing there. She had remained inside the ship throughout the entire landing, only to come to the deck now. I had honestly thought she might remain in hiding while I was docked. She was a monster, after all. Although I wouldn’t hurt her, I honestly had no clue how anyone else would react to her.

“Ah, that…” I froze, unsure of how to answer.

“Citadel.” She spoke the word, kicking me out of my stupor.

“Ah! Yes… she’s the Governess from the Citadel!”

If she could play the part of the Governess, then this just might work. Ships from the Citadel were always different. Although the ship the Governess had come on wasn’t much different than the standard transport ships I had seen, the Citadel was a strange and mysterious place. It was possible that they had some weird vessel made of metal.

Uncle’s eyes widened as he watched the beautiful woman walk down the platform. Although Zoe was a slime, the form she had chosen was a top-notch beauty from the isles, and she’d cause any man to be stunned the first time he saw her. I elbowed my uncle’s stomach to shake him out of it.

“Ah… beauty of the Citadel!” He gave a formal bow, even taking off his hat to do it. “If I may ask, why have you graced these measly docks with your presence?”

He was speaking much more formally now than when he had addressed me. Further, he put down his own dock, which was something I knew Uncle would rarely do. Dock Master’s took pride in their docks like a ship captain took pride in his ship. Father had also told me that insulting a Dock Master’s dock was a quick way to make it so you could never use that dock again. On our island, which only had one dock, that was the equivalent to stranding yourself.

Although, I never knew our Dock Master to take grudges. The longest he had ever punished a man was by keeping him from launching for two weeks after the man had spit on his pier. That alone had caused the fisherman to lose plenty of coins since he started later in the season and missed all the best places. The result was that he never crossed the Dock Master again.

So, for a Dock Master to act so humble to someone who wasn’t family, it spoke volumes to the amount of power and strength the Citadel held across the four islands.

Normally, any person who claimed to be from the Citadel who wasn’t would be asking for death. However, she had the appearance of the Governess and even contained several of her memories. Although her speech was limited, she had managed to say that one word with a clarity that made her indistinguishable from the other woman. She held herself as a woman of the Citadel, and for those of the North and West Island, everyone was known. A new face couldn’t possibly appear without people noticing, and there was no one of her beauty on North island that she could be other than the Governess.

“Ah, actually, Uncle, we need to speak.” I cut in, knowing that Zoe wouldn’t be able to carry a conversation. “It’s important.”

He straightened up, glancing me up and down with a frown. I had run up on him too quickly before, but now he could see that I had only one eye, and was missing a hand. As he made each of these observations, he couldn’t help but wince.

“Something has happened.” He didn’t ask, but gave a statement.

I nodded dumbly, wiping my dirty cheek with my hand. “It’s bad.”

He nodded, his usual jovial smile being replaced with a stern look as he grabbed my shoulders and turned me toward the shore while waving for Zoe to follow. “Alright, my boy, I have a hundred questions for you, so there is no use beating around the bush. First of all, why did the Governor know you were coming a day ago? He gave me orders to detain the people on board. When I saw it was you at the helm… well, let’s just say we don’t have a lot of time-“

“Halt!” A voice called before we were halfway off the dock.

A group of people approached. By the outfit, the man looked to be the Magistrate. He had a long powdery wig, and a long black robe. He was surrounded by a dozen armed men. They all were following the Magistrate, but they didn’t look organized or comfortable in their position. West Island was much larger than North Island, but still a place too small to require very much in the ways of guards. These looked to be a few tough men who were handed weapons and told to look intimidating.

“Shit… I had hoped I had more time. Even after I tried to keep things silent.” Uncle muttered under his breath as he stopped in front of me, his large form partially protecting me.

“Peters…” The Magistrate nodded firmly, blocking our current route.

“Driedon, what is the meaning of this?” Uncle demanded.

“You’re the Dock Master. You should tell me. I had to find out second-hand that you were bringing strangers onto the island, despite the Governer’s recent decree.”

“Hardly strangers.” Uncle snorted. “This is my nephew! They are from North Island. This is hardly the mysterious ship the Governor warned us about.”

“And what of that woman?” He responded, not showing my uncle any respect as he pointed over his shoulder.

“She’s from the Citadel! We already knew that Miles would be traveling to the Citadel with the Governess. A stop like this is a bit late, but it’s hardly a need for alarm.” Uncle laughed, trying to remain jovial, despite the tense creases in the corner of his eyes.

“And where is the rest of the crew?” He demanded. “You wouldn’t say that is the least bit strange?”

The Dock Master’s face finally turned ugly as his patience reached an end. “Of course, this is strange! Do you not see the state of my nephew! I was taking him to get to the bottom of this before you so rudely interrupted me. I do not appreciate your tone, Magistrate. You’re stepping on my dock here!”

“If you were doing your job, I wouldn’t have to! The Governor was clear. Any strange guests are to be taken in immediately!”

I found myself taking a step back as I started to realize that something was wrong here. Zoe had turned away from us, and had her arms crossed, frowning as she glared at the dock. Two dock hands were boarding the ship now. She went to stop them, but I grabbed her hand before she could move. Our movements were noticed by the Magistrate, who made a gesture, causing the men to move forward.

“What do you think you’re doing!” Uncle tried to bare the men, but they shoved him aside, two even going so far as to grab him and restrain him. “This is intolerable! Don’t think you’ll be allowed on my dock after this!”

When the two men started easing their grip over the threat, the Magistrate turned to them. “Don’t think he’ll even be Dock Master once this is over!”

“You dare!” The Dock Master bellowed in righteous anger.

While he was doing this, I was running back down the dock. “You guys, get away from that ship!”

My bad feeling was growing even worse. The men were trying to grab us. A group of people were walking up the ramp to get on the ship, and they seemed to have greedy expressions in their eyes that I didn’t like at all. They also weren’t dock hands, but they appeared to be like the toughs who had jumped onto the pier from a rowboat trying to get behind us.

“Stop!” The Magistrate ordered as I reached the bottom of the ramp while the two reached the top.

Just then, several things happened at once. A form leapt out from a hiding spot on the deck of the ship. Kate appeared, taking three bounding leaps before jumping at one of the men. He was so shocked that all he could do was stare as she did a flying kick in his chest with both of her feet. He flew off the side of the ship and into the water beyond. The other man let out a scream.

“What is that?”

“It’s a monster!” Another shouted.

They all attacked Kate with their cudgels and daggers, trying to slice and cut her. Kate didn’t stay put, though, jumping across the deck of the ship and avoiding their attacks. At that moment, the men who had shoved passed Uncle reached Zoe. One of the men grabbed her arm. Her free hand suddenly turned into a point and shot out. The point sliced right through the man’s skull. Blood shot across the faces of the other men as they saw their friend impaled by what should have been her arm, but resembled more like a spear.

As he collapsed to the floor dead, the dock broke out into true pandemonium. I cried out, trying to get everyone to back off, but no one was listening. However, with a man dead now, it was far too late for hiding anything. A dozen men were trying to cut Zoe down as she backed up down the dock. Another half-dozen were chasing after Kate as she ran around the ship. My uncle had been forced to his knees. That was when something hard hit me in the back of the head, and the dock faded to black.

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