The Coming Storm (44.1)

48th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E

Under a sky lit by fireworks and stars, a surging ocean sent a boat careening past the harbor of the Shining Port and smashing through the stone barriers around Tambwe’s upper waters. Pieces of the old fisher washed up along the meter-thin, sandy stretches of beach beneath the cliffs north of Rangda. Puzzled and alarmed by the vessel, Rangdan law enforcement quickly put together a rescue group. Careful to avoid the same fate as the unknowing fisher, Rangdan boats searched carefully along the rocky depths and hidden shallows, while climbing teams dropped down from the cliffs and onto the beaches to comb the debris.

While the rescuers would have rather been drinking and partying under the falling colors of the pyrotechnics displays, they did not openly complain about fulfilling their duties. Rangda was a coastal town, and these people could be fisherfolk and traders that keep the city supplied. Electric torches in hand, the rescuers searched along the beaches, examining the chunks of the boat that had washed up, and keeping an eye out for signs of life. They found pieces of the prow collecting all along the rocks, and identified the boat from one.

It was a Higwean fishing boat, named the Banteng. Judging by all the pieces, it was around ten meters long and not particularly seaworthy. Any expert eye would have found it inconceivable that such a vessel could sail so far from home. Curiously, no net was found, though the boat had its equipment set up for fishing. Having seen this kind of crash occur to larger vessels, the rescuers thought the boat must have been hurled against the rocks by the violent tides and smashed to pieces. There was a slim chance someone survived.

Despite this, for several hours the operation continued.

Though they searched out at sea and beneath the cliffs, all they found was the wreckage. No bodies were found, no personal effects, no signs that the boat had any particular direction. It was as if a ghost fisher had sailed endless days from the Higwe islands just to crash in this lonely strip of rock. Standard procedure dictated the rescue operation would continue where possible until dawn, allowing the sun to shed light on the situation.

Rescuers, however, were more than willing to let this become nothing but a mystery.

To the rescuers, at least for a few hours after dawn, it would remain so.

At the Shining Port, however, a sleepy morning patrolman from the port security found a connected mystery in the form of a pair of unidentified people climbing the port seawall onto one of the warehouse blocks. Spotting them from afar, he at first assumed nothing about the boat crash or security risks, and instead thought they must be port workers or fishers who fell into the water on accident. He ambled over to offer help; then, close enough to get a better look, he saw black leather waterproof cases strapped to their backs.

“Stop!” he shouted, “what are you doing with those? Stop right now!”

He waved his electric torch, the only piece of equipment he was given.

One of the two arrivals then produced a weapon.

At the sight, the port patrolman felt he had died right there in spirit. His whole body tensed, and he took no further step to close the fifty meter gap between him and them.

However, the mysterious man with the waterproof cases put down his gun.

He raised his hands.

He said something in a language the patrolman did not know and kicked the firearm.

It rolled some distance between them.

Confused, the patrolman followed his first instinct and picked up the weapon.

He looked up from the ground as he bent to take the gun.

Neither of the two mysterious port climbers made a move.

Both of them looked rather young.

What were they up to? It was impossible for the patrolman to imagine.

He had heard stories, years ago, of migrants from other nations who tried to take boats illegally into Ayvarta. They were often fleeing the consequences of political actions taken abroad. But these people took boats here. They ended up on the ports and in the beaches. They did not climb sea walls onto the ports. And they did not carry weapons and goods with them! Of course, all of that happened in peacetime, however.

“Easy now,” he said, raising his voice and pointing his newfound zwitcherer pistol at its former owners. He swept his hands toward himself, urging them to follow. They did not appear to share a language with him at all, and so he used his body language to try to communicate. Thankfully, the two strangers, hands up, began to walk as instructed.

Soon he got them to a phone, and called the police. And for a translator. When asked what language he needed to interpret, the patrolman did not know. He had never met an elf or one of the northern barbarians or a hanwan or anything like that; he had no frame of reference. He practically begged the policemen on the line to just take this burden off him.

After he hung up, the wheels of Ayvartan law, lulled to sleep by their distance from battle and by the levity of the last week, began to spin with a sudden, terrifying realization.

By noon, the fate of the Banteng begged more questions than it answered.

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