It ended, and we lay together like youngsters following their first time, entwined on the icy floor. My breath misted in the chill air. Am’aleh had no need to breathe, but she exhaled all the same, giving life to my cloud of steam. It swirled into the shape of a ship with ghostly sails, carving an eldritch wake through the air above us.
“I am glad you returned to me this night. There is a task I would set before you.” She spoke as a cloud meanders through the sky, slow and delicate yet insistent.
“I am yours to command.” Waning waves of bliss still washed through my body.
“A group of treasure hunters discovered an ancient artifact in the catacombs of Scara Brae. It is on a ship bound for Gisela. I would have you intercept this ship, and steal the artifact.”
“What manner of artifact attracts the attention of the great Am’aleh?”
The goddess hesitated, and then floated up in a halo of sparkling steam and sat in her intricate throne. I stood, finding myself suddenly clothed again, and sat in my simple chair facing her.
“It is a relic as old as time itself. A collar and manacles, called the Thaynebinder.”
Thaynebinder. That lone word hung in the air like an unholy curse. I did not need to ask after the abilities of such an artifact.
“If this relic falls into the wrong hands on Corone, it could be devastating… for me, or for one of my brethren. It is too powerful an item to tarry in the hands of mortals. You must steal the Thaynebinder, and cast it into the sea.”
“What is the name of the ship that bears this precious cargo?”
“The Deadman’s Trove.”
I drew a sharp breath. I had bought passage on the Trove in the past. The pirate ship kept finding ways into my life. The corsairs who crewed her boasted of their discretion, and their determination to finish every job they received. Whoever hired them to transport the relic had chosen wisely. Doubtlessly they would deliver the artifact on time… unless someone stopped them at sea.
“Your whim commands me. I will do as you have asked, on one condition. When the Thaynebinder sleeps on the bottom of the ocean, we will speak of the ways in which one rises to godliness.”
“We will speak of it.” Her form of still water shifted with the slightest nod. “Go now… I will send a friendly current to carry you on your way.”
Her body bubbled and boiled and then burst into a thousand tiny droplets. The floating fortress of ice vanished along with it, and I dropped into the ocean with barely a splash. The current clutched me, sending me out to sea. I swam with it, kicking powerfully and pulling stroke after stroke toward my unseen destination.
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