Chapter 4. The Riftways. (Buccaneer Jones and the Fires of Peace)

The next morning, Big Tim pulled several flintlock pistols from his bag and handed them out. Bucc held the gun as though it were rotten. When nobody was looking, Jesse sniffed hers deeply.

“Right then, you lot,” Big Tim began. “Today we’re going to get your blood fired up with some firepower. Everyone loves bright lights and big bangs. Well, except for the guy on the receiving end. But hey, just make sure that isn’t you and everything’ll be peachy.”

Bucc felt his body lock up. Even without the pistol being pointed at another person, he knew just how much power was resting in a single finger. Long repressed memories began to surface. He remembered the bang and the blood, the two forever entwined in his mind.

Bucc blinked. He was on the floor with a pounding headache. Jesse and Adward stood over him.

“What happened?” he asked groggily.

“You had a panic attack and blacked out,” Adward told him. He handed Bucc a flask of water.

“I can’t do it,” Bucc said weakly. “I just can’t.” 

The siblings helped him back to his feet. Big Tim was standing to the side with a look of concern on his face. He frowned then finished packing away the pistols. Instead he brought out a map and an armful of battered books. He handed them to Adward.

“Looks like that’s enough excitement for one day. You can do some navigation study instead. Only, I’m not so good at reading stars, or books for that matter. So I leave it in young Adward’s hands. Now I need a drink. Don’t bother me unless someone is dying.” He winced and glanced over at Bucc. “Sorry. Poor choice of words. Err, I’ll be over there if you need me.”

Adward was only too happy to talk about the stars. Where Bucc’s passion was plants, and Jesse’s was weaponry, Adward studied the stars and read maps with an unending thirst. His mother had been a cartographer and she had passed that passion on to her eldest child, even though she hadn’t been alive to teach him directly. Jesse knew the basics well enough but didn’t have the raw passion that drove her brother.

Even Adward’s enthusiasm couldn’t lighten Bucc’s mood though. He felt numb and very tired. When the lesson was over he didn’t even bother with supper. He went straight to bed yet found little sleep.

The next morning there was no training. Most of the crew were busy making preparations for a trip through the riftway. Without anything better to do, Bucc moped around his cabin for most of the morning. His stomach rumbled and whined but he wasn’t in the mood for food. The prospect of a journey through the riftway lifted his spirits somewhat, but the knowledge that the Awakening waited on the other side of it stifled any emotion but dread.

By the time that the Seal was ready for the last leg of its journey, Bucc was positively ill with apprehension. It took both Adward and Jesse to drag him from his cabin up to the deck. Most of the crew was already assembled there to watch. 

Captain Gus stood at the helm with a look of concentration on his face. Several maps and compasses were laid out around him. Riftway journeys weren’t uncommon, but each trip needed to be carried out perfectly or risk disaster.

Without knowing what to look for, someone might have missed the telltale signs of a nearby riftway. There was a shimmer in the sky like on a hot day, and a slight static charge filled the air. Bucc could feel a faint pulling at his soul.

As they drew closer, the shimmering air took form, becoming a swirling tunnel through the skies like a near transparent tornado that had been tipped horizontally. The tunnel dipped and weaved erratically. There was no visible beginning or entrance. Getting in and out was all down to the skill of a ship’s crew.

A group of wayfarers had gathered around the railings of the ship in a large ring. Most were crewmen with affinity for air to match the floating riftway. If it had been one that snaked its way below the waves then the bulk of wayfarers would’ve had water affinity. They began to channel their powers and the riftway thrummed in response. 

The captain barked orders as they began their approach. A sheen of rushing air started to form around the Seal. The ship lurched and the bow rose up out of the water slowly until the bowsprit drove into the swirling wall of the riftway. A low vibration shook the ship and reverberated up through the feet of every pirate. 

Light stretched and twisted as the ship crested into the racing torrent of energy. The bubble-like membrane that the wayfarers were maintaining around the ship protected the pirates within. Even so, the pressure increased noticeably. Momentum took hold of the ship and it was launched at great speed along the passageway through the sky.

The world beyond looked distorted as it sped by. Sea and tiny, barren islands zipped past with dizzying speed. What would have taken them days by sea took mere minutes in the riftway. 

Adward was furiously scribbling in the old notebook that he always carried with him. Very few pirates cared for books or documentation. This meant that most knowledge about things like the layout of the riftways was passed down from pirate to pirate by word of mouth. Adward was one of the rare breed that did care.

“Why even bother trying to sketch out the riftway when you know they can be moved with enough wayfarers?” Jesse asked him. “You keep looking for patterns that don’t exist.”

Her brother didn’t look up from his work. “You keep saying that, but it can’t all just be random. There has to be some sense of logic that we’re missing. If somebody figures out the full riftway network then they can trace it back to their origin: The Shores of the Nexus. Then comes the fame and glory, but I’m in it purely for the thrill of discovery.

“If they didn’t find it in the Golden Age then there’s probably nothing to find.”

“Maybe. Legends say that Lord Captain Dread found it, and that’s where he hid his treasure. Wherever he vanished to, he took more gold with him than is in all of the southern sea. My heart says the Nexus is real, and there’s no more accurate compass than that.”

Captain Gus shouted over the low roar that filled the riftway. The pirates braced themselves as the wayfarers strained to wrestle control of the ship’s direction. The captain span the wheel and the Seal veered into the swirling wall. There was a moment of calm then the vibrations that shook the ship grew to an almost unbearable level.

They tore through the side of the riftway and fell into the ocean below with a splash. The Seal rocked slightly then steadied. If they had exited at a higher point then the ship likely would have been smashed to pieces. It was one of the many dangers. 

Bucc looked around. There were no landmarks to tell where they had emerged, which meant they were still a distance from the moonspire. It was risky to leave riftways too close to landmasses. He expected a gentle sail to their destination from here. 

The day was finally drawing near. Tomorrow, Buccaneer Jones would become an adult and full-fledged pirate. Whatever happened, his life was going to change forever.

Previous – Chapter 3. Pirate Practice.

Next – Chapter 5. Childhood’s End.

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