That evening and the next day passed by like a dream. They were in occupied territory, on the verge of a battle they couldn’t win, yet it all felt strangely idyllic. Bucc was on dry land and his mum was showering him with attention without any pretense of making him embrace the pirate lifestyle. He was scared and he missed his friends, but all the doubts and fears about his own future seemed to have faded away. He knew what he had to do, and while he didn’t like it, there were no murky grey areas to get lost in. Somehow, that was oddly comforting.
He and Milla had kept their heads low on the chance that their descriptions had been spread among the Ashenna. Despite her agreement, it was clear that the wait was grating at the girl. Bucc didn’t see her relax even for a moment. For her, the day passed by in a series of mundane tasks to stave off her agitation. She did at least eat some food though, and while Bucc couldn’t be sure that she had actually slept, she’d a few hours of uninterrupted rest.
This brief time of peace passed by quickly. Before Bucc knew it, the handful of pirates had assembled and the time had come to make their escape. Bucc, Milla, his mum, and four other former Seal pirates gathered together in the small house with what meagre supplies they could find.
“They took our weapons. Anything more dangerous than a knife was confiscated as part of the Ashenna laws. We’re going to be outgunned until we can grab some firepower of our own,” Bucc’s mum explained to them.
Shayla, climbed down from her shoulder and stuck its nose into one of the pouches around her waist. The cat lifted its head back with an item in its mouth that was wrapped in cloth. It gracefully pulled itself up onto her arm and offered the object to Bucc.
“I wanted to give this to you after your Awakening but events got away from us. I’ve carried it with me ever since.”
Bucc carefully unwrapped the item. As the cloth came away it revealed a slender knife with a silver hilt. Every part of it shone with polish. His initials were engraved into the blade just above the handle. As far as knives went it was beautiful in its simplicity.
His mum looked nervous. She wrung her hands anxiously. “I wasn’t sure whether I should give it you. It is a weapon after all. Me and your Pa wanted you to have a custom blade, as is tradition in my family, but we worried it would upset you. I don’t want you to feel that we’re forcing you down a path you don’t want to take. If you don’t want it, I understand.”
Bucc hugged her. “It’s perfect. A knife is just like me. Sure, it can be used to hurt others, but it can also be used as a survival tool, or even something to carve sculptures or art. I shouldn’t be ashamed of my powers, just like a knife shouldn’t be ashamed of its edge. We both just have to use them for good.”
Milla opened the door, interrupting the tender moment. “It’s time. Let’s go.”
“Do you still insist on holding back the Ashenna?”
“Yes. It looks like they have a garrison of six dozen pirates. I’ll draw them in while you steal a boat. Bucc will stop any pursuit, then we meet back up to make good our escape.”
“I’m not happy about you doing this,” Bucc’s mum told her. “I’d forbid you if I thought you’d listen. A girl your age shouldn’t be putting themselves in such danger. It’s suicide.”
Milla made a sound that could have been interpreted as laughter or a dismissive grunt. She flexed her fingers and watched as the vines extended and wrapped around them.
“Just worry about your own safety. What happens to me isn’t your concern.”
“Is she always like this?”
“Pretty much,” Bucc answered truthfully. “She has the skills to back up her words though.”
“If you say so.”
They left the house, and when they were part way down the street, Bucc and Milla split off from the others. The reality of what he was about to do was finally sinking in. They had one shot at this and he had to do everything perfectly.
“Are you sure this is going to work? I can set fire to their sails easy enough, but won’t they just put them out straight away. They have their own flamecasters, and wayfarers can create rain to douse the flames.”
“They’ll be too busy to notice until it’s too late,” Milla said simply. “Just wait until I’ve drawn their attention. Find somewhere safe to watch until then. Don’t help me. Your role is more important. Understand?”
“Got it,” Bucc said with more confidence than he felt. He wasn’t sure that he could sit back and watch her get hurt, but telling her that would achieve nothing.
Milla led them across to the former tavern where the Ashenna pirates had set up their headquarters. She motioned for Bucc to hide behind a low wall nearby while she stepped up to the garrison’s door. She knocked, then waited.
The door opened and a large man stood on the threshold. He towered over the small girl. Before he even had time to look down, Milla punched him in the throat. He clutched at his neck, red faced, and collapsed back. Several Ashenna heard the commotion and came rushing out of the building. Three of them moved to surround her but none had their weapons raised. It was clear that they didn’t see the tiny girl as a threat. Their familiars looked much more on edge and growled threateningly at her.
She thrust out her fist at the first man and a cloud of pollen sprayed out from her sleeve into his eyes. He staggered back, allowing Milla to swivel back towards the other two. Vines erupted from her arms and wrapped themselves around the men’s necks. She used them as anchors to pull herself closer to them until her own delicate hands rested atop their vine-choked throats. The men fell to their knees, coming eye to eye with their assailant. There was no mercy in her cold eyes. Their familiars rushed to help them but were kept back by cracking whips from Milla’s vines.
More Ashenna came running to the scene, this time with weapons at the ready. One fired a pistol at Milla that shattered a wooden post behind her. She ran towards them, her shredded dress giving her the ghostly appearance of a wraith as she moved. Another round of shots were fired and thankfully missed.
Just as she was about to engage with the pirates, Milla sprang back and released a wide cloud of pollen around them. She left the cloud and approached the fallen Ashenna. Two vines wound their way around the handles of the men’s daggers while Milla herself grabbed one of their swords. It looked too heavy for her thin arms but she hefted it in a way that suggested she knew how to use it. The cloud was clearing but she showed no sign of rushing. She began to calmly walk towards them, all three blades held out threateningly before her.
The men ran at her. Two vines shot out at the right-most pirate and wrapped around his wrists, yanking his arms apart. One of the daggered vines lunged into the opening, driving straight into the man’s throat while the second dagger swung around in a high arc to ward off the other Ashenna.
One pirate peeled off from the group at a sprint towards a nearby station equipped with a signal bell. Milla watched him go but didn’t react. Instead her vines lashed out at a nearby stall, causing it to collapse with a series of loud bangs. They fished into the wreckage and began to hurl wood at the guards.
The bell started to ring but the sound was almost immediately overridden by the whoosh of flames as fire erupted across the street. Bucc jumped at the sudden light and heat even in his hidden position. Milla didn’t flinch. A new Ashenna strode into view. He wore more armour than the other guards and his expression was one of grim anger. Milla stared him down without any fear. The man shifted his arms and blasted a fresh stream of flame straight at her.