Haunt of Stars
So, tell me again how I am supposed to win at this game, because I dont think Im understanding.
Gam tried to smother his laughter as he collected the cards and began to shuffle. Hadrian flashed him a mock glare, which only made him laugh harder. This game is foul and evil, Hadrian continued. Why would anyone want to wager money on a game that is won by chance?
For the last few days Gam had been teaching Hadrian various card games. It had been another week since the incident with Borley and Hadrian had seen nothing of the pirate or his crew since then. He had also seen nothing beyond the cabin door. The threat of running into Borley again kept Hadrian utterly passive for a few days. After that, he had slowly been losing his mind. Borley no longer found much joy in tormenting Lio so the thief had been around much more often, but he, Gam, and Caled had taken to guarding Hadrian from outside of the room. The sorcerer strongly suspected that Caled was amusing himself by watching the younger man pace the room like a caged animal, though pacing usually implied a freer area to move than a seven-foot strip of ground. Hadrian was about ready to put himself out of his misery with total disregard to the geas that bound him to Caled when Gam took pity on him and started teaching him card games. With the two thieves switching off so they could take time outside the cabin, Hadrian learned quickly. He was surprisingly brilliant at games that required strategy and was soon able to trounce the thieves. In fact, Hadrian had so thoroughly thrashed Lio in a game the day before that the thief had taken the cards, stormed to the top deck, and thrown them off the ship. Hadrian had refused to speak to him until he found another deck to play with. However, games of chance were a completely different matter. Much to the thieves relief, the sorcerer seemed to be absolutely incapable of bluffing.
It thoroughly frustrated Hadrian that he could not win at these games of chance. However, it seemed to greatly amuse Gam and Lio when he pouted over losing so he decided to suffer the humiliation and even played on it. The hours they played had Hadrian whining, pouting, sulking, pleading and begging, much to the thieves enjoyment. The fact that they knew he was acting, due to his horrible skill at it, just seemed to delight them all the more.
Are you a sore loser, Hadrian? Gam asked, choking on his laughter.
Hadrian bristled in mock indignation. Of course not. But cant you let me win just once, Gam? His voice dropped to a soft whine. In the name of friendship?
Gam, recognizing Lios words from two days ago, wagged his finger at the sorcerer. What kind of friend would I be if I let you win through dishonesty?
A good one, Hadrian laughed.
The door to the cabin opened as Gam started dealing out the cards. Careful, Hadrian. Keep this up and well make a liar out of you yet. The amusement in both mens eyes died as they glanced up to see Lios guarded _expression.
Watch from the topmast has spotted the cove, he said.
Hadrian glanced at Gam. How long? Gam asked.
We should be at the Grey Isle shortly before dawn. Borley wants to meet with us to make plans. Lio turned to Hadrian. He seemed unhappy with his next words. Caled said you should stay here, Hadrian.
The last of Hadrians good humor faded. Why?
You know its bad, Hadrian. Please dont make me say it.
Hadrian raised his chin stubbornly. Why? As much as he doesnt like me, I am still a part of this group and I have the right to know whats going on.
Lio threw a helpless look at Gam. He says you will be useless to the discussion, he rushed his words. But honestly, Hadrian, I think it has more to do with precaution. Its still possible for someone in the crew to recognize you.
Hadrian was silent for a moment. Slowly, he picked the cards up of the small crate they were using as a makeshift table and climbed up onto the top bunk.
The thieves glanced at each other. Well let you know whats going on when we get back, Gam promised. Then the two walked out.
Hadrian stared after the door. He had his suspicions about Caleds motives. He wished Caled were locking him up out of jealousy, that the reason he was being left out was out of some fierce possessiveness on the mercenarys behalf but he knew it wasnt so. More than anything, he wished he did not believe Lios first statement. Yet somehow, though he tried to suppress it by practicing shuffling the cards, he felt heartsick at the thought that Caled might believe him useless.
The sun set on the world outside, the light dwindling into darkness. Still Hadrian did not move. When it became too dark to shuffle, he set the cards aside and huddled up, wrapping his arms around his knees. He was determined to wait for the return of his companions.
The light from the full moon poured in through the porthole, illuminating the tiny cabin. A soft breeze gently rustled Hadrians hair. He turned his head, trying to determine where the breeze was coming from. He thought he heard a voice on the air. Hadrian, it seemed to whisper to him.
The ship rocked on a wave. The smooth dipping and rolling motion soothed Hadrian as he looked about the cabin. The shadows cast by the moon deepened. A wisp of movement in the corner of his eye caught his attention. A tiny blue light glimmered in the corner of the cabin, like light through rippling water. It faded in and out for a few moments. The blue appeared again, continuing its glimmering dance as it collected and grew, pulsing with light. Hadrian, the voice whispered, soft as imagination and hauntingly beautiful. Hadrian turned his head slightly, wanting to see where the voice was coming from but hesitant to look away from the beautiful blue light. A gentle calm suffused him and he relaxed into the corner, watching the light. It steadily grew until it was the size of a person as it continued its swirling, hypnotic dance. As he watched, two eyes, bright and beautiful as stars, formed in the mist, lending the light an eerie human quality.
The figure moved forward, drifting slowly towards him. Hadrian stayed settled in the corner. The mist crept over the bed, rolling in shimmering blue light over his body. He shivered; the mist was very cold, like being dipped into a pool of melting snow. As the eyes moved forward, a mouth appeared in the mist so that the ghostly lips hovered over his. Hadrian knew, deep inside him, that this was not natural, that this should worry him, but the walls of the cabin supported him like a firm embrace, making him feel too safe and protected to care. He watched the mouth, his eyes heavy with comfort and sleep. The mist whispered to him, its lips brushing his like a cool breeze. Hadrian ni Leyanon.
Hades, a voice said from a far distance. A firm warmth seeped into his shoulder. The mist began to evaporate quickly.
Dont go, Hadrian whispered, clinging to this vision, ignoring the hand that gently shook him, but the mist was gone.
Hadrian lifted his head away from the wall, blinking his eyes groggily. The sputtering flame of a candle illuminated the cabin, casting dark shadows on the walls. There was no blue light and the world outside the porthole was bathed in darkness. Hadrian sighed, leaning his head back against the wall, shaking the last strands of the dream from his mind. He could see Caled standing in front of him, Lio sitting on the bunk on the opposite wall while Gam stood beside him. All three looked worn and somber.
Hadrian pushed himself upright. What happened? he murmured, his voice still heavy with sleep. Gam passed him a water skin. Hadrian took a drink.
You were having a dream, Lio said.
Hadrian cleared his throat. I realize that. What happened with the meeting?
This time, it was Caled who spoke. We should be at the island shortly before dawn. Once the sun rises, we will disembark and begin searching for the Collars.
We? Hadrian asked. All of us?
Did you want to stay in the cabin? Caled asked mildly.
I was simply asking, Hadrian replied tartly. The stern effect was ruined when he yawned. How long do we have to find the Collars?
Until Borley gets impatient or until we do, whichever comes first, Caled replied.
Dont forget insanity or death by unusual circumstances, Gam added.
Yes, mustnt forget those, Lio said sourly.
Hadrian looked between the three of them. Youre not telling me everything, he said.
Borley and some of his men are coming with us, Caled replied, his _expression dark.
To look for the Collars?
No, to look for everything else, Gam said with false cheerfulness.
So when we go to shore, Hades, you stay with me. Manix is going to take Syellen to see if he cant find anything in any texts that might be left in the city. Lio, Gam, you, and myself are going to immediately start looking everywhere for the Collars, and the Collars only. Do not leave my side.
Lets get some sleep, Gam suggested, crawling onto the bed below Lios. Tomorrow is going to be a long day.
Hadrian stretched out onto the cot as someone snuffed the candle. He rolled over onto his side, pulling the blanket up his body. Suddenly, he felt a warm presence at his back. What were you dreaming about, Hades? Caled said softly behind him.
Hadrian froze, remembering the chilling blue mist. Nothing, he replied, he voice tight. For some reason, he did not want to tell Caled about what he saw.
You talked in your sleep, the mercenary replied. His deep, quiet voice felt far too intimate. Hadrian shuddered. You said Dont go. Whom were you talking to?
The younger man swallowed. It was not you if that is what you are wondering, he said, trying to sound cold. Unfortunately, his voice trembled slightly.
Caled was silent for a moment, and then his warm presence was gone. Hadrian heard the rustling on the blankets beneath him. He lay still for a moment, wanting to think about his dream and his discussion with Caled, but the lure of sleep was too great. His lids slipped down as he felt a cool and gentle breeze on the back of his neck.
Hadrian, it whispered.
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