Distant Reaches - The Sixth Taste

Imperial Archives / The Sixth Taste

The Sixth Taste

The Sixth Taste
So many rumors swirled around Lorenzo Stratton and his supposed partner in crime, Lord Deimos. How many of them could be true? Art by Shay Plummer.

The Wandering Sage departs from the Cape of False Promise at sunrise and sets sail for Amalcross.

The voyage is approximately three-thousand-three-hundred-eighty-four nautical miles northwest and should take no more than seven days for the topsail schooner.

She bears two masts and eight twelve-pounder carronades. She’s typically hired to deliver messages and ferry dignitaries who cannot be magicked. But for this journey, she has been repossessed and commissioned to a new captain to transport his captive.

Just a few weeks ago, Captain Ario ‘ja Hawthorne had been a lowly warrant officer. Then one day, quite by chance, he stumbled upon the second most-wanted man in the Empire: Lorenzo Stratton, drunk at a tavern and moaning something about curtains. Ario recognized the man immediately.

Everyone in the Reaches has seen the wanted poster and the striking photo of the handsome killer in his mid-twenties, smiling miserably. Despite the decades that had passed since the notorious photo was taken, the man did not appear to Ario to have aged a day. And anyway, he’d recognize that face anywhere. After all, the bounty is worth two-hundred-thousand drams if brought in alive.

It is a large sum of money. A life-changing sum.

And soon enough, with his new shipunder sail, the bounty will be Captain Ario ‘ja Hawthorne’s.

Of course, there is one bounty worth more: That of Lorenzo’s supposed partner, an Uncanny being known only as “The Great Evil.” A crude drawing of a creature — some amateur cross between a manticore and a dragon — is the only depiction of it. No one has ever laid eyes on this creature and lived.

Except, perhaps, for Lorenzo Stratton, the notorious gun-for-hire, the man once called “The Fastest Gun in the ‘Cross.” Rumor has it, Lorenzo’s done more than just look at The Great Evil. It is said he’d joined forces with it.

For forty years, their bounties awaited collection. And now Lorenzo Stratton is held prisoner, under lock and key, in the deepest hold of The Wandering Sage.


Down on the orlop deck, Lorenzo stares impassively at his captor, standing outside the glowing iron bars of his cell.

The Imperial Magus herself had enchanted the cage to negate the magic of any of its captives.

The second dogwatch was beginning. Though usually the time for supper, no dinner bells would ring tonight, for, shortly after noon, Flannigan the cook had informed Ario that all the victuals had been contaminated. All the foodstuffs were spoiled and rotted, from those held in the casks to the salted beef and dry biscuits that could withstand years-long trips.

Flannigan, distraught, alleged it was due to a curse brought on by Lorenzo. But Ario dismissed the notion immediately. The cook is an uneducated man who lacks the discipline of an enlisted sailor. He is a favorite amongst the crew because he feeds them and regales them with his spirited personality. But he is prone to superstition and dramatics.

Captain Ario ordered the crew to cast fishing nets and lines off the bow’s railing. They could catch their next meals fresh.

Ario, however, can starve if he needs to. He is hungry for bigger fish.

He can already taste the glory.

Now, Ario considers the handsomeness of Lorenzo’s still-youthful face. It must be true that the magic of the Uncanny really has stopped him from aging. How many of the other rumors are true, as well?

“They say you can control him,” Ario says. “That The Great Evil listens to you.” He straightens his fresh captain’s coat. Brushes a tassel. He hopes the prisoner buys this performance.

“Can anyone truly control another?” Lorenzo responds. “Take away their freedom so completely that even their thoughts belong to you?”

“Don’t be obtuse,” Ario snaps. Then bites his lip. He’s never been the stoic type, anyway.

“Oh,” Lorenzo says with a smirk, “you mean in the sense that a captain controls his crew.”

Ario knows the prisoner doesn’t take him seriously. Ario knows he’ll have to disabuse the prisoner of that notion.

He draws a flogging whip from his waist belt and unwinds the long leather thongs studded with barbs.

“Perhaps you need some persuasion,” Ario says.

Lorenzo grimaces. “Put that away, please.”

“Tell me how to catch him,” Ario says.

“All right,” Lorenzo says, “but it’s a long story.”

The new captain grins. That was easy.

“We have time,” Ario says.


Lorenzo begins:

“The first time I saw him was outside of a tavern in Boer Valley. I was hunting another bounty at the time worth fifteen-thousand drams, a man called Scargrove. I wasn’t the only one.

“I’d followed Scargrove into an alley, intending to kill him whilst his pants were down. Before I could, another man appeared. He had a proud patrician face and a haughty expression that made me think that he was going to scold Scargrove for public indecency. Instead, the man stretched out his arms as if beseeching the heavens. A sharp popping noise was all the forewarning I received.

“I hid behind a barrel and watched as the stranger’s shadow elongated tenfold in the dim moonlight. His human skin ripped open to unveil another being underneath. I knew then that he was The Great Evil. With his giant jaws, he clamped onto Scargrove’s head and tore it clean off. Blood gushed everywhere as the body fell in upon itself.”

Ario cries out. “The Great Evil is a cannibal!” Of all the depraved and vile acts, of course in this one such a hideous beast would partake.

“It’s only cannibalism if the meat is of the same species,” Lorenzo says. “And besides, we all know of unfortunate folks who have been forced to eat the flesh of their comrades to survive.”

“It’s better to perish as a gentleman,” Ario says, “than to survive as a savage.”

“May I continue, Sir?” Lorenzo snarls.

Ario tightens his jaw and waves Lorenzo on.

“The creature then vanished, leaving me blessedly undiscovered.

“But I had caught the scent. Scargrove’s bounty wasn’t just a pittance compared to The Great Evil’s, it was an insult. I was the best of Emperor Rorei’s contractors. I wanted a challenge worthy of my reputation.

“I made some inquiries. I discovered when the Uncanny was in its human form, it had assumed the name of Lord Jaeger Deimos and worked as a trader. But though I had uncovered his identity, I knew it would be difficult to subdue an Uncanny Being alone. I needed to discern his weakness and use that to entrap him. It was my good fortune that soon Deimos needed a clerk: I had seen to it that his previous one ‘deserted’ him.

“I was hired. The job was easy. I cataloged inventory, scheduled shipments, and assessed payments. I was mostly alone in the office while Deimos met with buyers.

“One day, Lord Deimos informed me we were going to Jyogo for a meeting with the spice merchants. We would take an overnight train. I’d thought Deimos did not care for me, as we hardly had conversed. In truth, he devised the meeting as a sort of vacation.

“The train ride began tamely. We settled into our rooms and had dinner in the dining cabin. I ordered several glasses of brandy in the hopes of loosening his tongue, but instead they loosened my own. When we retired to the balcony outside of the lounge cabin, Deimos asked me if I liked my job.

“He was asking about my position as his clerk, but I answered as if we were talking about hunting bounties. It wasn’t that I liked or disliked being a bounty hunter, but I resented the fact that I had no choice in the matter.

“My father was a greedy man who always wanted more. He’d taken out a loan with Sangus Capital to pay his gambling debts — unbeknownst to my mother and me. I was sixteen when he died. My mother and I were left penniless.

“At the funeral, a Sangus Capital collector named Ricardo approached me. He told me my father’s debts were now my responsibility. Though the sum owed was exorbitant, I refused to work in one of their death mines or allow those leeches to take my blood. I become a bounty hunter, instead, with a percentage of each bounty claimed by Sangus as the debt steadily accrued interest.

“‘The poor cannot choose their profession,’ I told Deimos bitterly.

“He put a hand on my shoulder.

“‘Even if you did not decide to be here, you chose to be here. There is a difference,’ he said.

“There was such conviction to his words, I almost wanted to tell him the truth.

“Flushed from the spirits and the wind — and him — I set my eyes upon the moon. It was a waning crescent.

“‘A sliver of choice is mine,’ I told him, “but it’s soon eclipsed by someone else’s. All I see is darkness.’

“‘Are you afraid of the dark, Lorenzo?’ he asked.

“I laughed at the thought.

“‘I am,’ he responded. ‘Especially during a new moon. I feel most alone on a moonless night.’

“The silence was heavy between us.

“‘You’re not alone, now,’ I heard myself say.

“I faced Lord Deimos. The lights from the cabin window behind us gave an ethereal glow.

“It was then I chanced upon a familiar face inside: Ricardo, my debt collector from Sangus.

“I formed a smile for both Deimos and Ricardo. ‘Let me bring you a nightcap,’ I said to Deimos and slipped inside.

“I headed for the dining car, knowing Ricardo would follow.

“‘You’re past due, Lorenzo,’ Ricardo hissed behind me. I felt his eyes gleaming with the same bloodred color as his dagger. Because I failed to collect on the Scargrove bounty, my payment to Sangus defaulted.

“‘Listen,’ I said, ‘I can pay. I just need a few more days.’

“Ricardo agreed to extend the date a couple more days when I explained I was closing in on The Great Evil’s bounty. However, as collateral, he required to know the identity of The Great Evil.

“To seal the deal, Ricardo produced an amended contract: I had two days to apprehend Deimos; the bounty would pay my debt in full. But if I failed to do so, my debt would double and Ricardo would receive eight vials of my blood every day for the rest of my life. We both signed, and I placed the carbon copy in my breast pocket.”


Ario cuts in: “I thought six vials was the maximum amount a bloodletter is allowed.”

He has only heard of Sangus’s collectors, but they all have the same cavernous, starved expressions in his mind.

“Imbibing human blood is fine, but ingesting human flesh is not?” Lorenzo asks.

“I— but—” Ario sputters. At least the practice is state-sanctioned! “They don’t kill their quarry,” he says.

“Ah,” Lorenzo replies. “They would if they could. They’re insatiable. But the only thing they want more than blood is money. It’s our debt that keeps us alive.”

The darkness from the lone porthole window makes Ario realize he’s lost track of time. He stands.

“We shall continue this later,” he says.

He leaves and ascends to the upper deck. The near-full moon is high in the sky.

The sailor patrolling the starboard side salutes him weakly, as if lacking the energy. Captain Ario opens his mouth to reprimand the man but realizes he forgot ever learn the sailor’s name. There are twenty-one crew aboard, excluding himself and the prisoner, and Ario’d had little time for introductions.

Not that it matters. Ario plans to replace them all once he collects the bounty.

As Ario approaches the quarterdeck, he sees the figures of Commander Perry Gustavo and the cook, Flannigan. He thinks of them as a pair of conspiratorial penguins, both round in the middle and balding on top.

Gustavo is twenty years’ Ario’s senior and, like Flannigan, had served under the previous captain for about as long. He has a casualness about him, often forgoing his officer’s coat when in the warmer lower decks, and so easygoing the sailors joke with him.

Captains often hire the same crew for new assignments, but such familiarity could lead to an obfuscation of rank. Which is something Gustavo is bordering upon. The seamen treat him more like a friend than a superior officer.

“Commander,” Ario barks. Both men jump to attention. “Have the nets yielded any fish?”

“Alas, no,” Gustavo says. He frowns. “The lines, Sir. They’ve all snapped.”

Gustavo gestures to the reels and nets strung along the railing. None of the lines feed into the water. Every line has been cut short, their frayed ends blowing in the ocean breeze like thin white flags.

“These cables are rated at a seven-thousand-pound break strength,” Gustavo says. “I do not know what sort of creature has the bite to cut through it.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it, Cap’n,” Flannigan adds. “It’s unnatural”.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ario says with a wave. “These lines are simply worn and in dire need of replacement. Clearly my predecessor was too lax with the maintenance checks.” He turns and points an accusatory finger at the cook. “I order you, stop with these baseless fancies. You’re spreading dissension.”

Flannigan opens his mouth, but it’s Gustavo who speaks first.

“Yes, Sir,” he says. “We’ll replace the lines when we dock.”

“Aye, Cap’n,” Flannigan mutters, his head down.


There is no meal the next morning.

Ario descends to the orlop deck, his empty stomach whining. He ignores it. Those who cannot control their desires belong to the bottom dregs of society.

“What, no breakfast?” Lorenzo asks in greeting.

Ario is under no obligation to feed his prisoner.

“Once you tell me what I need to know,” Ario says, “I’ll give you something to eat.”

Lorenzo grins.

“That’s the interesting thing about eating,” he says. “It’s a carnal pleasure, and yet we cannot wholly abstain from it. What with my father’s debts, we could not afford to derive real pleasure from food. Eating was a means to an end. It wasn’t until Jyogo, with Lord Deimos, that I realized how much I had been missing.

“After my encounter with Ricardo, I resolved myself to carrying out the bounty. Once I captured Deimos, I would be free. And I could do whatever I so wished.

“When Lord Deimos and I arrived in Jyogo, the vitality of the city took me aback. Every building was painted in a different vibrant hue. The people wore long colorful tunics that billowed in the breeze. The vendors of the open-air markets lining the streets jingled bells and hawked exotic wares.

“Our meeting took place at one of the spice repositories, a silo taller than this ship that held all that season’s harvested spice. The sheer wealth of it all was awesome.

“‘Have you ever been to a spice ceremony, Lorenzo?’ Lord Deimos asked me after the meeting. A mule with a strange hump trundled by.

‘‘‘I’ve never even heard of a spice ceremony,’ I replied. And it was then I realized just how shallow the depth of my knowledge was. My whole world had been limited to Amalcross and the reach of the Amal Empire. And even then, only in the context of work.

I had never truly explored. I had never truly lived.

“‘I think we should change that, don’t you?’ Lord Deimos asked.

“I didn’t disagree.

“The spice ceremony was held inside a massive yellow tent. A cutting miasma of spice and incense hovered over everything. Two Salavasters performed an intricate ritual of measuring and dispensing the precious spices that symbolized the creation of their islands.

“The Salavasters gave us several bowls of spice, along with the accompanying traditional Salvaster dishes. The first bowl was dyfwrych spice, known to give diners a sixth taste. The Salavaster instructed me to cup my hands around the spice and inhale deeply, then eat the dish beside it.

“It all seemed outrageous and ineffective. But Lord Deimos encouraged me to try a bite of the first dish, some type of cookie. When I bit into it, I felt my heart swell. I could taste the love that had gone into making the cookie. It was as if I could feel the care and devotion the baker had put into rolling out the dough.

“I gasped and grabbed Lord Deimos’s hand to steady myself.

“‘I’ve never tasted anything like this,’ I said stupidly. ‘I’ve never felt anything like this.’

“To which Deimos replied, ‘This is only the beginning, Lorenzo.’

“Whether he meant it was only the beginning of the ceremony or the beginning of our relationship or both, I only knew I wanted more. I could taste veracity, somehow, and I knew what I had to do.

“It was as if I was reborn with the consumption of each dish. My worries of bounties and drams vanished, replaced with the sights, smells, and tastes of life and culture. Colors were more vivid, sounds more melodic, physical touch more thrilling. It was intoxicating. I felt free to do whatever I wanted. And I wanted to try everything.

“When we arrived back at the inn, I told Lord Deimos there was still one more sample I wanted to taste.

“He guffawed. ‘I believe you have tried every cart in Jyogo,’ he said. ‘What else is there you wish to try?’

“I answered with my lips. I devoured the night inside of him, and he the night in me. We stumbled into my room together. I hastily tossed my coat aside. And—”

Ario recoils and gags, his lips curled in disgust. “You slept with that monster?”

There are rumors Lorenzo and The Great Evil had somehow consummated their pairing. But for such a thing to be true?

“Such an inflammatory word, monster,” Lorenzo says. “Tell me, what makes one a monster?”

“You said it yourself,” Ario says. “His — appearance!”

“How superficial, Captain ‘ja Hawthorne,” Lorenzo says. “It’s what’s inside that counts.”

“Mm,” Ario sneers, “like the contract inside your coat?”

“Indeed,” Lorenzo says, his face darkening. “I had forgotten all about that damned document. And, of course, when I threw my coat onto the floor, it fell out.”


Both Ario and Lorenzo jump. Something has struck the ship’s hull. Lorenzo faces the sole porthole window as Ario approaches it to look outside.


A gray, slimy object bursts upon contact with the porthole. It’s a fish. The remains slide slowly down, leaving behind a trail of residue.


Ario watches schools of gray fish launching themselves at the boat. Frantic shouts echo from the decks above them.

Ario races to the upper decks. There, the sailors duck and huddle beneath any overhanging object to protect themselves from the storm of hailing gray fish. It’s as if the fish are desperate to escape from something in the sea with them.

Then, sudden as the end of a nightmare, it’s over.

Most of the fish have died mid-flight. A few flail about on the deck, eyes already whitening.

Flannigan is the first to speak.

“Finally, something to eat!”

He stabs a knife into the belly of one fish and slices it open. But a putrid black substance spills out instead of pink intestines.

The cook rears back in revulsion. “It’s — spoilt!” he stammers.

The other sailors pull out their own daggers, each opening a fish to release decay and that rank smell.

Ario hears the questions, the gasps, the murmurs of terror and despair. “How can this be?” someone asks. “We’re cursed,” a seaman cries.

Ario grits his teeth. His left brow twitches. These men have no sense of pride! A few dead fish would do them no harm, yet here they are wailing like children.

“Cap’n Ario,” Flannigan says. He rises from his knees and wipes the knife on his apron. “We must release the prisoner. He’ll kill us all.”

“Are you giving me orders?” Ario shouts.

But Flannigan only creeps closer.

“Don’t you see, Cap’n?” Flannigan is mere feet away from Ario, his knife outstretched. “We’ll never make it to Amalcross with him on—”


A shot rings out. The deck goes still with silence. Even the rocking of the ocean seems to freeze.

Then, with a pained grunt, the cook collapses. A dark jet of blood rushes through his stubby, clutching fingers, blooming across the chef’s apron.

Who fired the shot, Captain Ario wonders. Only Captains are allowed firearms at sea. Then he notices the blood splatter on his white coat. When had he unholstered his gun?

“Back to work!” Ario orders. He can hardly breathe. He must regain order.

One of the seamen stands. Ario can’t remember the man’s name, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is who’s in charge. And Ario is the one in charge, the captain of The Wandering Sage. Ario’s the one who tells these men what to do.

“Did you hear me, sailor? Back to your station!” Ario commands.

But the seaman doesn’t stop his approach.


This man, too, drops dead onto the deck. Nobody moves.

“Has everyone forgotten themselves?” Ario yells. “When a captain gives an order, you follow!”

“Heed the Captain’s orders!” Commander Gustavo barks.

As if rousing from a slumber, the men shift and return to their posts. None meet Ario’s eyes.

“And clean this up,” Ario says.

He can only hope the memory of the men he’s just killed will wash away with the blood.


A small pistol with four iron shells.
Only a captain is allowed a pistol at sea. Art by Shay Plummer.

“What happened next?” Ario asks.

He sits heavily across from his prisoner, who seems to have something else on his mind.

“Well,” Lorenzo continues, “Lord Deimos found the incriminating contract. I thought he’d kill me. Instead, I was met with sorrow.

“‘You knew what I am all this time,’ he said, ‘and yet, you weren’t afraid?’

“I wasn’t afraid of him. But I was too ashamed to answer.

“‘Forget the bounty,’ he said. ‘Come with me.’

“I wanted to, more than anything. But if I absconded with him, I’d breach my contract and Ricardo would pursue me. I’d be running for the rest of my life. It was my chance to finally be free. But was it a life worth living without him?

“But I said none of this to Deimos. I kept my face down.

“‘Remember,’ he said, ‘you always have a choice.’

“Then Deimos left me.”

Ario sighs, exasperated. “Why didn’t he kill you?”

Lorenzo meets Ario’s cutting eyes. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“No,” Ario says.

Lorenzo nods. “Alone, I realized my mistake. My heart seized with a pain so severe I thought death would be a relief. Why is it we never know what we desire until it’s gone?

“My debts were immaterial. So was my contract with Ricardo. I emptied my bank account and hired the fastest enchanted carriage I could find. When the carriage reached the rear of the speeding train, I grabbed hold of the railing and climbed aboard. I knew Ricardo and the other leeches would be in the first-class cabins.

“But there was another cabin I saw to first. It was in the coach section, padlocked from the outside. Inside was a poor soul who paid his debts in blood. He was already half-dead, having been drained repeatedly over the course of several days. He let out a low moan as I entered and begged me to end his misery.

“I knelt by his side and cupped his sunken face. ‘Soon,’ I told him. Then I pressed a flask to his desiccated lips.

“It isn’t easy to kill a blood-letter. Bullets can’t pierce their flesh, and sunlight only damages them temporarily. So I gave this man a special kind of spice, one rendering the skin much more sensitive.

“The leeches arrived soon after. Ricardo and the others were gluttons. They drained the man of blood and drank. The spice was enough. That, and five bullets.

“‘Quickest gun in the ‘Cross,’ I heard Deimos say. He was behind me, handcuffs already loose on his wrists.

“He smiled. I felt I’d been tricked. How had Ricardo taken him prisoner? I opened my mouth to interrogate Deimos, but when he embraced me and kissed me, my rage dissipated. It was like stars colliding, like fireworks, like—”


It is the sound of a carronade. The recoil vibrates throughout The Wandering Sage, dust drifting down from the decks above.


Commander Gustavo crashes through the door.

“Sir!” Gustavo cries. “The creature is here!”

Ario can’t believe it. How had Deimos found them? Tracing Rends is impossible on a disenchanted ship, and they’d set sail under the utmost secrecy. None but the Emperor knew of Ario’s catch.

And yet, the screams of men carry all the way below deck.


“Captain,” Gustavo says, “Give him the prisoner. He’ll spare us if we give him the prisoner!”

Ario comes back to himself.

“Absolutely not!” He can’t give up now. He has come too far to surrender. He cannot bear the ignominy of returning empty-handed after he’d gained so much. “There is no honor in forfeiture! You will fight, Commander! Rally the men!”


“But, Sir—”

“Are you disobeying me, Commander?”

“It’s a slaughter!” Gustavo says.

Ario screams to say, “I’ve given you my order, Comm—”


Gustavo leaps at Ario, a blade in his hand—


Gustavo crashes against Ario, dead already, his brains glistening atop the porthole window.

There’s motion at the door. Ario whorls his pistol toward it, panting heavily.

Another sailor stands there. Another man whose name Ario does not know. This one hardly has the face of a boy.

“Insubordination is punishable by death,” Ario says. “Are you going to disobey, too, sailor?”

The sailor only stammers, unable to speak through his fear.

There is an order to rank. A chain of command everyone seems to be forgetting. There is a reason only a Captain is allowed a pistol at sea. For situations precisely such as this.

“Return to deck,” Ario says, “and fight the creature!”

The sailor flees.


The carronades fire freely now. The Wandering Sage shivers with each blast. Captain Ario ‘ja Hawthorne turns his wrath toward his prisoner.

“How do I stop him?” Ario says. “How do you control him? Tell me now.”

“You don’t know?” Lorenzo asks. “It’s the basis of every ballad. It’s what people live and die for. It’s the most wonderful thing and the worst thing possible. Ario,” Lorenzo says, “it’s love.”


Multiple fires ravage the quarterdeck, burning through wood and corpse alike.

The crew is all dead.

“Deimos!” Ario calls. Flames and smoke obscure his vision.

If he arrives ashore as the sole survivor, everyone will know he did not go down with his ship. But he just got this boat. He was just made captain. He can’t die yet.

“A parley,” Ario says. He tightens his grip around Lorenzo, using his prisoner as a shield. His white captain’s coat is soiled with filth and blood, his once neat hair in disarray, his arrogant face twisted with desperation. He cocks his pistol and presses the muzzle hard against Lorenzo’s temple.

A tall, well-dressed man emerges from the haze. Moonlight glints off the golden buttons of his suit and the polished leather shoes. No speck of blood or seawater has touched him.

“Please,” the Uncanny says, “be careful with him.” The voice, a low timbre, is still that of a man.

“Let me live and I’ll release him!” Ario says. He struggles to stand. He understands now why Gustavo suggested surrender.

The Uncanny exudes power. His very presence makes Ario tremble. It is too late for Ario’s men, but not for him.

Ario expects Deimos to refuse, or at least counter.

“I concede,” Deimos says quickly.

Ario takes a breath. His cannot reconcile his relief with the ease of this bargain.

But the Captain loosens his grip, and Lorenzo races into Deimos’s waiting arms. The Uncanny mumbles something regarding drapery, but Ario cannot make out the words.

Ario keeps his gun raised. “You’ll let me go?”

“Yes,” Deimos says.

“And we’ll even leave you a parting gift,” Lorenzo says. He smiles and tosses a small canvas satchel to Ario. It lands at Ario’s feet.

Great leathery wings unfurl. Huge scaly paws claw at the wooden deck, and a tail with a horrifying stinger falls across the boards as Deimos unveils his true form, his mouth full of sharp teeth and fire. Thermal waves radiate outward with his every exhalation, refracting the moonlight around them.

Ario’s eyes widen in terror as the monster — no, Lord Jaeger Deimos — drops to one knee. Lorenzo climbs onto his back. Then gales of wind strike Ario’s face as Deimos ascends. He and Lorenzo disappear into the night.

Ario stands alone on his ghost ship. He bends down to retrieve the satchel at his feet, his fingers shaking as he pulls open the folds.

Dread and anxiety fill his mind, but Ario cannot compel himself to throw the thing away. He must know what is inside.

A sudden burst of orange dust plumes around Ario’s face. He drops the satchel, and more powder clouds out when it hits the floor. Ario coughs and gasps. Has he been poisoned?

But after a few deep breaths, Ario feels fine. In fact, his lungs seem clearer. The sea spray crisper. Looking down at the satchel, Ario realizes the powder is spice. Dyfwrych spice, like Lorenzo had told him about, from Jyogo.

Ario blinks and looks at the wrecked ship around him. The lifeboats sinking in the surrounding waters, the enormous holes punched into the deck below, the broken aft topmast. He is stranded.

And he is… he is hungry.

“No,” Ario gasps.

A distinct scent fills his nostrils. Ario’s mouth waters as the smoke drifts towards him. His stomach growls. He follows the scent — that delicious scent — to the men burning around him.

How many days had he not eaten? The spice addles his mind. Something about that sixth taste leaves him drooling and shuddering with anticipation.

Ario knows if he does this he will be discharged, exiled, maybe even executed. Perhaps, he could go on the run, fleeing from city to city, in hopes of outrunning this taste.

But Ario knows he can never flee. That once he tastes it, he’ll never forget it. That it will haunt him forever. That he will never find peace.

Ario looks at the pistol in his hand. He could end it all now. He could go down with his honor. With a captain’s honor.

But the wind shifts.

Ario smells barbeque.

And it smells delicious.

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