Well, this is it.
I stood on the docks with the rest of Bad Company, looking around at the marina of Xa for what was gonna be the last time. Any second now, the signal would be given for us to board, and we'd slip quietly away before the city and the islets it sat on were plunged into the ocean.
How did I feel about it? To be honest, I was trying really hard not to feel anything. I'm usually pretty stoic, but this job was harder than most.
Pull yourself together.
I shook off what reluctance I could, stepping quickly from foot to foot. I usually don't feel nerves, and if I do I don't show 'em, but all I wanted to do right now was get off this bloody island. Just sail away and never come back, never have to think about what I'd done.
Before, I'd just been an accomplice. But last night... I'd become something more. Last night, I'd gone from accomplice to perpetrator. I wasn't just standing by watching genocide take place (which was already bad enough); I was actively helping advance a cause that I found disgusting, a cause that would destroy the lives of hundreds of people.
My feelings don't matter. Just do the job.
That was it: I'd already done the job. I'd done it under the cover of darkness, with no one but the stars watching me. The job was done; the murder was planned and prepared for, and I'd helped. Oh, I'd done my job alright. I'd done it like I do all my jobs: to the best of my ability. One has one's reputation and all that. One has one's pride.
For the sake of my pride, a thousand people were about to die.
* * * Several hours earlier, in the middle of the night * * *
The moon was new; only the stars lit up the quiet Xa-Koro harbour. The marina was still as a graveyard; only the faint lapping of the waves broke the silence; only the gentle bobbing of the various watercraft gave any indication that this was real life, and not a painted scene.
Xa-Koro was a city of criminals and ne'er-do-wells; consequentially, the city had no police force. Unlike the other Koros, it had never installed any sort of law enforcement. The only things akin to something sort of mildly resembling a police force were the various gangs and factions that extorted money for “protection” and then spent said money on violent and destructive turf wars.
Until Aurelia came.
A being more angel than mortal, the merchant queen had cradled the broken city in her arms and taught it to walk again. Under her loving care, Xa-Koro had been allowed to prosper. A large part of this was due to the efforts of Bad Company: they were the city's new police force; they were the law. They kept the peace, and scoured the sin from the streets.
Before Aurelia, it would have been up to each individual sailor and captain to watch over his ship. The vast numbers of violent and malicious individuals in Xa would have robbed or sank an unguarded vessel out of spite.
But now the criminals were gone, either killed, put in prison, or reformed in time to be saved from the first two fates. Even so, Senegal always placed a watch over the marina; there was to be no theft or vandalism while he was in charge of the Koro.
Tonight, on the eve of Xa-Koro's destruction, that watchman was a female Vortixx: Jin. With a stunning figure and the ability to knock out a fully-grown Skakdi in under thirty seconds, she was equally loved and feared throughout the city.
That love was undeserved, however, as would be proved tonight, under the cover of darkness.
The harbour was filled with boats of various shapes and sizes. Some small dinghies obviously belonged to poor fishermen; larger pleasure craft were owned by the few wealthy that had not yet been punished for money-laundering or similar crimes. The remaining multitude had sails and motors and oars; they were made of wood, metal, and any substance able to be used as a patch.
Tonight, for the first time in weeks, while Captain Senegal tried and failed to drink his cares away, these vessels would be vandalized, booby-trapped, and meddled with, and by the very woman charged with protecting them.
Tonight, under the dark of the moon, there would happen betrayal of the lowest kind: the kind that preys on those who already have so little, leaving them with nothing, and sailing away with everything.
It is as a great Teacher once said: “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. “
The night was at its darkest, coldest point when the Vortixx made her move. While patrolling the docks, she slipped behind one of the larger pleasure craft; one of the fancier ones driven by a powerful motor. With neither splash nor ripple, she slipped into the water, and, diving down, located the propeller. Swiftly, she tied a small, round object to one of the fins, and then rose noiselessly to the surface.
This process was repeated many times, once for each of the craft driven by mechanical ingenuity. Upon the ignition of the engine, the propellers would begin to spin, and the fragile spheres attached would quickly explode.
For these spheres were Madu Cabolo, dear reader, some of which were acquired by the Vortixx quite some time ago.
Also tampered with were those boats propelled by the wind: those with sails. The knife the Vortixx wielded was razor sharp, and slid through the rough fabric with ease. Upon unrolling the sails, all mariners on the vessel would be shocked to see their means of propulsion hanging in tatters.
This task, too, was accomplished swiftly and quietly. Aurelia had lulled the city to sleep, and this treachery was neither seen nor heard.
The vessels of the poor were not spared. Those boats driven solely by strength of limb had their oars snapped almost in half with little but a muffled crunch to signal their breakage. They were still joined together, yes, but only by a few fragments of wood that would quickly give way upon use. Should a fisherman attempt to paddle out of the marina, his oar, after several strokes, would quickly snap and leave him drifting.
To finish the job, the Vortixx punctured a hole in every lifeboat that any larger ship might hold. Lifeboats and dinghies saved for an emergency were brutally penetrated by the deadly knife; no one would notice their damage until there was actually an emergency, and by then it would be too late.
Before sunrise, every boat had been victimized by the Votixx's betrayal. She resumed her patrol, slightly wet, but otherwise giving nothing away as to the nature of her nighttime activities. Her treachery had not been seen; no one knew of her betrayal. The city, so long a cesspit of violence, had, at last, known peace for one night. The merchant queen's lullaby had held true.
* * *
The call sounded to board the ships. I pulled myself out of my thoughts long enough to smile coyly at Dor as I walked up the gangplank; he was still handsome, if in a more weather-beaten way. But even Dorian Shaddix couldn't keep my thoughts away from what I'd done.
Today, when the Isles went down, there would be no escape from Xa-Koro. I'd done a good job, all right. Most definitely the best mercenary you could hire.
But as I looked out over the bustling city, unaware of its impending doom, somehow I found myself wishing I was anything else than the best traitor around.
Today, I wasn't the greatest mercenary ever. Today, I was the best murderer in the world.