Jost blew into his cupped hands, hoping his breath would do something about the cold setting into them. A cold night had turned into an even colder morning. The four men next to him were doing much the same as they stamped their feet to try to get some of the feeling to return to their extremities or tucked their hands into their arm pits to try to conserve heat.
Jost was about ready to snap their watcher’s neck if he didn’t get his ass out here. Jost had been up since before dawn when he and his men had slipped away in groups of two from the camp.
The four men he’d chosen for this mission were among some of his most trusted. Every one of them skilled and efficient in setting traps. The only problem was that their quarry had yet to take the bait. Whoever it was wasn’t impulsive.
Jost would be impressed if he wasn’t so damned irritated. He didn’t have the time or patience to be hunting their watcher. He needed to be concentrating on some of his other problems, like a malcontent trying to incite his crew to mutiny or tracking down the men he’d come up here to find. Not sitting on his ass on the frozen ground behind the sparse cover of one of the many boulders littering this ravine.
The trap they’d chosen was simple. Lure their watcher into an enclosed area where they’d set a couple of snares designed to contain their prey until they could question it. If by some chance the prey managed to elude the snares, Jost’s men could still rush it from all sides. In the close quarters of the ravine, there would be no place for the prey to escape.
That’s how he came to be walking around a ravine of rock and ice with Danny as they tried to look harmless and unassuming while the rest waited out of sight.
His men were too well trained to express their frustration but Jost knew it was there. None of them were happy to have to split their focus from their other problems.
He’d give it another hour and then he was calling it.
There was a low whistle. Jost tensed but didn’t move in any way to give away his sudden alertness. He turned his head slowly to Danny. The man shifted his eyes to his lift, indicating without moving that he’d detected something.
Jost frowned and nodded as if Danny had just told him something of utmost importance. He scanned the rock above them without being too obvious about it. For a moment, all he saw was grey and the dingy white of ice that had been mixed with dirt. Then he saw it. A slight shift in some of the rocks above them.
There you are, Jost thought with satisfaction. He gave the other men the signal as he and Danny pretended to converse before setting off for the other side of the ravine.
“How’d he get so close without anyone seeing?” Danny asked in a soft voice.
Jost grunted. That was a good question. He and his men were good at spotting watchers. It should have been easy out here where there weren’t any people for hundreds of miles.
For their prey to slip in until he was right on top of them, without alerting anyone to his presence, it meant he was quite the talented little watcher.
“He’s not biting,” Danny said in a soft voice.
“I know.” Their prey was smart. Smart enough not to fall for their ploy it seemed.
“Think he knows what we’re planning?”
Jost grunted. “It wouldn’t surprise me. We have no idea how long he’s been watching us. He could very well have been there from the beginning.”
Jost silently echoed the sentiment. It seems their watcher might be a little more difficult to capture than they had first assumed.
Jost held a hand out in front of Danny as his other hand dropped to the knife at his waist. Danny stopped, his body alert as he scanned the area around them. He didn’t ask useless questions or make a sound, knowing that Jost wouldn’t have signaled for a stop unless it was necessary.
“I hear something,” Jost said as he stared in the direction they had been walking. They were heading away from their men, hoping the watcher would fall in behind them, allowing the others to slip in behind him.
Danny listened. After a moment he nodded letting Jost know he heard it to.
Voices echoed against the walls of the ravines. There were furtive movements as whoever it was tried to keep from announcing their presence. They hadn’t counted on how these spaces echoed.
Jost signaled the rest of his men to stay put until he called for them.
“Get ready,” he told Danny.
Danny nodded and pulled a throwing dagger out of his boot, hiding it in the cloth of his pants. He turned his body sideways to present a smaller target to whoever was heading their way. The dagger was a good decision. Danny had a few skills that most didn’t know about. Skills that made him and his weapons much more dangerous than they appeared.
Jost took three steps away from Danny so that if they were attacked, their attacker wouldn’t catch them in one spot. He folded his arms across his chest knowing the position intimidated the hell out of most men.
“Are you sure they’re this way?” a voice Jost didn’t recognize asked.
“Yes, yes. Roger says he saw him and the quarter master sneak out of camp early this morning. He said it’s the perfect chance for you to deal with the captain without having to worry about the rest of the crew.”
Jost knew the second voice. The man was in his crew, though he couldn’t recall the name right at the moment. He didn’t always stir himself to learn the names of men who would be gone after a few short months. He might have to change that policy if he made it out of this one alive.
“You’d better not be lying,” another voice threatened. One that had haunted the deepest parts of Jost’s nightmares. The owner of which Jost had been hunting since his world burned to the ground leaving everything he loved covered in ash.
He felt the hot rush of the hunt. His quarry was here and his crew, his traitorous crew, had brought his enemy right to him. He’d feel grateful if it wasn’t for that whole treason part.
A group of men came into view. They stopped upon seeing Danny and Jost waiting for them. There were six of them, including the man from Jost’s crew.
“You said they didn’t know we were coming for them,” the third voice told Jost’s crewmember. The owner of the voice was a man of average height and looks. He had the type of bland features that said he was trustworthy. It was part of the reason Jost’s family hadn’t seen him coming until it was far too late. He looked older than the last time Jost had seen him. Life had been hard on him, his face having aged much more than it should have in the years that had passed.
“They didn’t. I mean they don’t know.” The man seemed less certain of that than his words suggested. The other speaker, hearing that uncertainty, gave him a look of disgust.
Jost’s former crewmember, he had no use for traitors, flinched before squaring his shoulders and finding his courage from somewhere deep. “What does it matter if he knows? You outnumber them four to one.”
Jost and Danny had yet to speak, observing the strangers with a lack of expression. Jost calculated the odds of him and Danny taking the six of them with just the two of them. He could call the other three from their hiding spots, but it would mean giving up the advantage of surprise with their watcher.
He mentally dismissed the watcher. Now that he had victory in sight, they could be off this gods’ forsaken land before the watcher became anything but a nuisance.
“I hear you’ve been looking for us,” the man whose voice Jost recognized said. He didn’t know his name but he’d have recognized that voice anywhere. “It’s been a right pain in the ass if I’m telling you the truth, having you stuck to our ass and making life difficult over the past few months.”
He sounded affable, friendly even. Like he was just having a conversation. Jost didn’t respond, just observed him with a slightly humorous expression. As if he was about to start chuckling at any moment. He might too.
He’d dreamed of this moment for so long. Who would have thought it would be delivered to his feet just like that? It was a laughable ending to a grimly macabre tale.
The man’s friendly smile didn’t wane despite the non-response. “Anyway, my employer wanted to make an offer that would be mutually beneficial to both parties. You no longer have to lurk up here freezing your balls off, and we’re free to conduct business without having to look over our shoulders in fear of the great pirate captain of the Marauder.”
Jost studied the man, the brief flash of humor fading from his expression.
“You don’t recognize me,” Jost said. It wasn’t a question so much as a statement of fact.
The friendly expression didn’t quite drain from the other man’s face. It was more like it froze in place.
“Should I? I’m afraid your esteemed self isn’t ringing a bell. I don’t keep track of all the two bit pirates running around the seas.”
Jost snorted. First his enemy tried flattery and now he was insulting him. What was next? Would he try to woo him with flowers and sweets before sticking a dagger in his back? On the other hand wasn’t that how this man and his boss operated? Distract with pretty words while destroying all that was dear.
Danny was a silent presence at Jost’s back.
Jost studied the men in front of him. How should he play this? The safer option would be to pretend he believed them until he had the advantage. It’s what he would have done under most circumstances. Gone along until the absolute perfect moment presented itself to disrupt his adversary’s plans.
The other man’s gaze shifted. Just a bit towards one side of the ravine. It could have been nothing. Then again, this was his enemy he was talking about. Jost was willing to bet he had someone up there. Someone that probably had a long range weapon they were ready and willing to use in case Jost and Danny proved stubborn.
Jost gave the men in front of him a charming smile that held an edge of darkness, hinting at the blood lust inside. His former crewmember flinched and took a small step back. Seemed the man wasn’t as dumb as he appeared. Too bad he hadn’t applied his brains to the situation before getting mixed up in this. There was no mercy left in Jost.
Patience was for business. This was personal even if it was wrapped up in a thin veneer of business to make it all appear legit.
“I guess that makes sense,” Jost said. He put one hand behind his back, making a fist and then opening it flat. “You and your employer have probably destroyed so many families at this point. Keeping track of all your former victims must be near impossible. Don’t worry. I’ll be happy to jog your memory before the day is through.”
The other man stared at Jost, thoughts turning over behind those eyes. Click, click, click, as the thoughts moved right along.
Jost was content to wait. He wanted the bastard to remember before he killed him. It would be more satisfying that way. He also needed to give his men time to understand the message he’d just given them.
Jost saw when the man got it. There was a spark, a light that said the other man understood. He remembered.
“You’re the boy. The one we never could find. We thought you were dead.”
Jost’s smile was cruel and filled with dark things. “Surprise.”
The other man answered him with a smile that was just as nasty, his chuckle one of satisfaction. “You should have had the brains to stay dead.”
“And miss this?”
Jost’s movements were a blur as he tossed the small marble he held in his hand. He turned his head away and closed his eyes. Even still, he saw the bright flash behind his eyelids, almost blinding him. Almost being the operative word.
There was a scuffle to the right where Jost thought their sniper was. He didn’t let himself think about it as he rushed one of the men on the right. His dagger landing in that man’s chest as he thrust it into his first opponent still blinded from the flash.
He moved swiftly to the next, dodging one arm to slash the dagger across the man’s throat.
There was a choked gurgle as Danny did the same with one of the other men. Danny’s dagger had a small black glow, as if it was sucking all the light from its immediate surroundings. One small nick from that thing and it was a dirt grave.
That left Jost’s former crewmember and his enemy. Panic coated the crewmember’s face. It finally dawned on him that he would be better off far, far away from his former captain. He tried to run; Danny hurled his dagger. It landed in the man’s back. He made it two steps before he sank to his knees and collapsed face first into the dirt.
“And then there was one.” Jost cleaned his dagger on the shirt of the last man he’d killed. He looked up at his enemy and smiled. The smile lit up his face and crinkled the skin around his eyes. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”
The man didn’t seem so self-assured now. He eyed the men on the ground and then Jost and Danny before looking around. Jost’s men made themselves known, staring at the man with cold eyes.
They wouldn’t know the reasons Jost hated this man. They didn’t need to. They knew Jost and that was enough. They were loyal to the bone. His history didn’t matter to them.
“Don’t suppose I could pay you to let me go?”
Jost chuckled and shook his head. “No, but I won’t take too long with you if you tell me where your base is.”
“I take it from that, you’re planning to make it painful.”
The man nodded slightly, his focus turning inward.
“What will it be? Tell me and I’ll keep the torture relatively short or don’t tell me and I’ll torture you until you tell me anyways. That will take longer and be quite painful. I’ve had a long time to think of all the things I want to do to you and your boss so I wouldn’t wait too long to choose.”
“I hope he picks option two,” Danny said, giving the man an assessing look. “We haven’t gotten to test our skills in a bit. I have some things I’ve been thinking might work.”
The men laughed.
Jost didn’t let any of it distract him. He stared at the nameless man as he waited. Now that his vengeance was at hand, he wanted to rend and tear until the world was bathed in the same red he saw every night in his nightmares.
“This is taking too long.” Jost was at the man’s side in an instant, Danny beside him in the next moment, grabbing the dagger the man held and jerking it out of his grip.
“Careful, Captain. There’ll be no vengeance if you go getting yourself killed early.”
Jost didn’t respond, grabbing the dagger from Danny and plunging it into the meaty part of the man’s thigh before yanking it out.
There was a choked sound of pain as the man glared at Jost.
“Still not talking?”
Jost left the man in Danny’s hold and paced away. He needed space before he did something he would regret later. He wasn’t used to this loss of control. It wasn’t befitting of a captain, even if he was a pirate.
Jost took a deep breath and let it out.
“Want us to spend some time with him?” Danny asked.
The man’s laugh was husky and filled with pain. His face twisted in a rictus of hatred. “We killed your brother first and then made your father watch as we took our time with his wife and daughter. By the time we were done your whore mother begged us to kill them.”
One of the men cursed. Danny sunk his fist into the man’s kidney. The man swayed as a pained groan slipped free.
His words had the opposite effect than he intended. Jost felt his rage drain away, replaced by an all-consuming calm. The kind of calm that he wrapped around himself to commit unspeakable acts.
He gave the man a polite smile before answering Danny’s question. “Yes. Have some men take him back to the ship. It’ll be the best place to question him.”
It also had the benefit of having the proper tools for the job and a person who was all too willing to use them.
Danny handed the man off to three others. Relieved of his burden, he approached Jost. He ran a hand over the top of his head, slicking back a few of the pieces of hair that had come loose from his pony tail. He scratched his beard and looked up at the hills of the ravine.
“I’ve known you a long time, and I’ve never seen you come anywhere close to losing control like that.”
“Is there a question in there?”
Danny shook his head. “No question. Just an observation.”
“I’m assuming you have a plan, Captain.”
Jost looked at Danny out of the side of his eye. The other man looked back at him with a passive expression, no challenge in his face.
“Of course I have a plan.”
“You planning to share?”
“In due time.”
Danny’s grin was slow in coming. It was wicked and it spoke of anticipation. “I can hardly wait for the havoc you will wreak.”