For this fiction, setting the stage for the conflict in the City of Five Sails, we are extremely grateful to have the involvement of the premiere 7th Sea podcast, The Writer’s Room, who brought this story to life through an audio drama.
You can listen to the audio drama in the video below! You can follow the Writer’s Room through their link tree, here:
by Carmel Rechnitzer
“Theus Forgive Me,”
Prayed Cresconio as he inserted his picks into the church’s cellar door lock. A moonless night provided no light, and he hoped that meant his God wasn’t watching. His fingers were old and gnarled, and his whole body already ached from hunching over his work. Still, the old skills were coming to him. Picking locks was like dancing. Once you settled into the rhythm of it, the steps came back.
Well, no. As he shivered in the cold and struggled with the lock, he decided the whole business was closer to dueling. During the War of the Cross, he had been an accomplished student of the Soldano sword school. He’d picked away at his opponents with a rapier in each hand, confident, cunning, lightning fast. Now? He was a down-and-out tercio. He was pathetically out of practice, and that matched the pathetic size of his new “dueling steels.” He prodded, feinted, enticed the lock and… with a sad little flourish, broke it open. A joy to have a victory again, after many long years of defeat.
There was also some poetry in carrying out this victory – well, this theft – against none other than Kaspar Dietrich. The Eisen general had been the most fearsome commander of the blaspheming Objectionists. The old anger stirred deep in his gut and the old hate bloomed in his heart. There was no better man in the city to steal from, no man who deserved misfortune more. Not that Theus considered vengeance all that virtuous, though. Twice the victory, twice the sin.
“Theus, forgive me,” he muttered again. He took a quick look at the building’s steeple. Examined the stained-glass windows, hoping any of the angelic figures depicted would move and chide him “no.” But why would Objectionist Saints help him? Besides, there had been no miracles for his poor, lost boy. There would be no miracles for old Cresconio either. Without another word, he dropped into the underbelly of the church.
There were no torches down here. He had to make his way through the labyrinthine innards of the Church by touch. Cresconio gathered his courage, and ran his fingers across the damp, mold-covered bricks. Two lefts and you’re there, Cresconio! He’d been promised. But it had been a decade since he’d trusted another human being. He’d paid dearly for the information, but he refused to mistake the scarcity of gold for the rarer scarcity of truth.
He would have trusted his ears once upon a time, but they had never recovered from the bombastic roar of cannon fire. For now, all he could hear was the panicked beating of his heart. Except… No. No. There was someone else down here. Cresconio couldn’t afford anything better than pauper’s rags for his callused feet. Something – someone – was padding around this place in hard-toe boots. Even his ruined ears could hear their soft clack against the rotting floorboards.
Instead of taking the second left in the hallway, he peeked past it. He saw only darkness.
“Theus forgive me,” came someone else’s voice. That same someone down the hallway struck a match and kneeled in front of a heavy vault door. The unknown burglar began fighting its lock. Cresconio couldn’t make out much. The other sneak’s body hid the flame, and the silhouette could belong to any leather clad man or woman you’d find on the street.
To Cresconio’s horror, his unwelcome adversary managed to undo the lock with ease. Who else could have known about the Crystal Eye? Who’d have the riches to hire such an accomplished thief to retrieve it?
“Theus, forgive me,” he repeated, and silently crept behind his unknowing rival. In the seven steps it took to close the distance, he had just enough time for doubt to creep in. How many times in one night would Theus listen to the same repeated prayer? How far could he push against the rules of God and man? This whole pathetic heist was blown! Why wasn’t he running away?
He clasped his hands together to pummel the would-be thief. Regret seized his heart but could not seize his arms mid-motion. The half-hearted blow landed hard, but not hard enough. The adversary didn’t collapse into unconsciousness. Instead, they swore loudly and tumbled forward into the vault.
Conscious that more noise would damn them both, Cresconio dived in after them, hands desperate to find a mouth to clasp, a throat to squeeze, a gut to punch the air from. He had to maintain silence. Instead, the adversary’s reflexive elbow caught his groin. In an attempt to stay quiet, he nearly bit through his lower lip. A mad scramble of limbs followed, and he honestly couldn’t tell which extremity belonged to who.
It didn’t take long for the adversary to overtake him. Their arms were muscled, vigorous with youth. The frail Cresconio found himself pinned face down to the floor, nose literally pressed against the treasure chest he’d risked his life for. So be it. Dying this close to glory might be enough to earn his son’s forgiveness. Probably not. But he could plead his case in the afterlife.
“Wait, who are you?” hissed his rival. The voice chimed indignant and sharp. “Some Vatacine Inquisitor?”
“I’m the Hierophant himself, you worthless cur!” Cresconio wheezed, his voice laden with bile he barely managed to keep down. It wasn’t the wittiest retort of his career, but it would have to do.
“And I’m jolly Devil Jonah, here to drag your lying ass to hell!” Came the unimpressed reply.
The adversary attempted to flip him over. Cresconio pulled out his last, desperate trick. He’d hidden a thief’s twist up his ragged sleeve. The little packet of paper contained powdered chili peppers and masonry dust. The vile mixture would gum up the eyelids, inflame the nose, and scorch the lungs. It would have been an ingenious little trick, had the two of them not been so close together. The nasty cloud caught them both, and they rolled away from each other in a bid to catch their breath and wipe their eyes.
The match, however, had gone out. Cresconio realized any attempt to clear his vision would be a waste of time. His hand shot to his belt, drawing cheap knives. He lunged towards the other thief, or at least where he assumed they’d be. He was drawn short, however, by the press of a dagger against his throat.
“Hold your horses,” they demanded. Knowing the adversary couldn’t see him, he promised to surrender as he slowly sought their kidneys. It took them a moment to realize the stalemate, but they gave a satisfying curse once they did.
“No one wins a knife fight, my lord. Or is it my lady?” he said. In the dark, he genuinely couldn’t tell. His blasted ears were so dull, he couldn’t draw out the timbre of the voice either. Not that it mattered, in the end. “Let’s call this duel a draw.”
“And then what?” they demanded. “The first to put up their knife will be stabbed.”
Theus help him, the words were so young. Bristling with the anger of someone who had yet to learn that life owed them no favors.
“How old are you, stranger?” he asked.
“What’s it matter to you?” came a whisper.
“Do an old man a favor, before we gut each other like fish.”
A tense moment passed between them. Realizing they had no real hope of diffusing the situation otherwise, they gave an exasperated sigh.
“I’m grown,” they insisted. “I’ve taken lives before! What’s it to you?”
Such affronted bluster… Was this fellow thief younger than his boy had been. Theus, Forgive Me!
Screamed his soul. The will to fight, which honestly hadn’t burned so hot to start with, was smothered. He didn’t let his knife down, though. Too much was at stake.
“And what are you doing, trying to steal from the fearsome Kaspar Dietrich?” he asked. He had to work hard to keep his voice from breaking.
He could sense their apprehension. Almost hear them calculating the chances of getting out of this alive. But no one wins a knife fight, as he had said himself. Cresconio’s throat would be slit, that was certain.
But the adversary would have to crawl out from this dungeon in agonizing pain, praying to find medical attention.
“Old Iron Dietrich believes the Eye is nothing but foul sorcery. Something to lock away and hide forever” they explained. “But I – I’m not convinced. There is much to study. Much to learn. Do you know what the Eye can do? What can it show? Knowledge is power. Ignorance is a danger to my cause.”
The knife tickled the apple of his throat, as if to ask, “and what about you?”
“My son,” he began. His voice was so raw. He had to swallow back the tears. “My son. He had a real future ahead of him. He refused to become a petty burglar, like me. He joined some dandy archæologist, went out to make a real living. To make something of himself and leave a mark on this cursed world.”
He could feel realization dawn within his rival. Feel the pity and disgust that filled their chest.
“I don’t know,” he admitted, “if he ever made it back. He may have died at sea. In the ruins of Syrne. At the hands of Kaspar, or your masters. But I know he’s gone – a description of this relic, and suddenly the letters stop. I had to see. Had to confirm what he died for. Had to let people know, so his name would live on.”
Cresconio knew he’d have no chance. There was no time to build trust, to share in discovery. Even if his adversary offered mercy – was Cresconio brave enough to peer into the Eye? What future would it show, to a man so spent and all alone?
What little good Fate had to offer him was all in the past. His best friends, his youth, his health, all gone. All had been lost in the fires of the War of the Cross. His boy was gone. His little petty scheme for redemption had already sputtered out, too.
“What was his name?” the adversary asked. It wasn’t a desperate ploy, thought Crescnoio. His ears were damnably awful, but he heard the thread of empathy in the words that came next. “It will live on with me, poor sir. Tell me his name.”
“Gonçalo,” he whispered. If this was the best Theus would offer, Cresconio supposed he had to take it.
“Gonçalo won’t have died in vain,” they promised. “Even if others are too scared to seek the truth, I am not. The City of Five Sails will prosper for his sacrifice. I will keep his name in my heart. I will pray for Gonçalo.”
That would have to do. He’d tried his best. This wasn’t so bad, as endings went. Cresconio dropped his knife. Even his ruined ears caught their soft ring as they clattered to the floor.
“Any last prayers?”
Cresconio didn’t didn’t have the strength or courage to utter his final words aloud.
“Theus forgive me,” he mouthed. “And maybe, I could forgive You, too.”
Choose Your Character!
This was the first interactive option for the backers to influence the City of Five Sails.
Each backer had the opportunity to vote for one of the following characters to be the murderer of Cresconio in pursuit of the Crystal Eye!
A young woman who had grown up on the streets of the Vodacce district, within the shadow of the Red Hand. Though she is not officially a member of the gang, Aldo Bussotti finds her useful to gather specific information from time to time, leading many to believe that her official initiation to the gang is not far off. Conversely, she has managed to befriend Vissenta Scarpa and has joined her from time to time on her nightly excursions.
She is Kaspar’s wife and has a secret that she must never tell her husband: that she is a Strega. When she was just a young girl, she was liberated from the oppressive social structure of the Vodacce and their Fate Witches by someone who claimed to do the work of a woman known as Sophia whom Daniella never got to properly thank. Because of this rescue, Daniella was able to get an education and training with the sword and kept her abilities hidden, only using them to protect those close to her. It was she who recommended to Kaspar that they come to Five Sails to find others to aid in his quest.
A bit of a “Fancy Dan” who is extra flashy when it comes to swordplay and extremely charismatic. Makes the most of his time in Five Sails, but claims he can not return to his home in Avalon for reasons beyond his control, which has led many to suspect that he is wanted for one crime or another. He has offered his services to Odette. Although she may not need his swordsmanship, she seems quite taken with his charm.
Lorenzo de Zepeda
Lorenzo has a very unsavory reputation: he is a very opportunistic duelist and though he is quite skilled, he sometimes lets himself get a little too carried away with the blade. His reputation does come in handy for when drunken sailors suddenly find themselves with more questions than money. Unlike most of his cohorts, Lorenzo doesn’t normally partake in much revelry. Instead he will quietly nurse his drink and look for an excuse to increase his reputation.
Nazem ibn Umur
A showman first, Nazem loves to put on a performance, especially since he has found that not many in the Ussuran District of Five Sails are familiar with his ways from the Crescent Empire. Some may consider him a bit of a braggart, but he never boasts of anything he can not accomplish. His swordsmanship performances have caught the attention on multiple occasions of the Duelists Guild, to which he considers a waste of time.
Loyal to a unknown patron, Leja Juka is a capable swordsman and is known in the Sarmatian Commonwealth as a daring explorer. Newer to the city, she is here to find something that is pulling on her patrons mind. She is taking note on the current players in the city as she is starting to look for new allies to aid in her efforts.
Who could this patron be? Is it someone known to the city or someone the city has yet to taste?
The Community Has Spoken!
This vote concluded in October 2022, with the backers choosing Daniella Dietrich, the wife of Kaspar, as the killer of Cresconio!