"We are as wolves, hunters of the elusive. Watchful eyes donning crimson cowl so all may know we are brood. We are bane of the dead raisers, of the soul renders, and blackened, begetting them justice through death. We are wardens, woe of mal practitioners and dabblers gone awry. We are brethren of the brand, the red death. We are Redmarshals, damned and gifted. Henceforth and always bound by duty and curse."
...The Redmarshal code, something I recite daily. It's become more than an oath at this point. It's become my life. Ask any Redmarshal, even my squadmates, what their plans are for the week, year, or lifetime, and they will recite it to you with booming fervor.
The lot of us were aboard a rickety seafaring vessel typically tasked with seeing travelers from port to port. Today, we were simply along for the ride, ulterior motives tucked away silently. I stood at the stern of the ship, hunched forward and leaning into the horizon while my squad collectively stood around me, chatting away. It was times like these when you really noticed it: just how frightening you were to the world. Every passenger, with the exception of my squad, clung to the opposite end of the deck, piled and huddled into a gob of cautious eyes, staring across the way as if to make sure we didn't cross an imaginary line. I can't say I blamed them. Redmarshals are literally ticking bombs. What an odd feeling it must be to feel protected, and at the same time, threatened, by us...
I took a glance at them over my shoulder, my hair catching the ocean breeze and fluttering calmly before my eyes acting as a dancing, russet veil that parted the space between us. No matter the words on the tip of my tongue, the fear congested in that mass of people would never fade away. This, I learned a long time ago. It was better to be silent and not debate it for their sake or our own.
Auer, the only non-Pitch member of the squad, must have noticed my sudden interest in them. "They'll sink this thing if they put that much weight on one end," he growled jokingly. He was Espen, or as much of the world called them, ursa-men. Take a bear, give it a near Pitch-like anatomy, pack on some ridiculous musculature, and you get the brick-houses that are Espens: a ferocious people with an equally ferocious natural gift for battle. They're already a threat to anything that breathes, but Auer, on top of that, is a Redmarshal. Claws and teeth take a backseat to his cursed flesh, and because of that, to many, he is the epitome of a nightmare. To me though, he is the greatest friend anyone could ever ask for. We'd seen it all together. He was a brother.
My lips pulled to the right into a smirk I was trying to suppress. "Leave them be, Auer," I said. "They've a right to keep their distance."
"Bah," he retorted playfully. He pulled the hood of his cowl over his head and gave a big scowling yawn. "Better that way. Safer...," he said with a grin, his teeth glistening from the dark gaping mouth of the hood, "... I haven't eaten yet."
Collectively, the passengers seemed to stop breathing and take a step back until they were squished against the edge of the boat, about to topple overboard. Auer just bellowed aloud. Apparently, it was a little known fact to this bunch that Redmarshals have no need to feed; lest we desire the taste of ash.
"It's no wonder why you're the popular one," said Zeke, the oldest and wisest of the four of us. He was pretty much the unofficial leader appointed by both us and his decades of experience as a Redmarshal. Nobody knew his real age, but his graying beard and locks and his worn gear automatically made him "the old guy". He had been in two squads prior to joining ours, both of which met their untimely ends on the job. Most people would take that as a sign, but it didn't bother us any. He was seated on the floor of the deck massaging the bridge of his nose. He and Auer had been speaking only moments before I'd taken notice of the passengers; something about our previous outing. "Always leaving lasting impressions."
The fourth and final member, one Myrinne Atrius, stood quietly at Zeke's side, arms crossed and eyes on the looming span of sea just beyond. She was the greenhorn. The rookie. Her cowl was still fresh and tidied. A darker red than the rest of ours and little to no tattering. It was about as weathered as she was. She was younger than me, probably by about five years or so. But like Zeke, there was no sure of way knowing. At times it might have seemed like we kept our distance and shut her out, but we didn't mean to. We'd all been in her shoes: the young-blood trying to prove themselves to their superiors. But the truth of it was, Myrinne had a tendency to act out. Meaning of course, she would disobey orders to try and make herself shine a little brighter. Maybe it was our fault for labeling her the way we did, but in the end, the girl had undeniable potential, hot head or not.
She reached behind her head with both arms and gathered her wavy, ebony hair into a ponytail typical of her; it seemed like a tradition before every mission was about to commence. "Not far now," she said, half whispered. Her eyes bounced between the three of us and she took a deep breath, shrugging at me. "...Will you be speaking to the Captain, then?"
I took a long look at the Captain who manned the wheel. Like the others, he was watching us. Either that, or he heard Myrinne.
"Yah," I said. "I'll handle it."
As I began taking my first steps, the sea of eyes turned into a sea of voices. The passengers clung to each other and spat whispers into one another's ears. A few wanderers between me and the Captain, strays of the pack, parted and allowed me to walk through them. The Captain, surprisingly, didn't budge as I stopped before him. He stared me down. Something pretty rare for people to do these days. I was expecting a flinch or something.
"... Captain," I started, looking out the corner of my eyes at the strays. I gave him a curt salute and he responded with a weak, almost spiteful one of his own.
"Redmarshal," he said in acknowledgment. "What can I do for you?"
A question with a greater answer than he expected. "...We need to commandeer this vessel," I said dutifully.
There it was again: the whispering and shuffling about. The Captain looked around at his passengers, his face scrunching up at the commotion.
"Not happening, lass," he said. "This ship isn't going off course. These people will arrive at their destination, Marshal business, or no. I've got a job to do and they no doubt have their own business waiting just ashore."
Great. The immovable object. There always had to be one somewhere making things more difficult than they had to be. Luckily, I knew how to handle immovable objects. Pretty well, actually. For what would know better than the unstoppable force?
"They will arrive at their destination safely," I assured him. "But this ship will detour before it reaches port. It will dock elsewhere." It was more of a matter of telling than asking. Maybe I'd gotten too accustomed to people being pushovers. Maybe I'd forgotten how to approach things mannerly. But the wonderful thing about it was that I didn't need manners. Not in my line of work. Not when a mission was at stake.
I could feel Zeke's approaching footsteps on the damp wood of the dock and it wasn't long before he emerged from behind like a shadow that had been looming. "You're obligation isn't seeing these people safely to port anymore," he said. "Your obligation is to abide by the laws in which you're bound and we're empowered."
"Marshal business, as you called it, takes the priority," I added.
"You can abide our wishes or be charged with treason. Your choice," said Zeke.
"But know that the Redmarshal Sect has been given certain freedoms," I said. "As far as someone compromising a mission... we've the right to kill them, no questions asked."
"The same goes for taking the helm of this ship. Her giving you fair warning was a luxury, not a necessity," continued Zeke with an all too familiar look in his eyes. I knew that look. Zeke was always about the mission. Everything else came second... and he was about to let the Captain know that.
In a dizzying quick snap of a motion, Zeke grabbed the Captain up by the collar of his coat and reeled him in just inches before his face to get his undivided attention, which, it seemed, Zeke wasn't getting just yet: the Captain was screaming at the top of his lungs and trying to struggle himself loose. The passengers followed suit and began screaming from what they could potentially be seeing at any given moment: the Redmarshal curse at play.
"Your ship is ours!," Zeke shouted at point blank. "Do you understand!?" He had the Captain nearly off of the dock floor. One touch and it would have been all over. A brushing of cheeks, noses, anything as simple, and the Captain would have been burned and broken from the inside out. But the making of Zeke's point had evidently been made as the Captain slovenly shouted and stuttered any and all forms of "yes" he could muster.
"Take it!," yelled the poor Captain. "Take it, do with it what you like, then!"
Every time I thought I was the unstoppable force, Zeke came around to show just what I was lacking. If I would learn one thing from him before his demise, it would be to harden. As I was, I was the almost unstoppable force.
"Good," said Zeke. "I will. Now, get off my ship."
As if on cue, Auer and Myrinne joined me at the helm, staring down the passengers as Zeke remorselessly tossed the Captain overboard. If the idea of a mutiny was sprouting, I'm certain it was just quelled....