The Emerald Storm

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Authors: Michael J. Sullivan
burden on the deck and wiped the sweat from his brow with a rag. Noticing them standing idle, he walked over.
    “Yer good,” he said to Royce. “No man’s beaten Jacob aloft ’afore.”
    The sailor was tan and thin, with a tattoo of a woman on his forearm and a ring of silver in his ear.
    “I didn’t beat him. We landed together,” Royce corrected.
    “Aye, clever that. My name’s Grady. What do they call you?”
    “Royce, and this is Hadrian.”
    “Oh, yeah, the cook.” Grady looked at the thief studying him. “Royce, huh? I’m surprised I haven’t heard yer name ’afore. With skills like you got, I woulda figured you’d be famous. What ships ’ave you served on?”
    “None around these waters,” Royce replied.
    Grady looked at him curiously. “Where then? The Sound? Dagastan? The Sharon? Try me, I’ve been around a few places myself.”
    “Sorry, I’m really bad at remembering names.”
    Grady’s eyebrows rose. “You don’t remember the names of the ships you served on?”
    “I would prefer not to discuss them.”
    “Aye, consider the subject closed.” He looked at Hadrian. “You were with him then?”
    “We’ve worked together for some time.”
    Grady nodded. “Just forget I said anything. I won’t be getting in the way. You can bank money on Grady’s word, too.” The man winked, then walked away, glancing back over his shoulder at them a few times as he went off grinning.
    “Seems like a nice sort,” Hadrian said. “Strange and confusing, but nice. You think he knows why we’re here?”
    “Wish he did,” Royce replied, watching Grady resume his work. “Then he could tell us. Still, I’ve found that when hunting Merrick, stranger things have been known to happen. One thing’s for certain—this trip is going to be interesting.”

Chapter 5
Broken Silence
    It was early, but Nimbus was already waiting outside the closed door of Amilia’s office with armloads of parchments. He smiled brightly at her approach. “Morning, Your Ladyship,” he greeted, with as much of a bow as he could manage without spilling his burden. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”
    Amilia grunted in reply. She was not a morning person and today’s agenda held a meeting with Regent Saldur. If anything was likely to ruin a day, that would. She opened her office door with a key kept on a chain around her neck.
    The office was a reward for the successful presentation of the empress nearly a month before. Modina was near death when Saldur first appointed Amilia to the post of Imperial Secretary to the Empress. The young ruler never spoke a word, was dangerously thin, and her unwavering expression was never more than a blank stare. Amilia provided her with better living conditions and worked hard to get her to eat and, after several months, the girl began to improve. Modina managed to memorize a short speech for the day of her presentation but abandoned the prepared text and publically singled out Amilia, proclaiming her a hero.
    No one was more shocked then Amilia, but Saldur held her responsible. Rather than exploding in anger, he congratulated her. From that day on, his attitude toward Amilia changed—as if she had bought admission into the exclusive club of the deviously ambitious. In his eyes, she was not only capable of manipulating the mentally unbalanced ruler, but willing to do so as well. This raised opinion of her was followed by additional responsibilities and the new title of Chief Secretarye Grand Imperial Empress.
    She took her directions from Saldur as Modina remained locked in the dark recesses of her madness. One of her new responsibilities was reading and replying to mail addressed to the empress. Saldur gave her the task as soon as he discovered she could read and write. Amilia also received the responsibility of official gatekeeper. She decided who could, and who could not, have an audience with Modina. Normally a position of extreme power, it was all a farce since absolutely no one ever saw

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