Stepping out of the S.S. Arrow’s mid-deck hatch and onto the gangplank, Radley Staff looked around at the peninsula on which Port Dechantagne was built. He was amazed at the growth of the little colony. When he had left, a little more than three years ago, it was nothing but a few barracks buildings in a clearing in the woods. Now it was a real town. From where he stood, he could see hundreds of buildings, warehouses, apartment blocks, businesses, and the rooftops of more building off between the redwoods. A large, dark cloud hung amid the white clouds, formed by hundreds of fireplaces and stoves. The smell of wood smoke overcame the smell of the seashore. He stopped for a moment and enjoyed the scene. Someone behind him cleared her throat. He turned around to find Miss Jindra, in a shimmering white and teal day dress with waves of white ruffles down the front. She wore a matching teal hat with a lace veil and carried a parasol, though she seemed unlikely to need one.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to hold you up.”
“That’s quite all right, Mr. Staff. I’m surprised you haven’t debarked yet.”
“I waited to avoid the rush.”
“I’m afraid I was expecting more,” she said, looking with a raised brow at the nearby buildings.
He followed her gaze.
“Really? I was thinking just the opposite.”
He turned back around to face her and started. Miss Jindra was just where she had been, but a second woman stood directly behind her—a woman who hadn’t been there only a second before. Though her hairstyle was different, Staff remembered the charcoal circled grey eyes and the wry smile. He had thought he remembered her scandalous dress too, but what she had on now went beyond the bounds of decency. Black leather covered only the lower half of her breasts, leaving her two star tattoos clearly visible. The dress reached down only to the top of her thighs. Two thick straps attached to a tight leather collar, which seemed to be holding the whole thing up. Forget fitting a corset beneath this ensemble. One would have been hard pressed to fit a piece of lace in there.
“Well, Lieutenant Staff, I do declare,” said Zurfina in her unforgettable sultry voice.
“That’s Mr. Staff,” he corrected.
Miss Jindra spun around, getting a piece of her voluminous dress caught on a spur of the railing. There was a loud ripping sound as a four-inch tear was opened in the beautiful teal cloth.
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear,” said Zurfina, placing a hand on each of Miss Jindra’s shoulders. Looking around the olive-skinned woman’s head, she said in a loud whisper. “Too long a dress. Bound to happen sooner or later.”
“What exactly do you want, Zurfina?” asked Staff. “I’m flattered, but surprised that you came to meet me.”
“Oh you are a pretty boy, but it’s your friend I’m here for.”
Miss Jindra started to speak. “I don’t…”
“Don’t spoil the moment,” said Zurfina, placing a finger on the woman’s mouth.
“Perhaps I could bring her around to your home later,” said Staff.
Zurfina flashed him a smile that was only slightly more than a smirk. Then suddenly she was gone. Miss Jindra, her voluminous white and teal dress with matching teal hat and her parasol, were gone too. There was nothing to indicate that anyone had ever stood on the gangplank behind him, except for a single teal colored thread, clinging to a spur in the railing.
For a moment, Staff thought about finding Miss Jindra and rescuing her. On the other hand, she had never expressed a need or a desire for his protection. He didn’t really know her all that well. She was only a dinner companion, assigned by the ship’s purser at that. And it was not as if he had any knowledge of how to deal with a sorceress or knew Zurfina’s address. So he shrugged and continued down the gangplank, across the dock, and into the street beyond.
It was cold and snow clung to the ground, the roofs of buildings, and the branches of trees, but the street had been cleared by the heavy traffic. People were moving up and down the street. Some of them he recognized from the ship. Others must have been locals. People were buying food, hot drinks, and scarves and mittens, from vendor’s stalls. He was mildly surprised to see a green-skinned lizardman moving slowly along among the crowd of humans.
“Been a long time since you saw one of them, huh,” said a small voice.
Staff looked to the edge of the street and saw a blond girl seated on a crate. She wore a very fancy blue dress and a wide blue hat. She was much older than he remembered, though he did remember her well.
“Senta, isn’t it?”
The girl nodded.