“Do you know much about the humans who inhabited these lands before the Spaniards swept them away like a prairie fire?” Father Vega said.

“Only what I’ve read. I imagine the story is rather different if you were there.”

“They learned centuries ago of the power of certain configurations of crystal to draw the souls from objects, and to do things with that power,” said Sally. “To consume knowledge gathered by other minds, or to put the power of a soul to work.”

“But the old ones, the Aztecs and Incas and Maya and all the others…they used the power with respect,” said Father Vega gravely. “In times of great need, or to save a failing harvest, or to guide a leader in time of war.”

“I’m not sure I’d call that using a power with respect, when people’s souls are being ripped from their bodies. Assuming that’s what it was. Seems to me that the more respectful thing would be to never make such a thing in the first place.”

“They never would have turned such a power on an alux,” Sally said. “It would have been inconceivable to them, like using the bones of a legion of saints to build a boat.”

“The Spanish, too, would never have been aware of it if they hadn’t been put to poring over the ancient codices by this new viceroy,” Vega added.

“So they’ve been hunting your kind to power invincible battleships ever since, is that it?” said Cooke.

“Imagine, Cooke,” Father Vega said. “Imagine what else a power that could protect a ship like that could do, if put to it. Viceroy Balthazar and his crony Exposito have just discovered gunpowder, do you think that fireworks are all they will eventually do with it?”

“I fear they have already begun,” said Sally. “Exposito was able to draw on the power of slain alux without the need for the skull to be in his hand. And he was able to rip a portion of my own essence from me after I stabbed him through the heart with that accursed mermaid of his.”

“Truly?” Vega said. “That is most worrying.”

“Wait,” Cooke said. “You stabbed him in the heart?” He cast an admiring eye on Sally. “I knew you were no ordinary strumpet, Sally, but my respect for you has reached new levels. He was thoroughly unpleasant when we met.”

“I gave myself over to him to save Jolly Port, to save the people who were ready to lay down their lives for me and my kittens. He killed Josiah Stroop, you know. Emptied out his head like a flagon of grog just to find me and Father Guilden.”

“I’m not going to say I’m sorry that Stroop got his, considering that the last exchange we had was him trying to scuttle my ship before it sailed. But Guilden? I never would have guessed that he was…well, one of you.”

“He had his problems, just as a human might. And we never did see eye to eye on many things. But Exposito drained his power and he crumbled to ash before my eyes. And I worded my surrender very, very carefully. So if Exposito had died, I would have been free to escape. But when you sank his ship, it did the job just as well.”

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