What the Sea Refuses
by Brian Dolton
1. A Conjuror Comes To Pangxiao
The bitter ocean wind rocked the fishing boats at their moorings, and blew salt spray across the
network of wharves.
Yi Qin allowed herself a sigh of relief. The pier, while not quite dry land, was at least attached to
it. The two days she had spent aboard the Sapphire Cormorant had been intensely unpleasant.
She did not like the sea; she did not like ships; she did not care for sailors.
Which meant that she was almost looking forward to her appointed task: dispelling an entire
ship's crew of ghosts. Then she could head back to the Imperial City. On foot.
She was alone in the gathering night. The crew had dispersed rapidly to dockside wineshops and
eating houses, to be followed (she strongly suspected) by the pleasures of the Pillow World. The
wharves were deserted. There was only the wind. There was always the wind.
She pulled her overdress around her and turned her back on the ocean.
Harbourmaster Guang Er had sauce on his plump chin and did not look pleased to have so late a
visitor. Yi Qin bowed; he returned it as a perfunctory nod.
"And what is your business that cannot wait until morning?" he asked.
"My name is Yi Qin," she said, handing him the Emperor's Tablet from her traveling bag.
"You?" If he tried to mask his surprise, he did not succeed. She doubted he had tried. "You are
. . ." He peered at the tablet in his hand, clearly eager to detect some hint of forgery. Apparently
failing, he looked up, and she stood patiently as he inspected her just as closely.
"You are a conjuror?" he finished, at last. She held out her left palm, showing him the scars.
"I am a follower of the Seven Ways. I know five of the Twelve Unspoken Words. I patrol the
hidden borders of the Empire. I am here to deal with your troublesome ghosts."
"Very well. I'll have you escorted to the police house. Ling Fan will have quarters you might
use." He lifted a small bell from his desk and rang it vigorously. As much as being a summons to
his servant, it was a clear sign that her audience was over. She bowed, as protocol and courtesy
He did not bow back.