Hurricane Zhou is the captain of The One-Hundred Percent Magnificent. He has the rugged face of a man who is no stranger to the threat of pirate attacks. His beard is graying but it looks more like a sign of warning more than age. It’s a gray that says, “He got this far, will you?”
He is the most feared man in the East China Sea. Or the South China Sea. It depends on which one he’s in.
His crew is made up of mercenaries with over a hundred years of accumulated experience fighting pirates. With so many passengers to rob, and so much cargo to take, The One-Hundred Percent Magnificent tempts every pirate who shares the sea with her.
Even so, attacks are rare. It is a fortress with sails and it’s crewed by an army of men eager to earn the handsome reward Hurricane Zhou pays for each confirmed pirate kill. It comes as no surprise that The One-Hundred Percent Magnificent has never been successfully raided.
Hurricane Zhou and his personal entourage of pirate killers are on the deck and on their knees. They’re encircled by pirates armed with cutlasses, sabers, and mismatched scraps of leather armor. Each pirate looks like he walked a uniquely hazardous path through life on his way to this meeting.
The sailors and pirates mutter curses at one another. Someone pushes to get through the pirates.
It’s a woman.
Her hair is tied into a braid that reaches her waist. Her features belong to someone living a softer life. One with servants and feasts. But she disguises this by maintaining a regal harshness. She appears to be continually disappointed by what she finds under heaven.
No one knows her name, but she is called Iron Whirlwind. She is dressed much as the other pirates. Scraps of armor, simple breeches, and a faded jacket over an old robe. Every item is tattered, mismatched, and not quite the correct size. They are also too light for the season because it’s better to be cold on the sea than to be dragged under it.
Her one extravagance is the Triple Dragon Staff. It dwarfs her at six feet in length. Black, iron, and divided into three equal sections that each depict one of the dragons of the three seas twirling around the staff in gold.
It hangs across her shoulders. Her hands dangle from it.
Hurricane Zhou looks beyond Iron Whirlwind, looks beyond the pirate gang around her, looks beyond the ship. His eyes are locked on the spot of the sky where the flare ignited.
Iron Whirlwind paces in front of Hurricane Zhou. She gives an appraising nod.
Iron Whirlwind drums her fingers on her staff. “It belongs to the Sea Devil Gang now.”
The pirates’ cheer is deafening.
Hurricane Zhou almost moves. It’s instinct. Pirates? On his ship? His muscles tense and will launch him at Iron Whirlwind. He will slam an elbow into her nose before he’s even aware of thinking about retaliation.
But he doesn’t. The end of Iron Whirlwind’s staff is already at his throat. The cold metal against his skin snaps his mind back into the moment.
Pirates. On his ship. He simmers in his anger.
Iron Whirlwind looks down the length of her staff at Hurricane Zhou. She speaks in calm and clear voice so quiet only Hurricane Zhou can hear her. “No one has to die tonight.”
“All pirates must die!” someone in the darkness says.
Iron Whirlwind turns to face this newcomer and must immediately duck out of the way of a terracotta jug hurled straight at her head. It shatters against the face of a nearby but slower pirate.