Isaac gaped. He fumbled for words for a few seconds before responding.
"Sheska... wow. In word, I'd go with stunning."
At which point he remembered Sheska's occasionally very literal approach to compliments.
"Which is a damned good thing." he added hurriedly.
He stayed still for a moment, marvelling at the handiwork. There wasn't really much he could add. But by damn, he ought to come back here for something of his own.
At Izzy's reaction, she had to grin, and she felt herself blushing just slightly at what he said.
"Sheska... wow. In word, I'd go with stunning. Which is a damned good thing."
She laughed and nodded. "I know, and good. If I can make you react like that, then hopefully at the shindig, no one will think that I'm a pirate.", she said, then she looked him over and adding, "And I wouldn't mind seeing you in a proper suit.".
In all honesty, she liked the dress. It looked good, fit well, and she felt... Feminine without looking or feeling too girly. If anything, it didn't make her look less dangerous, it only made her look more classy. After the function, she thought that she might end up keeping it, along with the other things the tailor mentioned ought to accompany the dress.
Zach's eyes followed the captain as she stepped of the gangplank and took up her place in the secluded portion of the wharf. For several reasons, it wasn't heard to tell who she was, but the thing about her that struck Zach first wasn't something as straightforward as her appearance or her garb, but rather the way she held herself. People with authority, or at least people deserving of their authority, didn't just wear it in words or stripes on their sleeves. No, they wore it in the way they moved. It was one of the many talents of his that he owed to his youth as an outrider for his tribe, the ability to read these subtleties as if they stood out clear as day. If you wanted to survive out on the plains, you needed to be able to learn everything you need to know about a creature just by watching from a distance. Are they predator, or prey? Where are they strong, and where are they weak. The Captain moved like an Alpha, without even trying. She was someone to be treated with a healthy respect, and he'd approach her with more caution than he'd approached the others so far, even if by now he had rather taken to the rum.
"You must be my new captian." Zach said as he approached, coming to a halt a few paces away. "I apologize if I'm intruding on your solitude, but I thought that I might take the opportunity to introduce myself, while things are relatively quiet. Zach Eagle, at your service, and this is Oswin." to which the Parrot whistled his usual greeting.
He thought it best to keep his tone measured and matter of fact. While he didn't want to presume to take liberties so soon, he wanted even less to be taken for a witless boy, trying too hard to win favour.
"It's a pleasant change, to see a Captain so at ease out here. Last ship I served on, the Captain was rarely seen outside his cabin. Mind you, that may have been on account of him being almost too fat to fit though his own door."
"Lieutenant Commander Isaac Lee Ring on attachment to the embassy in Helium City. Sorry to have disturbed you. I have a message o f the utmost importance which I have been told to pass on to you and you alone. Do you mind if we find somewhere where we can talk without being interrupted?" The embassy man said, taking her hand. Before she could respond however, two other surprises occurred.
The first was that an unknown man of impressive size and shape carrying an axe of similarly extreme size. Despite his intimidating figure, the man merely waved for the attention of the officers, remaining passive otherwise. The second was Garrett and Vasco returning and reporting in.
"Afternoon all. Apologies to you both for interrupting this conversation, no doubt the business is important so I shall not waste too much of your time. Just thought I would inform you Rear Admiral, that myself and Vasco were able to acquire the services of a shipwright, who is willing to help with necessary maintenance and upgrades to the Invincible; and as luck would have it, he happens to be an old friend of mine, so I can vouch for his experience. May I introduce Mr. Silas Rainecroft. Old Silas here just needs to have a few words with the Engineer before work can begin, though he has told me it could take a few days for the necessary work to be completed. Speaking of, has the new Engineer arrived yet?" Garrett said, introducing the Shipwright. Adrianna nodded to the man, who seemed intent on appearing annoyed at everything around him.
Turning back to the embassy employee for a moment, she began to respond. "Very well; I believe the Captain's Quarters should provide you the requisite privacy. Allow me to deal with a few small items here, and I shall guide you there." Adrianna said, dealing with one issue at a time. Returning to Garrett, she responded in kind. "I trust your and Mr. Roque's judgement; if you believe Mr. Raincroft will meet our needs, then you have my approval. The new Engineer arrived several minutes ago; I believe she will either be in the officer's quarters or in the engine room." Turning slightly so she could look at both Vasco and Garrett, she added "Please see to it that Mr. Raincroft has an escort at all times while aboard the Invincible, then the two of you may have leave of ship as you see fit. On a related note however, the Officers and some of the crew - yourself included Mr. Corvus - have been invited to a gala tomorrow evening. Please see to it that your uniforms or formal-wear are up to spec. Dismissed."
With one more item out of the way, Adrianna turned to George, to make another item clear. "Mr. Maelstrom; I'm afraid we will need to conclude our conversation at a later time this evening. In the mean time, you have leave of the Invincible. Please familiarize yourself with the vessel and her crew. If you have any questions, I'm certain one of the officers or Mr. Corvus can answer them" she said, before dismissing him.
Finally, with only one item remaining, she turned to the strange giant of a man, posing him a question. "Is there something I can help you with Sir?" she asked, though it was not the first question on her mind - that belonged to questioning how he made it past the Imperial security for the dockyard.
Ciel was making her way through the ship - from the officer's quarters to the engine room - when she heard an odd sound coming from one of the decks. It sounded something like an over-sized woodpecker, which could not be good on a vessel like the Invincible. Working her way closer with some measure of stealth and using her drone's liberally, she found the source of the sound quickly - a strange man banging his head against the side of the hull.
We'll, we can't have that now can we she thought to herself, as she slowly moved closer. "I'm so screwed." he said, his head making slight abrasions on the siding. When she was close enough, she coughed slightly to catch his attention and said "I don't know what your doing here or what the problem is, but I would appreciate you not scuffing up the side of the ship - it makes my job harder. Now; is there something I can help you with Sir?" she said, trying to be as kind as she could while still convincing him to stop making damages she would need to fix.
"Is there something I can help you with Sir?"
"I would hope so, ma'am." If the clothing she wore was any indicator of her importance, Drustan felt that he should leave the best impression possible on this woman, and offered his hand as a greeting. "My name is Drustan Cynwrig, and I am an errant mercenary who has been on this glorified trash heap for far too long. I long to get back to the Skies, ma'am, and I would be more than willing to work on your ship in order to achieve that."
Drustan paused for a second, then mentally kicked himself for forgetting his manners. "My apologies for the aimless discourse, ma'am. What is your name?"
"...My apologies for the aimless discourse, ma'am. What is your name?" the man - now known as Durstan - said after a short pause. Adrianna stared at the man, somewhat dumbfounded. She'd run into many people over the course of her career; from Skyfolk warriors to Misbegotten so deformed identifying them as human would be impossible, and she'd believed she was fairly skilled at handling all sorts of people. To be blunt, she'd even fallen for a Skyfolk Mercenary who now served beneath her - evidence of her worldly nature; but never had she encountered a person who would break into an Imperial dock and extravagantly announce that they were looking for a job.
The only word for it was brazen, though it was hardly a sufficient term.
Adrianna continued to stare, more then a little confused, for a few more moments before she caught herself. She cleared her throat, responding "Rear-Admiral Lanester; Commanding Officer of the H.M.S. Invincible." to answer his question. She paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts then added "This is highly irregular. Give me 1 reason I shouldn't have my men shoot you where you stand, much less hire you - an unknown mercenary without Imperial orders - to my vessel." The question was blunt she knew, lacking in all her usual tact, but then she wasn't exactly sure how to deal with him.
"I don't know what your doing here or what the problem is, but I would appreciate you not scuffing up the side of the ship - it makes my job harder. Now; is there something I can help you with Sir?"
James stopped, and turned as quickly as he could, subconsciously getting into a fighting stance.
'Guile or punching, guile or punching, guile or punching-'
"Erm, Hello? My name is James. Please don't shoot me." James raised his arms, deciding to just face his fate, rather than punch his way out of an imperial ship. There was NO way the latter would go well, unless very trusting pirates were nearby.
"I take it you work here, and are not cool with breaking and entering?"
"This is highly irregular. Give me 1 reason I shouldn't have my men shoot you where you stand, much less hire you - an unknown mercenary without Imperial orders - to my vessel."
Drustan swiveled his head back and forth, taking in the Imperial troops he missed upon his unorthodox entrance, and then shrugged upon answering her question. "I asked politely? In all seriousness, this could have gone much worse. I apologies for arriving in an unorthodox manner, which, for the record, was as easy as dropping down from that roof." he pointed to a building at the edge of the docks to prove his story. "I was in a bit of a rush to get here, so I came in as straight a line as possible. As to the second half of your request, I can say from experience that sets of skills such as mine are often rare, if present at all in the Navy. For example, have you heard of the Navy vessel Judgement?"
"I take it you work here, and are not cool with breaking and entering?" the man said, holding his hands up. Ciel almost wanted to laugh at the man, but decided against it. "Yes I do, and generally no we do not." she said, motioning for him without raising a weapon of any kind. "Let's go find the Captain; I'm sure she won't do anything but question you for a while and ask you to leave." she said, trying to be as kind to the strnage man as possible. "So... do you have a name?" she asked, trying to make friendly conversation with the stowaway. Realizing she was being impolite by asking for his name without offering hers (her mother would kill her if she found out about such an indiscretion), she added "I'm Ciel by the way, Ciel Kriebel."
"..For example, have you heard of the Navy vessel Judgement?" Drustan said, forcing Adrianna to think about it for a moment. She was aware of the vessel and some of its exploits. It was a fine vessel to be sure, but what it had to do with the strange Merc in front of her was beyond her. Last she'd heard of it however was it had recently changed command. "The one now commanded by Captain Malkon?" she asked, trying to make sense of what the Merc was trying to get at.
"The one now commanded by Captain Malkon?"
Drustan was glad that she had heard of the ship, as it removed some of the burden of convincing her off his shoulders. "Ah, yes, that's the one. There was an incident about a year ago where it came under fire from a pirate ship four days from port. Dear Malkon was incapacated in the leading salvo of cannons, as one of the balls exploded directly beneath his feet. This was quite a lucky move for the pirates, as decapitating their foe before most of them had even awakened is a severe advantage. Acknowledging this, a Skyfolk mercenary seeking passage on that ship hoisted the captain onto his back and tied him there with some scrap rigging. Said Skyfolk proceeded to hustle the ship into action and direct the crew under direction of Captain Malkon, and served as the primary force preventing the pirates boarding via gangplank. While I doubt I need to explain the identity of the Skyfolk mercenary, I am honestly surprised you haven't heard the tale. I myself was told it twice the third night I was here by an Imperial fellow with a drinking problem. Nonetheless, I hope that clarifies some questions you have about allowing me to travel with you."
"Yes I do, and generally no we do not."
"Huh." James raised an eyebrow. Really lax security it seemed. Though, she didn't look like much, at least to him.
"Let's go find the Captain; I'm sure she won't do anything but question you for a while and ask you to leave."
"No promises of my firstborn child or anything? IS this an Imperial ship?" James muttered this to himself, with a smile. She actually seemed like a nice human being. And she didn't even try to shoot him!
"So... do you have a name...? I'm Ciel by the way, Ciel Kriebel."
"Ah, hullo, I'm James. James the Mongoose, if you care for the whole title."
Once the revolver was disassembled and the pieces lay neatly in front of him Roy proceeded with cleaning, taking note of any parts that would need to be fixed or replaced and shooing away anyone who tried to take the crates he was sitting on down to the ship's hold.
The firing pin seemed worn and might need to be replaced but other than that there was nothing that a brush or a drop of oil couldn't fix. When the gun was cleaned and reassembled Roy loaded in a few round and tried to fire, taking care not to point the revolver at anyone. No recoil, no smoke, no angry glares in his direction and the bullet was still sitting neatly in its chamber. Frowning, Roy tried again but got the same results.
"Guess I'll have to replace it after all," he muttered as he unloaded the gun and then started to disassemble it yet again to replace the old firing pin with a new one. Luckily he had a spare that fitted well enough. Once that was done he tried to fire again and this time felt the recoil as the gun fired.
At the sound of the gunshot Zach turned sharply, unsheathing his bow and drawing an arrow so quickly it may have been a reflex. Scanning the wharf and the deck, he noticed the gun-smoke rising from the barrel of Sheska's pistol where the new engineer had just test-fired it.
'Damn him! Has he got a death wish? All it would have taken was an undue twitch of my fingers and he'd be dead now.'
He also inwardly cursed himself. He should have seen what the man was about to do before he did it. Being off the deck and having his back turned was no excuse, he was better than that. If Solomon, the Neobedouin who had mentored Zach to be an Outrider since he was 7 had been here, he would have been furious. His extended visit to Helium City was making him lazy. He needed to be out roaming the skies again, soon.
Zach relaxed and sheathed his weapon. On another day he'd have been tempted to aim a shot just above the engineer's head, to remind him that sudden loud noises in Zach's presence could be bad for his health, but he felt it was probably best not to start a fight so soon into his career as a pirate. Oswin had taken flight at the sound and was now circling above his head, shrieking angrily. With a whistle and a click of his teeth he called him back down, before turning back to Beth.
"Sorry about that Captain. Guess I'm a little jumpy for having not sailed in a while. You wouldn't happen to know when we set sail next would you?"
She didn't remain alone for long, as one of the new recruits stepped up to her and introduced himself. Why did they have to do that? It was a question she kept asking herself, as it didn't take more than a few weeks or a month for some of them to get killed. She'd prefer it if they remained nameless, hell, even faceless would have been great in some cases. A quick glance at the man revealed that he was not one of the latter, she put the bottle to her lips and drank, as the laughter in her throat threatened to break her silence.
"I must be your new captain, if Sheska hired you." She said. "My name is Beth, which you might know if you've listened or talked with any of my veterans."
Beth kept drinking, and looking down at Helium City. She wondered if Roberts had been the one behind the messenger, the initials fit him, but it felt like a fool's hope to think it was him.
Zach mentioned how his old captain had not shown himself among the crew, and she rolled her eyes. It was one of the first lessons she had been taught, to get people to follow you, you need to show them that you don't think you're any better than them. Arrogance did no one any good, and to brag was a way of showing that you thought you needed to prove yourself to others.
She needed to lead, know where they were going, keep the loot coming and they'd follow her anywhere. As long as she could avoid any disasters at least. "That sounds like it must have been a shitty captain, Zach."
A gun went off and the neobeduin jumped at the sound, while Beth remained seated and raised the bottle to drink again. Somehow, she doubted he'd last long if he reacted like that to a gunshot. Maybe she had been numbed by hearing the sound too often, but there was no such thing as too often as a pirate, it was just part of the every day life.
"I'm sure you are..." She answered him. "We'll be in port for a few more days, to get the ship repaired and restocked."
She walked down the gangplank, and past the admiral who was talking with a skyfolk brute, by the looks of it. "Are you hiring mercs now? I can recommend some, though I suppose the only thing that matters in the end are their muscles and it looks like you picked a good one."
Wilhelmena suspected that Adrianna hadn't considered doing it yet, but if she complimented her on the idea, she might be more willing and real mercenaries didn't have any loyalty to anything else than gold. It would help to have some, when the time came.
"Anyway, I need to get the rest of my luggage. Can't leave without it, and I wouldn't trust anyone else to carry it for me either." She laughed, then left in the direction she had come from, but when she was out of sight of the Invincible, she turned to head in a different direction.
His reception from the Captain had been a little cold, but it was no more than Zach had expected, and she was at least less abrasive than her first mate. He allowed himself to relax a little, sitting on another barrel opposite her, and taking out his own drink again.
"Anyway, he was no pirate that's for sure." he responded to her remark about his old Captain. "Over 25 stone of Neo-Victorian pomp and entitlement. Still, it's not like he'd have been much use above decks anyway. He probably did us all a favour by keeping out of the way. To be honest, it didn't matter to me. I was out in the open air, the pay was good, and I got into a fair few good fights whenever someone tried to raid us."
Zach wasn't sure if he should dwell too much on him having killed pirates before. He wanted Beth to know that he could handle himself, but at the same time he wasn't sure how deep 'honour among thieves' ran with her, and if she'd hold it against him if it turned out that Zach had killed anyone she knew.
"Can't wait for a good skirmish against some Imps though." Zach decided to cover with "One of the reasons I got so damn sick of the last ship. Having to welcome them on board and thank them for their smug self-satisfied presence while they take one look at the brown Neobeduin and wonder if he likes to fuck women or horses." An edge of his normally well-concealed bitterness crept into Zach's voice, as he took another swig of rum in one hand, and made one of his knives dance with the other. "We'll see what they wonder about me once I pull their teeth out and add them to my collection." he added darkly, tapping the steel of his blade against the Sabre teeth resting on his bare chest.
"I know, and good. If I can make you react like that, then hopefully at the shindig, no one will think that I'm a pirate. And I wouldn't mind seeing you in a proper suit."
Isaac coughed politely and looked away.
"Erm, shall we head back? Still stuff to do."
He dropped a handful of notes (from his own emergency fund) into the tailor's hand and turned to Sheska, waiting for her to change.
"So... how did things go with Beth?" he asked as soon as they were moving from the shop. He could already guess, judging from her expression but he preferred to hear it from her.
Annis strode back through the streets, barely looking to see if her man was following. The deed was done, it was time to get clear. As much as she doubted it, if the foul play was discovered too soon, the town's law would have to do something and she couldn't afford to be accused. It was bad enough that she had distinguishing features recognisable a mile away, but to be seen in the neighbourhood from which the saboteurs operated would be unthinkable.
She easily made it through the streets and before too long arrived back at The Invincible. The place was a hive of activity. It seemed some new recruits had been assigned and were collecting nearby. Corvus and the good Doctor had returned with a Ship Wright who was busying himself looking at the changes they wanted.
And there was the Rear-Admiral, talking to some mercenary giant. Annis raised an eyebrow as she approached, dismissing Stanford with the flick of a hand. She stood before Lanester and saluted sharply.
"Rear Admiral, orders? My business in town is concluded."
"I trust your and Mr. Roque's judgement; if you believe Mr. Rainecroft will meet our needs, then you have my approval. The new Engineer arrived several minutes ago; I believe she will either be in the officer's quarters or in the engine room." Adrianna said, turning soon after to face Vasco and Garrett directly.
"Please see to it that Mr. Rainecroft has an escort at all times while aboard the Invincible, then the two of you may have leave of ship as you see fit. On a related note however, the Officers and some of the crew - yourself included Mr. Corvus - have been invited to a gala tomorrow evening. Please see to it that your uniforms or formal-wear are up to spec. Dismissed." After hearing about the occasion, it caused Garrett to raise a smile, as it reminded him the last time he got all dressed up.
"A formal gala eh? How interesting, certainly takes me back a few years; and of course Rear Admiral, both you and I know what occasion I'm referring to." Garrett remarked, enjoying the moment briefly before turning to Silas and Vasco.
"Anyway, let's go and find this new Engineer, I'm rather curious to meet her." He then added, before signalling to a couple of the soldiers that were with him and Vasco earlier to accompany them. After making his way through the small crowd that had formed up on deck, the now smaller group descended below.
As they made their way towards the Engine Room, he noticed a man and a woman walking towards them. The man he had never seen before, but the woman on the other hand, it was the same one he saw when inside Silas's shop, but from this distance he managed to get a closer look, for some reason she looked familiar somehow, besides seeing her before. He decided to call out to her.
"Hello there miss, I take it your the new engineer thats been assigned to the Invincible? And who is this fellow with you?" Garrett asked, gesturing to the man that was with her. On first looks, he looked he was wearing parts of a suit. He looked rather tanned and had quite the lithe build, along with rather unruly hair which was a mixture of black and brown.
"Not all Neovictorians are the same." She said, and surprised herself. Though it was true, there was a difference between the scum of the empire and those who had been born into it. She had seen mercenaries from different cultures fight for the empire, and those were truly the lowest filth you could encounter. They gave up the lives of their people and their ancestors, to become dogs without any moral or principles worth mentioning. As if gold was the one thing that mattered more than anything else in life. She hated them as much as the imps, if not more.
Beth finished off half of the bottle in one sweep after the realization. "Which one was it then?" It was the alcohol talking at that point. "The horses or the women?" She laughed and dropped the bottle over the side of the makeshift wharf. It fell down towards the city, but few were likely to think of it as anything else than an accident.
Zach returned the laugh, pleased that he appeared to have broken the ice a little.
"The women, definitely. In fact, there is this one anecdote I'm rather fond of retelling. One trip to Old Borealis, half our cargo was for the wedding reception of some Lord or another. Way some of the other crew told it, he was supposed to be the Emperor's right hand man in the north. The men that came to inspect our shipment were as snooty as I've ever seen. So, I decided to make myself a guest at this joyous occasion, to see if it had been worth our hassle. I stole a waiters uniform, took the feathers out of my hair and cleaned up a bit, and nobody took the slightest bit of notice of me. Truth be told, the party was crushingly dull, and Lord What's His Face didn't look all that impressive. His brand new blushing bride, on the other hand, was a different matter; and, well, let's just say she was a lot more welcoming than the Imps who'd met us at port..."
Zach laughed again, and took another hearty swig of rum.
"I know not every Neo-Victorian is an Imp, rest assured on that. It's just, they bring it on themselves, even the lower classes that are always getting kicked around. I guess it's a Neobeduin thing, but when you grow up out in the wild, you get what you earn, and you're free because you have the strength to be. Don't the servants and the gutter rats realise that their subjugation is the foundation that the Empire is built on? Don't they realise that if they all rose up and said 'No more!' that nobody, not even the Chuno Ggun, would be able to stop them? They could fight, or at the very least they could run away, but no, most of them do nothing and let themselves be treated as less than human, and it's their inaction, their collaboration, that allows the Empire to continue oppressing my own people, so why should I pity them?"
The news of the gala put a frown on Vasco's face. No doubt he would have to get the old dusty piece of formal-wear out of the wardrobe and no doubt that he would have to shown his face. The mask, along with the other apparatus that snaked his back with have to exchange places with the suit. Not to mention that a gala mean dancing which mean heavy exercise - not healthy for one with such poor lungs. Seeing as the Rear-Admiral was busy with Annis, he continued down and followed Garrett to where the engine lay and where some new crew members were, as it happened. He mumbled a muffled, "Greetings." to them, in an attempt to hide the foul mood he was currently in. If it was one thing Vasco hated, it was pleasing the more 'traditional' higher-ups.
She smirked, when her question didn't have its intended effect, but listened to him nonetheless. "It doesn't make for much of a story when you leave the best details out, Zach. Was she any good? What did she taste and smell like? Although, I figure the point was to brag about how you stole someone's bride on the day of their wedding, which any gentleman would do." Her tone was filled with sarcasm as she uttered the last words.
He went on to talk about the people in the change cage cities, like a neobeduin had any idea what it was like. Beth had tried doing what he suggested, and seen the consequences firsthand. She wanted to throw him over the side of the wharf, but feared that if she tried getting up now; it might end with her falling over the side instead. Her wings would have been able to break the fall, if she hadn't been so drunk that flying was a risk in itself.
"I prefer the women as well, in fact, even more than the men." She responded with another gibe, and decided against her better judgement to spin him a story of her own. "Alright, I'll tell you a story in exchange for the one you told me."
"In my past, I traveled with neobeduin tribes as I made my way west, towards High Tortuga and the like. One of these tribes were lead by a muscular woman, some years older than me." She needed a name to make the story credible, and the first neobeduin she thought of was Jennifer, which had bought their recent capture. "Her name was Jennifer and she was one of those rare beauties of the wild, with her tattoos and curves.
I enjoyed screwing her. She smelled of sweat and tasted salty, but it was understandable after she had worked most of the day. It was sexy too, don't get me wrong. However, she had a peculiar fetish, or at least strange for a neobeduin in my opinion. She loved being subjugated and acting submissive. Of course, she didn't want me to tell anyone about this, but now that you tell me about how you worked for the empire for gold; I'm reminded of Jennifer on her knees with a chain around her neck, which she wanted me to pull on to inflict pain."
She turned towards him and looked him in the eyes. "Do you also have a fetish for being subjugated, Zach? Is that a neobeduin thing which I missed in most of them, during those months I lived with them?" Beth smiled. "Because you see, I don't understand how you can claim to hate the empire and still happily bend down for them to earn gold. Is that your view of freedom? Sounds perverted to me, but hey, maybe there are more neobeduins like Jennifer than I ever expected."
She grinned a little wider as he continued to act more awkward than usual around her, and was wondering whether seeing her in a dress was having more of an effect on him that he let on. But she shrugged and let it go, for the moment.
"Erm, shall we head back? Still stuff to do.".
"Not yet, still a few things I need to do, but I suppose those can wait.", she said.
As soon as she turned away, she revealed the low back of the dress itself, as well as the lacing that kept it on her. Stepping back into the fitting room, she got changed, and took both the dress, as well as the accompaniments that the master tailor suggested in a thick package.
When they started heading out, however, she stiffened at his next question.
"So... how did things go with Beth?".
"It didn't go well. Tell you what, lets find a place that has a decent cup of coffee and booze, and I'll tell you. I honestly want to get drunk anyway.", she added, sighing heavily as the weight that had been in her belly when she spoke to Beth suddenly returned in full force.
She made a beeline to a nearby café, similar to the one she found him in, only judging by the smell the coffee was more up-to-par with what Izzy normally had on the ship. She strode over, opened the door for him, and stepped inside behind him. Once they both had their respective drinks and sat down in a dark corner across from one another, she took a long drink of rum.
When she set it down, she told him. "She said to forget about it, to go back to how things were. That that night was a mistake.", she said, shaking her head before taking another drink.
"I feel like a goddamned fool, Izzy. Partly because I developed feelings for her, partly for letting her take me like that. But mainly because I thought that maybe she would've wanted to start something with me.", Sheska told him miserably.
"I didn't realise gentlemanly qualities were valued in a pirate," Zach replied coldly, after a pause. He didn't want to be on the wrong side of Beth, but at the same time her assumptions about him made him bristle. "and I didn't work for the Empire. Any ships I've been on have traded with anyone and everyone, and I was there for my own reasons. You want to talk about chains? How about the chains I found what was left of my uncle in after the Chuno Ggun arrested him? They were big chains, with iron links as thick as a man's arm. You know why? Because he fought!"
He didn't entirely know why he was telling her this. He'd never told anyone before. All he knew was that he'd signed up to this ship because he thought he'd finally be getting away from the Empire, and what he'd got for it was to be lumped in with the Imperials twice in one day, and it was almost more than he could stand.
"They teach you to kill quickly, as an Outrider." he continued, calmer now but with any trace of his usual carefree tone gone. "'You're a hunter, not a savage.' they told me. It was my job to protect the tribe, not to make others suffer. The Chuno agent though, the one responsible. I let him linger, when I found him. Nobody thanked me for it, and it's not a story I'll ever boast of, even though I don't regret it." He looked up at Beth again. "You want proof that I don't bend to the Empire, then point me at the nearest Imperial, and I'll gut them in the middle of the street. Before you judge me though, you might want to ask your own first mate who she was before you knew her, if she hasn't already told you. I'll give her credit, she tries hard to hide it, I almost didn't notice, but when you make a point of learning how to track Chuno's, there are certain details you don't miss."
Isaac followed Sheska, deep in thought. He already knew what she was going to say, but she was right. It'd be better to say it somewhere quiet and comfortable. At the very least she'd have a drink and that always seemed to help.
They sat in a booth and Isaac stirred his coffee as it cooled, listening politely as his old friend unloaded.
"She said to forget about it, to go back to how things were. That that night was a mistake." she said, shaking her head before taking another drink.
"I feel like a goddamned fool, Izzy. Partly because I developed feelings for her, partly for letting her take me like that. But mainly because I thought that maybe she would've wanted to start something with me."
The Chuno Ggun agent still residing in the back of Isaac's head was screaming: "You ARE a goddamned fool! NEVER form emotional attachments, least of ALL sodding romantic ones! How could you have been one of us and be so damned stupid?"
But Isaac shook these thoughts out of his head. He knew how she felt. Maybe he hadn't been there himself, but he could take a pretty good guess as to what it was like.
He sipped at the coffee and put a hand on Sheska's arm.
"You're not a fool. I know how you're feeling - we've both been told all our lives that falling for someone is the worst thing you can do. But that doesn't make you an idiot for doing so. These things happen Sheska. The Neobedouin spend half their damned time singing about unrequited love, or lust, or whatever. Things aren't always going to work out. But you know what? You tried. That's strength, real strength. You're not some emotionless Ggun killer anymore. You're free to live, and love, and fuck up. There's always a next time, which is a hell of a lot more than either of us could have said five, six years ago. And hey, I'll always be here if things go south. You know you can rely on that."
He leaned back in his chair and grinned.
"Yeah, it sucks. I think you get why the Cap'n said no, but it does suck. But you know what? Better'n being execute summarily for the crime of having fucking emotions, no?"
She took a few more long draughts of rum as Izzy spoke, listening intently to what he had to say.
"You're not a fool. I know how you're feeling - we've both been told all our lives that falling for someone is the worst thing you can do. But that doesn't make you an idiot for doing so. These things happen Sheska. The Neobedouin spend half their damned time singing about unrequited love, or lust, or whatever. Things aren't always going to work out. But you know what? You tried. That's strength, real strength. You're not some emotionless Ggun killer anymore. You're free to live, and love, and fuck up. There's always a next time, which is a hell of a lot more than either of us could have said five, six years ago. And hey, I'll always be here if things go south. You know you can rely on that.".
She had drained her first bottle when he finished, and she felt him put a hand on her arm, making her smile sadly. "I know. But I was never an emotionless killer. I felt even in the Ggun, I just... Didn't like what I felt most of the time.", she said, before nodding.
"Yeah, it sucks. I think you get why the Cap'n said no, but it does suck. But you know what? Better'n being execute summarily for the crime of having fucking emotions, no?".
"Trust me, I know that too. Its just... Damn it, you know that I've always wanted a home, a family. But more than that Izzy? More than wanting a home, or a family, you know what I want?", she asked, looking up at him with a deep frown.
"I just want someone to want me.", she said quietly.
She opened up her second bottle then, and managed to drink a quarter of it in a single gulp. "I mean, look at me. Emotionless or not, I am a killer, and even if that wasn't the case, I'm still a fucking misbegotten. Can you honestly say that I'm pretty now that I'm out of that dress?", she asked, but she didn't wait for him to respond before she continued.
"I sure as shit know I'm not nice, or admirable like Beth is. I'm not the kind of woman that anyone looks at and wants to have something lasting with. I'm just tired of feeling so stinking lonely.", she murmured, looking away and scowling.
"Eddie! Get down from there! Guns're needing to be moved!"
The Skyfolk looked beneath him from his position on the beams holding the ship aloft, seeing two of the permanent members of the cannons yelling up at him to get down from there. One had to have been ugliest man he'd ever met, with a face that'd make a Misbegotten dog puke, but with strength that belied his pudginess. Eddie didn't remember his name, so called him Piggy. The other man just about average, though only having half his lips did wonders to his status as being forgettable, he always looked like he had a snarl plastered on. Eddie didn't have a name for him that he could remember, so for now he'd think of him as Lips.
Rolling towards the ropes down, Eddie climbed them as only a Skyfolk of his caliber could, recklessly. Reaching the last few feet, he jumped out and landed, the two cannon men falling in behind his walk to the hold. Passing the Captain, he paid his respects, a finger tug on his ear, he couldn't help but overhear Zichary, Zachery, Mr.Groundling-Imp-Speaker's speech.
"You want proof that I don't bend to the Empire, then point me at the nearest Imperial, and I'll gut them in the middle of the street. Before you judge me though, you might want to ask your own first mate who she was before you knew her, if she hasn't already told you. I'll give her credit, she tries hard to hide it, I almost didn't notice, but when you make a point of learning how to track Chuno's, there are certain details you don't miss."
"Well that sure's good, Zichary-Zoppity-Zap,"He said as he threw an arm around the taller man's shoulders and began trying to lightly pull him along with the others,"Bestest place for someone like you righ'now, is do'n in the hold, makin' your muscles do the talkin' fer a bit, I'm sure you've got boun'less energy, come right this way...OH! And there's a crowsnest up there somewhere,"He waved his hand in the general direction of up,"If you want to check that out later, come on, I'll show you to your bunk!"
"Pretty? Sure you're damn pretty. No, I'm not having you on." He said as he saw her begin to protest. He smiled and tapped his nose.
"I was trained for this shit, remember? Much more to what makes someone attractive than how they look. You've got a nice laugh - uh, not you're psycho battle-cackle, the other one - you're confident, you've a good sense of humour when the mood catches you, you know what you want. Lot of fellers find that attractive."
He finished the coffee with a gulp.
"You'll find someone, Shes. Maybe not right away, but you will."
"Guess I can strike 'give relationship advice to an ex-Ggun' of my list of things to do before I kick, huh?"
She looked back up at him with a quirked brow and a dubious expression as he told her that she was in fact pretty. At the mention of her 'psycho battle-cackle', however, she had to laugh, and she relaxed, smiling just slightly. But, in the back of her mind, she started to wonder: Did she look in the wrong place? Was she so fixated on the Captain that she overlooked Izzy? After all, she had thought that she cared about them both like a sister and a brother respectively. Was she wrong about just how she cared about them? After all, she thought she had more romantic feelings for Beth. Maybe it was the case for Izzy too.
It was then that she shook her head to clear it, and she managed to catch the last thing Izzy said.
"Guess I can strike 'give relationship advice to an ex-Ggun' of my list of things to do before I kick, huh?".
"I guess so. Thanks Izzy. I'm not sure what I'd do without you.", she said, smiling softly.
But as she took another drink of rum, she thought that if she ended up having wet dreams about him, she would end up kicking her own ass for it. She was confused enough emotionally as it was. She could deal with that particular problem once she was over Beth.
"I guess so. Thanks Izzy. I'm not sure what I'd do without you."
"You'd die in screaming agony, for I am the charm that guides bullets away from you in combat." he said with more than a hint of jest.
"Now shall we get back to work?"
For all the commotion that was happening aboard the ship, none of it involved him; even with the fancy flourish of his hat it had gained him no attention. He had been forgotten about the moment the new, useful, crew mates came on board. Sulkily he wrapped his lanky set of arms around, hastily thinking of what he could do to garner some attention . Suddenly a loud gunshot from aboard the ship went off, startling him, almost making him jump out of his own skin. He didn't, of course.
Who in their right mind would fire a gun on a pirate vessel? He couldn't account for himself, but the ship was filled to the brim with killers, people who wouldn't take a second glance at a person before offing them. It was nothing like the the adventures he had read about. He decided to try and find the fellow who fire it, just to have a quick word.
"What are you doing firing a gun aboard this ship," He asked, craning over the gentleman.
"You'd die in screaming agony, for I am the charm that guides bullets away from you in combat. Now shall we get back to work?".
She laughed and grinned, nodding before reaching over and grabbing his shirt. And out of impulse, as well as due to being close to drunk, tugged him over and kissed him firmly. When she pulled back, she chuckled. "Then thank you.", she said, before standing up and nodding more seriously.
"You're right though, we should get back to work, or if nothing else, back to the Mermaid. Up to you.", she said, setting her empty second bottle down on the table.
Zach could see what Eddie was trying to do, not that he was even really trying to disguise it. He resented his interference, but he followed, reluctantly.
"It would seem that I was mistaken on my first impression. Turns out Sheska's the nice one of the pairing." He remarked when they were out of Beth's range of hearing.
'and why should I care?' answered the bitter version of Zach inside his head 'It's no less than I'm used to is it? It was the same with the tribe. I was always the first one to spot danger. How many lives did I save before I was even old enough to fuck? Hundreds at least, and what thanks did I get for it? Most treated me like I wasn't even one of them just for daring to dream of something more. Well, it's nothing to me if they like me or not. I'm here for the gold, the sky, and to kill Imperials. If I can have that, why should I give two shits about their approval?'
This wasn't true though, not really. Zach had always got by just fine by himself, and because of this had for the most part convinced himself that that was how he liked it. In truth though, Zach knew deep down that if gold and killing was all he wanted then he could find plenty of it in the alleys of Helium or any other floating city. He'd been doing well in Helium, so well in fact that if he'd stuck it out a few more months he'd have had enough gold to buy his own ship and crew, go pirate for himself, and then he really would answer to no-one.
That wouldn't have been enough though. You can't buy loyalty, and you can't buy acceptance. He wanted to prove himself, not in combat, that part wasn't hard. He wanted a chance to prove that he was capable of fighting for more than just his own gain.
He sighed and rubbed his temples. He was no good at being serious, except when he was angry.
"Eddie, I... owe you an apology. Since I got here you've taken more notice of me than anyone else, and in return I dismissed you. Perhaps you were right before. Sometimes I can act like an Imperial, even though I mean not to. Anyway, next place we come ashore your drinks are on me."
Beth listened to his story. Oh, my mistake then. She thought to herself, but didn't say it out loud. He could be lying to her face and she'd end up regretting apologizing to him later. It was odd that he brought up Sheska's past, as if grasping at straws. Sheska had proven herself again and again, there was no doubt in Beth's heart that the woman was loyal. However, someone who followed gold and coin would never be loyal. If his story was true, it would show through his actions given enough time.
She smiled and nodded at Eddie, when he came and took the rookie away from her. The neobeduin might not survive to prove himself in the end, but she'd give him a chance, when she wasn't drunk, which was half of the time she was awake. Maybe more.
The captain pulled the tri-cornered hat down over her eyes, and leaned back against the barrel to relax for a while. She felt the urge to get another bottle of rum, but that felt like tempting fate to make her tumble and fall down towards Helium City. She stayed put, the lack of movement and the hat would hopefully imply that she was asleep or didn't want to be disturbed.
"A formal gala eh? How interesting, certainly takes me back a few years; and of course Rear Admiral, both you and I know what occasion I'm referring to." Garrett said before making her way toward the ship. Adrianna could only remain passive at the comment. On the one hand, she wanted to sigh at the reminder of their first meeting - hopefully it wouldn't end in quite so many bullet holes or as many diplomatic incidents. On the other had however, it was the first time they had met outside of a sword or fire fight aboard a flying death trap and the first time she had learned the name of her rival and lover-to-be. Perhaps this time, they might get a chance to dance without putting pistols to each others chests the entire time. Good with the bad. she supposed, before moving on.
"...Nonetheless, I hope that clarifies some questions you have about allowing me to travel with you." he responded. The story seemed familiar enough, though she couldn't remember the details of her own power. Thinking about the crew roster, she tried to remember if any of the crew had served on the Judgement.
Turning toward the crew who were loading the vessel, she called out "Crewman Scott!" to one of the crew mates. A few seconds later, the crewman appeared. "You served aboard the Judgement Correct? Can you confirm this man-" she said, pointing at Drustan "-served aboard the vessel during the raid upon the ship?" Crewman Scott looked at the man for a few seconds, then confirmed the statement.
"Very well Mr. Cynwrig; you have proven your qualification. I must ask however; you're in Helium City; a place where thousands of vessels that pass every day - why would you wish to fly aboard the Invincible when it is neither the easiest nor the best paying of vessels?" Adrianna said, trying to make sense of the strange man. Still, with his story confirmed, his presence aboard the Invincible might tip the scales in their favor should they encounter more Pirates in the future as well as on their mission north. They might even make it back to port.
"Are you hiring mercs now? I can recommend some, though I suppose the only thing that matters in the end are their muscles and it looks like you picked a good one." the voice of Wilhelmena added before commenting on her luggage. "Thank you for the offer Ms. Heatherington-Portnoy, but I believe the crew is quite full as it is." she said, before allowing her to gather the rest of her luggage without further question.
"Rear Admiral, orders? My business in town is concluded." another voice interjected - with so many people needing her attention, was it any wonder the paperwork was never done. turning to the familiar voice, she nodded at Annis, letting her know she did well in a way that wouldn't reveal the truth of the plan. "Thank you Ms. Baker-Cromwell. Like Mr. Crovus and Mr. Roque, you have leave of the ship as you like, though please prepare your uniform or some similar outfit for this coming evening; we have been invited to a gala tomorrow at the Presidential Palace. I'm sure I mustn't tell you that we must show the Empire still honors its agreements with Helium City. If you have a chance before tomorrow evening please inform our new quartermaster - Ms. Heatherington-Portnoy - of the state of the ship." She said, letting Annis know she should take a break - no one could run under Imperial command eternally, not even her.
Finally, she returned to the Lieutenant Commander from the embassy, saying "The Captain's Quarters are this way." She began to walk back up the gangway and toward the quarters, hoping to avoid any further distractions.
"Ah, hullo, I'm James. James the Mongoose, if you care for the whole title." James said, answering her query. Ciel smiled in return. "Pleased to meet you Mr. Mongoose. I suggest that, in the future, you do not break into Imperial Ships - they tend not to take kindly to stowaways." She was going to ask him some more questions, trying to keep the stowaway at ease, when the unthinkable happened; Garrett Corvus, Vasco Roque, Silas the Shipwright, and a small group of soldiers turned the corner into their area. They were still out of ear shot, but the pair had found her. This is way too soon! Ciel thought to herself, before trying to think a way out of the problem.
Remembering James, a plan popped into her head. It was rash, foolish, and down-right stupid, but she was desperate. She turned to him and, in a hushed voice, said "Look, James. Do you want to stay on this ship? If you do, pretend to be my engineering assistant or something and say we have some emergency repairs we need to make or something and I'll find a way to let you stay." She stared at him desperately for a moment, then turned to face the oncoming people.
"Hello there miss, I take it your the new engineer that's been assigned to the Invincible? And who is this fellow with you?" Garrett said as he arrived. Ciel, quick to get her act together, responded quickly "Uh.. yeah, I'm the new Engineer for the Invincible; that's me. You may call me Ciel. It's a pleasure to meet you Mr...?" she said, trying to play dumb with the name and trying not to do anything she would regret later.
"And this here is James... why don't you introduce yourself James." she added as an after thought, hoping he would play along.
Meanwhile, Silas watched the exchange, an eye raised. "Well; she ain't suspicious - not one bit" he thought sarcastically, but making no comment. As far as he was concerned, it was none of his business.
Down the four walked, deeper into the ship, through corridors and around bends severe enough they'd require their own traffic signs if anyone still actually traveled on the ground anymore.
"It would seem that I was mistaken on my first impression. Turns out Sheska's the nice one of the pairing."
"Oh, I wouldn' be so quick to say tha',"Eddie replied, pulling the man's arm through the doorway before he collided with a pair of crewmates lugging a crate down to the real hold,"Sheshi's a cast-iron bitch you don't run into on a normal day, Beth's a bit more like a storm in the clouds, if you see her angry, you pull hard to port and ge' yor ass out before lightning strikes across the deck."
Down another two flights of stairs, through a corridor of doors, stopping at one a moment before throwing it open and saying,"That place's empty enough...I think...on we go!"
Without skipping a beat he continued on until coming to a door with great brass letters pounded into the wood above, though a few were missing from various sources, spelling out "CNON DEPT"
"Gun'sre in here, and you're just in time ta help with the proper cleanin' of 'em."
"Eddie, I... owe you an apology. Since I got here you've taken more notice of me than anyone else, and in return I dismissed you. Perhaps you were right before. Sometimes I can act like an Imperial, even though I mean not to. Anyway, next place we come ashore your drinks are on me."
Eddie smiled, and cocked his head at an angle,"Now why're you goin' to waste good coin on drinks I'm never gonna be aroun' to have?"He turned on his heel and entered the cannonery,turning about once again to face the Neobeduin,"Fact numb'r one onboard the Mermaid, Eddie don't get off ship unless Beth comes an' orders 'im to."
The curious Skyfolk took off his borrowed Imperial coat and rolled up his sleeves, grabbing a rag from a pile in the corner,"You wanna 'elp, get a rag, if'n you smoke, you don't anytime soon, powder's a tricky bugger. Likes killin' almost as much as I do, but it's a bit less discriminitory,"He sounded out the last word a moment before settling on his current pronunciation,"Than me,"He began the process of pulling a cannon back from the edges and began wiping off the dirt and powder caked onto the metal,jumping up suddenly and bumping his head on the ceiling,"Oh, and slightly less explosive."
Seeing that his gun was getting in the way, Eddie took it off and placed it gently atop his grimy coat, fingers almost caressing the hand cannon, eyes far away before reverting back to the present,"If you don' wanna 'elp, get the hell out o' here and get that great big ol' stick on your back in yor cabin...thing," And back to work he went, whistling a little ditty that was picked up by the seven other men somewhat quickly, and Eddie himself wasn't even sure of where he'd heard it before, could've been anywhere he supposed.
He exploded into action once more, though this time his eyes were hard and his pronunciation and accent were all but untraceable,"You pick up my gun once, and you will live to regret it," And just as suddenly as it had appeared, Eddie was back to his usual self, a smile and a laugh with some properties of a cackle,chuckle, and chortle all mixed together accompanied his bright eyes,"An' come 'on naow, make a choice Zichary-Zoppity-Zap. You stayin' or leavin'?"