The Ashlanders - Chapter 6: The Blind Man's Last Gambit (Closed, Started)

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"Lady Maribel sought my council during this ordeal, and nay, I shall not leave her with your rabble."

Lilith put her hands behind her head, raising an eyebrow. "Did she just call us rabble?"

"I'd say we're at least a motley crew, if not a band of ruffians."

She chuckled, before the man started muttering to himself. Something about Scrabble? Fuck, she didn't know.

"Hey boss, I say we take 'er with us, mostly 'cause I didn't understand a single word she just bloody said, she may have had a stroke."

She was joking of course. Mostly.

"... Certes, an arrangement can be made. I am of more value than my fellow lightminded brethren."

Pixie snickered, "That's some kinda accent you got goin' on there, Missy. Though, I reckon I ain't one ta' talk, am I?"

"Hey boss, I say we take 'er with us, mostly 'cause I didn't understand a single word she just bloody said, she may have had a stroke."

Pixie smiled under her mask, "Sorry Hun, but that's a generous prognosis. This chick's prolly got a severe case of the 'tard'. Not that the rest of these milk drinkn' fucks are any smarter." Pixie looked to Elizabeth who had been glaring at her since she began speaking to Josephine.

The fuck do you know, kid?

As she scanned the rest of the nobles a large shadow began to shroud the gathering. The Maiden had arrived. It was time to wrap things up.

Pixie sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, "Alright Lady, I'll tell ya' what. We'll be taken' you, Maribel and that weezing piece'a shit on the ground over there. Everyone else is free ta' go." The nobles looked to each other in confusion. No one had the courage to make the first move. "GET MOVE'N BEFORE I CHANGE MY GODDAMN MIND!"

With that the nobles scattered. Some ran, directionless, into the open ashlands while others ran back towards the commoner cars. Sprout let out a sigh of relief as they began disappearing one by one. It had been a... stressful day. Hopefully things would be smooth sailing from here on out.

"GET MOVE'N BEFORE I CHANGE MY GODDAMN MIND!"

The Gentleman felt another twinge of unease. 'Too many witnesses.' he thought to himself, as the frightened hens fluttered and flapped away into the distance. 'You robbed them blind and made half of them soil themselves, Meredith. There are some among that lot who would gladly spend all the wealth you've left them on hiring thugs to hunt you down and win back their carbon, and their pride. If this had been his show, The Gentleman would have taken them all out into the wastes, just far enough that any search parties sent to recover them would be unlikely to find them again, and give each and every one new homes beneath the ground. He'd make his apologies of course, dig them good, deep graves, and send flowers to their loved ones. The Gentleman did not earn his name from being some graceless animal, after all.

This time though, he kept silent until the Maiden began to touch down behind him.

"Ah, splendid!" he intoned happily, despite the downdraft kicking up a gale full of black ash, half-blinding him and forcing scratchy granules though seemingly ever seam in his clothing. It made no matter, he'd wash as soon as he was settled on the Maiden (his usual cabin would suffice), and after he would change. The Gentleman was more than used to adopting disguises, but this one wore on him. It was ponderously large and too hot to wear by half, not to mention hardly the height of style. He would be much more at ease in his preferred garb, he knew.

The Gentleman lifted his travel case, just as the boarding ramp lowered from the cargo hold. He's wait his turn until Meredith was on board though, as was only polite.

"Sorry Hun, but that's a generous prognosis. This chick's prolly got a severe case of the 'tard'. Not that the rest of these milk drinkn' fucks are any smarter."

Lilith smiled, the woman certainly had a way with... words? Subtlety was never the captain's strongest trait, but that was part of her charm that Lilith admired.

As the Maiden arrived overhead, Lilith breathed a sigh of relief, thanking Lady Luck that they all made it in one piece.

"GET MOVE'N BEFORE I CHANGE MY GODDAMN MIND!"

As the Maiden touched down behind them, Lilith glanced towards the Gentlemen as he picked up his luggage. Well, I suppose I can't have it all my way, she resigned to the heavens.

Lilith turned and began strolling back towards the Maiden, the other guys could handle the nobles. "I need a smoke and a shower. A hot, steamy one, with lots of soap." She commented, as she passed Sprout, smirking under her mask.

"I need a smoke and a shower."

Ruffles smiled idly as he took position behind the selected hostages and curried them towards the boarding ramp. "And I could use a drink. Think I'll crack open Valhalla."

Valhalla was the name he'd given a small transport engine he had cannibalized into a still with a filtration system and given a line of power from the ship's (much, much larger) engine. 'Valhalla' was painted on the side in big, flaking capitalized letters. What came out was a clear spirit that tasted like a mixture of rum and battery acid. It was safe to drink, though, and nobody had gone blind from it. So far, at least.

All of the crew knew of the still, though nobody touched it without his permission. God of the engine room, and all. But most people got a lot of joy out of it, though by unspoken word from Pixie, he'd never let Sprout have access to it. At most, he'd gave the boy a nip of the stuff on birthdays for the past couple years, and that was it.

"By the way um, me and you might need to chat back on the maiden, 'bout the body count? Sorry it got so fucked."

"That it did." Florian muttered quietly back to Aesop, keeping his smiley face on for the sake of the crowd, lord knew they'd lost enough face in front of the first class passengers. But it would have to wait a while nod oubt until things (and hostages) had all been put in their place.

"But we got there in the end, didn't we?." The Maiden had trundled up and was ready to high tail everyone out of here. Florian fastened his mask, cringing at the layer of clamy condensation that greeted him inside, he really had to get a new mask. But again that could wait for later. Call it slothful but the various hostage situations within hostage situations had left him feeling drained and it wasn't like he'd need to do anything urgent once they got moving again.

Unless he had to try and calm down the nobles again but after all the bullets that had been flying around only an idiot would try and win them over as a group. No for now all Florian wanted to do was lie down, or maybe pray.

Screw it I can multi task. He thought, trudging back onto the Maiden.

"That it did. But we got there in the end, didn't we?"

"That we did Padre. That we did." Replied Aesop as he patted him on the back once more. Aesop could hear the Maiden landing outside, ''bout fucking time', he thought. He threw back on his mask and headed towards the door but turned on his heels towards the passengers. "Alas fair people but we must part, but remember who have you this wonderful bounty. When you rest your heads at night and tuck in your children remember the Iron Maidens gave you some pretty bitching pocket money. Farewell citizens of the Ashlands, and take care!" Aesop exclaimed proudly as he bolted out of the door, giving a bow and salute before heading towards the Ship.

He passed a couple of crewmembers on their way back and forth from the cargo cars and nugded one on the shoulder and whispering to him, "Do me a favour, see any cigs on there get 'em for Casino yeah? Oh and don't forget booze for the rest of the crew, and clothes steal us some fancy noble clothes." The man nodded and continued towards the train. Aesop's little crush on Casino was nothing more than finding her attractive, he'd never want to act on it but everybody worked well today, her better than most and he owed her for keeping control while Pixie was gone. 'Least I can do.
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Hannibal stayed in his cell all night and lay gracelessly across his dirty bed. Awaking in the morning the sheriff was knocking on his bars. "Wake up boy." Hannibal shook himself awake and looked up at the man. "Listen kid," he continued, "I'm gonna let you outta your cell but on the condition you stay in the town. You don't seem too bad but I need to keep my eye on you and I need the cell space. There's a hostel on the street so I'm gonna set you up there but no funny business okay? I need to know all about this Gunderson business and I expect you to keep quiet, understand?" Hannibal nodded in response to the man as he put a dish through the bars. "Eat that and then we'll talk some more. After that I'll take you to the hostel, understand." He nodded once more and swiftly ate the gruel of a meal as the sheriff went on his way.

"You tell him a thing and Noah Gunderson'll burn you alive boi" Hannibal tried to ignore him as he kept eating but McGregor wouldn't shut up with taunts of death. "You say anythan' about t' noble?"

"N-No..." Hannibal mumbled.

"What do you know anyway fucker?"

"N-N-Not all that much. The brothers kept things from me in case this happened."

"Good... Good. Lets keep it that way. They lettin' you ou' 'oday huh?"

"Yeah..." Hannibal said scared.

"Alright. You bes' do 'sactly what I say else you be dead in a week. Ain' nowhere on The Rock you can hide from them boi, an' I ain' gon' letchu get me killed too. They'll burn this town to the ash it stands on if if means gettin' them 'splosives."

"Um... okay..."

"Good. Good boi."

15 minutes later. The sheriff returned to let him out of his cell and took Hannibal outside after asking him the same questions from the night before and getting the same answers. He began walking Hannibal to the hostel and telling him the rules of his probation. Hannibal nodded to all of his statements before saying "I'm sorry sir." The sheriff didn't know how to react as he lead Hannibal inside the hostel through the front door. He only needed to be behind the sheriff for a second to show him why he was sorry.

"Okay now your room shoul-" and he was gone. Hannibal had bolted out of the door when he was behind the sheriff and took off like a bat out of hell. The Sheriff ran out and chased after him but in the couple of seconds it took to exit the door Hannibal was already halfway down the street. He didn't like it but clearly the kid knew something, so the sheriff took out his gun and took aim, he could be more dangerous than he looks, thought the sheriff. He aimed down the sights and fired, narrowly missing him and kicking up dirt with the bullet. Hannibal turned almost on a dime and sped through the door of a grocery store on his left and was out the back before the front door even closed. The sherrif gave chase and shouted for others to catch him but Hannibal was far too fast and before he knew it he was out of the town. He regretted escaping and making the sheriff look bad but he knew this was the only way he could survive. He could definitely hid somewhere in this region, maybe the nearest city.

Josephine held her tongue when the bandits commented on the way she spoke. How could she expect them to know how to speak in the old dialect that was once heavily practiced among the nobles?

"Alright Lady, I'll tell ya' what. We'll be taken' you, Maribel and that weezing piece'a shit on the ground over there. Everyone else is free ta' go."

"Grammercy," she replied before immediately going to Elizabeth's side once more as a massive ship touched down nearby, blowing dust in their faces. The rest of the nobles had scattered, but there was nothing more she could do for them other than pray that someone will find them before they starved or suffocated to death. "God save thee," she muttered.

"Ah, splendid!" spoke the mysterious gentleman before he boarded. The other bandits grabbed the recovering man from before as they led her and Elizabeth in suit. Josephine kept herself close to Elizabeth as they walked, but her mind was also focused on that man. No doubt they will be held in separate rooms and she will have her hands full taking care of Elizabeth, but as God as her witness, she will find that man again and he will give her the answers she sought.

"Alright, alright let's move it, folks! We ain't got all day here!" The prisoners had already been escorted on-board, but there was still plenty of cargo to load onto the ship. Once the carbon had been loaded most of the crew made their way back onto the ship, leaving only a few members behind to loot the remaining luxury goods. Pixie's eyes lit up at the sight of boxes and boxes of rare liqueurs. She knew what she'd be doing tonight.

As Ruffles passed her by, hefting a large container full of booze, she tugged at his shirt. He stopped just long enough to hear her whisper, "Report ta' my quarters once we're in the air." Ruffles knew better than to respond and continued onto the ship after she relinquished her grasp. Pixie stayed on the ground until the last box was brought on-board. After taking one step onto the boarding ramp she glanced at the train behind her.

Someone fucked up here and she intended to find out who.

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Sprout helped carry in some of the smaller boxes, but generally kept to himself until they were on-board again. He watched as the nobles were taken to the back of the ship somewhere, catching some glances from Elizabeth as she disappeared into the hallway. He couldn't help but feel bad for the two innocent women they had taken hostage. Sprout found Casino alone, smoking in one of the hallways that connected to the common room, "H-hey, uh... Sorry fer fuckn' everythin' up out there. I--" He stopped himself and stood in silence. He really didn't know what to say.

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As the pair was escorted deeper into the ship, Elizabeth gave Josephine a weak smile, "Thank you for standing up for me out there, Milady. Very few people in this world would do what you did." She grabbed hold of her arm and spoke softly. "We'll make it through this. I promise you."

Cranston rolled his eyes, "Yeah, yeah. You two follow orders and keep out of trouble and you'll be fine, ya'here?" Elizabeth turned to study their captor. An older man, he was completely bald and sported an amber goatee. From the looks of his scars and wrinkles, he'd likely been in this business for a long time. "You're families pay up like they always do and you go home, unharmed."

"H-hey, uh... Sorry fer fuckn' everythin' up out there. I--"

Lilith looked at the boy for a few moments. She knew he had tried his best, but his best had almost got them killed. But still...

She sighed a plume of smoke. "You might not think it, but I was like you once." She stepped closer to the boy. "Look at me." When he raised his face, Lilith cupped his chin "You'll grow up to be better than all of us. I know you will." She smiled softly then gently tapped his cheek a couple of times before crossing her arms across her chest "And don't worry about your old lady, if she asks anything, I'll say it was me that done goofed, comprende?"

"Report ta' my quarters once we're in the air."

Ruffles didn't answer, but carried on up the boarding ramp. I, Jake Miller, as my last will and testament bequeath all my earthly possessions to those left behind. To Aesop, I leave my boots. To Axel Monroe, I leave the wallet-size nude photo of my ex, Linda. To my Captain, Meredith Monroe, assuming she is not responsible for my death, I leave my still, 'Valhalla'.

The gallows humour put a small smile back on his face as he passed the prisoners into Cranston's hands, and headed off towards his workshop. When he got inside, he set his shotgun and holdall onto the desk, then started digging around in a box, producing a beat up old clip on holster. He transferred the glock handgun to it, and strapped it to his work belt. As long as there were hostages aboard, it was necessary to stay armed, despite the fact it wasn't his preference.

Exiting the room, he headed down to the engine room. A cursory glance told him everything was fine. He nodded to himself. Alone with his thoughts he wondered how his tongue lashing was liable to go down. He wouldn't shift blame; he had his principles. He supposed he was about as indispensable as it was possible to be, a fully trained shipwright not under the control of the Nobles. But even so, given the side of herself she'd exhibited with that fatass Noble, he didn't think it would be smart to put it past Pixie to have him thrown out of an airlock. He grumbled to himself as he polished a ventilation grille with a rag, which came away with sticky dark patches. After several minutes the engine became louder, and he felt the juddering beneath his feet accompanied by the slight pressure shift. They were in the air. Throwing the balled up rag at the wall, he turned and headed up towards Pixie's cabin. Rapping on Pixie's door, he waited to be let in.

"And don't worry about your old lady, if she asks anything, I'll say it was me that done goofed, comprende?"

Sprout stared up at her, dumbfounded for awhile. To say he was enamored with her wouldn't be doing his erection justice. It took awhile, but he eventually started thinking with his brain once more, "Well, uh... No, no! I'm s-sorry, but I-I can't let you do that fer me, Lilith. I hav'ta take responsability fer my own actions." He chuckled with a nervous smirk on his lips. "I can't letta pretty lil' lady like yerself take the fall fer me."

That's right, Axel... be smooth.

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Pixie made her way back onto the ship and into the common room. Soon after, the engines roared to life. She looked around at the crew members in the room who looked back at her expectantly. Perhaps they were all worn out and waiting for a pat on the back... or perhaps they were waiting for a verbal lashing? No, those that had truly dropped the ball weren't present. The men before her had done their jobs admirably.

Pixie walked up to the round coffee table in the center of the room, planting her dirty boot in the center of it. Waving a bottle of brandy in the air, Pixie's expression was nothing short of elated, "Y'all done a damn fine job out there today! We brought in'a mighty fine haul if I do say so myself!" Whistles and cheers boomed from her men as she spoke. "I reckon y'all deserve'a bit of a reward fer your performance on the field today." She tossed the bottle to Ricky, who was seated on a couch nearby and signaled to the boxes of noble wines and liquors sitting against the wall. "Try not ta' bust up my ship, alright?"

She could still hear the cheers of her Valkyries after closing the iron door of her room. Taking only a moment to sit and catch her breath she pulled out a handle of vodka, took a swig and started rummaging around a file cabinet next to her desk for her first-aid kit. Her body was sore and she still had open wounds that needed treatment. In truth, the bandito attack was far from the closest she'd come to death, but it didn't mean they hadn't hurt her. Her crew may have thought she was immortal, but anyone who'd seen the scars on her eye could tell you she was just as human as anyone else.

Right on queue she heard a knock at her door, "It's unlocked."

"Thank you for standing up for me out there, Milady. Very few people in this world would do what you did. We'll make it through this. I promise you."

Josephine nodded. "Aye. Thou should'st nurse your wound this e'en. We will need all our strength."

"Yeah, yeah. You two follow orders and keep out of trouble and you'll be fine, ya'here?" said the man who was escorting them.

"You have my word." The other captive man, on the other hand, could pose a problem in the future. The fool could have us dispatched at any moment. She'll have to have a nice little chat with him when she got the chance.

Lilith smirked slightly as she watched the poor boy's brain at work.

"Well, uh... No, no! I'm s-sorry, but I-I can't let you do that fer me, Lilith. I hav'ta take responsability fer my own actions."

She bowed her head slightly.

"I can't letta pretty lil' lady like yerself take the fall fer me."

There was moment of silence between them. "I'm sorry, did I say you'd be better than all of us? I did didn't I?" She placed a hand on Sprout's shoulder. "I meant to say lamest." She gently pushed him aside and continued to walk down the hall, placing her hands behind her head. "So goddamn lame!" She proclaimed with exaggerated vigour. "So very, very, very fucking lame!" She spoke louder as she went down the hall. "Here lies Sprout, the lamest of the lame, may his lameness echo throughout the Ashlands!" She continued until she was eventually out of earshot.

Lilith locked the door behind her as she entered her quarters. She made her way over to the old wooden coffee table in the centre of the room, putting out her cigarette in the thick glass ashtray. She walked over to an old record player in the corner. It wasn't cheap, and even then it was broken when she first procured it. She managed to get Ruffles to fix it up for her. She turned on the player and lowered the pin onto the record already set there. Records were even more difficult to find, especially ones in any kind of condition to be played.

The label had worn out a long time ago, so she had no idea who the singer was. She smiled slightly as the track began.

She made her way over to a tiny closet on the opposite side of the room, the bathroom. She stepped inside and turned on the shower head. Stepping back out, she began to undress. She unceremoniously threw clothes about the place as she made her way over to her liquor shelf. She tugged down her underwear, kicking them off in some random direction. She grabbed a bottle of scotch off the shelf. Uncorking it, she took a long swig as she unhooked her bra with her other hand, swinging it above her head to the music before tossing it aside. With nothing but the poker chip around her neck and the bottle of scotch, she got into the shower, singing along to the music. She periodically took long swigs of the scotch as she washed the sweat and ash from her body, using various sweet smelling soaps.

She exited the shower, lightly drying herself with a towel before tossing it to the floor, her hair still dripping wet. She slumped on the chaise lounge she managed to find a few years back as another track started.

She rested the bottle against her hip and she lit up a cigarette. She smiled to herself, content, as she smoked, sang, and got slowly drunk.

"It's unlocked." The muffled response came.

Well, shit, she was in.

Opening the door, Ruffles strode on in. For a moment, they looked at each other in silence. Eventually Ruffles broke it by saying "well, you've neither shot, stabbed or lit me on fire yet, so I'll take that as... well, not a good sign, but you get the idea."

The Gentleman's first puff on his pipe had all the passion of embracing a long lost love, and the smile he wore on his face stretched from ear to ear. It was made more than a little sinister, he saw in the mirror, by the smoke furling slowly from his nostrils. He compensated by adjusting his top hat to a slightly more jaunty angle.

He was newly washed, his tails were smoothed impeccably, his shoes shined and his pocket watch polished to a sheen. With a click of his heels and a deft adjustment of his lapels, he was ready to see the Captain.

Smiles return to the ship was pretty much unannounced, he debated thoroughly whether or not to kill the fleeing nobles with his explosive buddy, who he still owed a punch in the nose. But no, no indulging in any of his boundless wrath. Of fucking course not, these people loved to pretend they were 'good' in some odd way, by only killing specific people. He'd known too many of the type, and they all seemed to think they had honor or some such bullshit.

He sighed, parking the crawler as it loaded onto the Iron Maiden. This job was a tad too cerebral, as most were. Smiles couldn't help but feel a tad underused in these things, no such thing as completely wiping out an enemy force, no prisoners. This was probably the closest and he was still saddled with extra people he couldn't shoot. He could only hope the haul was worth the trouble.

He decided he'd calmed down enough to go visit Pixie's room, see how their mission went. He found... Well, he was a guy outside it. In a suit... Huh. Dressed to the nines, Smiles couldn't remember the last guy he had met who looked presentable rather than tough. Thought they were a thoroughly dead breed. Shot while shining their shoes.

"Well, new person. M'name's Warren, tell me how I should feel meeting you." Warren tore off his mask and lowered his scarf, smiling.

"Here lies Sprout, the lamest of the lame, may his lameness echo throughout the Ashlands!"

Sprout stood there scratching his head as she disappeared from view. What would it take for him to prove himself to her? Would she treat him like a kid forever? He sighed and looked down the hall in the direction of the common room. Drunken laughter was echoing down the corridor.

Maybe he could steal a few drinks when no one was looking...

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"... well, you've neither shot, stabbed or lit me on fire yet, so I'll take that as... well, not a good sign, but you get the idea."

Pixie rolled up her pants leg and doused a dirty wound on her thigh with vodka. Though it stung like hell, she didn't so much as flinch. She retrieved a roll of bandages from the first-aid kit and rip off a piece with her teeth. As she dressed the would she spoke, her eyes remaining on her wound, "Jake, yer an invaluable asset to this ship. You know I'd have'ta be a fuck'n lunatic ta' pull that kinda shit. You know I prefer my Maidens to think fer themselves. But listen," She tugged on both ends of the knot to secure it and looked up at Ruffles, "You do not undermine my authority like that. Ever. Do ya' understand?"

Her one good eye pierced through Ruffle's like a dagger. He knew that look. She wasn't fucking around.

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"You have my word."

"Good," Cranston said as he led the two women into a small, featureless room with little more than a bunk-bed and a toilet. "This'll be your accommodations during your stay with us. Try to get some rest."

"W-what about me!?" Bartholomew questioned.

Cranston smiled, "You get the luxury suite, my friend!"

"Somehow I doubt your sincerity." He muttered as he was dragged away.

Once the door closed behind them, Elizabeth remained standing in the center of the room. She didn't know what to do or say. Tears began to well up.

Milord...

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"Pull!"

Three clay pigeons exploded in the air, one after the other. Lord Dio Basilio began reloading his rifle when his adviser, Raphael, approached with a telephone in hand. The look on his face was dire. Dio took one look at him and then turn his attention back to the field ahead of him, "Pull!" Four more targets exploded in mid-air. "What is it?"

"Milord, urgent news from--"

"What is it?" He repeated.

"It appears the train your betrothed was on suffered a bandit raid. I have been informed that Lady Maribel was among those that were taken captive. No demands have been made as of yet."

Dio's grip tightened around the rifle. His eyes remained glued to the field ahead, "Who did it?"

Raphael bowed his head instinctively, "Reports coming in claim it was the... Iron Maiden."

He couldn't see his face, but Raphael could feel the rage welling up in his master, "Send a call out for the best hunters in Feroxi."

"But, Milord. Wouldn't it be prudent to wait for demands? Sending hunters may---"

"DO AS I SAY!" Dio shouted, his head turned ever so slightly to see his servant.

Raphael bowed once more, "Y-yes, Milord. Right away." He said as he turned to leave.

Dio stood there in silence for a solid minute, squeezing his rifle harder and harder after every passing moment. It was Meredith. Was she finally making her move? Was this it? Dio smirked and muttered under his breath, "Not this time."

He loosed his grip and leveled the rifle.

"Pull!"

"You do not undermine my authority like that. Ever. Do ya' understand?"

When Ruffles answered, he did so levelly, and sternly, but with as much civility as he could. "Captain. I've been on this crew for over nine years, almost as long as you've even had this ship. During that time, I never disobeyed any order you gave me. But I won't stand around and watch a man get tortured to death when I can help him. You don't get to make me do that."

His point made, he stared at his boots, and said in a more quiet tone, "already had one person die 'cause I fucked up today."

"... You don't get to make me do that."

Pixie's glare intensified.

"... already had one person die 'cause I fucked up today."

Pixie sat there, staring at him for a long while. An uneasy silence hung in the air for what seemed like eternity. Finally, Pixie got to her feet, walked around the front of her desk and stood up directly in front of Ruffles, looking him right in the eyes. Her shadow engulfed his entire frame, "Whadda ya' think you signed up for nine years ago? Did'ya think you'd be some kinda hero?" Pixie laughed. "This is it. This is what we do. We steal and we kill. We're fuckn' bandits, Jake."

She closed her eyes and crossed her arms, "The fact'o the matter is that I can make ya' do what I want. Yer part of my crew, or have ya' fergotten?" She read his expression, waiting to hear a reply. Just as he was about to speak Pixie back handed him so hard he almost fell to his knees. He grabbed the side of his face and looked her in the eye once more. "The two of us have been at it since the very beginnin'. Don't you fer a second think I don't value yours and Lilith's input. But let me repeat myself: if you ever undermine my authority in front'a the rest of the crew like that ever again..."

She didn't have to finish her threat. She didn't want to have to say it. Ruffles understood how difficult it was for her to say what she had already.

Pixie retreated back behind her desk and took a swig of her vodka, "If you don't have the stomach fer this life anymore, walk. There's the door. I won't stop you."

Ruffles stood up, and spat out a globule of bloody saliva, which landed on Pixie's desk with a splat. Even he wasn't particularly sure whether he'd done it on purpose. Wordlessly, he turned, and left. Before he closed the door though, he said, "if that fat bastard had died, you'd have been no better than him." He closed the door before Pixie could respond, and headed off towards the common room. He was in a foul mood, to the point where he could almost see the thundercloud forming above his head.

As the door came into sight, he heard a thunk and turned left, heading down a different corridor. He came round the corner to see Sprout slouched against the wall, a brown bottle at his lips, sucking on it like a girl's tit. In an instant, Ruffles crossed the distance between them, grabbing the bottle roughly from Sprout's hand, pinning him with a forearm. "Axel, what the fuck!?"

The boy's eyes widened in shock, and Ruffles felt a pang. He supposed he must look pretty unnerving, looming over the kid with his mouth bloodied from his altercation with the Captain. He sighed, and stepped back. "Sorry, man. But seriously, you have any idea what your mom would do if she caught you with this? Fuck..."

He leaned against the opposite wall and took a swig, wincing as it stung the cut on the inside of his mouth. Turning his head, he spat out another wad of red saliva as the whiskey started to numb the cut.

Josephine scanned the room that she and Elizabeth would be sharing. She wasn't expecting much, but this was ridiculous. It only had a bed and toilet, not even a poster or any other kind of common decor. The beds didn't even look like they could support a person, and who knows when they were last cleaned! She then thought back to the other captive.

"W-what about me!?"

"You get the luxury suite, my friend!"

"Somehow I doubt your sincerity."

If this was what she and Elizabeth were given for a room, she couldn't imagine what he was given. Did he even have a bed, or was he left with the cold steel floor? Mayhap now he'll put his self-love in check.

Her thoughts were immediately interrupted by soft sniffling. She turned to Elizabeth and saw tears welling in her eyes. Despite how well she handled herself in front of the others, this was still too much for the young maiden.

Josephine opened her arms to her. "Come hither."

Back on the Maiden Pixie had made her victory speech. Aesop saw Ruffles on his way to see her, probably just talking about hostages and such. By the time it was done Aesop had snidely snuck through the corridors and back into his room as always. It was a common sight to see Aesop sneaking back into his room, though very few people did notice him. In his first couple months people would worry he was sneaking off to drink but when his sobriety became clear the crew began to leave him alone. Sometimes they would wonder why he would go into his room alone but after a while people just stopped asking, and that was better for everyone. Aesop leaned against the door as he closed it behind himself and sighed. "The fuck?!" he said aloud. "The fuck happened today?"

Today had been the biggest heist in a while and a lot of planning had gone into it. Ricky was more than excited to blow up a beautiful landmark and Aesop was more than relived at his disappointment. Still everything was planned yet it seemed the only people who's plan didn't go down the shitter were Ricky, Warren and the gun crew. Aesop had to jump onto the train and back up Ruffs, him and Padre made shit negotiators which made Aesop feel particularly foolish considering he was once a cop, Florian had the excuse of being just a priest and having no con experience, Pixie got fucked up somehow which may never have happened had Aesop been there... "Fuck who am I kidding I'd have gotten her kill-what the fuck is wrong with me today? Where is this negativity coming from?" he questioned the air as he threw himself on his bed and stared at his ceiling. Aesop had one of the simplest and smallest rooms on the ship. He had a small basin to wash himself and a toilet in a small extension from his bedroom, a closet where he stalled all sorts of fancy stolen noble clothing (even though he always tended to wear the same clothes), and his bed. That's it. Sometimes he'd burn some incense but that was it, oh there were also exercise assortments all over the room too but they were littered everywhere.

Staring up at the ceiling and the low hanging lamp covered by a fancy pants lantern. It was more than just the heist today, Aesop had been feeling weird the past couple weeks but hadn't told anyone. Thinking on it for a while he thought he had put his finger down on the problem. "11 months. Its been close to a year now. Haven't touched a drop in so long..." He didn't have to listen hard to hear the cheers of the common room drunken fun. He was used to feeling left out but for some reason today everything was kind of coming to a head. The botched heist, the drunken shenanigans, the fact that he couldn't speak to anyone else on the ship who wasn't getting smashed, the crew, no doubt Ruffles and Casino, maybe not Warren and Ricky but they and Aesop weren't particularly close; in fact they made him feel a little uncomfortable. Pixie would be busy with the dickbag who ruined their plans on a whole extra level. What's a man to do talk to Sprout? Again? FOR THE 60TH FUCKING TIME! "God fuck I'm so bored!" He unstrapped his gun and threw it on the other side of the room. "And the guns! Why did I throw them out the window did I think he'd trust me more! Fucking stupid! And he could see my other gun I fucking told him about it! And my revolver getting destroyed! God damn!" Aesop sprung out of bed and yanked his punching bag out of the bottom of his closet and hurriedly hung it up before absolutely unloading on it. "GOD! DAMN! USELESS!" He punched the damn thing again and again and again and again and again until he was almost as exhausted as the robbery. He sighed after finally stopping and breathed for a few moments. "Okay. Calm. Everything's okay. People might be getting drunk but I can talk to them tomorrow and have fun then. Just chill tonight Aesop. Being too hard on yourself. Go... talk... to... Sprout... again..." Aesop exhaled and punched the bag one last time before taking off his tight vest and throwing on a loose fitting white vest and going through some corridors before he stumbled upon Ruffles and Sprout in the corridor... drinking?

"Um... fellas?"

"Well, new person. M'name's Warren, tell me how I should feel meeting you."

"Pleased to meet you." The Gentleman greeted with enthusiasm, while at the same time sizing up this new addition. "'The Gentleman' at your service."

The Gentleman doffed his cap, smiling. All the better to take in the body language from head to heel. This crew member was a fighter, that much was plain, and while he spoke well enough there was a wildness behind his eyes, that spoke of an instinctive combat intelligence, as well as sheer ferocity. His stance would look relaxed enough to the untrained eye, but the man was tightly wound. The Gentleman concluded that this one would make for a particularly dangerous enemy, so he should endeavor to make a new friend.

"How should you feel upon meeting me, you ask? Well, you like carbon I trust, and I'm here to make us all a lot more of it than we have right now, hopefully without a single bullet wasted. Make of that what you will. Of course..." he leaned closer, a glint of wickedness in his sharp, blue eyes. "...should something go awry, they'll be ample opportunity to flex your fighting muscles, and your trigger finger in particular, if your the sort who prefers the chase to the prize."

The pipe smoke danced around the pair, as The Gentleman took another long, slow drag. Even from the other side of the wall, he could tell that Meredith's conversation with Ruffles was growing heated, and he could hear snatches of the exchange.

"I won't stand around and watch a man get tortured to death when I can help him."

"Tch" the Gentleman offered with scorn. What business does a crook have making moral judgments, though he supposed the Maiden's had always had a queerly high opinion of themselves. Nevertheless, when he heard the sharp sound of Ruffles taking a blow across the face, he muttered "How unchivalrous."

Not long after that, the door swung open as Ruffles dismissed himself.

"if that fat bastard had died, you'd have been no better than him."

The Gentleman allowed himself a smile, although he kept a respectful silence until Ruffles had stormed off out of sight.

"No better." he mused. "Well I suppose that part's true enough. Cops or robbers, gentry or pauper, the train terminates at the same station for us all in the end, why should the how or the why of it matter. That one has a lot to learn.

Anyway," The Gentleman said to his current companion. "I'd love to chat some more, but I really mustn't keep your Captain waiting, she was oh so gracious to allow me on board at such short notice."

The Gentleman rapped the door smartly with his knuckles, before opening it a crack and poking his head inside, offering Meredith his most sparkling smile.

"May I intrude?"

Florian didn't stay around for a debriefing or to join in the revelry like some of the other maiden crew. It wasn't lost on him that the captain's "valkyries" took their leave of the main group to unwind or contemplate the various deeds of the day.

Florian's room was both one of the largest and smallest living quaters among the crew. The room itself was on the spacious side, at least as far as quaters on a ship like this were. But he had set up a divider that he'd helped himself to on a prievious job to cut the room in two and set up a makeshift sitting area/chapel for any who were interested in visiting. Few of the crew ever did but he was determined to keep his little home away from the Abbey standing. Besides it had taken a lot of effort to set it up. Almost everything in this comunal area was either bought with exchanged for Florian's cut of various jobs, that was after he was done dividing his cut into its usual group of three. One part for the people they were trying to help, the second was sent back to the abbey and the third was for himself to live by. It was that part that paid for his mini chapel.

The only thing that was really his was a crucifix pendant that he hung from the wall as a tiy figure piece. But that was for other people. Florian did all his praying knelt at his bed a if he was still a child. He moved past the divider and gently lifted the bright red scarf from under his pillow. He knelt wtih it clasped in his hands and held close to his face. The perfume smell that had once clung to it had faded away years ago but old habits died hard.

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;"

He muttered ino the crimson fabric.
"where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy."

He'd drawn his gun today. It was sloppy, he'd never even let the others know he had it before, would they ask him about it? There was a conversation he'd rater avoid.

"O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life."

He repeated the prayer again and again, each line blurring into each other. His mantra becoming eventually turning into a constant stream of words. going through it over and over again until it could still the thoughts fighting for attention in the back of his head. Finally Florian slowed down.

"Amen."

That was enough for now, maybe he'd go up to the lookout post and read for a while. Provided Lilith hadn't smoked the place up too badly.

"Pleased to meet you. 'The Gentleman' at your service."

'A name to match his uniform, how much substance is behind your style?' Warren raised an eyebrow, didn't bother with a handshake. A quick tip of the hat and the usual inspection. He was more used to it from people who hired him, though, but who knows. He leaned in with an offer.

"How should you feel upon meeting me, you ask? Well, you like carbon I trust, and I'm here to make us all a lot more of it than we have right now, hopefully without a single bullet wasted. Make of that what you will. Of course... should something go awry, they'll be ample opportunity to flex your fighting muscles, and your trigger finger in particular, if your the sort who prefers the chase to the prize."

A right set of buzzwords to flair the imagination and avarice of a brute. Must've been what he was taken for, a fair enough assumption, that was the air he meant to put out if nothing else. Warren smiled, one who relied on charm was a good friend to one who placed their faith in tools and strength.

"I won't stand around and watch a man get tortured to death when I can help him."

A surprise entrance interrupted his chance to reply. Ruffles was invited to her room? The bloodied mouth told him she was in a bad mood; trying to teach one with a Robin Hood complex usually had the effect.

"Sounds like you've never handicapped a soldier, all kill shots all the time? Skilled." Warren loaded his voice with as much sarcasm as possible and shrugged as he passed by.

"No better. Well I suppose that part's true enough. Cops or robbers, gentry or pauper, the train terminates at the same station for us all in the end, why should the how or the why of it matter. That one has a lot to learn. Anyway, I'd love to chat some more, but I really mustn't keep your Captain waiting, she was oh so gracious to allow me on board at such short notice."

"Sounds good to me, I don't have much to say after all.... It was a pleasure." Smiles bowed as he walked away, and lost himself in his mind as he wandered. Drinking was something he avoided, with good reason. He found Florian's room, and moved to his 'shrine'. He whistled as he flipped the cross upside down, and drew his kitana. He gave his finger a small knick, and drew his five pointed star, a circle around the whole thing. It was entirely unnecessary, he didn't pray after all, he just knew it upset the priest immensely. He left the room, wandering and 'meditating', which was in truth just losing himself in his own thoughts.

"... if that fat bastard had died, you'd have been no better than him."

Once the door closed Pixie took another swig of her vodka, slammed it down on the table and started massaging her temples.

God fuckn' dammit, Ruffles. What'ta my gonna do with you?

As much as she valued his input--not to mention his loyalty thus far--she simply couldn't tolerate insubordination. He had to understand that. Under different circumstances she'd have let it go. Hell, she may have even thanked him.

Pixie sighed, staring at the door. The bulk of the crew was comprised of hardened veterans of the trade. They were in it for the score. Nothing else mattered to them. Jake knew this. Whatever his reasons for serving on the Maiden came second to it's prime directive: take down scores. Killing was just a natural byproduct of that goal.

Frustrated, Pixie was seconds away from shattering her bottle of vodka against the wall when the door cracked open.

"May I intrude?"

Pixie got up from her desk and walked to the back of the room, "Like I can stop ya'." She joked as she ran ice cold water from the sink and splashed it on her dirtied face. Such an act was meant to calm her nerves more than anything else, though it wasn't as if she didn't need such cleaning. After drying her face off with a hand towel she turned to face her guest with an effortless smile. "Come on in. Sit'down. Make yerself at home."

**********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"Axel, what the fuck!?"

Sprout didn't have time to speak... or think for that matter. He was caught red handed. Boy was he going to get it!

"Sorry, man. But seriously, you have any idea what your mom would do if she caught you with this? Fuck..."

Or not.

Sprout watched him as he slumped down on the opposite wall and began drinking. The blood was hard to ignore. It certainly wasn't there before. Afraid to speak lest he make his situation worse, Sprout hesitated for a moment, "Um... hey, you okay? You get roughed up'er somethin'?"

Before Ruffles could reply Aesop had appeared.

"Um... fellas?"

Sprout nodded to him and glanced around the room, "Wan' me ta' find somethin' regular fer ya'?" Sprout wanted desperately out of this awkward situation. Any mundane errand would do. There was obviously something bothering Ruffles. It made him... uncomfortable to see him that way.

********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"Come hither."

Elizabeth took Josephine up on her offer and collapsed into her arms for the second time that day. Tears ran down her face, but she didn't make a sound. Not even a whimper. Josephine led them to the bed and sat down. They remained there for several minutes. Eventually Elizabeth withdrew and wiped the remaining tears from her eyes, "Thank you, Milady. The day has... it has taken much out of me."

A pained expression showed on her face as the bullet wound began to throb. She clutched the dressed wound and gritted her teeth, "P-perhaps in all this chaos they have forgotten about this wound. How long can such an injury go untreated?" She tried to phrase it in a calm manner, but it was obvious Elizabeth was afraid.

To Josephine, it was also clear she needed surgery.

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************

Several hours after Viola had returned to the room she was staying in someone knocked on her door, "Miss Greaves, may I have a moment? I apologize if this is a bad time, but my name is Raphael. I represent the Basilio family and I am here to extend an offer." He adjusted his formal attire in preparation for their meeting. He was representing nobility after all. He had to look the part.

*******************************************************************************************************************************************************

A somewhat similar scene played out in another hole-in-the-wall several miles from Viola. A large, hairy man with a thick mustache, sunglasses and the name "Duke" shown in gold on his belt buckle, entered the saloon and took in the scene before him. It was just like his old friend to take to such a place. He'd admit he enjoyed the ruggedness of such settings as well.

After inquiring about Metal's whereabouts he made his way up the stairs and slammed his fist against the door, "Get off your lazy ass, partner! I've got a job for us!"

"Get off your lazy ass, partner! I've got a job for us!"

Eddie had been dozing on the ragged old bed he'd paid for, when the voice woke him. He sat bolt up right. It couldn't be... he got up and crossed to the door, knife in hand. Taking a breath, he threw open the door. Duke stood there, grinning. A smile breaking out on his own features, Eddie stuck the knife through his belt, as Duke took off his sunglasses and hung them from from his collar. Then the two men grabbed each other by the hair and bashed heads, hard enough to make spots dance in front of their eyes as they laughed.

Several minutes later, the two comrades were sat at a table in the bar area, knocking back whiskey in a race. "So, what's this about a job?"

"Opportunity of a cunt fuckin' lifetime, Met. This Noble, Basilio. He's hiring the cream of our crop. Some serious stone to be made. I was asked for you by name." At the look Eddie gave him, he hastened to clarify. "They wanted Metal, I mean. Seriously, why aren't you happier about this?"

"The Basilios are somewhat affiliated with the Wilkes-Vines. I've been keeping clear of them for years, and you know why. Hell, I ain't been to Zephyr since..." he tailed off.

Duke grinned and spread his palms. "Hey man. If Basilio was gettin' WV involved, he wouldn't need bounty hunters. Those guys are insane."

"I know. Why do you think I'm so keen to steer clear? And for that matter, don't you think it's suspicious they asked for me by name? I always figured they'd make the connection..."

"Bitch, they asked for you by name because you're a famous certified badass. I'm pretty sure they only talked to me 'cause of my connection to you. Come on, man. If they were gonna make the connection between you and your old identity, they'd have done it ages ago. You ain't small time no more, even if you have been going after the little fish lately. Pussy drug runners, fer fuck's sake."

Eddie knocked back another drink, and ran a hand down his stubbly face contemplatively. "Yeah... maybe you're right."

"I'm always fucking right. C'mon, I wanna see you punch through a fucking wall again with that metal hand of yours." After some hesitation, Eddie nodded and Duke knocked back a shot. "Yeah, boy! So, how do you wanna do this?"

"Let's stop by the Cave," Eddie replied, getting to his feet.

"Rock and roll," Duke replied, following suit.

========================================

"Long story, Sprout. You don't wanna know." Ruffles replied. Turning to Aesop, he gave him a somewhat forced grin. "Hey, man. Just finishing up here." With that, he stepped out of the side corridor, thrusting the whiskey bottle into the hands of a passing crew member who started drinking it greedily, not noticing Sprout, looking a little wobbly. Turning to Aesop, Ruffles said, "c'mon, I got a case of cream sodas in my room."

Carbonated drinks factories weren't entirely defunct, as they were still manually operated. Employees there weren't knowledgeable about the process in any way, they just knew what buttons to press. Though the drinks were still quite expensive, but Ruffles had splashed out after the job that preceeeded the semi-botched train heist.

It had been several hours since Viola had finished her business with Hannibal. During that time she resupplied herself with some ammunition, noticing it had been getting a little low ever since the chase with Miles Reed; afterwards she retired to the motel room she booked upon arrival, and spent the time either reading, sleeping, or performing maintenance work on her guns, her mother saying it was important for them to be properly cared for, otherwise the gun might jam or break on you.

Viola was lying on the bed, her coat, hat, and body armour hanging on the stand near the door, when the door began to knock. "Miss Greaves, may I have a moment? I apologize if this is a bad time, but my name is Raphael. I represent the Basilio family and I am here to extend an offer." Asked the man. This caused Viola to sit up on the bed, revolver in hand as she began to quietly make her way towards the door. She was one to never fully trust the nobility, always working for their own benefits, and neglecting those they are supposed to protect.

Viola reached the door, and pulled on the handle. As the door opened, she was greeted with the sight of a man in a rather formal looking suit; quite appropriate for a man working for the most powerful Noble families in the region. When Raphael saw the revolver in Viola's hand, he was rather startled by the sight, which made Viola holster it almost immediately.

"Sorry about that, can't be too careful around these parts, especially if it involves a man such as yourself with such powerful people as employers. In any case, no need to apologize, and please do come in." Viola said calmly as she walked back to the bed and sat down, offering the chair to Raphael.

"Your lucky to catch me here Mr. Raphael, I was originally heading to Feroxi on the lookout for some more contracts, but the ticket master at the train station said that due to an 'incident' that occurred, all train services were temporarily halted." Viola said with a hint of annoyance in her voice.

"Listen, before I hear out your offer Mr. Raphael; I want a couple of questions answered. First off, according to some rumours that I've heard, is it true that you employer is seen as a bit of a maverick by the other Nobles? And secondly, how in the hell did you track me down to here in Fyrestone?"

"Come on in. Sit'down. Make yerself at home."

"Is that all?" The Gentleman offered playfully. "There was a time when you would wine and dine me for the little gifts I brought you. Could it be that you're angry with me, my dear Meredith. I assure you, that if there had even been the remote possibility that your crew would dare allow little Axel to come to any harm, then he would have had no value to me as leverage. The boy was never in any real danger."

He took another long drag from his pipe, and smoke crept lazily out from his nose and between his teeth.

"Of course, you know me well enough to know that. This wouldn't still be about Widow's Canyon, would it? Even now, after so many years? Business is business after all, and a travelling salesman of my particular trade has a reputation to maintain. A crook for hire who will turn down the highest bidder for personal loyalties is of no use to anyone. Do you have any idea how much carbon the Smythe Brother's offered me to double-cross you? I'd have killed a hundred other men for half the price. They had originally wanted me to kill you, but even with all their wealth, they just couldn't name a price worth my while. You should be flattered, my dear, by how much you're worth to me."

The Gentleman smiled, thoroughly enjoying this little catch-up between old friends. Meredith was formidable when provoked, he knew, but that only made it all the sweeter. The Gentleman would not be dismissed by threats and smacks across the chops.

"Some very valuable cargo you've taken on." he changed tack. "The pretty young thing who took a bullet in the shoulder. I happened to catch certain snippets of her conversation before our journey was interrupted. The Basilio family will be most eager to see their newest prospective member returned safely to her betrothed, I'm sure. I do believe I've had dealing with the man once. We never met face to face, both far too cautious for all that. Everything was done through intermediaries. Still, I got the impression of a man who did not suffer slights gladly."

"P-perhaps in all this chaos they have forgotten about this wound. How long can such an injury go untreated?"

Josephine held Elizabeth tight when pain surged through her. "Prithee, lay down and try to relax," she said, try to coax her as she laid her out on the bed. She reached for the makeshift bandages that have held the wound together, then froze during her inspection. She could see blood starting to come through, and the brigands couldn't have had the time to remove the bullet back on the train. In these dank quarters, it would only be a matter of time before Elizabeth would have contracted infections. I did not sacrifice my freedom so thou would'st perish!

"Forgive me." Pulling herself away from Elizabeth's grip, she rose from the bed and approached the door. There had to have been a guard outside, and if they were set on receiving money from their families, then they would have to see to Elizabeth's health. Josephine took a deep breath, then proceeded to pound on the door.

"Guards! GUARDS! Pardon me for being vexatious, but Lady Maribel needs proper treatment before it's too late!"

"Wan' me ta' find somethin' regular fer ya'?"

"c'mon, I got a case of cream sodas in my room."

"Sure you want something too Sprout? I figure your a bit young for scotch," turning to Ruffles he continued, "lemme guess our lovely and totally pacifist captain?" said Aesop referring to his face.

"Guards! GUARDS! Pardon me for being vexatious, but Lady Maribel needs proper treatment before it's too late!"

Aesop thought he heard someone from a distance and pounding metal.

"D'you hear something?" asked Aesop.

"D'you hear something?"

"No rest for the wicked, I guess." Heading down the hall, he went to the door of the room the two lady Nobles were being kept in. Opening the door a crack with his pistol in hand, he peeked in. The wounded woman was sprawled on the ground, a dark stain spreading under her bandages. "Well, fuck... stay right there, you two."

He turned to the others. "Sprout, go find Florian. I might be able to take care of this, but I want a second opinion for anything I do. Aesop, go up to my room. There's a box of floss in my bottom drawer. Probably underneath some junk, but it's there. I don't care if you make a mess. Grab that, and the red plastic box on my bedside, and then go to my workshop. There's a tin bucket in the corner, and I want you to fill it half up with Valhalla."

Not waiting to see if they did anything, he went into the room and shut the door behind him. "Don't worry, you're going to be fine," he said, crouching by Elizabeth. He stripped away the bandage to reveal blood welling thickly from the gunshot wound. "Gotta get the bullet out before lead poisoning sets in. Christ..." He removed a metal implement from his belt that was somewhere between tongs and tweezers. "Ain't sterilized, but we'll take care of that."

With his thumb and index finger, he stretched the wound a little, causing Elizabeth to gasp. "Hold her down," he told Josephine. Then he stuck the tiny tongs into the wound, which caused Elizabeth to whimper loudly and try to pull away. Then, with a squelch, Ruffles removed the tongs, a warped lump of lead clutched between them.

Standing up, he said, "alright, you put pressure on that wound of hers. Push down as hard as you can and don't stop. I'll be back in a minute." With that, he went and stood outside of the door, and waited for the others to come back. The fuck was this, seriously? He had often supposed fixing ships and fixing people weren't entirely different. But they were hardly the same can of worms, either. Shit. He hoped Florian would be here soon. The man seemed to have a grasp on fixing people up, and the second opinion, or maybe even someone else to do the job would be fucking welcome.

"Fuck sake nothing can go simple can it?" Aesop pronounced as he saw the scene before him. Ruffles was thankfully taking control of the situation and giving him and Sprout orders.

"Aesop, go up to my room. There's a box of floss in my bottom drawer. Probably underneath some junk, but it's there. I don't care if you make a mess. Grab that, and the red plastic box on my bedside, and then go to my workshop. There's a tin bucket in the corner, and I want you to fill it half up with Valhalla."

Aesop nodded and headed off towards Ruffles' room, only by the time he got there did he realise he was going to be with Valhalla for the first time in a long time, not since... nevermind fuck those thoughts they're not helping. He threw open Jake's door and scrambled to his bottom drawer, throwing around anything in the way and indeed making a mess as he did. "Box of floss got it." He reached up and grabbed the red plastic box Jake mentioned, "Got that too." He rushed off into the workshop, hesitating before entering. "Stop it, don't be a bitch now Aesop." He opened the door and took in the smell of fucking Valhalla... FUCK did it smell nasty, good nasty and bad nasty but even good nasty was bad nasty for Aesop-STOP SAYING NASTY! He rushed to the bucket and dipped it in Valhalla, his hands shaking as he did almost dropping it inside. He hovered over it for a moment looking deep inside the poison contents. "Now's not the time for this... stop looking at it.... stop looking, stop looking... nnnnnnnnnow!" Aesop tore his attention away from Valhalla and rushed back towards the makeshift holding cell, nearly spilling the brew from the bucket. "Ruffles I got it!" he yelled from down the corridor as he came within eyesight.

"Listen, before I hear out your offer Mr. Raphael; I want a couple of questions answered. First off, according to some rumours that I've heard, is it true that you employer is seen as a bit of a maverick by the other Nobles? And secondly, how in the hell did you track me down to here in Fyrestone?"

Raphael had taken his seat... cautiously. It wasn't common for him to handle such matters personally, but considering the seriousness of the situation Lord Basilio needed every warm body at his disposal. He nerviosuly adjusted his tie once more and spoke, "Thank you for your... hospitality, Miss Graves. To answer your questions, yes, Lord Basilio has been regarded as his... own man, so to speak." Raphael appeared to be struggling with his words as he described him. "He doesn't hold many of his peers in high regard. At risk of coming off as a buffoon, I would describe him as a visionary. He has big ideas."

He studied Viola's expression as he described his master, but it was no use. She was a hard woman to read it seemed, "As for your second inquiry... suffice it to say that my Lord has eyes and ears in all corners of Feroxi. Now, if you do not have any more questions would you like to hear the proposition?"

********************************************************************************************************************************************************

"... The boy was never in any real danger."

Pixie smirked as she plopped down in the chair behind her desk, "Uh huh."

"... You should be flattered, my dear, by how much you're worth to me."

Pixie opened a drawer and pulled out a small box as he spoke. From it she produced a fat cigar that she held to her nose for a quick whiff, "Something tells me you haven't seen the price the Marconi Family's put on my head." She put the cigar to her lips and lit it as the Gentleman continued.

"... The Basilio family will be most eager to see their newest prospective member returned safely to her betrothed, I'm sure."

Pixie removed the cigar and stared at the man before her as he spoke. Her betrothed? Basilio? The Gentleman couldn't not have missed Pixie's reaction to his words. Her jaw hung, her eye wide, goosebumps forming on her bare arms...

And the anger welling up inside her.

"... Still, I got the impression of a man who did not suffer slights gladly."

Pale as a ghost, Pixie sat in silence. Utterly shocked it seemed. As if some nightmarish aberration stood before her. Slowly, her disposition shifted from that of shock and fear to the primal rage the Gentleman was more familiar with. She gritted her teeth and slammed a fist down on the desk, "Fuck!"

The pair sat in silence for several moments. Pixie's eyes remained fixed on her fist. Finally, she spoke up, "You have no idea, my friend. You have no fuckn' idea." Eventually she looked back up at the man. She was still rattled, but had managed to calm her nerves somewhat. She slid the vodka bottle towards him and flipped open the cigar box once more. "I'm gonna need lots'a these before the day's out. Don't make me sin alone here."

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Sprout looked at the wounded noble in horror. His actions had led to this. He was the cause of her suffering. A pit in his stomach began to form as the reality of the situation set in. What if she died? How could he live with himself... killing an innocent...

"Sprout, go find Florian. I might be able to take care of this, but I want a second opinion for anything I do...

Sprout shot him a salute and sprinted out of the room. It was good Ruffles had taken control of the situation like he did as Sprout would have likely remained frozen in fear and uncertainty. Sprout ran down the halls shouting Florian's name like a madman until he found himself sprawled out on the ground with a throbbing headache. In his desperate search he had cut a corner too fast and crashed directly into Cranston, "You okay, kid?"

Cranston helped him to his feet, laughing, "You gotta be more careful, son." Cranston didn't seem the slightest bit injured. Had he even fallen over?

Sprout shook the pain from his head, "S-sorry about that..."

"Any reason you're running and screaming through the halls? You're not eight-years-old anymore."

Suddenly remembering the urgency of the situation he shouted frantically, "I-I, ummm... I need to find Florian! It's the blonde noble! Her injury's worsened! I need---"

Cranston grabbed his shoulders to calm him, "Whoa, whoa! Chill out! Alright, we'll figure this out. Florian just went up top. I'll grab him. In the meantime I need you to go back to that noble and keep her calm. Can you do that?"

Sprout nodded and immediately ran back towards the nobles. It seemed he would have to confront the situation head on after all.

*********************************************************************************************************************************************************

Cranston found Florian in short order and called up to him, "Hey, Priest! We need your help down here. One of the prisoners needs medical assistance ASAP!"

********************************************************************************************************************************************************

The pain was indescribable. If it wasn't for Josephine's words of encouragement she would have likely been too squirly to operate on. Through the pained moans and screams she managed to say, "It hurts" more than a few times. Her senses were going haywire and she could hardly make out what she saw in the room before her. The pain reached its peak as the tongs began groping around inside her flesh. Just before she lost consciousness she saw the boy's face once more.

He looked terrified.

Just as she had.

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