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

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"I don't want you looking through her things c'mon I know you will c'mon c'mon..."

The Gentleman wore his faintly amused smile, not for the first time that day.

"I fear there must be some misunderstanding." he said earnestly "Why, I have no intention of speading mischief aboard this vessel. Your Captain trusts me enough to leave me alone here, and she's known me a great deal longer than you have, perhaps you should trust her word."

'and I'd like to see you try and prove anything against me.' he added silently, before changing his expression to one of concern.

"Are you quite alright lad?" he asked "You look a little... wound up. You should lie down. I have just the remedy for soothing ragged nerves."

Remedy?

"Don't pull that shit about her trusting you. Even if she is talking to you and if we should all trust you then why did you feel the need to take Sprout as a hostage you asshole. C'mon lets just... lets just stand outside the room I wanna watch you, make sure you aren't doing anything weird. Whats your name anyway?"

"I wanna watch you, make sure you aren't doing anything weird. Whats your name anyway?"

Ruffles heard this as he and Sprout came around the corner. Coming up by Aesop's side, he casually interjected. "Don't bother asking. Pix's been dealing with the guy almost as long as the Maidens have been a thing. He either won't tell you, or he'll make something up. But I just call him Fuck Face."

This was, at this point, due course for the two men. Having been with Pixie that long, Ruffles had had his fill of the Gentleman as well, and the two men casually aired their dislike towards each other out of habit more than anything. "He's right, though, teabag. It's impolite to go through a lady's things; which if you aren't, surely you have no objection to waiting elsewhere. To put Aesop's mind at ease. Besides, trust me, she's gonna be a while, and those seats aren't comfy for the long haul."

Warren pretended to ignore the silent scrutinizing, couldn't blame her. He was still wearing a sword, and his reputation wasn't a very good one... was this the first time they'd been alone together? Friendships started in odder ways... He doubted Pixie was likely to slap anyone else today, unless a recent slight happened. Though tomorrow was another story.

"Ah well, thems the cards we're dealt. What about you, I imagine your end wasn't a clusterfuck."

"My side was easier, yeah. Ricky and I pretty much just blew up a few things... I didn't get to do anything at all, really. Almost heartbreaking." He let the sarcasm creep into his voice at the end, and took a large swig of the... scotch. Took a moment to figure that out, he was almost ashamed to be a man.

"My side was easier, yeah. Ricky and I pretty much just blew up a few things... I didn't get to do anything at all, really. Almost heartbreaking."

Lilith smiled, "Well I'm glad everything went fine." She had never really had any time alone with him before, but he had a certain charm about him. Scary as hell, but hey, he was on her side right?

"Well, I have music and booze, so feel free to stay as long as you want." She thought for second before laughing nervously, "Although I suppose I'd better put some clothes on, huh? The guys would have a field day with this one."

She got to her feet and quickly walked behind a dressing screen next to her bed.

"So err, yeah, help yourself, got loads of stuff on the shelf, take your pick."

"Well, I have music and booze, so feel free to stay as long as you want."

'Should actually get some practice in with my sword. But how would I phrase leaving to do that?' Warren smiled, he'd take the offer until she threw up more signs of wanting him to fuck off. What else did he have to do tonight?

"So err, yeah, help yourself, got loads of stuff on the shelf, take your pick."

Warren, ever the gentleman, didn't look as she moved behind the screen, to make this a whoooole lot more comfortable. Mission all but accomplished, unless she decided a low cut top would be a good idea. He noticed the bar earlier, and wanted as little to do with it now as he did earlier. He sighed, leaning forward and rubbing his temples, thinking...

"Fuck it." Warren muttered, hopping up and looking over her selection of pretty much just scotch. He shrugged, downing his drink and pouring another.

"then why did you feel the need to take Sprout as a hostage you asshole."

"Allow me to answer your question with a question. Or, well, several actually." The Gentleman offered to the babbling Aesop. "Firstly, would you or would you not agree with the statement that Meredith cares deeply for young Axel? Secondly, do you think that, in light of the first question, Meredith would have been so remiss as to not demand an explanation from me. Last, but not least, if I had not provided a very, very satisfying explanation, do you really think that I would still be sitting here, with an entirely appropriate quantity of blood still inside?"

It was after that when Ruffles decided to make his presence known. It was a shame really, The Gentleman knew that Ruffles had it in him to be good company. Alas, wherever he was concerned, Ruffles bowels got no respite from his own, self-inserted barge pole. Honestly! What had he ever done to him?

"He either won't tell you, or he'll make something up."

'Or perhaps I'd tell you the truth, just to see whether or not I'd be believed.'

"which if you aren't, surely you have no objection to waiting elsewhere."

"Ah..." The Gentleman said, lip curling. "The old 'if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear' argument." He ave Ruffles his most condescending smile "If only I had anything to fear in the first place."

He gave the barb a few moments to sink in, as it usually took Ruffles a while before he felt it. When The Gentleman felt sufficiently satisfied by the look on his face, he let out a resigned sigh.

"As you will." He conceded, holding his hands up. "I'll come quietly, if only to save poor Aesop here any further palpitations."

Lilith unwrapped the towel from around herself and hung it over the side of the dressing screen. She pulled on some shorts and a rather loose fitting vest. She looked at the wall mirror next to her bed and paused for a moment before rummaging around in a small clothing chest and pulling out a large, white knitted shawl. She wrapped it around her shoulders, covering most of her torso. That's better. She walked from behind the screen, tussling her still damp hair into place.

Lilith watched as Warren downed a scotch, a rather distasteful look on his face, she laughed slightly. "You know, you don't have to drink that crap? I have some sodas I pilfered from Ruffles a while back, you can have one of those if you promise not to tell him."

Before waiting for a response, she walked over to a small refrigeration chest she had installed in a cupboard, she pulled out a couple of the bottled beverages. She turned back towards Warren and held up one of both.

"I have, err, cola flavour and... blue flavour?" A confused tone in here voice, "How the fuck is blue a flavour?" She said more quietly to herself. "No wonder that guy is always talking to himself if all he drinks is this crap. Blue flavour? Christ..."

This clearly wasn't his field of expertise. Florian had been with the crew long enough to catch wind of the various dealings with the gentleman and from time to time he had been on the edge of one of the Maiden's encounters with him but this had been his first time interacting with the mercenary directly.

His feelings on the matter were surprisingly mixed.

Yes he'd messed up the job, put other members of the crew in danger and killed a man in cold blood but those were all things (or at least the way he did it) that Florian could have respected in another time. If he had never taken his vows maybe the two of them could have been friends and worked together... or maybe they'd brutally kill each other, either way there wouldn't have been any middle ground. It made for an amusing bit of thinking as Florian pictured himself trying to talk all fancy and walk around like a business man.

Now if only the Gentleman wasn't so smug about it all! It was infuriating! Oh and that smirk! How has no one shot him in the face yet? This man wouldn't have gone unblooded in Frostfall for an hour. Aaaahh home. But this was no time to be wistful.

Florian occupied himself tending to the young noble girl. Making sure she was comfortable and that the bandages were properly cleaned before he left as for the captain's orders.. It was a pity she wasn't here under better circumstances, she'd make a great second crush for Axel. He split up from the rest of the group and made his way back to his room. The place was a mess, his pendant had been thrown to the ground and was... was that blood on the wall?

"Warren..." he snarled through gritted teeth. Florian's knuckles whitened as he gripped the washcloth and set about sorting things out. "Vengeance is mine sayeth the lord." He growled. But maybe Florian could get some of his own later... after he cleaned.

Listening to this smug man's bullshit was giving Aesop a new appetite, violence. Something that he was not at all scared of letting out. Oooooohh it would be so good to beat his fucking face in with a lamp or a book or any object not intended for killing to be used for killing. Nothing to fear eh? This fuck wears a good mask.

"Good, make me feel better. But if you wanted to talk with Pixie why not just say to Lillith? You two clearly know each other. Better yet why not wait for Pixie. The damage you caused to the heist and making us look like fools in front of the hostages... even by kinda joining us the way you did in the end you nearly fucked us all up. I doubt you care about making things harder for us so I'll just ask, why did you bother taking Sprout hostage when you could have easily gotten onto the Maiden in a more subtle and peaceful way? It'd have been much easier for all of us and you wouldn't have pissed us all off!" Aesop lowered his tone. He wouldn't let this fucker get to him.

"... It'd have been much easier for all of us and you wouldn't have pissed us all off!"

Sprout didn't know the Gentleman all that well, but Pixie had mentioned him enough times in her tales that he'd become a kind of boogieman during Sprout's childhood. It took all that he had not to piss himself when he'd been taken hostage. Sprout understood that he wasn't a man you could shake. He'd get under your skin and you'd tear through your own flesh trying to get him out.

He wasn't worth it. After having watched enough, Sprout placed a hand on Aesop's shoulder, "Hey buddy, why don' I take you back ta' yer room so you can lie down fer a bit."

"You know, you don't have to drink that crap? I have some sodas I pilfered from Ruffles a while back, you can have one of those if you promise not to tell him."

"Promise." He said, nodding appreciatively. He took a step back from the bar, and watched her rummage through her cupboard. He wondered briefly when Florian would see his shrine, and dismissed it. It wasn't the first time he had done that, and they both knew it. It was fun being bigger, stronger, and willing to use a gun.

Although then they'd probably just try to kill him...

"I have, err, cola flavour and... blue flavour? How the fuck is blue a flavour? No wonder that guy is always talking to himself if all he drinks is this crap. Blue flavour? Christ..."

"Blue? Either blueberry or a trap. I'll take it." She tossed the bottle, and Warren caught it easily enough. A sip told him it was definitely not window fluid. He nodded, and sat back on the lounge thingy.

"Hey buddy, why don' I take you back ta' yer room so you can lie down fer a bit."

Interjecting gently, Ruffles said, "Better yet, let's go back to mine, crack open those sodas, and shoot the shit." He clapped Aesop on the shoulder. "You up for that, pal?"

Glancing back at the Gentleman, Ruffles flashed him a smile. "Most of the crew's in the common area if you need to satisfy your pathological need for attention."

The Gentleman paid no mind the Ruffles' return of fire. "Need for attention"? Was that honestly the best he could do? The Gentleman despaired sometimes.

"Before you go..." he interrupted, looking at Aesop. "Your question was fair, it deserves a fair answer. Meredith and I have a... unique history. We've stolen from each-other just as many times as we've stolen for each-other. On our last meeting prior to this one, there was some disagreement about the distribution of earnings. I did the job that was asked of me, and let no man say I didn't. Meredith just failed to specify exclusivity, and a better offer presented itself. Now, I know her better than to fear coming to any harm at her hands, but even so I didn't like the thought of entering negotiations with a gun at my back, being forced into every concession until the job was barely worth my while. It would also be hard maintaining my reputation as a master of my craft, if I had to practice with one of her lackeys constantly in tow. Present company accepted, of course." he shot a winning look at Ruffles.

"Your boss has it in her to forgive easily, but she has a long memory. Besides, if you'll recall Meredith wasn't there at first. Instead, I had to deal with a boy as eager as he is green, an unstable priest, neither of which know me, and Lilith. As for her... well... you all saw how quickly she lost control of the situation. She's very much afraid of me, and fear leads to her making mistakes. Did any of you hear the story of how she ended up on the Iron Maiden? Perhaps that is a tale for another time. Regardless, had I not removed the option for her to shoot me on sight, why, I would have feared grievously for my safety. In short, I did what I did because I did not thrive in this profession for so long by allowing others to gain the upper hand. It was nothing personal, and you have my word, hand on heart, that you will be generously compensated for any... embarrassment."

"Blue? Either blueberry or a trap. I'll take it."

"I wouldn't put it past Ruffles. I've been doing this for a while now." She smirked, "One day he'll catch me, but today isn't that day."

Lilith sat back down next to Warren, uncapping the bottle and tapping it against his. After so much scotch, the cold, sweet, and fizzy drink was rather refreshing.

"Larceny never tasted so good"

Aesop could barely follow his trail of thought. Some he understood but Pixie having the ability to forgive easily? That's something he wasn't sure he could trust. She forgave him in the past for causing trouble on the maiden while he was getting sober. He'd seen others fuck up and be forgiven. But he'd also seen Pixie hunt people down and so some really fucked up things, even on his relatively short time as a maiden compared to most others. Not wanting to go into a deal handicapped made sense, as did him screwing Meredith over, 'could'a seen that one a mile away.' But Lillith being scared? Lillith? No. No that was bullshit. That was definitely total BS he was lying he was LYING! Fucker. Smug piece of shit.

Stepping forward with every muscle in his body tense Aesop said, "Everything you just said I understand. Took me a minute to piece it all together and even as an educated child I'll admit some of your wordplay had me lost for a minute there but I get it now I get it now. But one thing you said I know is just a fucking lie. Lillith ain't scared of you." One of the only times Aesop said 'ain't' instead of 'isn't' or any other substitute word that he considered proper grammer. In the back of his mind a voice was saying 'STOP GIVING HIM THE SATISFACTION' but the rest of his brain was on fire. "And she kept control of the situation better than any of us could have you sociopathic broken condom child fuckwit. I ain't even saying this t' defend her either, I'm sayin' this cos it just aint, fuckin', true. I fucked up cos I'm a dumbass I admit that I suck at what I do, Ruff got mad, Sprout got scared, Padre tried to play the peaceful man. I figured I'd try my hand above my station and learned that I shouldn't. But Lil? She did her best, better than all of us and I saw apprehension but I did not see fear." Stepping up so close to the suited bastard that in his rage he wouldn't have even noticed if the man had tried to stab him. Nose to nose and eye to eye damn near lips to lips he breathed in his face as he spoke. "By all this fuckin'... kinda looks like makeup this up close... and the lack of a name, phony accent and the fact that you even said it back on the train after killin' tubby mc fat fuck that I know your a con man as well as whatever the else your business is and that lying is your profession... but dont you dare make insults or lies about one of my friends un'erstand." He spoke through gritted teeth before smiling something vicious. "Enjoy this fucker cos congrats you got under my skin. Well guess what my skin is cancerous, try and cut'chaself out before it takes you. You wanna work with Cap'n Monroe-fine. You wanna do a deal-fine. Hell if you wanna hire my services you go right ahead cos I'd even fuck'n do it just to see what happens." Gritting through his teeth once again he said, "Just don't make up lies about my maidens." Walking back a couple steps his upper lip curled as he stared at the man. To a man like this, what Aesop had just said had no doubt in his mind given him a sadistic sense of accomplishment and victory, cunt. But Aesop needed to say it. Anger had been bubbling below the surface since the second he saw him with a gun to his friend's head. Loneliness and boredom had been dormant for months only being realised these past few weeks while regret had been here for 8 years. He needed an outlet, even if it was only for his anger. No matter if this was a loss, it was also, in one way that may have only mattered to Aesop, victory.

He smiled an angry smile before turning round and heading out the room. "Stay away from her fucking room, feel free to tell her I fucked up the door." He walked away from the three of them until he was out of sight before stopping around a nearby corner. A long sigh exhuming from his lungs. He rubbed his face and eyes and hair with his palms. He needed a stress reliever phsyical excerices just was not doing the trick, especially if even through all this working out he could still probably get his ass kicked by the suit asshole and Warren. Hell he was by far the best fighter on the ship, just a barely decent shot. He never gave himself enough credit.

By the time Aesop was done, The Gentleman's smirk stretched from ear to ear, and he had to bite his lower lip to stop himself from laughing in the poor fools face. When he had gone, his focus switched to Ruffles and Axel.

"Well. That was... you know for once I honestly have no idea."

"Stay away from her fucking room, feel free to tell her I fucked up the door."

Ignored again.

Sprout reached out to grab his arm and stop him, but he was already gone.

Shit...

"Well. That was... you know for once I honestly have no idea."

Sprout stared daggers into the man. At least he didn't have anything snarky to say this time, "Come on' Ruffles, let's get outta here."

Who the fuck does this guy think he is?

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"What's this about?"

After everyone else left the room, only Pixie, Elizabeth and Josephine remained. Pixie offered a hand and with Josephine's help they brought her to her feet and led her over to one of the beds to sit down. What was earlier a cold, calculated and emotionless stare had transformed into an expression of genuine concern. Elizabeth had heard tales of Captain Monroe's ruthless treatment of noble hostages. There was no one on the Rock that despised the nobility as much as she, so why was she showing such... empathy?

Josephine sat next to her, rubbing Elizabeth's good shoulder as to comfort her. Pixie stood up before them, her arms crossed deep in thought. After a few moment Elizabeth broke the silence, "Is there something wrong?"

Pixie, tapping her arms nervously, smirked in response, "Yer tougher than ya' look, I'll give ya' that much."

Elizabeth curled her lip and chuckled weakly, "First time I've ever been shot."

"Best make it the last time." Pixie said, curtly.

There it was again. That look. It was somewhere between delight and despair. It was as if she was elated to see an old friend, but couldn't help but be mad at her about some past transgression. Something about it reminded her of her late sister. One of the few things she remembered about her.

"I'm sorry, but what do you---"

Pixie held out a finger to silence her, "Sorry girl, but I'm askn' the questions here. A friend'a mine says yer s'posed to be marry'n Basilio. That right?"

Elizabeth nodded without hesitation. Pixie grimaced and sighed, "I'm sorry ta' say this Milady, but I don' see you leave'n this ship any time in the near future."

Elizabeth's brow furrowed. She ignored the pain in her shoulder and leaned forward, "What?! Why not! I must be reunited with my betrothed! He'll pay my ransom!"

Pixie laughed, "He ain't payn' shit. Don' go'n flatter yerself, honey. Basilio 'n me, we go way back. The moment he hears I'm involved he'll ferget all 'bout you and go on'a crusade fer my head."

"No! You're lying! You're just trying to scare me!"

Pixie's condescending tone faded as she knelt down to meet Elizabeth at eye level. There wasn't a single hint of sarcasm or humor in her eye or her words, "Elizabeth," She said softly as she placed her hands on her shoulders. Elizabeth tried to pull away, but couldn't weasel her way out of Pixie's firm grasp. "Lord Dio Basilio is'a monster. This ain't 'bout the ransom, ya' understand? I have'ta keep you outta his reach fer yer own sake."

Eyes welling up, Elizabeth shook her head in protest, "No! You don't know him! You're lying! Let me go home!"

Pixie sat there in silence allowing her to cry for a bit before continuing, "I'm sorry Elizabeth, but this is how its gotta be." Pixie looked to Josephine. "Take care'a her, you understand?"

"Yeah, sure." Ruffles turned and headed back to his room.

Several minutes later, Sprout was perched on a stool in the workshop while Ruffles rooted under his bunk for the mattress for the cooler.

"Huh, a couple of these are missing."

"You sure ya didn't drink 'em?"

"I'm sure, man. Just wonder who--OH GOD DAMMIT!"

"What?"

"That rat bastard took the last Blue flavour!"

Ruffles walked back into the workshop with a couple of cherry sodas in his hands. Popping their tops on an opener he'd bolted to the wall, he passed one of the frosty drinks to Sprout. "I'm gonna have to do something about that." He took a sip, and then said, "you did good today, buddy. I know you don't think so, but you did."

"... You did good today, buddy. I know you don't think so, but you did."

Sprout popped the can open and took a large swig. He wiped his soda covered lips with his sleeve and smiled wryly, "Nah, I don' think I did much more than get'n the way, but uh...." He looked up to Ruffles who was grinning at him. "This stuff's fuckn' good!"

It took awhile, but after bouncing off the walls for a few hours he crashed hard. Passed out on the floor, Ruffles threw an old, dusty blanket over him and stuffed a bunched up hoodie under his drooling face.

He dreamt about titties that night.

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Elizabeth cried herself to sleep. It didn't take long considering how drained she'd been from the eventful day, not to mention the surgery. Josephine stayed by her side the whole time, though few words were spoken between the two of them. Chances are they'd have plenty of time to do so in the future.

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Pixie padlocked her bedroom door as she left. The Gentleman hadn't likely come across anything important, but even still... a girl's gotta have her privacy. She made her way to the observation deck, past the common room where the party had died down. Some of the really hardcore drinkers were still awake, keeping at it, but most of the crew was strewn about all over the floor.

It was good they had the chance to celebrate now as the near future would likely be a busy one. The light of the Rock's star reflected off of its three moons, making the room glow a deep violet color. Night's were short all year around, but a decent set of shutters was usually enough to keep the light out. Despite two hundred years here, humanity still required the same amount of sleep.

A fat cigar pinned between her teeth and a bottle of whiskey in her hand, Pixie walked up to the glass and stared out into the violet, barren landscape before her. Things didn't go so well today. The Gentleman had stuck his dick where it didn't belong, but if the job he proposed paid well... Pixie was willing to forgive such a transgression. In truth, she tired of his theatrics quickly but he was someone who could get the job done. She couldn't help but appreciate such a quality.

Ruffles... Ruffles had much to learn. Despite their long history, he'd spent too much of his time toiling away in the belly of the Maiden. There were so many things he'd missed. So many lessons robbed of him. He wasn't alone in this, however. Aesop was a mess, no denying that. His battle with his inner demons had manifested itself outwardly far more times than Pixie could tolerate. As for Warren... Smiles... he was on the opposite spectrum than that of Ruffles. If not for his schoolboy crush on Pixie he'd likely be an uncontrollable killing machine. Pixie was no stranger to forgiveness, but she'd never quite gotten over his treatment of Sprout before he'd come aboard.

These three men required something, but what? She rolled the cigar around between her fingers in thought. Perhaps they'd be who she sent to Boomhower, her hometown. If the job the Gentleman offered was as risky as she thought the three of them would be little more than liabilities. Sending them after her contact in Boomhower was a good a plan as any other. Aesop had the information gathering skills required through his years of police work, Smiles could take on anyone the banditos sent after them and Ruffles... well, Ruffles could fix their crawler if it broke down. He also had a far cooler head about him than the other two.

Her thoughts drifted naturally from Ruffles to that of the man he had spared. The good Baron had to be taken care of. Though she'd prefer to put a bullet between his eyes, there was no arguing against ransom money. He was a anthropomorphic check that needed cashing in. Meeting up with one of their contacts in Feroxi to make the exchange would be simple enough for Casino alone, however... she'd failed to protect Sprout during the Gentleman's little intervention. Perhaps she'd send the two of them together. Sprout needed the experience, sure, but Pixie wouldn't lie to herself. This decision came easy. It was her way of punishing Casino.

A smirk appeared on her lips as she pictured Lilith's dread.

Florian would stay aboard. She would need him close by in the coming weeks. Though she didn't actually know him all too well, he was one of the only people on the ship Pixie felt comfortable confiding in. Well, as much as such a woman could confide in anyone. This whole murky business with Elizabeth... Pixie couldn't handle it alone. She'd need someone else's input and he was the only one she could trust with the truth. He was a likable guy as well, so he could keep Elizabeth happy. As for Lady Josephine... she'd ask her tomorrow if she planned to stay by Elizabeth's side. If she chose to leave they'd drop her off at the nearest port.

Pixie took a deep drag, savored the sweet tobacco taste on her tongue and let it out in one solid plume. Smoking cigars wasn't exactly the most feminine past time, but it was a habit she'd taken on in her youth. In a fit of youthful rebellion her childhood friend, "Cherry", had gotten her hands on some premium stuff and shared it with her. The rest is as they say... history.

Cherry...

Elizabeth looked just like her. The same piercing eyes, golden locks and confident smile. The same charm and wit. If Pixie were still capable of it, the memories stirring inside her would have caused her to well up. She'd seen a lot... done a lot since those days. She knew she'd have to be stronger this time. She couldn't let it happen again.

After finishing the cigar Meredith let out a deep sigh, turned and slid down against the wall. She took a swig of her whiskey and rested her arms on her knees. Dio would come after them. That much was for certain.

Her grip on the bottle tightened and she pictured his wicked smile.

"One way'er another Dio, this'll be the end of it."

Pixie didn't sleep that night.

THE ASHLANDERS - CHAPTER 2: DIVIDE AND CONQUER

Sprout woke to a loud knock on Ruffles' door, "Captain says we have the day off, but she's got an important announcement to make after supper. Don't miss it."

Cranston had received instructions to spread the word to everyone on board. Though he'd have liked to spend a little more time off between jobs, there was obviously something big going on behind the scenes. Whatever it was... it was forcing Pixie's hand rather blatantly. He rubbed his bald head in mild frustration and moved on to continue his errand.

Sprout pealed the sweatshirt off his face and clutched his forehead in pain. Perhaps his large intake of caffeine and sugar the night prior wasn't the best idea after all. He looked around the room in a delirious stupor to see that Ruffles had already left. After splashing some cold water on his face he left Ruffles' room and headed towards the holding cell. If no one else was around he'd sneak in there and make his apology. It had been eating at him all night.

He rounded the corner to see the coast was clear and knocked on the door, "Hey, y'all decent in there?"

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Elizabeth slept like a baby the night before. Though her day was filled with anxiety and pain, her dreams had everything but. Memories of her late sister and the short time they spent together flooded her thoughts. Her sister's beautiful smile was her most prominent feature, though as time went on Elizabeth saw less and less of it. Sure, she spent a lot of time with her close friends and still knew how to have fun, but there had been something festering within her before her time came.

Elizabeth was too young to understand at the time, but she always wondered what it was that bothered her so.

"Hey, y'all decent in there?"

Elizabeth's eyes shot open in surprise as the irony of life had come full circle with Sprout's blatant disregard for their beauty sleep. Looking to Josephine across the room, Elizabeth groaned in a barely conscious state, "Can you get it, Milady?"

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Florian woke to see Pixie sitting in a chair directly next to his bed. She had a habit of dropping in at unexpected times. Pixie smiled sarcastically, "Good mornin', Heavenly Father." Her smile faded. "We need ta' talk."

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Dio sat behind his glass desk, sorting through files when Raphael walked in, "Milord."

"Are they here?"

Raphael nodded, "Yes, Milord. Shall I send for them?"

Dio rubbed his eyes as to banish his fatigue and reached for his box of cigars, "Yeah, let's get this over with. I can only suffer such scum for so long."

"Very good, sir." Raphael bowed and turned to leave Dio's office. After a short walk down the hallway he entered the dining room he'd instructed the bounty hunters to wait in. There were around thirty men and women among them. All professionals to varying degrees, but Dio had no patience for their kind. He'd go as far as acknowledging their usefulness, but would never place much value in anyone with such flexible loyalties.

They were a rugged and... uncultured group to say the least. As Raphael entered the room he counted at least a dozen of them scowling at him, "Lord Basilio will see you now. If there aren't any questions we will depart immediately."

Ruffles finished the cup of water, popped the last bit of bacon into his mouth and headed back to his room. He had taken a break to get breakfast, but aside from sleeping for a few of hours, he'd been up a large portion of the night tinkering. He'd had an idea as to how to stop his sodas being stolen. And from there, he'd had an idea for a new gadget. When he got back to his workshop, he saw Sprout was gone.

Sitting back to his desk, he returned his attention to the cooler. It was an oblong metal box about two feet by one, and one and a half tall. It was powered by one of his homemade batteries, which applied heat to the alcohol based coolant he'd made causing it to evaporate through the coils he's forged, chilling the box's contents. The coolant never needed topping up, because there was nowhere for the evaporated contents to go, so it settled and remixed in the compartment the coils ran from, in an endless cycle. All he needed to do was replace the battery every eight months or so.

As for his little scheme, the whole box was metal, aside from the small rubber section where the lid closed shut. After disassembling the box to make the modifications he'd sketched out in design plans, he'd reassembled it, and cut a groove into the underside of the rubber section. Combined with the clip that kept the box tightly shut until opened, it made a broken circuit. However, when opened conventionally, the mechanism he designed would ping together, completing the circuit and electrifying the entire box. The only way to open it safely was with a small plastic tab he'd made, which was safely inconspicuously hidden in one of his many pockets.

It wasn't lethal, he was sure. Just enough that the brief contact would result in some serious disorientation. Maybe said person would wet themselves. No permanent tissue damage.

So he set about putting the final touches on that, then turned his attention to the gutted cordless ratio on the table.

==============================================================================================
"Lord Basilio will see you now. If there aren't any questions we will depart immediately."

Metal and Duke got to their feet, and sauntered through the door. It was always entertaining how uncomfortable their presence seemed to make Nobles.

Lilith groaned as she heard a knock at her door.

"Captain says we have the day off, but she's got an important announcement to make after supper. Don't miss it."

She pulled her pillow over her face, "Yeah, yeah, you bald bastard." She spent a few moments complaining into her pillow before she sat up, rubbing her temples.

Lilith had no clue when Warren left. While he was drinking soda, she was mixing her's with whiskey. She looked around the room. Other than a few bottles, the place seemed intact. She got out of bed, rather clumsily, sauntering over to the coffee table and grabbing her smokes. She lit one and took a long, loving drag, leaning her head back and blowing smoke towards the ceiling. "I need an oyster..."

Barefooted and still wearing the shorts and vest from the night before, she managed to make her way to the cafeteria.

"What'cha having?" the cook said, as Lilith slumped down at the counter, her head nestled in her arms.

"Raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, salt, ground pepper."

The chef smiled knowingly, "Ah yes, a Prairie Oyster. You know, you're the only one around here who drinks... eats, those things?"

Lilith groaned "Keep your voice down please." A puff of smoke escaping from the crevices of her nestled head. A few minutes later, all the ingredients were in front of her. Even though she had the mother of all hangovers, she carefully separated the yolk from the egg, placing it in a glass. She added just the right amount of Worcestershire and hot sauce, as well as the right pinch of salt, and just 2 grinds of black pepper.

She grimaced, a long portion of unattended ash breaking away from her cigarette. "I bloody hate these things" She chucked it back, making disgusted sounds while the cook stood by chuckling as he dried dishes.

After the captain had left and locked the door behind her, Josephine carefully tucked Elizabeth to bed. The young maiden was asleep in a matter of minutes, and it wasn't long before sleep began creeping up on her as well. Finding a spot across the room, she collapsed and fell asleep.

She woke up to the sound of loud banging and the voice of that panicking little boy. "Hey, y'all decent in there?"

"Can you get it, Milady?"

Josephine groaned as she slowly rose to her feet. Her body was aching and stiff, but when she stretched, she felt a stinging burn on her neck. Marry! Not now... No doubt it was from when she was taken outside of the train. Her skin was always delicate. The sun would burn her easily, and normally she would wear a hat to keep her face covered. But given how she was rushed out with only an oxygen mask, it wouldn't have taken much to burn her skin.

At least it was indoors and still a little dark in the room. Hopefully the boy wouldn't notice the sun burn. Who knows how they'd heal that? Maybe run some of that wretched alcohol on it and hope for the best. She shuddered at the thought. "Enter."

"Good mornin', Heavenly Father." Her smile faded. "We need ta' talk."

"And I, apparently, need to start locking my door." Florian grumbled and pulled himself upright. Mornings weren't his thing and the captain never came calling for social calls.

"We're going to need some coffee aren't we?"

It took a few minutes for Florian to throw on his usual outfit of black and grey before stirring up some of the cheap coffee he kept around. Luckily looks and standards were never top of the list on the Maiden.

"So." He said, plonking himself down in a chair he'd dragged opposite the captain's. "What brings you here, MY CHILD?" He asked, mimicking her earlier tone.

"Lord Basilio will see you now. If there aren't any questions we will depart immediately." Spoke Raphael as he entered the room where the gathering of at least a dozen bounty hunters were at. Viola had remained quiet ever since she entered the estate of Lord Basilio, though she did receive a few odd looks from the serving staff here upon her arrival. These people had probably never even seen a Bounty Hunter before. A few of the selected group had already started to move towards the door that Raphael entered through, and Viola thought it was time to join them.

With the booby trapped cooler safely stowed under his bunk, Ruffles headed back through into the workshop. Since he'd taken a sledgehammer to a section of wall upon his moving in near a decade ago, the workshop was one of the largest single rooms on the ship, aside from places like the common room and the hangar containing the crawlers and the boarding ramp. The engine room was close in size.

He turned his attention to a red brick forge in one corner. Pixie had been bewildered when she'd found out he'd saved up most of the carbon from his cut of three jobs to buy bricks, mortar and coal, but hadn't argued. Then he'd gone on to buy quite a few other devices and pieces of equipment, and she'd stopped asking. What he did on his own time. Taking a cloth wrapped bundle from one side, he opened it to reveal a bundle of steel bars. He'd set the forge heating before he'd gone up to grab breakfast.

With tongs, he heated the bars and melted them together, taking them to an anvil to hammer them, then heated them, and then hammered them. Gradually, a length of steel about thirty four inches long was formed. He shaped and sharpened the blade on a belt grinder, bringing the tip to a point, and thinning several inches at the back that would go into the handle.

Just a second of contact on the belt grinder would skin what it touched to the bone. He'd had to keep a hyperactive Sprout from touching this machine and others like it that could cause grievous injury the previous night. He smiled at the memory. Taking the blade to a vertical milling machine, he set a fuller along the blade, then took it back to the forge for heat treating, reducing some of the forge's airflow to lower the heat a little. This took a couple of hours, at which point the sweat was pouring off him. Banking the blade's heat in a water barrel, then set about milling a length of wood, drilling a hole, then cutting a length of industrial steel tube, then went about milling some aluminium fittings. when he had the steel shaped for the cross guard using a hammer machine, and refined it with manual hammer work, he cast a lump of brass into a pommel using a mould he'd made a while ago. Then he fit everything together, then used a soft belt on the belt grinder to polish the blade and its fittings until they shone.

It had been very early morning when he started, and it was a reasonable time for a late lunch when he finished. laying the weapon across the workbench, he bounced gleefully. He'd intervals of the past year or so practicing, making daggers and such with varying degrees of success, hiding them or getting rid of them discreetly, and this was what the practice culminated in.

He had no practical use for something like this, but that wasn't the point. Shit, Sprout was going to have to see this. Locking the door behind him, he headed off to find Sprout. The kid was going to want to see this.

Warren

Smiles decided to leave around the third drink his gracious host downed. Things were just kinda getting weirder, and he had decided he should sleep in his own room, to minimize weirdness and rumors. Sod the training, live action was where it counted, and it's how he learned these things in the first place... He grabbed his gun, slinging it over his shoulder as he drew the sword.

He made a few cuts in the air, passing through the hallways of the ship. Back when those types of swords were used, flying through the air was the craft of demons, kites, and birds. It was the little things that made Warren smile. He made sure not to cut anything into the walls, piss too many people off in one day and you were practically begging to be thrown overboard.

He sighed when he made it to his room, placing his weapons on the door, taking off his scarf, and flopping onto the bed.

~

"Captain says we have the day off, but she's got an important announcement to make after supper. Don't miss it."

A loud growl answered the door, as well as the sound of fist hitting wall. Cranston decided to move right the hell on, leaving Warren to collect himself. His head was filled with dull throbbing as he threw open the door, putting on his scarf and throwing his long hair over his shoulder. Not hungry, his sleep taken away, and unlikely Florian would leave his room alone again so soon.

"... Fucking bored." He muttered, choosing a direction and walking through the hallways like a boredom fueled ballistic missile of annoyance.

Kayneth

"Lord Basilio will see you now. If there aren't any questions we will depart immediately."

The albino threw his head back, rubbing his eyes, giving a small smile as he moved his hands from his eyes to slicking his spiky, blood red hair back. It had been a long day, and all he could think was:

'Fuckin finally.'

Alas, it seemed he was not to go first. Two men got up, as well as most the room. He grabbed at his sword quickly, hopping up to his feet and taking his place next to a woman in gear that looked a bit expensive.

"Good... mornin, I think. What brings you here? 'Sides the cash." The Celtic man asked, giving a grin that didn't quite reach his eyes. He bounced his sword's scabbard off his shoulder as he walked, letting his now useless hand go limp at his side.

Tobin

"Do do de doo..." The man said, leaning against the door and window, fanning himself with his bowler cap. Hot out today in Who-Fucking-Knows-or-Cares, like every other day on the god damned planet. He sat in the back of the Crawler, next to a man who was not blessed with being born small. He did have the ugly down pat though, Tobin had to admit.

"So, is this for a purpose?"

"Would you prefer we let the boss go without escort?"

"I meant putting me next to Ogre."

"Oh. Tom called shotgun, Tom get's shotgun."

"Right." The gunslinger leaned forward, putting his head next to Tom's, whispering softly into his ear.

"Hate ya Tom."

"I know."

"Good. Great. Excellent." Tobin paused for a moment, then spit on his lap, onto the shotgun he carried.

"Ah, c'mon, fuck you dwarf!"

"Heh heh." Tobin smiled, and winked at the rearview at their driver, who's name he should really try to remember. For now, he was 'Hound', and it was likely to stay that way for awhile. The 4'3 man of steel and bullets crossed his legs again, looking out of the window into the streets, the crew would be leaving soon. Something about a Noble getting kidnapped, the boss wanted his fingers in that pie. He'd likely be sent out, he'd shoot the place up, then he'd get the girl and bring her back. He sighed, settling back into the seat.

Aquila

The ship was getting set down, they were preparing to lay low for awhile. They were going to look for supplies, then they were going to pay attention to other people who buy supplies, likely leading them into a back alley and smashing their fucking skulls in. As was standard procedure, in most cities, Feroxi would be no exception.

Aquila frowned as she gave their clan leader, Nero, her clan scarf. In case she was shot, they didn't want the shooters to trace back to em. Well, not 'they', the whole crew was a bit stir crazy. What better way to get it out of your system than bludgeoning? She'd never understand how people ENJOYED killing, and she hoped she never would.

She stayed low as she entered the town, and immediately starting getting directions to all the shops. Playing the ditzy cute girl was about as standard as this whole operation, and every male she ran into fell for it. She got the feeling they didn't even care she was 16, creepy. She began wandering the streets, looking for a place to call base before the robbing and such began. She kept her suitcase close to her chest, knowing her rifle was in there made her feel a bit better.

The Gentleman had been awake since the early hours of the morning, as was his custom. He'd passed the time by reading. The books he owned were incredibly old, and incredibly rare, dating back to a time before civilization on The Rock (if you could call The Rock much of a civilization). Even these were re-prints, and yet they were near enough priceless. Dickens, his favourite author.

As per his best behaviour, The Gentleman had not intruded on anyone's personal affects since Meredith's office yesterday. There was little point, as he doubted there would be anything among the belongings of the rank and file that would prove relevant to the job at hand, or anything much worth stealing at all to be honest. A poke around Warren's room might help him get a better measure of the man, but he was hardly a priority. The origins of Aesop's little... malfunctions, interested him more, and may even prove useful information should he ever require leverage with the man. He would tread carefully on that score, however. The man seemed to be clinging onto the raggedy edge as it was, and pushing him beyond it would serve no purpose other than light entertainment. Nevertheless, he resolved to do some discreet snooping. Anyone else who mattered, The Gentleman already knew inside out.

No-one came calling at his door, but when The Gentleman heard others being roused, he shut his book and stowed it carefully away, venturing out to see what awaited him today. His wanderings eventually brought him to the refectory, where he happened upon Lilith, soaking up last night's inebriation with one of her famed 'Prairie Oyster' remedies, possibly the foulest concoction The Gentleman had eve had the misfortune of being introduces too, and he'd once been force to drink Elton County Moonshine mixed with ash!

"Hair of the dog indeed." he mused, taking a seat on the stool beside her.

"Hair of the dog indeed."

Ah shit.

"Good morning to you too." Lilith responded groggily, "Having breakfast before you snoop around the ship, or did you start early and decided to take a break?"

She tapped the top of the counter, smiling weakly at the cook as he approached. "Pot of tea if you please, Earl Grey." She glanced to her side "Two cups".

She might despise the man, but Lilith had manners, one of the few things, other than her name, she took from the orphanage slash nunnery.

Lilith stubbed out her cigarette as the tea arrived, she picked up the metal pot, pouring the Gentleman's drink before her own.

"Would you like sugar with that?" She said, a soft lilt to her voice.

"Just one, if you would be so kind." The Gentleman replied, returning serve. when it was done, he sipped the tea. A highly sub-standard brew in truth, but the Maidens had to make do with what they had, and if would have been bad manners to say so anyway. He nodded and made approving noises, wondering if the Maidens might use spend some of his haul on better teabags.

"I fear I have made an enemy in your friend Aesop." he mused. "He doesn't seem the trusting sort, even when I am being the very soul of charity. To be so generous and still be met with nothing but hostility is almost enough to drive me into making an honest living." He chuckled to show what he thought of that.

"He doesn't seem the trusting sort, even when I am being the very soul of charity. To be so generous and still be met with nothing but hostility is almost enough to drive me into making an honest living."

Lilith sipped her drink, gladdened to wash the foul taste of the previous beverage away. She gently placed down the cup, her elbows on the counter, she rested her chin on top of the backs of her clasped hands. She mused for a moment.

"Well, to be fair to Aesop, you are a bit of a cunt." She smiled, "A terrifying cunt, who's machinations chill me to the bone..." She glanced to her side and met his eyes. "But a cunt nonetheless. Aesop is a good man, he has his demons, we all do. He's just troubled by his a little bit more than the rest of us, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be mocked."

She took another sip of her drink and her face softened. "As amusing as you no doubt find it, there is no skill in preying on the weak minded." She smiled slightly. "I'm already afraid of you, the others are either too ignorant or arrogant to know otherwise."

The Gentleman grinned at her.

"Oh, you do cut me deep Lilith, but I still must disagree. We should all be mocked from time to time, else-wise we start to think ourselves invincible, and then our doom is sealed. Besides, if Aesop is as vulnerable as you claim, surely you must ask yourself if he's someone who you want watching your back...

I only ask because I am concerned, if you'll believe it. I know you think me sly and treacherous. True on both counts, but we all have reputations to maintain, roles we must fulfill. From time to time, I am called upon to demonstrate the, fluidity, of my loyalties. If I did not, the people I would be seen to favourite would be in great danger from those who seek to harm me. So yes, I've sold you and Meredith out on more than one occasion, but you'll note that I've never betrayed you to anyone I didn't know you could handle. That is the tightrope I must walk. I simply want to know if Aesop upsets the equation that I have grown accustomed to balancing. It's all in your best interests."

The man spoke sense, but then again, he always did.

Aesop has always worried her. He was pretty unstable at the best of times, but she had never been given a reason to suspect that he wouldn't pick up the slack when it mattered most. She bit her bottom lip as she mused, her hand finding it's way to her necklace.

"I don't think we need to worry about him, he wouldn't be here if Meredith didn't think he could handle things, and besides..." She took a long sip of tea. "I'm lucky, remember?" Lilith smiled as she lit up a cigarette. Now let me ask you a question." She topped up her cup from the tea pot.

"Do you know where I can get some good tea? Because this stuff is bloody awful."

"Enter."

Sprout eagerly threw the door open to see Josephine standing before him, "Mornin', Milady! How're you two settlin'---"

His words trailed off when he noticed Elizabeth, lying on the cot in the back of the room. She'd certainly seen better days. Her hair was a jumbled mess, she had bags under her eyes and she just look generally miserable. Getting shot seemed to have taken alot out of her. Sprout looked down at his hand and bit his lip. He should have brought something to make them feel better... water, food, anything!

Elizabeth held her hand to her mouth and yawned, "Are you okay, young man?"

Sprout snapped out of it and looked to her with a smile, "Oh, yeah, um.... C-can I get y'all something ta' eat're drink?"

"Just, some water please."

Sprout nodded and looked to Josephine expectantly.

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

Pixie held the steel mug to her lips and took a sip. She really needed the caffeine.

"... What brings you here, MY CHILD?"

She rested both arms on her lap and sighed, "I'm gonna need yer help these next few weeks, Florian. There are'a few errands that need taken care of, so we'll be operate'n with a smaller crew fer awhile." She took a moment to analyze the room. Religious paraphernalia really wasn't her thing. "I'm send'n Lilith and Axel to Feroxi ta' take care of ar' unwanted cargo, but I reckon we're gonna have ta' hold onto the lil' blonde one fer... awhile."

She took another sip on her coffee and looked down into the mug as she continued, "Holdn' on ta' her's gonna make us a target in more ways than the rest'a the crew realizes." Pixie leaned in close, her one good eye staring straight into his own. "I need'ya to understand why I'm doin' this, Florian. I need you ta' know why I'm risk'n everything fer this girl 'cause I..." Her gaze darted back down to the coffee mug in her hand. "I don' know if I can trust myself ta' make the right calls here."

Meredith was in rare form, indeed.

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

"Good... mornin, I think. What brings you here? 'Sides the cash."

Raphael scoffed as he overhead the man flirting with the girl he spoke to the day before, Viola. As they entered the hallway Raphael spoke without turning his head, "Cease all side conversations before we enter Lord Basilio's chamber. He has little tolerance for such foolishness."

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