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Solaire XI: The Archive Ship iii

The Incredible Yet Accurate Adventures of the Dread Pirate Captain Solaire Ravenheart Otherwise known as The Adventures of Solaire Part XI The Archive Ship iii

There are few substances in Lorain that will cause more trouble than gold. This fact is a fairly self-evident one due to our constant attachment to the economic machinations of our nations, with ignorance of this knowledge limited to the small, remote tribesman in the Jungle of Bones and the Cult of Samistonese, whose society has been hiding, quite literally, under a rock for the last eight hundred years under the belief that everything outside of the rock is a figment of their own fevered imaginations, their sanity broken the day the world ended and they were forced to take refuge under said rock. Their proof, when given (which is no easy feat to extract, as they believe all outsiders to be products of an unhealthy mind and therefore rarely worth the time of day), is that no real world could be this crazy. In all honesty, the claim contains some merit. Nevertheless, few thoughts are given as to why gold should cause such problems. It is, after all, a practically useless substance. You can’t eat it. You can’t wear it in any way substantial enough to ward off the elements. You could, technically, drink it, but the act would result in an incredibly painful death. And any shelter built from the metal is going to cause far more trouble than it would have warded off. The answer is, of course, that gold is valuable because we decide that it is valuable. We attach amounts for bread and eggs and large mansions in gold coins as a portable exchange method, and due to this fluidity of future uses, it is the most sought after substance in the world. We steal it from each other. Men kill each other for it. Entire wars have been fought over its existence, and wars have ended just as quickly due to its presence. Even River Ravenheart was sold for its uses. For gold is not a metal, my friends; it is a tangible form of abstract power, quantifiable potential stored in an attainable commodity. Which is why Solaire’s laissez-faire attitude to the substance is so intriguing to me. Yes, Solaire liked gold. He would get very good at amassing it over the years. But Solaire’s drive to attain it was not due to the overwhelming greed or the quiet panic that envelope most men. Solaire saw gold in terms of what it really was: a measure of leverage. More than what could be bought with it, but as an alluring substance that dulled the logic of men and ensured the loyalty of armies. His own experiment of winning over Skyler confirmed that. And as Solaire explored this concept, he would wield this psychological weapon with more and more devastating force. So as we read ahead and watch Solaire risk his and his crew’s lives for coins, do not mistake it for the foolhardy actions of a greedy man. Rather, understand it for what it is: a warrior king gathering arms for the oncoming war. *** Austin reached into the hole and grabbed Tomo, the final member of the group stuck in the ship below. After dispatching the captain-and-crew of the Archive Ship, Solaire had wandered the smooth surface, finding the area where the rest of his crew was with some good thumps and a lot of shouting, then widening an exit hole with use of the Ivory River and Austin’s mutated muscles. Once the samurai had scrambled his way up, the entire group was standing on the bronze surface, blinking in the sunlight. “Tomo,” Solaire shouted, “what’s the status of the ship?” “We are stable for now,” Tomo reported back. “We managed to create a steam-exhaust system similar to your own application, and we also broke an intake pump and curved the object into the water that had accumulated inside the ship, bailing it outside. We will not move, but we will not sink immediately.” Solaire nodded. “We’ll work on that in a bit. First, to the loot.” Austin frowned. “Shouldn’t we be worried about getting back alive before getting back rich?” “Everything’s under control now,” Solaire said dismissively. “Besides, we need to make sure Weiss’ whoseitwhatsit is here first.” “Yeah. Compared to what we’ve been going through, this is practically a picnic,” Skyler agreed. Austin raised an eyebrow at Skyler but said nothing more. Willaby moved towards the other hole in the ship, got down on his belly, and awkwardly slid in, feet first, to the Captain’s area. There was a sudden yelp, then Willaby’s trembling voice said “Um Solaire, there’s a body…” “Right.” Solaire gestured to Austin. “Do you mind removing the late Sir Vastim Discopsy?” Austin knelt down and lifted the corpse as easily as a man lifting a bouquet of flowers off the ground, then gently laid him down on the deck. “Everybody in!” Solaire shouted. He stood by as Skyler, then Tomo lowered themselves into the captain’s quarters below. Solaire waited, then turned around. Austin was standing with his back turned to him, looking down at the body of Vastim. Solaire became very aware of the weight of his holstered pistol. He blinked, then shook his head and called out “Austin!” Austin turned around. “In the ship!” Solaire waved cheerfully. Austin looked at Solaire, then back down to the body. “He didn’t have to die.” “‘Course not. If the man was smart and surrendered like I asked him to the first…” “I mean you didn’t have to kill him, Solaire.” Solaire gritted his teeth. “And? Why the hell do you care, anyway? Don’t even try to tell me you haven’t killed anybody for Weiss.” “There are good deaths and bad deaths,” Austin muttered. “Good deaths are had in bed, surrounded by loved ones. Good deaths are had in battle, seeing your enemy’s face as he bests you. Good deaths are not had cowering in ships like a rat.” “Yes, and I’m sure all the people Weiss had you kill were rampaging warriors who challenged you to one-on-one duels.” Austin didn’t respond. Instead, he just stared at the body some more. Finally, he said, “We should at least say some words before the waves take him and his soul travels the kuleʻa o na pohola.” Solaire wanted to scream. More than that, he wanted to stomp over to the body, say ‘good riddance, you blazing tosser,’ and kick it into the sea. But, he’s my crew, he reminded himself, not in the regular way, but still… useful. So instead, he quietly walked over to where Austin was standing. “Sir Vastim Discospy,” Solaire began, then stopped to make sure that his speech wasn’t connected to the normal avenues of sarcasm and threats it normally was. “You… We didn’t see eye to eye. But you were doing a job, and you did it well. I can respect you for that.” When no more words came to him, he knelt down and rolled the body into the sea, letting it sink. A strange emotion washed over Austin’s face. It wasn’t quite relief, but it resembled it somewhat. More like an acceptance that this was the closest he was going to receive to relief, and he was going to make his peace with that. “Thank you.” “You can thank me by climbing inside already!” Solaire snapped. Austin gave him a rueful half-smile and clambered into the ship, followed by Solaire himself. Once there, the pale noble was forced to squish himself and squeeze around the large man; the control cabin of the ship was certainly not built to house four men and a living mountain. But what a control cabin it was! A large slanted section of wall was covered in buttons, gages, wheels, and buzzing lights, reporting a dazzling tidal wave of information for whoever was seated at the plush leather chair situated in front of it (which currently happened to be a frazzled and drenched Willaby). Further in, the area opened up to a luxurious bedroom. A four-post bed sat in the corner, luxurious sheets of fine silk draped upon it (that were now curled under Skyler’s dirty boots as he stood upon the bed in an effort to get out of the way), a fine office space with a darkly rich and elegantly carved writing deck (which was getting smacked and scratched by Tomo as the samurai attempted to shuffle about and grinded his armor against the expensive wood), and a beautiful bath area with a gilded ivory sink, a small, delicately carved chamber pot, and a gorgeous rose-gold bathtub large enough to bathe a baby elephant (that was now lying on the floor, bent in the center from when Austin had attempted to step out of Solaire’s way). “Nice place,” Solaire observed, then frowned as his head hit a vivid oil painting, causing it to fall and crash into a crystal sculpture underneath it, breaking them both into pieces. “It does have a certain gaudy-richness to it,” Skyler said, bouncing slightly on the mattress underneath his feet. “So what? We steal anything not bolted down?” Solaire rolled his eyes. “Don’t be so small. We get into the cargo hold and line our pockets there.” “But the only door here is the one that leads to outside,” Tomo said, pointing to a small hatchway covered in glass, showcasing water and sky. “There are no corridors that lead to any part of the ship.” “No obvious corridors.” Solaire stopped, reached under a small alcove, and retrieved a bottle of Nestorian Summer-Blend Wine that, he knew from experience, cost close to the price of a small house. He undid the cork with his teeth and took a long swig. “They still need a way to load the stuff, and this is the only way in. Ergo, the way to the cargo hold is in here somewhere” Austin shook his head. “I still think that we would be better off just leaving well enough alone and getting this ship back to the Emperor before it sinks.” Willaby shifted in the chair, making a squelching noise as he did so. “I’m kind of inclined to agree, Solaire.” Solaire turned and looked Willaby in the eyes. “Willaby, you’ve been shot at. You’ve been exploded at. You’ve been forced to do sail, to drown, to almost get killed in a hundred different ways, and now you’re telling me you don’t deserve something for your efforts?” The baker looked up. His eyes flashed, and a very unWillaby-like emotion crossed his face. “No.” “Then let’s get you something.” Solaire grabbed a giant portrait painting and flung it to the other side of the room, then frowned at the smooth wall behind it. “Start tearing this place apart. The entrance is bound to be behind a picture or a bookcase or something.” There was a chorus of crashes, bashes, shatters, and cracks as everyone, with the exception of Austin, started to throw things about in an attempt to find Solaire’s fabled door. Austin sighed. “Let me know when you give…” “Found it!” Skyler shouted. He had managed to tip the bed onto its side and was standing on the floor underneath. He stomped on the surface, and it returned the hollow thud of empty space underneath. “Good work,” Solaire said. He ran his fingers over the seemingly-solid surface, then stopped and pushed down. A small part of the floor depressed with a soft click, then the large panel swung downwards into a dimly-lit space below. There was a general cheering and whooping as the members clambered down underneath. Solaire began to follow, then stopped and looked at Austin. “You coming or what?” Austin sighed, then shuffled over and climbed down the hole as well. The interior was a large, long space bereft of any furniture or decoration. It was made, it appeared, only to hold cargo, and cargo it held. Not much, mind you; the collected objects covered a small layer of the floor space. But it was still enough to make the men’s eyes boggle. A good amount of that floor space was covered in scattered gold coins, more than anyone, even Solaire, had seen at once. In one corner, a pile of gems the size of a man’s fist was haphazardly stacked on top of each other. At another end, a large chest sat. Solaire looked around and rubbed his eyes. “Alright, so normally the way this works is that the captain gets one and a half share, and everyone else gets one share. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and count all those, so… grab what you can.” Everyone paused for a half-second, then rushed around in a mad scramble of chaotically clinking coins as they attempted to shove as many gold pieces as they could into as many places as possible. Even Austin began to half-heartedly place large fistfuls of gold into the oversized pockets of his large suit coat. “Ow!” Skyler rubbed his ear and turned around to see the scabbard of Tomo’s katana wiggling close to his head. “Watch it!” “My apologies,” the samurai said, not turning around to face him. Skyler studied the warrior crawling on all fours for a second. “A Kellian samurai scrambling like a dog eating table scraps for gold. Now I have seen everything.” Tomo’s face went scarlet. “My servitude to Weiss is purely based on financial debts. The sooner I can pay off those debts, the sooner I may regain my honor and return to life I once had.” Solaire listened to this exchange, then turned back to Austin. After his fifth handful, the large man stopped and stood up, waiting for the others to finish. His pockets weren’t anywhere near full. Solaire’s gaze traveled up, to the space on his neck that, unlike everyone else in the group, contained no slave plate. Austin saw Solaire staring and stared back. Solaire held the eye contact for a second, then returned to shoveling coins into his top hat. “What is that?!” the voice of Willaby cried out. Everyone turned to see the tweed baker standing over a pile of smooth, white rocks, giving off a dim, pale light and making the coins around it sparkle. Tomo stood up and walked over. He grabbed one of the stones and gently tossed it in his hand a couple of times, testing its weight. “I believe this is Elysium, a relatively new substance found in the badlands South of Dinas. It burns twice as long as coal and five times as hot. Many are saying that it will revolutionize steam-based technologies forever.” “It worth anything?” Solaire asked. “A pile this large?” Tomo scratched his chin. “Perhaps 500 gold, if sold to the right investor.” “You can go ahead and keep it then,” Solaire replied. A round of protesting circled the room. “I don’t want to hear it!” Solaire said. “Tomo knows what it is, that means he can sell it better than any of you can.” And feeding his ego might sway the honor-bound pain-in-my-ass a bit more towards my side. “Besides, there’s plenty of other things here.” “In relation to that statement, I believe there is something here that might catch your interest, Willaby.” Tomo walked over to the pile of large gemstones, each a different vibrant color and each cut into a massive dodecahedron, the twelve-sided spheres roughly as large as an orange. He picked up a deep red one and handed it to Willaby. Willaby frowned and turned the object over in his hands. “A ruby? I mean, yes, it’s very pretty, but…” “Gemstones are highly resonant objects in relation to the Weave,” Tomo interrupted. Willaby blinked. “Um, what?” “He means you can cast magic better through that then that wimpy stick Weiss gave you,” Skyler explained. Solaire raised an eyebrow at Skyler. “What?” the mercenary protested. “Is Tomo the only one who’s allowed to know things?” Willaby stared at the object, then began to move it back and forth in his hands, mimicking the actions of kneading bread. Suddenly, the object began to emit a blazing red light, bright enough to force the others to shield their eyes. He shook the stone once and the light cut off. “That hardly took any effort at all!” Willaby grinned. “Oh, I like this.” “Well, seeing as how you already got your fancy prize…” Skyler said, gently picking up one of the stones. Tomo’s face fell. “Well, I do suppose that is only fair… and… honorable…” “Nine… ten… eleven…” Syler gathered the collection in his hands. “Looks like there’s twelve here. So that’s three each…” “AHEM.” Skyler turned to Solaire, who was tapping his foot. “Captain gets one and a half shares,” Soliare reminded him. Skyler groaned. “Oh come on…” Solaire continued to wait. “Fine.” Skyler violently shoved a group of gemstones into Solaire’s arms. “Solaire gets four. Which leaves eight for the three of us, leaving a group of three, three, and two…” he frowned. “You two can have the extras,” Austin said with a wave. “I’ll take the short stack.” “Don’t have to tell me twice,” Skyler said, handing out the rest of the divisions. Solaire turned back to a chest at his feet. It was large, and locked up tight. Locked with a fairly complex and sturdy lock, he noted. He pulled out a sewing needle and began to poke around the insides. “Remind me to get a proper lockpick when we get back!” Solaire yelled at nobody in particular. After a few more moments of prodding and stabbing, the lock gave a tiny pop and the chest lid swung open. Inside was a singular torso armor piece of stunning design. Gold, organic curves curled up and down the armor, curling in a manner that suggested large, crushing tentacles. Underneath that was a brilliant layer of sapphires, and further underneath appeared to be scenes of tritons and sunken palaces, inscribed into the iron barely underneath and barely visible at all through the layer of blue. Skyler moved over next to Solaire and whistled. “Fancy.” Solaire looked up and around the room. “This thing is the only thing locked away.” Skyler shrugged. “It’s valuable.” “There’s plenty of valuable things in here,” Solaire said, sweeping his arm around the room. “But for some reason, this is the only thing they thought needed to be locked up inside of a hidden cargo hold inside of an impenetrable ship.” “So it’s very valuable?” “Then why was the last one hidden away in a mountain, protected with lethal traps?” The two men sat in silence. “What are you saying, Solaire?” Skyler asked. “I’m saying that these measures aren’t done to protect the armor from thieves,” Solaire replied, tracing a finger along a golden curve. “The people who own these things go through this much trouble because they're afraid of the armor itself.” “Except Weiss, that is,” Skyler noted. The box suddenly slammed shut with a loud THUD and with such speed that Solaire barely got his hands out of the way in time. The pair looked up to see Austin towering over them, a massive boot on top of the chest lid. “We got it,” Austin rumbled. “Now can we focus on getting off this death trap?” Solaire rolled his eyes. “Spoil sport,” he complained, then ascended the set of stairs that led back up to the control cabin. “So what now?” Skyler asked, following closely behind. “Now we sail away,” Solaire proclaimed. “Literally. We take a couple of those big bed posts, make a cross, tie on the sheets, and presto! We have a sail. Austin sticks it out of the hole in the roof while someone goes back and manually operates the rudder from my instructions here.” Solaire sighed. “It might be a little boring, compared to what we did to get here…” “That may not be a problem for long,” Tomo observed. Solaire turned back, fully expecting to see the form of the disgruntled samurai. Instead, he was greeted to the sight of a large and golden mechanical being. It was in the shape of a human; in fact, out of all the other constructs Solaire had seen so far, this was by the most human-like of them all. Instead of long spindly limbs or oversized ligaments, it had smooth arms sculpted to look like muscles, only interrupted where the joints connected together, forming deep grooves that allowed the structure to move. The face, too, was constructed with a similar philosophy: a solid metal mask crafted with distinguishable, individual details. Covering its frame was a set of leather armor crafted for its dimensions, and it turned slowly first to Skyler, then Solaire. “Please identify yourselves.” The constructs’ lips moved in time with the hollow-toned words, but only with a pantomimed up-and-down motion designed to mimic the motion of speaking, not recreate it. Solaire groaned. “Great. More blazing constructs.” “Where the hell was this one hiding?” Skyler asked. “It was... in its storage unit... assessing. Assessing the threat. It took quite a while, due to the… unique situation. Now,” it insisted, “please identify yourselves.” “How ‘bout you identify yourself first for once?” Solaire accused, pointing a finger at the machine. The construct reeled back, as if it had been slapped. “I am Talos, guardian of the Archive Ship.” “Guess Vastim was lying about being the only one aboard the ship,” Skyler noted. “There is no one aboard the ship,” the construct interrupted quickly. Then, it stopped and looked around the cabin and down the hole into the hold. “Correction: there are five people aboard the ship. However, nobody but you five gentlemen have been aboard the ship. The Archive Ship is designed to function without human input, and therefore, there are no humans aboard the ship. Except you, of course.” Solaire raised an eyebrow. “Riiiight… well, don’t mind us. Just pretend we’re not here.” He turned around and took a step forward to the cabin chair, but the construct quickly stepped in front of him. “You have not yet identified yourself,” it accused him. “I’m…” Solaire stopped. “I’m the captain of the rescue crew sent out after you gave a distress beacon.” “We sent no rescue beacon.” “Well, then somebody out there is having the worst luck in all the created worlds. But good news for you! Looks like you need it.” “You are lying.” “Look…” “You are no rescue crew.” “If you don’t stop throwing around accusations…” “You appear to be pirates.” Soliared sighed and flicked his wrist out. The hinged flintlock appeared and fired, straight into the face of the construct. A large cloud of smoke collected in the enclosed space, obscuring Solaire’s vision. Slowly, it began to float out of the hole in the ceiling, revealing the face of the construct: dented, marring the perfect metal mask, but otherwise unharmed. The two creatures stared at each other. “Hostile action confirmed,” the construct chirped. The metal man suddenly lunged into Solaire, knocking the noble to the floor. He sat up on top of the man and raised a large metal fist, prepared to pound Solaire’s face into paste, but a hook sword suddenly latched around the arm. Skyler pulled back on the sword with all his might, straining against the construct’s limb. The construct simply sat there and watched the display, then drove the other fist into Skyler’s gut, causing the man to double-over in pain. Austin, still half-way in the cargo hold, shot an arm out and lifted the construct up, allowing Solaire to scramble to his feet. “See? If we hadn’t stuck around to steal that gold, we could have been free and clear by now!” “You have stolen cargo?” The mechanical form delivered a swift kick to Austin’s elbow, then a precise strike to the joint’s inside. The larger man howled in pain and dropped the figure, allowing the Talos-machine to bounce away and stand back, ready to fight. “Priorities have changed. Lethal force is now authorized.” “Great job Austin!” Skyler yelled. “Wait wait wait!” Solaire shouted. “Maybe we can negotiate here.” The construct cocked his head. Solaire held his hands out. Slowly, the rest of his crew backed down. “Now,” Solaire began, “your job is to make sure this cargo gets to its location safely and securely, correct?” “Yes.” “But your ship is damaged.” “Yes.” “It will probably sink before you get there.” “Yes.” “So why don’t you let us sail this ship off somewhere where we can repair it and let you get on your way?” The construct didn’t move. “The proposal is acceptable with the inclusion of one detail,” it finally responded. “Yes?” “You must return the cargo you stole.” There was another moment’s pause. “All of it?” Solaire asked. “All of it.” “What if we return half of it?” “All of it,” it insisted. “But later, right?” “Now.” “What happens if we don’t do that?” Willaby asked. The construct turned to the baker, dented face blank and alien. “Then I will kill all of you.” “Attempt to,” Solaire corrected. "And succeed,” Talos continued. Solaire shrugged. “Agree to disagree.” Willaby gulped. Talos slowly turned around the room, studying everyone. “What is your decision?” “Well,” Solaire sighed, “I guess we’re fighting.” The construct charged again. Solaire, ready for the assault this time, dodged to the side and brought his pistol back up at the attacker. As he squeezed the trigger, the metal creation whirled around and slapped Solaire’s arm, causing the shot to go wild and ricochet close to Tomo’s head. “This space is too confined for a brawl,” Tomo observed. “Then stop fighting!” Austin roared. “All it wants is for us to put the stolen things back! We can get the ship to Weiss and let him deal with this!” “No!” Skyler hooked his sword around the creature’s neck and pulled, throwing off it’s momentum just enough to put it in a short spin. “If we put them back, then Weiss will just take it all for himself. We won’t get anything!” “It’ll be better than being dead!” Austin snapped back. “Tell you what,” Solaire muttered. He managed to stick his leg behind the other creature’s leg, jammed his revolver into its stomach, and fired six times. The force of the explosions forced it back, causing it to trip over Solaire’s limb and fall to the ground. Solaire stood on top of the downed automaton and faced the group. “If any of you want to do that, then I will too. Just go ahead and drop your gold back there.” Nobody moved. “That’s what I th-urk!” The construct dug his fist into the back of Solaire’s knee, causing the noble to fall mid-sentence and tumble into Skyler and down the stairs to the cargo hold. “Ow,” Skyler compained. Solaire rolled off of him and bounced back to his feet. “Fiesty one, isn’t he?” “Solaire, what should we do?” Tomo’s voice asked from above him. It was followed by the clang of metal on metal. “Same as before!” Solaire shouted up. “Make a sail, use the sail, steer back home. We just have an extra step there now.” “My repairs were not designed to hold for this long,” Tomo protested amid the clang clangs. “I believe that, by the time we will have incapacitated this foe, the ship will have sunk too much to sail.” “Then I’ll isolate it, and you all will work on the escape part,” Solaire said, climbing back into the cabin. “How?” Willaby asked. The sorcerer was huddled in the corner, having given up on getting an opportunity to receive a clear shot to fire a spell at the construct and was now content on just trying to stay out of the way of the scuffle. Solaire put his pistol away and withdrew his cutlass. “I’ll piss it off.” Skyler scoffed from the cargo hold. “It’s a construct, Solaire. It doesn’t have feelings to piss off.” “It lied about Vastim,” Solaire pointed out. “A… malfunction,” Tomo grunted. He was currently engaged in a tug-of-war over his own sword, the metal man having grabbed it with his hand and attempting to yank it away. Talos turned to Solaire and quickly added “Yes, a malfunction,” before Austin used the split-second of distraction to sock the creature square in the jaw. “Yes, of course, a malfunction.” Solaire calmy picked up an overturned chair and sat in it, watching the battle. “I suppose it would have to be. I mean, nobody in their right mind would put up with such a pathetic creature as Vastim willingly.” Talos didn’t turn his attention away from the fight. Skyler swung out of the hole and dug both hook blades around the shoulders of the construct, attempting to slow it down. “Solaire, stop messing around and help.” “Maybe it didn’t even register to you that he was a man,” Solaire suggested. “I mean, with that amount of spinelessness, perhaps you registered him as a worm or something.” Talos’ face flicked towards Solaire, then back to his opponents. “Stop this nonsense!” Tomo growled. “It may look and act like a man, but it lacks all emotions, thoughts, and free will. You can not…” Solaire chuckled. “Hell, I thought I was doing the world a favor when I put a bullet between…” Without warning, Talos suddenly broke from the pack and rushed at Solaire. Solaire rolled to the side, out of his chair and out of the way, continuing the roll until he was on his feet, causing Talos to slam into the wall behind him with such force that it dented with a resounding BANG. The construct staggered, then rotated around to face Solaire. “Mr. Vastim Discopy,” it seethed, “was a better man THAN YOU WILL EVER BE!” “That’s more like it!” Solaire clapped his hands and leapt onto the leather captain’s chair, then up again, out of the hole in the ceiling. “Care to continue this discussion outside?” Talos glared at the hole, or at least, glared as much as a thing could with an immovable, unchanging mask for a face could glare, and jumped out after the noble. Tomo blinked and looked up to the sky above in wonder. “That… should not have been possible.” “Solaire can piss off anything. It’s his gift.” Austin glanced around, then saw the overturned bed and snapped off one of the long posts. “C’mon, let’s get back before this place is underwater.” *** Solaire gripped the Ivory River in his palm hard, and waited. He didn’t have to wait long. Only a few seconds later, the silver and brown form of Talos leapt onto the top of the ship, hands curled into tight fists. “You have made a fatal error here,” Talos growled, slowly walking closer to Solaire. “Away from your allies, I will make short work of you.” “Well, you see,” Solaire took a step back and raised the Ivory River, “I have a secret weapon.” He smiled, then pulled the trigger. click Talos stopped and cocked his head at the object. Solaire raised an eyebrow at the gun, then pulled the trigger a few more times. click click click click “Oh for the love of the gods…” he grumbled, then looked back to Talos. “Out of ammo,” he explained. Talos nodded in understanding, then rushed him. Solaire managed to side-step away and drop the Ivory River into its holster inside of his coat, then withdraw his cutlass, just in time to get his blade between him and the construct rushing back at him. He shoved and pushed it away enough to scramble back, then swung at Talos’ head. It caught the blade in its hand, then swung the other hand in a wild haymaker at Solaire’s head, which he ducked under in turn. “So what happened here?” Solaire side-stepped another jab from Talos and continued the motion backwards, allowing him to slide his blade out of the constuct’s grasp. “Homeless man breaks into the ship, you feel sorry for him, and then he gets the whole lost puppy treatment?” Talos stepped back in apparent shock. “How did you know?” Solaire shrugged. “Well first, you’re a horrible liar.” Talos threw another punch, which Solaire ducked under and popped back out after. “Second, that cabin. That’s what it looks like when a poor person gets rich things quickly. Real nobles show off how wealthy they are by pretending not to notice how much money they have.” He chopped the blade down at Talos’ side, which the construct caught with ease. “That, and no real noble would agree to live in a space that small. And no sailor would be caught dead living in such disgusting excess. Or, at least in a place where all the furniture’s not bolted down, ready to be tossed around in the first storm.” “Vastim did enjoy having access to the finer things,” Talos admitted, then twisted the blade, forcing Solaire’s arm into an unnatural position. Solaire went with the motion and rolled, landing in a crouch and still holding his sword. “So he dipped from the cargo hold to find furnishings. Would explain why the hold seemed so empty and disorganized, and that cabin so cramped.” Solaire grabbed the hilt with the other hand and leaned back, putting all of his body weight in the pull to free his weapon. “After enduring so much misfortune, it seemed that the man deserved some comforts. And the objects were always returned in the condition they had left in.” Instead of trying to continue the tug-of-war, Talos let go. Solaire tumbled, head-over-heels, down the length of the ship, and Talos jumped into the air, poised to strike Solaire’s head with the combination of his strength and the force of gravity. Solaire’s eyes widened and he spun away in barely enough time for the force to drive a foot-long dent into the ship’s hull instead of his head. "This caused no conflicts with my primary priorities regarding the cargo.” Solaire sprung to his feet and began swiping the sword in frantic movements, forcing Talos to back up as he batted each strike away. “So you just” clang “conveniently shut down” clang “while he was on board” clang “to avoid a conflict with your commands.” clang “Which is why he thought he was the only one around” swish “and why you only came to say hi once he was dead.” clang clang clang You are very perceptive,” Talos complimented. He dropped and spun his leg in a sweep, knocking Solaire to the ground. Talos raised a foot and tried to stomp on the noble’s chest, but Solaire rolled towards the construct, getting underneath his feet and stabbing his blade into the joint where the knee would be. The metal man gave a mechanical screech and fell back. Solaire rose to his feet, breathing heavily. “Guess a life on the sea will drive anyone screwy, even automatons.” Talos rose as well, a limp present in the leg Solaire had attacked. “I have been operational for many years. My ability to fulfill my commands… fluidly, only appeared once my engine was outfitted for a new fuel source.” Solaire furrowed his brow. “You mean the Elysium?” A flapping noise sounded from behind Solaire. A large cross of decorative bed posts awkwardly slid out of the improvised hatch before grandly unfurling a bedsheet behind it. “That is an improvised propulsion mechanism.” Talos cocked his head at it, then startled back. “Calculation: you are attempting to steal the ENTIRE ship.” Solaire shrugged. “Ours kind of blew up.” “Primary directive: do not let the ship change course.” It charged at Solaire again, and once again the pirate dodged out of the way, readying his cutlass in front of him in preparation for the following attack. But no attack came. Instead, Talos simply continued forward, ignoring Solaire and going straight for the sail. “Did I tell you about how Vastim begged for his life?” Soliare shouted. “How he sobbed like a child?” With an instant canceling of momentum only possible from exact, clockwork machinery, Talos stopped. He turned. “Calculation: the ship will not reach course in present state. Primary directive is impossible.” Solaire smilied. “Yes…” “Primary directive can be ignored.” “Yes…” “Move to secondary directive: kill all invading forces.” “Now we’re talking!” Solaire withdrew his cutlass and stepped back. “Tomo, how’s it looking?” “It looks like a sail,” the samurai responded. Solaire groaned, first in frustration, then in pain as Talos delivered a swift roundhouse kick to his chest. He rolled and scrambled up under a second attempted kick, coughed, and tried again. “I mean, what’s the status of the escape plan?” “Oh.” A strange clicking sound was heard before Tomo called out “the sail is working. We are currently traveling at 25 knots. But we have no steering controls up here.” Solaire ducked under the next roundhouse kick, then dived over to the cabin and reached his arm inside. “Willaby, up here.” Willaby grabbed his hand and held on as he climbed up. Movement flicked out of the corner of Solaire’s eye; Talos was preparing another flying punch. Solaire shoved the baker, sliding him across the ship’s surface on his drenched suit, then rolled away once more, the fatal blow coming close enough to brush against the hairs on his head. He fired the other spring-lock pistol into the construct’s “good” knee, forcing it to bend over, then snapped back to his feet and ran after Willaby, bent up and trying to stand. Solaire placed a boot on the man’s side. “Remember what the rudder looked like?” Willaby’s eyes widened. “Er…” “Starboard left, port right.” Solaire shoved the man hard with his foot, sliding Willaby down the deck like a tweed shuffleboard disc. “Don’t let me down!” Willaby rolled around and gave a thumbs up, then toppled into the hole at the edge of the ship “Now just to figure out these bearings…” Solaire muttered, grabbing the compass and the small piece of paper Weiss had given the group. A sharp pain snapped at his left wrist, causing Solaire to cry out and drop the compass. He watched as it fell into the water with a tiny plop, then something too fast to see grabbed the paper in his hand a split second later. Solaire turned and glared at Talos, who crumpled the paper into a small ball and tossed it into the sea. “You’re a real pain, you know that?” “And you an extraordinary specimen…” Talos began, then stopped as Solaire swung the cutlass at its head. It dodged and brought a flat hand into Solaire’s side, causing him to bend over in pain, allowing Talos to elbow-drop right onto the noble’s backside and collapse him onto the ground. “... but you are still only a human…” Talos raised a foot above Solaire’s head, ready to stomp. Solaire tried to get to his feet, but a wave of pain and coughing forced him back down. “... and so very, very frail.” “HEY!” Talos hesitated, then turned to face the source. The gigantic, white-suited form of Austin was there, taking huge, hulking steps towards the construct. “In my culture, we have a name for people like Vastim, those who exist entirely off of others, never giving anything in return. Do you know what that is?” Talos’ form remained in the position it was in, jostling slightly back and forth as if it was trying to move in two different directions at once. “Namu. Parasite. Beneath contempt,”Austin spat. The spell over Talos broke. It dashed at Austin. Austin spun back and grabbed its arm, yanking it in a turn like an rabid dance partner and spinning it into the ocean. He strode over to Solaire and offered the man a hand up. Solaire grabbed it and got to his feet. “Who’s holding the sail?” “Skyler,” Austin answered. “Honestly, you just have to kind of prop it up against the hole and make sure it doesn’t fall over.” Solaire nodded, then gave Austin a sideways look. “What?” Austin asked. Solaire shook his head. “I give up trying to understand you.” Austin smiled. “Ditto.” A loud CLANG CLANG interrupted the conversation as two hands grasped onto the edge of the boat hard enough to dent the metal it gripped. Talos climbed over the side, soaked and dripping water, but seemingly no worse for wear. And trembling with rage. “We can’t hold this thing off forever,” Austin whispered. “It’s strong. Stronger than even me, maybe.” “Then forget forever” Solaire replied. “Can you give me ten minutes?” Austin nodded, then broke into a run. Talos responded in kind, and the two clashed with a mighty rumble that caused the entire ship to shudder.

“Tomo!” Solaire shouted. “Is there a compass on that fancy captain’s spot?” “There is,” Tomo answered. “What’s our bearing?” “36 degrees North by North West.” “And with Weiss going almost dead East at… ten? knots, maybe?” Solaire rubbed his eyes. “Blaze it, we’ll go South East and see what happens. Willaby!” “Yes?” a meek voice cried from the opposite hole. “Starboard! Hard!” The ship hesitantly moved left, then stopped and whipped right. Talos and Austin, engaged in an attempt to wrestle each other to the ground, slipped from the new direction and fell over each other, and even had to Solaire awkwardly shuffle about. “Tomo, bearings!” Solaire demanded. “135 degress. South by East exactly,” the warrior replied. Solaire spread his legs apart and braced. “Now straight!” The ship snapped again as Willaby stopped the turn and set it dead ahead. Talos, who had risen to his feet before Austin had and used the additional time to force the larger man into an arm lock, tumbled off. Austin reached forward and held on to the construct, using the momentum offered to him to roll on top of his foe and pin him underneath, switching places. Austin grinned at the quarry underneath him, then looked up to the horizon. “Smoke!” he exclaimed. “That must be the Emperor!” Talos squirmed and rocketed his head back into the large grunzen’s face, smashing into it with a sickening crunch. Austin howled in pain and leaned back, allowing the construct to arch upwards and throw the man off of him, then flipped back with an eerie grace and landed, kneeling, onto Austin’s back. Only then did he look up and observe the source of the outburst. “If that is your destination, it appears that you are on a collision course with this object. And yet, you are not slowing down.” “Slowing down isn’t our style,” Solaire commented, then leapt for Talos’ head and landing right over it, gripping onto the man’s armored shoulder piece and hanging off its torso like a monkey leaning off of a tree limb. With an attitude bordering on disinterest, Talos reached up to grab the noble, but instead Solaire flipped out a pistol from his holster and jammed it into the neck joint, firing off three shots in rapid succession. Talos froze, then strangely spasmed about. Austin replied by reaching back and elbowing the construct hard enough to fling the creature off of him as Solaire leapt off and landed back on the ship deck. “Solaire!” Skyler’s voice protested. The makeshift mast began to bang back and forth. “It’s getting hard to hold!” “That’s because we’ve hit the Emperor's wake. Gods and demons, that thing travels slow.” Solaire squinted at the large white smudge in the distance, then banged his shoe onto the deck. “Willaby, port by a couple hairs.” “Um…” Willaby mumbled. The ship shifted left. “Is that right?” “Couple hairs more,” Solaire suggested. The ship nudged over a tiny bit more. “There! Perfect! Hold it like that!” “Solaire…” Tomo began. “Whatever emergency it is, it can wait until after we crash!” the noble shouted back. Talos, having regained control and returning to his slugging match with Austin, stopped to stagger backwards in shock. “You understand that we will collide, perhaps fatally, with that ship, and yet you remain unconcerned.” “It’s kind of ‘been there, done that’ for us at this point,” Skyler explained. “Then the only conclusion to draw is that you are all insane.” “We know,” Willaby grumbled. Austin slid next to Solaire. The grunzen was in a horrible state; blood covered the entirety of his face, several patches of skin were stained deep purple from bruising, and his breathing was labored and slightly rattly. “We can’t beat it…” he wheezed. “All that smack down gave it… was a little twitch.” Solaire quickly glanced back to Talos as it stared along the deck of the ship, stunned by the display of human stupidity. The machine was dented and dinged, yes, but the only real damage that showed on it was a minor limp and a slight head jerk every three to five seconds. Not enough to present an advantage in combat. Definitely not a sign that it was close to losing this fight. “You ever hang out in seedy taverns?” Solaire asked. Austin nodded. “Of course.” “You ever play midget darts?” Solaire continued. “Of course.” Solaire pointed to the rapidly growing figure of the Emperor. “Oh?” Austin stared at it puzzled, then brightened. “OH.” “Hard as you can,” Solaire said. “But how…” “Leave that part to me. Just be ready.” Solaire withdrew his cutlass yet again and took a few steps towards Talos. “Hey! You!” Talos stopped scanning the length of the ship and slowly turned to Solaire. “Ready to finish this little tango?” he asked, wiggling the end of his sword. Talos clenched his fists. “You must realize by now that there is no way for you to survive this fight.” “And you must realize by now how much I hate people telling me what I can and can’t do,” Solaire shot back. “I gave you a chance to surrender.” “Funny, that’s what I told Vastim.” Talos stopped. Solaire smiled. “Right before I turned him into chunky fish food, that is.” The construct tensed, then broke into a charge again. Solaire bent low and did the same, man and machine rushing at each other for one final attack. Then Solaire dropped. He slid out and slammed, stomach first, onto the deck, lengthwise across the floor, stretched out and right in the path of Talos’ feet. A perfect obstacle. The construct realized this far too late and plowed a metal foot fight into Solaire’s ribs, catching it underneath the man and sending the automaton flying into the air. Limbs flailing wildly, he CLANGed onto the ship once, twice, three times, and came to rest at Austim’s feet. “Fuck,” Solaire grunted, curling into a ball. “Blaze it, blast it, and triple DAMN it, that hurts!” Austin leaned over and grasped a massive hand on each of the construct’s ankles, then began to spin. The two men rotated, Talos gaining more and more air with each complete circle, until it’s body became level with its feet as it whirled around the grunzen. Talos flopped up, trying to reach down to his feet and clasp the fingers curled around him, but the physical motions forced him back as he went higher, faster, higher, faster… “Buh-bye!” Austin cried cheerfully. He let go, and the construct rocketed through the air and straight for the side of the Emperor. *** “Now this is the life!” Thomas Bransbury cried. He was seated with the others in a velvet-covered green room, card table in front of him and comfy chair underneath his buttocks. The large wine glass in his hand was empty, which probably explained why he could remain so happy after losing the equivalent of a small merchant fleet two hands before. “I try,” Weiss said in that modest way people do to show off how unmodest they are. Most of the chips on the table were in front of him. He snapped at one of the servants. “More vine, compatriots?” “No more for me Weissy,” a young woman to Weiss’ left said. She tugged on the already scandalously low-cut neckline of her dress. “What you gave me has already gone to my head and I don’t want to get too dizzy before the fun starts.” “Oh? Zen perhaps we schould get to ze good shtuff.” Weiss gave a playful grin and waved away the servant who had just returned with more wine. The room got quiet as everyone, with the exception of the formal and well-trained wait staff, leaned in with anticipation. Willaby nodded to Winthrop. Winthrop reached into his pocket and pulled out a small golden, gem encrusted locked box and handed it to Weiss. Weiss reached into the inside of his jacket, withdrew a small key on a chain, unlocked the box and, with just the tiniest of flourishes, flipped open the latch with his pinky and withdrew a tiny blue pill from inside. “What is it?” another pretty young girl asked. “Zis,” Weiss whispered, “is mezzafine. It collects as a dusht left behind from ze dew of a moonless night in ze Badlands. A single pill of zis size costs eight shousand gold, but ze bliss one gets from ingeshtink an amount as tiny as zis is enough to stop ze heart of a grown man.” Lord Crompton chuckled nervously, making his almost perfectly round body quiver. “Well, there’s a way to take it without killing yourself, right?” “Of course.” Weiss threw his head back and lowered the pill into his mouth as he talked. “You jusht place it under your tongue, like so…” A sudden screeching BANG interrupted the demonstration as a huge section of the wall blew inward. Something slammed into the poker table with a crash, flinging cards and chips all over the place. Once the air had cleared of card-game implements, everyone stopped and stared at the new intruder as sunlight and sea wind wafted in from the open hole in the wall. Slowly, the newcomer, a metallic construct designed to look like a man but dented and smashed almost beyond recognition, got to its feet. It looked around the room, little broken clicks issuing from its chest, then stopped. “Allow me to explain the situation,” it offered. There was an absolutely deafening SMASH CRASH SCREEEEEE as the wall burst inwards again, this time taking with it the front half of a gigantic bronze craft that rested inside of the opening, blowing shrapnel, splinters, cards, gears, and any number of other imaginable debris with it. The ship rocked forward, then back as the colliding craft inserted itself into the missing section of wall, and the room grew foggy from dust and lack of light. “Holy Sea Foam Mother and all her Sand Angels!” The dust slowly cleared and the form of Solaire materialized in the hazy air. “How the hell did we get so much air?” “How the hell do you know so many swears?” Skyler mumbled from somewhere unseen. “That is what I was trying to tell you,” Tomo cried, voice echoing from inside the ship. “Our improvised flotation method built up pressure in the boiler, much as it did the last time we employed it. It must have reached a critical point and exploded as we approached, propelling us through the air.” “Ugh,” a large white couch in the corner of the room groaned, only to rise and reveal itself as not a couch, but Austin. “All this for a little gold.” “VHAT?!” Weiss scrambled to his feet. His face turned right red as he pointed around the room. “I… you… vhat… GOLD?!” He finally settled on, then stopped and turned white as he felt the small blue pill under his tongue fly into his windpipe. “Yeah, your gold whatsit is in that ship,” Solaire said. Weiss began to choke in front of him, so Solaire simply stepped around him as Winthrop rushed to his side and wrapped his arms around his employer, trying to dislodge the mezzafine. “You’re welcome. Yet again.” Austin shuffled away, grumbling something unintelligible as he followed Solaire out of the room. Tomo climbed out of the ship, began to walk away, then stopped in front of the still choking form of Weiss. “We say this because we did not take any of the gold from the ship and put it in our own pockets.” Weiss angrily gargled at him. “I am an honest and honorable man…” Tomo continued, then stopped as Skyler grabbed on to his armor and dragged him into the hallway with him. A second later, a round thing covered head to toe in pitch-black soot flopped out of the side of the ship and onto the floor below. “Oh thanks for being so concerned for me!” Willaby shouted. “You know, the guy that was right next to the boiler AS IT EXPLODED! Really, you’re ALL too KIND…” he continued, trailing off as his angry rant followed him out of the door as well. “H-KAGH!” Weiss spat, and the small blue object flew out of his mouth, He fell onto all fours, panting, as the other members of the former card game gathered around him (and as one servant pocketed the blue pill after making sure no one was watching him). “Weiss, baby doll,” one of the women cooed, “are you okay?” “leafe” he wheezed. “What did you say?” “LEAFE!” he roared. The others bolted out of the room as Weiss staggered to his feet and began to run his hands through his hair. “My schip! My schip! Ze hull... How did zey do zat? In order to repair it ve vill need to tow out zat sink vithout capsisink us! And zat will cost gold and time and my beautiful, beautiful SCHIP!” Winthrip slowly walked behind him as Weiss continued his tirade, pacing up and down the length of the room. He stopped at the edge of the bronze Archive Ship and looked down, to where Talos lay, pinned underneath it. He sighed and withdrew a dagger from inside his coat, then popped off a panel from the construct’s back and studied the carefully inlaid runes composing the creature’s programming. Talos stirred, then weakly grabbed at the ground, as if attempting to crawl. “Must… kill… Solaire…” Winthrop stabbed through one of the runes, forcing it to shut down for good, the sighed. “Get in line.”

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