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The Adventures of Solaire, Part VIII: Top Deck Shenanigans

The Incredible Yet Accurate Adventures of the Dread Pirate Captain Solaire Ravenheart

Otherwise known as

The Adventures of Solaire


Part VIII

Top Deck Shenanigans


When one reviews the catalogue of bardic interests, both of their profused “muses” and of unoriginal tales bards find interesting enough to steal for their own under the guise of “archiving folklore,” one sees that the subject of mariner tales and sea shanties are very under-represented. Indeed, the attitude of most bards is that sailors are an unrefined and coarse people, and any poetic substance gleaned from them will be a diseased kind of substance, one more fit for scrawling on the walls of taverns than gracing the pages of a book.


I find this rather disappointing. During my time on the sea, both whilst I sailed under Solaire and then afterwards, I discovered that a great amount of maritime culture was beautiful in it’s own right: the sea shanties used to keep time were gorgeous examples of multi-part harmonies, their superstitions offered a fascinating and rarely-used doorway in the journey of unraveling the human mind, and many of their tales are far more poignant and far more funny than some of the so-called “master bardsmen” on land, and much less likely to come attached with pretentious conversations about the survival of self when cast into the storm of a constrictive society… or whatever the hell “Maestro’s Lament” was supposed to be about.


Take, for example, the popular sailor’s tale of “The Twice Captained Ship.” In it, two twin brothers, both sea captains, mistakenly board the same ship, believing it to be their own. As the first mate steers the vessel onwards, one captain comes up and tells him that they’re on the wrong barring, and to adjust, which the first mate, of course, does. Then, after that captain goes down below deck, the other approaches the first mate and yells at him for changing course and tells him to correct the barring before leaving. This back and forth continues for quite a bit, with the poor first mate unable to understand why the same captain keeps giving him contradicting orders, until, by chance, both brothers happen to come on deck at the same time, see each other, and immediately laugh in understanding and at the bizarre coincidence of the whole thing, at which point the off-course ship hits a rock and sinks, condemning everyone on board to a slow death by drowning.


Writing this now, I suppose it is possible that the reason sailor’s tales are often overlooked is that their gallows tone is… upsetting, to a more soil-based audience.


No matter. The point I am torturing out of this long, rambling introduction is that ignoring the tales of sailors is a bad idea, as we stand to lose the valuable information inside. The dangers of making two leaders work on the same task, for instance. Perhaps if Austin was a sailor as well, he would be more engaged in his struggle of authority versus Solaire and fought that fight harder in the beginning. Who knows? Maybe he would have abandoned the fight to begin with.


Oh well. All we can do is watch from the shores of hindsight and wait for the ship to sink. At least it will be entertaining when it does happen, regardless of the amount of twins.


***


“WHUMP!”


Weiss grimaced as the mermaid thumped against the glass enclosure once again. He was hoping that the creature would have calmed down by now, or at least protested its capture in a manner that was less potentially damaging. Weiss had never seen a mermaid, but based on the creature’s swollen limb and darkened skin, he assumed that she had already broken her arm trying this tactic. It didn’t matter much in the end, he supposed.


He just hated to sell damaged cargo.


As he stared at the glass, a thin man in a deep blue suit stepped next to him. “This is marvellous, Weiss. Truly marvelous!” he marveled. “I mean, a true Triton! How did you even find it?”


Weiss smiled and gave a little shrug. “I hafe my vays.”


“Well, however you did it, I’m stunned.” The other man turned to Weiss. “So, how much to keep her?”


Weiss’ eyes went wide and he took a step back. “But sir, slafery is illegal! I vould nefer be infolfed in such an immoral business!”


The silence hung in the air for a minute. Then both men burst out laughing.


“One million gold,” Weiss finally managed to gasp, wiping tears out of his eyes.


The other man grabbed his hand and shook hard. “You have a deal, sir. I’ll have Jamesy contact Winthrop and transfer the money over.”


Weiss nodded and watched the man walk away, then he motioned Winthrop over. “The crev member who first contacted zis creature… Kallovs, vas it?”


“Yes sir,” Winthrop said. “I’ve already put him in the interrogation room.”


“Good, good. I vant to queshtion him all day. If he can find one, he can find more. So no interruptions, no matter vhat.”


“Weiss! Weiss!” Austin’s tinny voice yelled through the brass intercom system.


“Damn ze day I applied my mind to ze field of acoushtics,” Weiss growled. He grabbed the pipe and screamed “VHAT?!”


“We’ve got a top decker going ape shit. We need some help pacifying him.”


“Zat’s vhy I hafe you, you lifink mountain! Figure it out. I’m busy.”


“But sir…”


“Are you unable to do your job?” Weiss asked, his voice taking on a sharp and dangerous edge. “Because if you are, I can alvays collect your collateral…”


“No sir!” Austin immediately spoke back. “We can do this. I’ll… I’ll find a way.”


“Good! Don’t bozer me any more today.” Weiss shook his head and stormed off. “Come Vinthrop! I need to blow off some shteam wis Kallovs!”


Winthrop hurried to match pace with his employer. “Very good, sir.”


***


“So what did Mr. Wiess say?” Tomo asked, crouching under a gaming table.


“He said to figure it out,” Austin grumbled, slinking away from the brass intercom and joining Tomo. “Don’t suppose you have any ideas?”


“We could always ask Solaire…” Tomo said.


“There is no way in all the Nine Hells I would ever ask that back-stabbing, two-faced, little silver spoon…”


“HEAR ME AND TREMBLE!” a voice boomed behind them. The statement was then punctuated by the sound of an explosion.


Tomo looked to Austin.


“Fine, get Solaire,” Austin mumbled.


***


And where would Solaire be at this moment? Why, walking the bottom deck of the ship, stern to bow, with one foot flush in front of the other like a tightrope walker... obviously.


The action wasn’t as insane as it seemed. Solaire’s spying of Winthrop notebook had alerted him to the fact that there was a more complete archive of the ship’s going-ons somewhere on board. This would be the record that told him where River was. Problem was, he had nowhere to find it.


However, not all was lost. Solaire knew two things about the codex, as he had been calling it. One, the codex contained a massive amount of notes, and therefore had to be stored in at least a small room, and two, it contained information on Weiss’ criminal activities, information that could potentially ruin the small Eiswhen man. So where would one store a massive amount of hidden objects?


To the son of a noble family, the answer was obvious: a secret room.


Which is where the weird walking came in. The best way to find a secret room was to compare the length of the building, or ship, in this case, against the length of each room in the ship added together. If the ship length didn’t match the length of the rooms combined together, then a secret room had been added in somewhere, causing the discrepancy, and from there, you could narrow down its location.


But the only measure he had on him was his own foot. So walking from one end of the ship to the other it was. It had taken him all day and his legs were beginning to cramp, but he was close now. Just a few more, he thought. 13,856… 13,857… Almost…


“Solaire!” Tomo shouted as he rounded the corner and came out of nowhere. Solaire jumped, withdrew his pistol, and then panicked.


“Thirteen thousand, thirteen and six, or was it twelve… Damn you!” Solaire shouted, pointing a finger at Tomo. “Damn you in the name of every created world!”


“We need you on the top deck,” Tomo remarked, ignoring the man’s outburst.


“Fuck off. I have something important I need to redo, thanks to you.” He walked over to the other wall, placed his heel against the surface, and began the walk again.


“This is not a request,” Tomo stated.


“Wonderful,” Solaire huffed, taking some more wobbly steps, “I still don’t care.”


“You will come.”


“No, I wonAAGH!” Solaire sunk to his knees as the all-too familiar feeling of electric pain and ozone smell hit him. He glanced backwards, murder in his eyes, to see Tomo holding a slave plate controller, identical to Weiss’.


“You seem to be confused about the nature of the hierarchy of authority here,” Tomo began with an even tone. “It’s possible that my friendliness with you has confused you, so allow me to clarify: you are not in charge here. You follow orders given to you from both Austin and I, just as we follow orders from Weiss in turn. Any actions that upset that chain of command will not be tolerated by any party. Is that understood?”


Solaire narrowed his eyes. “No, it’s not. I think I need another lesson.”


“Granted,” Tomo replied. He watched expresionlessly as Solaire writed around in agony, yelling and twisting, holding the button down for almost two minutes of torture. “Is the lesson clear now?”


“Yeah, yeah,” Solaire gasped, feeling the skin around the plate in his neck begin to burn. “As a crystal.”


“I’m glad. Be at the top deck within five minutes,” Tomo finished, leaving Solaire on the ground and running up the stairs.


***


“Skyler! Willaby!”


Solaire’s two companions jumped as their names were called, both engrossed in a game of dice with the other crewmen.


“What is it now?” Willaby wined, looking up to see the white-clothed figure of Solaire stomp his way down the hallway that served as their makeshift casino.


“Top deck,” Solaire clarified. “We’re needed.”


“By who?” Skyler demanded.


“By me. Let’s go.” Solaire strode past the two men, stopped as he realized he was not being followed, and turned to face them.


“Well?” he asked.


“We’re not going,” Skyler said.


“What?”


“You heard him, we’re not going!” Willaby scrambled to his feet and stood inches away from Solaire, staring directly into the man’s eyes for a full minute.


Solaire’s eyes met his, face refusing to change.


Willaby’s gaze hit the floor. “We’ll be there shortly.”


“Now!” Solaire moved and began his march back down the passage, now followed by a scrambling Willaby.


“But what about… ah hell!” Skyler threw down the dice in disgust. “Don’t you two go away now, you hear me? I’m coming back to this hot streak in just a second.” Then he too left and ran down the hall to catch up with his two compatriots.


One crewmember raised his eyebrow at the other. The second merely shrugged and pocketed the gold coins left behind.


***


“Took you long enough,” Austin groaned, bracing up against a large wooden table as the sound “FOOMFOOMFOOMFOOMFOOM!” rattled away on the other side.


Tomo stood with his back to the barrier and peeked around it. “I suppose my task did take exactly as long as it needed to.”


“I really hate you sometimes,” Austin muttered. A loud BOOM! sounded and he threw more of his weight against the table. “Where the hell is Solaire?”


“He should be here soon. I let him know in no uncertain terms that his presence was required here.”


“And how do you know that snake didn’t just hide as soon as you left?”


“Alright, alright,” Solaire shouted, ascending the stairs. “I’m here to fix all your problems, as usual. Now where’s the fire you can’t put out?


A high PING! cracked through the air and Solaire’s hat flew off of his head, landing near his feet with the unmistakable shape of a bullet hole in the fabric. Solaire looked at it, then back up to the deck.


Standing in front of him was an intimidating mixture of man and machinery. Seated in the center was a balding, slightly pot-bellied man in an amber suit. However, he was not the intimidating part. The intimidating part came from the skeletal brass form surrounding him. Extending from his arms and legs, holding him inside the mechanism with straps, were long limbs of sturdy metal, connected together with interlocking tubes that hissed with steam as they moved. Two more of these limbs jutted from his shoulders, independent from the human frame, giving the man the appearance of a strange gold insect.


At the ends of these appendages were different weaponized extensions. The legs ended in heavy clamp feet, each looking as strong as the hand of a gorilla, if not more so. The left arm ended in a long straight blade with a sharp edge. A long rifle-like firearm was mounted to the left shoulder arm, appearing to lock in on targets of its own volition, and a large cannon was mounted in the right shoulder, still emitting smoke.


But the piece-de-resistance was the weapon seated in the right arm. The main body of it was a large gun, resembling a scaled up hunting rifle: a long body and long barrel, opening easily the size of a man’s fist, with a wide stock that presumably stored a powerful firing mechanism. However, halfway up the gun, where the ammunition would be normally loaded, there was a large revolver barrel instead. To make the mechanism even stranger, this revolver barrel was attached to a set of two hoops that made a wide circle around the gun and spaced every two feet or so was another revolver barrel, and the whole circle was connected to a motorized chain. The exact mechanics of the design were lost on Solaire, but he knew what the machine was built to do:


Kill.


“Ah,” Solaire spoke. “I suppose you didn’t take too kindly to the whole ‘please vacate the premises, sir.’”


In response, the man raised the gun. The barrel rotated away as the entire hoop moved, placing another barrel into the chamber with a soft click.


Solaire dove for Austin’s improvised table-shield, moving right out of the way a half-second before the space he was standing at began to explode into tiny pieces under the “FOOMFOOMFOOMFOOM!”ing barrage of the gun.


“Glad to see you finally decided to grace us with your presence,” Austin shouted as he braced against the table once more.


“And a similar thanks to you for the warning. That could of…” Solaire stopped. “Wait a minute.”


A shape clad in green tweed appeared in the doorway Solaire had just entered from, and Solaire could see the man’s eyes suddenly track and notice the shape.


“HEY!” Solaire bellowed, waving frantically. The man’s attention was diverted for a crucial half-second, causing the arm to swing towards the disturbance as the barrel clicked into place. Solaire ducked behind the barrier and the firearm began to fire again, unloading it’s chamber across the room as the recoil seized the motion of the gun and forced it to continue to swing wide.


Skyler jumped to the side and landed into a roll, sword and gun at the ready. Willaby, meanwhile, belly-flopped to the side, hands covering his head, thus bringing both men behind the shelter.


“Mind warning us?” Skyler shouted in outrage.


“I would if someone else had passed it along!” Solaire responded.


“Why the blazes did you bring those two?” Austin asked. “We just asked for you!”


Solaire pointed a finger at Austin. “A captain is no captain without reliable, competent…” he trailed off as he noticed that Willaby was now noticeably more white and soft than he had been a second ago.


“Are you… covered in feathers?” Solaire asked.


“Er… yes,” Willaby admitted.


“So is that just… a thing now?” he continued.


“Looks like.”


“...Right.”


“GUEST,” a mechanical voice spoke from behind the upturned table, “YOU ARE TO BE TERMINATED. WE APPOLOGIZE FOR…”


A loud KA-BOOM interrupted the speech, followed by the sounds of metal arm blades on metal arm blades.


“So how much did this guy lose?” Solaire asked.


“Close to 150,000 gold in net total,” Tomo answered.


Skyler gave a whistle. “How the hell do you lose that much in one night?”


“I believe the poor judgement he exhibited would be to blame.”


“Stop fucking gossiping and figure a way to stop him!” Austin yelled.


Solaire ventured a peek around the table, pistol in hand. The man was currently engaged with several of the construct guards, arm blade through the center of one. As two more attempted to flank around his backside, one was destroyed as the rifle arm whirled around and put a bullet right through its brass head. The other was taken out as the man whirled around and pointed the large gun at the automaton, firing the barrel with another resounding set of “FOOMFOOMFOOMFOOM” until the entire chamber of eight bullets were spent.


“Twelve barrels of eight bullets a peice…” Solaire muttered to himself.


“That machinery is powered by Elysium stored in the large container strapped to his backside,” Tomo declared. “If we could destroy that container, the exoskeleton would become depowered.”


“...making him just a regular guy,” Skyler finished.


Solaire shook his head. “Uh-uh.”


Everyone turned and stared at him.


“I don’t know about you,” Solaire continued, “but I have never seen that kind of thing before. Means he built it himself. Smart guy like that knows his own machine’s weak points and is going to be covering them the entire time.”


“So what do we do?” Willaby asked.


Solaire leaned back to look his companions in the eye. “The biggest threat from that thing is that blaze-weird gun. Everything else there is useless at short-range; that blade’s too long, as is the rifle. And no way is he going to risk blowing himself up with that cannon.”


“So we take out the gun!” Willaby exclaimed, shouting with enough enthusiasm to spit feathers.


“You wanna study that thing while it’s firing at you? No, we exploit the weakness we know. The design it has seems to make it impossible to stop firing until that entire chamber of bullets is spent. And that man is no steely-eyed aimer. We duck, weave, and exhaust the chambers.” Solaire looked to Tomo. “How many times has that thing fired?”


“Unknown,” the samurai replied. “I left during the battle to find you.”


Solaire glanced at Austin.


Austin extended his fingers and counted off one, two, three, and then shook his head and backtracked to two.


Solaire rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t matter. There’s twelve chambers there and he’s fired at least four times. My guess is six with how trigger happy he is.”


“You seem to be glossing over the fact that your entire plan is to get shot!” Skyler protested.


“No, get shot at,” Solaire clarified. “There’s a huge difference between the two.”


“Being?”


“He’s a soft noble who’s obviously compensating, not a battle-hardened fighter. All we really need to do is startle him and duck.”


“Hold on!” Austin interjected. “Why are you trying to call the shots?”


Solaire reeled back, as if he had just been asked if he was sure the sky was blue. “Because I’m the most qualified to.”


“No, you’re not,” Austin insisted. “I am. Tomo is. You take the orders.”


Tomo nodded, slowly raising the shock remote.


Solaire narrowed his eyes, but said nothing.


Austin addressed the group at large. “Right! We’re going with Tomo’s plan, because it’s the plan that won’t get us killed. Split left on my mark, Tomo. I’m going right. We’re gonna flank him and rip out that Elysi-whatever. You three knuckleheads, stay here and keep him distracted. And three, two, mark!” Austin darted over one way while Tomo split to the other, leaving Solaire, Skyler, and Willaby crouched in the shadow of the overturned table.


Willaby started to round the corner, magic rod in hand, only to be yanked back by Solaire by the jacket as a resounding PING! managed to clip one of the floating white feathers and cause it to explode into fuzz.


“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Solaire hissed.


Willaby looked at Solaire with confusion. “Creating a distraction, like Austin said.”


“We’re not doing that. We’re sticking with my plan.”


Skyler gave Solaire a glare. “You’re not our boss.”


“No, but I am your captain. I said so in the mess hall.”


Solaire received blank stares back.


He sighed. “Look, I’m not going to be happy until I put a bullet in Weiss’ head. And to do that, I’m going to need help. Help from my crew. You can do things I can’t, and because of that, you are…” he grimaced a tiny bit, “valuable to me. I’m not going to do anything that may be too dangerous to your lives. I can’t, not until we’re off this ship.


“But if you think that Austin feels the same way about you, feel free to step around that barrier and be his distraction.”


Willaby and Skyler looked to each other, then back to Solaire.


“So what do we do?” Skyler asked.


“Well first things first, we save those idiots. Weiss would be unbearable. Willaby!” Solaire pointed to a large decorative column. “Think you can knock that over?”


“Should be able to.” The baker raised his arms and thrust forward with his rod like a sword, forming a large screaming blue missile to appear and slam into the side of the pillar. The large mass slowly tipped before falling over with a thunderous CRASH! landing right in front of Tomo mid-charge, forcing him to back up and scan the room around in bewilderment.


“Skyler, I need you to get over to that rope,” Solaire said. “When I give the signal, cut it. And not a second before.”


Skyler nodded and took off, jumping from one pile of debris to another to reach a long golden rope tied to the side of the room. As he did, the man in the machine noticed the man in leathers leaping from cover to cover, and raised his gun to meet him.


The barrel started with a FOOM and Skyler cut a hard stop behind his current cover, waiting for the barrage to be over before continuing on.


“Five,” Solaire mummered.


Seeing his opening, Austin hooked around to get behind the man before breaking into a full charge. Once he did, the mechanical man pivoted away, bringing the tank out of reach and swinging the barrel of the gun right at him.


“NOW!”


Skyler cut the rope in front of him and the line went slack, releasing its support from the crystal and gold chandelier hanging above the assailant’s head. Seeing it, he instinctively covered his head with his arms just in time for the firearm to engage, blowing all eight high caliber rounds through the roof of the cruise ship.


Austin paused, realizing his opportunity to go in for a closer melee but not to reach the fuel tank that he was so desperately trying to get to. As he hesitated, the attacker recovered, and so the giant man warily ducked around the corner instead.


“I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” the man yelled.


“Four. And don’t make promises you can’t keep.” Solaire turned back to Willaby, still crouched behind the table with him, and picked up a small metal contraption, tossing it at the baker. “I need you to make a spark.”


Willaby caught it and stared at the strange object in his hands. “A spark? Wh-”


“Just do it!” Solaire reached into his coat and withdrew his cutlass, hooking the end of the blade into the decapitated head of an unfortunate automaton.


“Damn these feathers. Okay. Spark. Electricity. Like first love…?” Willaby’s rant was stopped by a sudden sizzle and a blue crackle, which leapt into the metal object and spoke “GUEST, WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE STATE OF THIS UNIT.” At the same time, Solaire waved the construct head in the air.


The ruse worked. The man immediately whirled towards the source of the noise, aimed at the brass head, and fired, unloading yet another set of rounds into the object and causing it to explode into a shower of gears and shrapnel.


“Three.”


Tomo cautiously rounded the far end of the pillar, katana in hand. He shifted his pose, ready to rush, but the man immediately whirled around and saw the samurai, releasing another set of “FOOMFOOMFOOMFOOM” as Tomo moved backwards and placed himself behind the pillar, protecting him from the barrage.


“And two. This is going better than I thought.” Solaire moved to look at Skyler, who had just now caught back up with the other two men. “Skyler, these last two are on us. Think you do one on your own?”


“Born ready.” Skyler withdrew his other hook sword and ran into the open gripping both blades. The motion immediately drew the attention of the attacker in the center, who aimed the gun at the charging man in leather armor. Skyler gave a slight smile and hooked the swords onto a piece of debris on either side of him, heaving himself up and over the man in the metal skeleton as the rounds uselessly struck where he had just been.


“One. My turn.” Solaire put away his pistol and cutlass, ran over to the edge of the room lined from floor to ceiling with large window panes, and leapt onto the curtain there. As he hung on for dear life, the curtains moved and continued down the track they were set into, pushing Solaire along the wall like a fly attached to a speeding cart. The barrage-gun immediately began to track the clinging noble and fire away, blowing giant holes in the curtain a few inches away from Solaire with every shot.


Now at the end of the track, Solaire dismounted and rolled behind an overturned slot machine. “And zero. Lead the target next time, moron.”


Skyler, who had been swinging upon the ceiling with his swords up until this point, landed nearby and began to run towards the man’s backside.


Solaire saw the charge and yelled “STOP!”


Skyler only hesitated for a half-second before diving for a nearby upended card table, leaping into cover just as the long rifle twirled to face him and PING!ed what would have been a fatal shot had he not just moved out of the way.


“Those weapons are still a problem!” Skyler shouted.


“Obviously!” Solaire peeked out, then ducked back. “I’m going to take care of the rifle. When I call out a name and a weapon, move to neutralize it.”


Skyler nodded, and Solaire ran straight for the man. In response, the man aimed the gun, rotated the old barrel out, and clicked in a new one; a new one, Solaire realised with horror, he could just barely see had a full set of rounds.


He had staked his life on a miscount, and now there was no time to save himself. Even as time began to slow, all he could do was watch as the instrument of his doom readied with a soft click.


“HRGH!”


A sudden mass of brown and green appeared right between Solaire and the deadly firearm. It fired with a “FOOM”, breaking the card table into pieces like a child smashing a glass vase and giving Solaire the opening he needed to roll to the side and hide behind a sturdier roulette table. As the barrage continued, he traced the flight path of the furniture back to the spot it had came from: Austin, standing only five or so feet away.


Austin nodded to Solaire. Solaire nodded back.


There was another soft click, followed by a hydraulic hiss, a lack of “FOOM”s, and swearing from the man inside. Confident now, Solaire moved back out, feinted left and continued right, letting the rifle uselessly PING! at the spot it had assumed he would be. He then hopped onto the sword arm just below the blade, scrambled onto the shoulders of the construct, withdrew two daggers and finally dug both of the short blades into the arm holding onto the rifle, leaning his weight into the improvised hand holds. The rifle attempted to turn and aim, but the unbalanced force the pale noble introduced caused it to swing around wildly, going nowhere near its desired targets.


“Skyler, cannon!”


Skyler charged out, hooked his sword into a hanging chandelier, and pulled, flinging himself upwards as the light fixture crashed to the ground. He landed next to Solaire on the construct’s shoulders and attached both blades by the hooks into the upper lip of the cannon. Thus connected, he leaned back and forced the large barrel to swing upwards, the cannon now unable to muster enough force to move itself back down.


The man inside growled and moved the large firearm backwards, readying to swing it as an improvised club.


“Austin, gun!”


Austin gave a battle roar and tackled the weapon, holding onto the mass and digging his heels in. Against the grunzen’s enhanced strength, the arm stood no chance, simply groaning in protest as the hydraulics attempted to haul it upwards.


The man’s attention now snapped to Austin. With a snarl, he lunged the blade arm back, ready to skewer the man.


“Tomo, sword!”


With a fluid motion, Tomo moved between Austin and the blade, holding his katana upwards at an angle. The blade smashed down right on the sword’s edge, sliding it just sideways enough for the weapon to miss its mark. Before it could draw back for another stab, Tomo quickly spun his sword upwards and down, locking it into the space that attach the arm to the blade. He then began to counter the limb’s movement with his own, shifting back when it moved forward, shifting left when it moved right, unbalancing each gesture and making the edged implement stay pointed down each time.


The face of the man seated inside turned a furious shade of red. “YOU… YOU… VIPERS! I’LL DESTROY YOU ALL!” He began to stumble around in circles, forcing everyone around to hold on tighter or risk losing control of the weapons they were locking down.


“Willaby, keep him still!”


The mass of fluffy feathers and green suit appeared from behind the sideways table, drawing himself up and attempting to appear intimidating. “And she broke up with me, me, because being a baker isn’t an ‘attractive career for a husband.’” He finished the statement with a long exhale, cold and sparkling light blue wind escaping from his mouth. It settled around the feet of the brass monstrosity and covered them in several inches of ice, thereby locking the legs in place.


The man struggled for a bit, jerking this way and that, attempting to free something, anything, but failing every time.


He looked up at Solaire. “You’re all devils, every last one of you! You hear me?”


Solaire shrugged. “So?”


“You’ll get yours. You’ll see.”


“And on behalf of Mr. Weiss’ casino, we apologize for the inconvenience.” Solaire let go of one dagger and brought his arm around to the mans head, releasing the single-shot spring flint-lock from inside his sleeve and firing it in the same motion, putting the shot right through his head and painting the inside of his wonderful, deadly contraption red with his own blood.


***


Two hours later, everyone had returned to their preferred activities: Tomo had gone back to his quarters to sharpen his katana and meditate, Willaby and Skyler were attempting to win back the gold they had already won, Austin had disappeared to parts unknown, and Solaire was back to the bottom deck of the ship, counting steps.


“13,860… 13,861… 13,862!” he finished, putting the toes of his shoes to the opposite end of the hull. Then he sighed and raised his head. “Please stop spying on me.”


The giant shape of Austin emerged from the shadows with a small, sheepish grin on his face. “Sorry. Didn’t want to interrupt… whatever that was.”


“Well, I appreciate that, at least.” Solaire crossed his arms. “So what is this? A dressing down? Disciplinary meeting? Punishment?”


Austin reached inside his coat pocket, pulled out a brown bottle, and handed it to Solaire.


“Is this… rum?” the noble asked. “I thought Weiss had a strict ‘no-alcohol’ policy with the crew.”


Austin’s grin went a little wider. “He does.”


Solaire uncapped the bottle and sniffed it.


Austin rolled his eyes, snatched the bottle back, took a long swing, then gave it back. “Not poisoned, see?”


Solaire nodded and took a large drink himself, wiping his mouth off with his sleeve.


“Look,” Austin began, “I wanted to see if we could patch things over. Think we got off on pretty hostile ground from the start.”


Solaire took another hearty swig. “There a reason we shouldn’t?”


“What’s that supposed to mean?”


“Tomo has a slave plate. You don’t.”


Austin sighed. “My relationship with Weiss is a bit more… complicated than that. But I promise you, I hate him just as much as you do.”


“Mmm.”


The silence hung in the air for a second.


“I know you’re not the best at taking orders,” Austin began, “but I’m stuck as the commander of you three. If Weiss tells me to make you do something and you don’t, that’s my head on the line. I’m willing to back off on the battle orders. I’ve never pretended to be smart, and I think you’ve proven yourself to be pretty good at that stuff, but I need you to recognize me and Tomo as the boss. Just to make our lives easier, alright? Do that for me, and I promise you’re off this ship the second Weiss gets his fancy armor pieces.”


Solaire thought for a second, slowly rotating the bottle and making it slosh. “I suppose I can agree to a temporary truce. Just for convenience's sake.”


“Thanks,” he clasped a giant hand to the noble’s back and walked away.


As Solaire watched him leave, he extended his fingers into the shape of a mock gun and said “bang.”


Austin turned around, confused.


“Turned your back on me,” the noble explained. “Took you out.”


The confusion on Austin’s face lingered for a moment, then he broke into a smile. “You’re a funny man, Solaire,” he said with a chuckle as he rounded a corner and ascended the stairs.


Solaire smiled as he watched him go. Inside of his coat sleeve pocket, he could feel the spring-locked flintlock itch at his skin.


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