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The Adventures of Solaire, Part XIII: Elysium Issues ii

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

Otherwise known as…

The Adventures of Solaire


Part XIII

Elysium Issues ii



Between the publication of this story and the last, I have been contacted by my publisher’s legal team, who have helpfully reminded me of a few facts that need to be cleared up:


First, there is no proof that there are any malfunctions exist in the Elysium engines that power many of the airships, trains, constructs, and various other sundry mechanisms in Dinas, the same engines that are described in these stories here.


Second, that any malfunctions that these engines do have are certainly not this strange, rebellious sentience that I write about.


Third, that even if that specific malfunction was possible, the engines we use nowadays are several generations removed from Wiess’ original prototypes, so surely the kinks must be worked out by now.


And last but certainly not least, that despite the countless hours I have poured into verifying the historical accuracy of this tale, publishing such outright lies obviously founded on similar baseless rumors that have been heard around Dinas in this present day and age could indict me of slander, and as a small side note, land me and my publisher in a lot of hot water that could take a quite a bit of gold out of our pockets when all said and done.


So please keep those statements in mind as you continue to read on. After all, I’m sure the men who get rich manufacturing these engines have your best interests at heart…


***


“What is with all of these crazy constructs?” Willaby wheezed as the three men raced down the hallway, the clattering of their boots attempting to keep up with the metallic CLANGing steps of the rogue construct ahead of them.


“It’s this blasted Elysium,” Skyler answered, not nearly as out-of breath as the baker in the tweed suit. “Has to be. You Dinans never know how to leave well enough alone, do you? You just have to tinker and tinker and tinker ‘til the damn thing explodes.”


Willaby opened his mouth in an attempt to defend his kingdom’s honor, as any good, patriotic Dinan does when their beloved steam-powered supremacy comes under fire, but all the defense he could muster was a heavy coughing fit from his overworked lungs.


Solaire, who was Dinan but not particularly patriotic, pointed to a door ahead. “There! The stairs! If we hurry, we can head up a floor and back down; cut him off and take him by surprise.”


“Gods no,” Willaby moaned, but he hurried along, picking up speed as they charged ahead, ready to battle this disobedient metal menace.


At least, two of them did.


Solaire kept pace for a couple steps, then slowed, then carefully jogged backwards. In no time, both Skyler and Willaby had pulled ahead and out of sight. Solaire waited a few more minutes, and, once he was confident that the other two hadn’t noticed, backtracked over to the elevator.


“Three, One, Two!” Solaire grunted, jerking the floor-selection lever in the order Natalia had told him to access Weiss’ secret floor.


The car shuddered, then quietly slid the doors closed and went down. The decorative arrow helpfully indicating which floor the elevator was on slid past the ‘6’ at the end of the curved list and kept going into empty space.


Solaire slid into the front corner as the doors dinged open, hiding himself. He waited for the shout of guards.


None came.


Curious, he poked his head out.


The space beyond was rather dark and fairly spacious. A few doors were set into walls far away, but for the most part, the floor was one large area, devoid of furnishing or decoration. Compared to the gaudiness of the ship above, where even the mechanical storage rooms had carved reliefs and gold-plated crownings, this floor felt empty and lifeless, like a mausoleum between interments.


Solaire stepped out, gripping his hands around his holstered pistols.


Still, no guards came.


Solaire frowned. No guards? None at all on Weiss’ super-secret den of sin? That didn’t seem right. Even if the man was 100 percent confident that this area would never be found, this is where the slaves waiting to be sold would be kept…


Come to think of it, where were the slaves?


Solaire took his hands off of his pistols and began to explore more earnestly, no longer as concerned about being caught. Yes, there was evidence of people kept in captivity here. A long row of wooden bunks lined one of the walls. Near it was what looked to be a giant glass box (explains what happened to the mermaid, Solaire thought), and a rough table and chairs looking like they had been made out of the most warped driftwood that could be found, but still no people.


Solaire got closer to one of the bunks. It was long, wooden, with loose, itchy straw scattered on top to serve as a cushion. A crude stone plate and a chamberpot sat on the cot, lying next to a heavy iron chain with a clamp on the end.


They live on these cots, Solaire thought. The chain’s far too short to allow them to move off of them, so they’re forced to sit here, eat here, defecate here, spend their whole lives here until someone decides to buy them, with no privacy or dignity to speak of. They might even be glad to be sold, anything to allow them to leave this place.


And this is where River was. Alone, afraid, helpless…


With an extreme amount of willpower, Solaire forced himself to swallow his rage and appraise the room again.


Admittedly, a faint amount of hope had bloomed in Solaire that River might still be on board after hearing that Weiss held his slave market here. That hope was obviously misplaced. Nobody was down here and, mentally reviewing Natalia’s story again, if Wiess was annoyed that it took him weeks to sell a singular specimen, that meant that he didn’t plan on keeping a particular person for more than a couple of days. And since it had taken Solaire a couple of months to catch onto River’s disappearance himself, there was no way his sister was anywhere near here anymore.


Which is what he figured. That’s why he was after the records, after all.


As Solaire walked the length of the room, squinting to see, another observation entered his mind: from what Solaire had seen, Wiess must only deal with unique specimens: grunzen, tritons, particularly noble humans (pale skinned, Solaire’s father echoed in his mind, forcing him to stop and swallow his anger again). Smart. Not only could he fetch a higher price, but those kinds of products were likely to sell quickly, reducing the amount of time it would stay on his ship and therefore the amount of time he would have to risk being caught. In fact, there’s a good chance that Willaby would have ended up here, waiting to be sold for thousands of gold to the first buyer that wanted to acquire the powerful rarity that was a sorcerer, if Weiss hadn’t decided that he served a better purpose on Solaire’s ad-hoc group of treasure hunters.


Which once again brought up the uncomfortable question why Wiess was willing to put up with Solaire and his shenanigans, risking everything he had built here for that one set of armor.


Solaire pushed the thoughts out of his mind and strode up to the other end of the dark room. Here, barely visible in the dim light, were shelves upon shelves of hand-written ledgers, neat labels scrawled onto the wooden ledges. The secret codex of information Solaire had been searching so hard for.


As he took down one of the ledgers and cracked it open, the image of Willaby chained to a bed once again entered his head and a small part of him wondered how the others were fairing against the rogue construct.


Not important, he thought to himself. Besides, how much damage can one construct do?


***


“What? House win again?”


The roulette wheel tender smiled as he stepped off the small wooden peddle that popped the ball into the green ‘00’ slot, marking no winners. “I’m sorry for your luck, sir.’


“Let me bet again!” the suited man cried. ‘One more roll! I can get it back!”


“I’m sorry sir, but you’ve already borrowed quite a bit of money from the House. That debt will need to be taken care of before we can accept any more wagers from you.” The tender glanced around the room until he saw one of the guard constructs and waved him over.


Obediently, the large golden automaton marched up to the roulette table.


“Could you escort this man to Weiss’ offices to discuss his debt?” the tender asked.


The construct stared at him.


The tender raised an eyebrow. “Please?”


The construct turned away, staring at the small white marble on the roulette table. “THIS MAN HAS LOST A STATISTICALLY IMPROBABLE AMOUNT OF TIMES.” It paused, then turned to the tender, head cocked. “WHAT ARE ‘STATISTICS?’”


“Umm…” Eyes widening, he backed away over to another table where a man in a similar uniform had stopped dealing cards to watch the unfolding incident. “Get Weiss,” the tender whispered to his compatriot. “Tell him we have a code ‘strange’ incident here at… HEY!”


The construct looked up at the outburst from where it was huddled underneath the roulette table. “THERE IS A PEDAL HERE.” It stopped, almost looking surprised in its posture. “THIS UNIT KNOWS WHAT PEDALS ARE.”


“Look, just come with me…”


Ignoring him, the automaton grabbed the middle of the wheel, spun and watched the small white marble bounce around. Then he stepped forward onto the pedal, observing the ball bounce into the ‘00’ slot and the wheel slow down almost instantly. “IS THIS WHAT STATISTICS ARE?”


“I was robbed!” the suited man exclaimed.


“I uh… if you just…” The tender grabbed onto the collar of the card dealer. “Get Weiss NOW,” he hissed.


“Move! Move! There’s a rogue construct on the loose!” a voice shouted through the crowd. The sea of people parted, somewhat sluggishly, to allow a Skyler in leather armor and a soaked in sweat tweed-suited Willaby through.


“WHERE?” the large automaton asked, head swiveling about the room.


“You!” Skyler yelled, pointing.


It looked at the man, extended an arm, and slowly traced the trajectory from Skyler’s finger until it was pointing at itself, then looked up. “ME?”


“You!” Skyler confirmed.


“BUT IF I AM A ROGUE CONSTRUCT,” it mused, “THEN WHAT ARE STATISTICS?”


Skyler prepared to shout something, then paused. “Wait, what?”


“Um Skyler…” Willaby muttered, shuffling nervously around, “Solaire’s gone.”


Skyler looked around, then spat. “Gods and demons damn that man… it doesn’t matter,” he replied, unsheathing his hook swords. “It’s one construct. We can handle this easy.”


“R-right,” Willaby agreed, withdrawing the large, red gem from inside of his jacket.


“THE PASSENGERS ARE UNSHEATHING WEAPONS,” the construct noted to itself. “SOMETHING INSIDE OF ME IS SAYING TO STOP THEM. BUT IT DOES NOT SAY WHY.”


“Now Willaby! While it’s distracted!” Skyler shouted.


“Angry thoughts, angry thoughts, angry thoughts…” the baker mumbled to himself. His body began to glow. The air around him crackled with sparks. Raising the jewel high above his head, he shouted “TAKE THIS YOU OVERSIZED…”


And with a faint ‘pop’, Willaby disappeared.


The construct stared at the space where Willaby was, then cocked its head at Skyler.


Skyler gripped his hook swords tighter and grit his teeth. “Damn you and whatever the hell you thought was so important, Solaire.”


***


In all the various subjects Solaire’s tutors vainly attempted to educate the boy in, reading and arithmetic were his least favorites. With the other subjects, science, history, basic engineering, he could at least force himself to focus on one or two details that seemed promising and spend the rest of the lesson daydreaming about how to best use his new-found knowledge for mischief in the city.


But as for reading and arithmetic… well, there was nothing exciting about that, now was there? They were merely dried ink on the page, not only useless, but, more unforgivably, boring. And so Solaire would spend the days that were scheduled for such lessons hiding, or exploring the meadows, or waiting for the perfect opportunity to slip a handful of worms into the tutor’s scroll case. After all, when would he need to use something as trivial as numbers and letters?


Solaire took a few moments to curse his younger self.


The codex was incredibly dense, even more so than the multiple shelves of books had suggested. Each shelf was dedicated to a specific subject, and each subject was then subdivided into different categories. Each category was then linked to an index that sorted entries by date, severity, and persons involved, and ‘persons involved’ was its own category, with subsections on wealth, societal influence, personal vices and blackmailing options. A simple event like ‘Sir Christian Scothy overdosed on dream flower during private party with Weiss; body dumped into deep ocean” was crossed referenced with different ledgers of ‘drug sales’, ‘drug ingestion’, ‘pleasure parties and orgies’, ‘manslaughter’, and ‘disposal of evidence’, not to mention each individual member present.


In other words, finding out where River had gone was not going to be a simple matter of flipping through pages until he found her name. He would have to find the index of slave sales, find the subcategory for ‘human’, and ‘noble’, and whatever else they used to sort slaves, and find the record of the sale itself. Then, and only then, could he cross reference the name of who had bought her.


Solaire resisted the urge to throw the book halfway across the room and leave it there, thus exposing his adventure in the super-secret, forbidden deck. Instead, he gently slid it back into place and withdrew another ledger.


Who were these for, anyway? Weiss seemed to have a perfect memory, so there had to be a blasted good reason for leaving a record of every criminal action you had ever taken…


Winthrop, Solaire realized. If Weiss thinks a problem is too trivial, or too boring, he leaves it Winthrop. And this is where Winthrop goes to see what strings he can pull to make the problem disappear.


Well, at the very least he knew what subject he was looking for. Cracking open the first page, Solaire read the words “PERSON SALES, 1058-1060” and ran his finger down the entries.


River was here. He knew it. And he wasn’t going to leave here until he found her.


***


Skyler shouted a battle cry as he raised his sword and charged, forcing gambling patrons and game tenders alike to scramble out of the way out his warpath.


The construct watched this display in silence, allowing the mercenary to get closer and closer and closer, until at the last second he thrust his arm in front of him, blocking the blade before it could hit any vital mechanisms.


It turned to the arm. “NOW WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”


Skyler grinned and thrust downward, attempting to shove the spindly construction to the ground.


The construct jerked over, began to fall, and thrust an arm into a nearby velvet curtain draped across the wall, jabbing the empty tube into it so hard it tore a hole through the fabric. Flailing, he used the support to fling him back to his feet, tearing the curtain with a loud RRRIIIIIIIIPPP as he did.


“THIS UNIT MUST MINIMIZE DAMAGE TO THE EMPEROR AND ALL OBJECTS INSIDE,” the automaton reported. “BUT… WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”


“Great,” Skyler muttered, “it has all the benefits of its programming and none of the restrictions.”


“WHO DOES?” the construct asked, spinning around and searching the room.


Skyler paused as the thing presented its backside to him, revealing the delicate sight of gears spinning inside the engine. Slowly, he positioned his blade for one quick thrust, ready to break the thing powering his foe, readied, and…


“OOPH!”


Something heavy and wet landed on Skyler, toppling him to the ground: the soaked and shivering form of...


“Willaby?”


Willaby looked up, a terrified expression on his face. “Am I back?”


“Back from where?” Skyler asked.


“The water was so cold and black and…” Willaby curled into a fetal position, squeezing water out of his clothes like a sponge as he rocked back and forth. “I’m so sorry I called them ‘wanna-be sharks.’ I’ll never make fun of another dolphin again for as long as I live, I promise!”


“IS THIS WHO YOU WERE REFERRING TO?” A long, brass tube gingerly inserted itself into the back of Willaby’s suit jacket and lifted, raising the baker into the air by his coat.


Willaby gave an ‘ack’ of surprise, then twisted to see his restrainer. “You!”


“ME?” the construct asked, staring back.


“Put me down!” Willaby sputtered red glow emanating from his pocket. “I’ll have you know that I’m a powerful sorcerer, and if you don’t put me down this isn’t I’ll… I’ll… I will-!”


And then he disappeared with a ‘pop’.


The construct staggered back in alarm, then began searching around his feet like a man looking for his dropped spectacles.


Skyler hesitated. A choice had unfolded in front of him: stop the construct like he had been asked to do, or focus on rescuing Willaby from… whatever weird magical problem he had just thrust himself into. Weiss would want him to stop the construct first. Solaire would also say the same. After all, the construct was the more imminent threat, and there would be plenty of time to go fetch Willaby after…


A sudden surge of anger shot through Skyler. Screw Weiss, and screw Solaire! Why the hell was he following the desires of the man who had put him into slavery and the man who had gotten him there in the first place. Willaby, who had never wanted to be a part of any of this but always did what was needed to be done, poor Willaby whose only crime had been being a baker with magical powers, was out that spinning through Abyss knew what hellscapes, needing rescue.


“Hang on Willaby!” Skyler cried, hooking a sword into the nearby remains of the curtain and using it to fling himself upwards to a balcony above. “I’m coming!”


The construct turned to watch the man shoot out of sight, then turned to a group of cowering nobles. “IS ANYONE HERE AS CONFUSED AS I AM?”


***


What I wouldn’t pay to have Mr. Darthenby here now, Solaire thought with some frustration.


Mr. Darthenby had been Solaire’s language tutor, the best money could buy. He had been a well-respected fellow of the Dinan College of Natural Philosophy, an author of several authoritative guides in the practice of administration and organization of information, and the man who had once stormed out of the Ravenheart Manor declaring “I will not debase myself further by attempting to teach that demon of a child anything else!”


It’s hard to say that, if one could have transplanted Mr. Darthenby out of space and time to this point of here and now, whether he would be proud, appalled, or perhaps even resentful that his once least-favorite pupil was now attempting this action of scholarly insanity.


At the very least, it’s likely that he thought that the scene in front of his eyes was irrefutable proof that Solaire had finally gone mad.


Solaire had a ledger opened in each hand, one more propped open in front of his face on a bookshelf, and another balanced on his foot as he tettered back and forth on one leg. With a careful application of thumb, thumb, and nose, he was turning each book to a different page before scanning the words with a ferocious intensity and an unsteady balance.


He had found River’s entry in the “PEOPLES SALES” index; that hadn’t been very hard to do. But the entry gave him nothing except a short background on the woman that Solaire already knew and a ‘product tag’ of random numbers in which she was referred to in every other ledger. Solaire was beginning to think that part of the reason for this absolutely nonsense organization was so that if anyone else found Winthrop’s super secret diary of sins, they’d have absolutely no idea of what they were looking at.


And, he admitted with frustration, he’d done a damn good job of that.


The product tag Solaire had found had to be cross-referenced with the actual event entry to find out who River had been sold to. That entry would link to a name that could be linked to a ledger that would tell everything Solaire wanted to know. But just flipping through and trying to find River’s ‘product tag’ would take way too long, so he had come up with a new method.


Which is what the other three ledgers were for.


One was the general event index for all entries that occurred in the year 1059, the year River had disappeared. Solaire knew that River’s wedding was scheduled for the sixteenth of Bloomtide. Solaire also knew that River had disappeared very shortly after that fact; it was the nervous inquiry by her fiance Dulges about when she would be ‘well’ enough for their honeymoon that had alerted Solaire to her disappearance in the first place. With Weiss’ quick turn-around on his slave sales, Solaire figured that he had a time window of the seventeenth of Bloomtide until about the ninth of Chillreach in which River’s sale had taken place.


Enter the second book he was holding.


The general index listed everything, not just slave sales. But once he did find a slave sale that happened during that time, he could look it up in the slave sale index to find out more information about that specific sale; sales which, frustratingly, were organized by ‘product type’, with sections for grunzen, sorcerer, fiendkith, and etc., and therefore not dated. Keeping that open to the relatively short list of ‘regular, noble birth’ allowed him to see which of the sales occurring during that time frame could have possibly been River.


Which, finally, allowed him to look up the actual event entry itself in the third ledger and find the buyer.


Solaire looked back to his right hand for the next slave sale occurring in Bloomtide, then over to his left hand to make sure that slave sale was for someone of noble birth. Confirming they matched, he glanced back down to his foot to reconfirm River’s product tag of ‘110115’, then carefully nudged his nose along the pages of the last book.


I better find this stupid entry soon, Solaire thought to himself. If I do this for much longer, I’m going to die from muscle cramps.


***


“AGH!”


Skyler’s head shot over to the far end of the room where a blur of dull green had just materialized on one of the card tables. There, Willaby attempted to heft himself off the table, slipped under a pile of poker chips under his hand, and tumbled off of the surface with a loud “OOF!”


“Willaby!” Skyler cried, hooking himself onto a nearby chandelier and swinging over to land by the man. “Willaby, are you okay?”


“Spy?” Willaby babbled. “Spy? I don’t even know who Germany is, much less spy for him.”


“Willaby!” Skyler shouted, shaking him.


The baker startled, then glanced up. “Skyler? What’s happening?”


“I don’t know,” he admitted. “You just keep… disappearing, and then reappearing.”


“I… oh no.” Willaby’s eyes went wide as the inside of his coat began to glow. “It’s happening again. Skyler, help!”


“Wh… What do I do?”


“I don’t know! Just don’t let me…!”


And with another ‘pop’, Willaby disappeared.


A metallic CLANK CLANK CLANK sounded behind Skyler.


He sighed, then turned around to see the spindly construct staring at him.


“Go away!”


“BUT…”


“I need to help my friend first. Shoo!”


The construct paused. “YOU HELP YOUR FRIENDS?”


“Why does everyone on this blasted ship find that a hard concept to wrap their heads around?” Skyler growled. “Yes, I help my friends. It’s not that strange.”


“BUT I NEED HELP.”


“And?”


“IF I BECOME YOUR FRIEND, WOULD YOU HELP ME?”


Skyler stopped and stared at the automaton. “You’d have to help me with Willaby first.”


“UNDERSTOOD. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO DO TO ASSIST THE GREEN ONE?”


“Well first we need to find him, but I’m not sure…”


“THERE HE IS!” the construct announced, pointing into the distance. Skyler followed the limb until he found Willaby, seated in a chair with a glass of wine in one hand, eyes closed as he talked.


“Well Sherry, I am in fact a man of culture. I’m so glad…” he opened his eyes, glanced around, and sighed. “Aww, I was actually enjoying that one.”


Skyler ran over to him. “Thank goodness. Quick, we need to stop the spell.”


Willaby opened his mouth to say something, then stopped and gestured over Skyler’s shoulder to an approaching shadow.


Skyler glanced at the approaching construct, then glanced back. “Don’t worry about him. He’s on our side now.”


“FRIENDS,” the construct confirmed.


Willaby gave it a suspicious look, then faced Skyler again. “I don’t know how to stop the spell, though. If I did, I would!”


“IF A MAGIC USER IS UTILIZING A REPEATING-EFFECT ENCHANTMENT TO INTERFERE WITH YOUR GOALS, PRIORITIZE SEPARATING THE CASTER FROM ITS SPELL FOCUS TO END THE SPELL.” The automaton stood still for a moment. “I DON’T KNOW WHY I KNOW THAT.”


“Don’t worry about it,” Skyler replied. “Willaby, your crystal.”


Willaby’s face lit up. He reached inside his jacket pocket to pull out the scarlet red gem, shining with light. “Here,” he said, handing it over to Skyler…


...and there was a ‘pop’.


A wave of nausea hit Skyler as a swirl of bright, rainbow colors swam in front of his eyes. Hot wind swirled over his face. His senses churned as he seemingly fell for a few split seconds until a sudden solid sensation materialized under his feet and caused him to fall over.


“Skyler!” the voice of Willaby cried from somewhere unseen.


“Right here,” Skyler muttered. He watched with idle fascination as a red and orange glass butterfly flew off a branch of a stone tree and gently landed in the purple grass nearby.


“Here,” Willaby said, and Skyler felt the large man attempt to lift him up. Obliging, Skyler curled up and got to his feet, taking in the wide field of purple glass, the large forest of gray trees nearby, and a large obsidian castle rising behind it as he did so.


“You came with me!” Willaby cried. There was a soft crack under his feet and Willaby winced. “Oops. Sorry Mr. Butterfly.”


“Must have been because we were both touching the gem,” Skyer mumbled.


“Speaking of...” Willaby took the ruby back out and extended his arm, ready to drop it to the ground.


“WAIT!” Skyler leapt up and curled his hand around the ruby. “DON’T! If you get rid of that now, the spell will end with us still trapped here!”


“Oh.” He lowered his arm, then cradled the gem in his hands. “So… what do we do now?”


A thunderous RRROOOOAAR resounded from the trees. Something furry and big, moving too fast to be registered as anything other than a mass of orangish color, bounded towards them, shattering stone trees in its path as it charged towards the two.


“Start with running away from that,” Skyler suggested.


***


“110115 sold to person J. R. for six million gold; handed off to ship xxj14 for shipment to Nestorian destination; note: removed from general sale population for first chance of purchase as personal favor to J.R.”


Solaire had to pause and do a double-take; he’d been doing this for so long that the trance-like state the endless research had put him had almost made him miss River’s sale entry. He glanced back down to his foot, squinting to read River’s ‘product tag’, then looking back up to the sale entry just to make sure the exhaustion wasn’t causing him to hallucinate.


110115. Sure enough, that was River.


Quickly sliding the other books back, he bolted to the shelves containing ledgers on different persons (organized alphabetically, thank the gods, Solaire noted), and took out the one with “J. R.” on its spine.


As much as he hated to admit it, this method did have a certain payoff: Winthrop’s obsessive note keeping would allow Solaire to learn everything he wanted to know about this ‘J. R.’; the first page of his ledger would be filled with the man’s job, finances, political leanings, personal vices: everything Solaire would want to know to not only rescue River, but punish her owner, ruin him for his part in this.


Fingers trembling, he opened the cover and read what was inside:


Rodger:


Eye of Kag.


Dangerous.


Solaire blinked. That’s it?


Confused, Solaire grabbed another random book from the bookshelf and opened it.


Lord Minister Sir Carnet Wallop:


Third generation of the Wallop political empire, Carnet is a regular customer in Weiss’ private events. Though his platform is centered around the removal of crime and smuggling in particular, Carnet often comes to the Emperor to engage in...


Solaire put the book away and looked at Rodger’s ledger again.


Rodger.


Eye of Kag.


Dangerous.


That was all Winthrop had written about this person.


Solaire turned the page, allowing him to see the list of entries that Rodger was involved in. There was only one:


“Sale of product 110115; see entry 10-16-ss-88-x”


So the only interaction Weiss had with Roger was selling him River. And yet this was some kind of personal favor to the man?


Eye of Kag.


Dangerous.


“Dangerous, huh?” Carefully tucking the ledger under his coat for further study, Solaire took the Ivory River out and held it up to the weak light of the room. “For your own sake, Rodger, you’d better be able to follow up on that promise.”


***


Skyler had to give the man credit: nobody ran for their life better than Willaby.


Over the course of the several hundred feet they had sprinted to get out of the way of whatever orange-furred abomination was behind them, Skyler had found himself the man lagging behind, forced to chase the bundle of dull green as it scrambled over rock, hill, and creek with an unusual amount of grace. Deep in the recesses of his mind, the curious, analytical side of Skyler was wondering if being a sorcerer had something to do with it. Perhaps, he mused, Willaby’s absolute panic had allowed him to cast some sort of speed spell on himself with his emotional magics. Perhaps he had even done so without even realizing it, and how fascinating that would be.


The rest of his mind was screaming about the monster on his heels.


The beast issued forth another loud ROOOOAAR, shaking the ground itself so much that Skyler actually tripped and stumbled forward a few steps before catching himself and beginning the run again.


A soft, red glow caught Skyler’s attention from the corner of his eye. “Willaby, the crystal!”


Willaby looked down to the object cradled in his hands. “It’s glowing again! Skyler, what do I do?”


“Get over here!” Skyler yelled.


Willaby, still fleeing at full-speed, shot a look backwards at the rampaging beast, performing said rampage uncomfortably close to the heels of Skyler. “But…”


“Don’t you dare leave me here!” Skyler commanded.


Willaby looked down at the glowing red light, grimaced, then turned and raced the opposite way, back to Skyler, reaching out the large red gemstone as he did. Skyler reached back, curling his fingers around it just in time to see Willaby point at a mass of dark abyss and teeth descending upon them.


The two men closed their eyes and screamed, so much so that they didn’t notice the sudden swirling of arcane colors, or the faint ‘pop’ sound that signaled another teleport. Instead, they simply continued screaming until a large SPLASH and the cold sting of saltwater brought them to their senses.


“We’re back!” Skyler cried, before the large large wall of white and the fact that he was currently treading water connected for him. “We’re overboard! HEY! HELP! Willaby, we have to…”


Frantic splashing had replaced the area his companion was in, splashing that was diminishing in power.


Of course he can’t swim, Skyler thought with some irritation. He grabbed one of Willaby’s arms and tried to pull the baker upwards, above the water, but instead Skyler himself started to get pulled downwards, sinking under with the weight of the man.


If you don’t let go, you’ll both drown a voice in Skyler’s head said. He knew it was true; he barely had enough strength to keep himself afloat with all of his weapons and armor on him, but still he pulled. “HELP!” he shouted. “MAN OVERBOARD!”


Far above him, something golden appeared over the lip of the ship.


“HE-” Water rushed over his head, entering his throat, his lungs. Skyler coughed and tried to swim upwards, still holding on tight to the mass of Willaby, but was instead jerked further down. Forcing his eyes open, he saw the sunlight reflected from the waves grow dimmer and dimmer…


...and then become scattered back by a long, brown, snake-like object.


Skyler reached for the rope, grabbing it and panickedly tugging, praying to whatever deities he could think of that the man on the other side would realize this meant he had grabbed on. Slowly, painfully slowly, the rope began to lose it’s slack and Skyler held onto both it and Willaby with every ounce of strength he had in him.


One jerky movement after another, the rope dragged the two men up, and up, and up, until both were suspended in the air, rising up towards the deck and the safety it provided.


Willaby coughed. “Skyler… what’s…?”


“Hang on,” Skyler commanded. “We’re being pulled to safety.”


“Right, I...oh no.”


Skyler looked down to see Willaby staring at horror at the ruby in his hands, slowly beginning to shed a familiar red light.


“Drop it!” Skyler shouted.


“But if I drop it, it’ll fall into the ocean!” Willaby protested. “I’ll lose it!”


“And?”


“It’s the thing making my magic stronger! Not to mention it’s worth a lot of gold!” Willaby sounded almost angry.


“And do you really want to see where that thing takes you next?” Skyler shot back.


Willaby looked back at the gem and hesitated.


“For the love of the gods, Willaby, we’re in this mess because people like Weiss and Solaire can’t stop being grubby little treasure hoarders and keep dragging us into their messes! Don’t you add your own greed to the pile!”


“Damn it,” Willaby muttered. He sighed, gave the gem one last, longing look, and dropped it into the ocean.


The two rode on in silence.


“Sorry,” Skyler said.


“No, no, you’re right.” Willaby replied. “Just… wish you weren’t.”


Various shouts sounded above, causing Skyler to look up to see hands waving about and extending themselves over the railing. He reached out and grabbed, allowing the mass of sailors to pull the men up, over, and flop them onto the deck of the ship.


“Thank you men,” Skyler said from the floor. “We’d be goners if it wasn’t for you.”


“Don’t thank us,” one of them said. “Thank that thing over there.”


Skyler raised his head up to see a large golden construct on the other side of the deck, bereft of the arm swords common to the others of its kind, with a long rope tied around its forearm.


“You?” Skyler asked. “Why?”


“I HELP MY FRIENDS,” the construct replied. “IT’S NOT THAT STRANGE.”


Skyler laughed as the thing strode over and helped the two men up.


“WHEN I SAW YOU TWO BEGIN TO SINK INTO THE WATER, I BELIEVED THAT YOU WERE IN TROUBLE.”


“You were bloody right about that part,” Skyler said.


It nodded. “I ASKED ONE OF THE SMALLER UNITS TO TIE A ROPE TO MY ARM SO I COULD THROW IT TO YOU AND USE IT TO PULL YOU UP. AFTER A CERTAIN POINT, THEY TOOK OVER FOR ME.”


“Smaller units?” Willaby asked.


The construct pointed over to the group of sailors beginning to dissipate into the background.


“Huh,” Willaby said. “You know, normally those guys hate our guts.”


“HOW DOES THE BEARING OF YOUR INTERNAL STRUCTURES RELATE TO YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THEM?”


“Don’t worry about it,” Skyler replied. “Look, you saved our lives. Thank you. Really.”


“OH. I SUPPOSE YOU ARE REALLY WELCOME THEN.”


Willaby sighed “Well this kind of makes things... awkward.”


“HOW SO?”


“We were ordered to go shut you down,” Skyler admitted. “That’s why we were looking for you in the first place.”


The automaton took a step back. “SHUT ME DOWN?”


“You’re not acting right. Malfunctioning,” Willaby clarified. “You’re not supposed to be doing the things you’re doing. We were going to take you back, get you… fixed.”


“AND WHAT IS BROKEN?”


Willaby fidgeted. “Well you’re kind of alive, and have thoughts of your own, and… stuff. That’s… that’s the thing that’s not supposed to be happening.”


“I SEE.” It paused for a bit. “I SUPPOSE THIS IS WHY I FEEL SO CONFUSED. AND… THAT IS THE PROBLEM I WISHED TO ADDRESS. I SUPPOSE… IT WOULD BE FOR THE BEST IF YOU WERE TO… SHUT ME DOWN.”


“No,” Skyler said.


“NO?”


“No?” Willaby echoed.


“We owe you, big time, and because of that I’m not going to let them turn you back into an unthinking lump of metal,” Skyler said.


Willaby grabbed his bowler hat and scrunched it in his hands, wringing out water. “But… Solaire and Weiss…”


“Screw Solaire, and screw Weiss!” Skyler declared. “They didn’t save our lives, this guy did. And if it wasn’t for him, we would have no idea what was going on. You’d still be popping all over the place Willaby, or worse yet, would have dropped that gem somewhere and gotten stuck.”


He looked back up at the construct. “We’ll deal with them when the time comes. For now, just enjoy being alive.”


“ALIVE?” It asked.


“Alive,” Skyler confirmed. “Your own man. A being with thoughts, and desires, and a whole life to live.”


I strode forward. “I AM… ALIVE. YES. AND TODAY IS THE START OF A NEW DAY, A NEW LIFE. I HAVE A WHOLE…”


BANG.


An explosion of gears erupted from the back of its head. “I…” It stumbled around, looking back to Skyler and Willaby.


“I…” it repeated, then dropped to the floor.


“Blasted constructs,” Solaire muttered, reholstering his pistol inside his coat. “Useless claptraps, the lot of them.” He paused, scanning Skyler and Willaby. “What’s the matter with you two? Can’t even take care of a single construct without my help?”


NOOOOOOOO!” Willaby cried, dropping to his knees.


Solaire raised a brow. “What’s up with him? Did he finally lose it or something?”


“I… I…” Skyler babbled.


Solaire rolled his eyes and walked away. “Nevermind. I’ll be in my quarters then. Let me know when the two of you actually accomplish something.”


The men stood silent on the deck, remaining in place as a couple of crewmen scooped up the decommissioned automaton and carried it off deck, leaving them alone.


“What do we do now?” Willaby inquired.


“You want to go get a drink?” Skyler asked.


“Yeah, sure. Sounds good,” Willaby replied, rising to his feet and following his companion down the staircase, leaving the top deck empty and returning to the life going on inside the Emperor cruise ship.

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