• N

The Adventures of Solaire, Part XIV: A Second Affair of Apples

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

Otherwise known as

The Adventures of Solaire


Part XIV

A Second Affair of Apples


Due to my position as one of the most popular and successful bards in all of Lorain, I have spent countless hours becoming acquainted with the most famous heroes of all of time, learning their histories, lives, and intricacies. And though I was never graced with the chance to live side-by-side with these persons as I did with Solaire, I nevertheless came to know these members inside and out, upside and down, in all manner of ways, within the course of my research.


One of the features I have found running common to all great heroes (or, at least, heroes of renown; Sir Cruxthius Timbre, manager of the Veqekian sewer and waste disposal systems, faced more challenges in his career than Carter of Sacovia’s legendary Trial of 1,000 Steps, but songs about his heroics are lacking for what should be obvious reasons), is that great heroes tend to have a strength or quality that makes them unique. For Dul’Thrum, Waste Walker and warrior-king, it was his unmatched battle prowess. For Jane Catha, leader of the Scarlet Brigands, it was her courage and bravery. For Jean-Paul Rousseau Dimir, spy, thief, and criminal mastermind, it was the fact that he was actually two very short people standing on each other’s shoulders in a specialized costume made for just such a purpose. Each quality allows them to stand out amongst their peers as exemplars of character, and as such, guarantees their place in history.


Solaire, as one of the heroes of our age, also contains such a quality: the ability to place himself into unfavorable and dangerous positions, and yet find a way to manipulate the course of events to his benefit.


In other words, to solve impossible problems.


But unlike physical training or creative applications of abnormal heights, this is a somewhat harder quality to comprehend. Why did Solaire possess such an ability? Was it creative thinking and quick wit? A unique perspective afforded to him by his constant shunning of social norms? Could it be that, by some magical accident, Solaire was simply a man who had amounts of luck that bordered on divine?


Personally, I feel as if Solaire’s defining boon is simply a matter of stubborness. Solaire believed, often quite correctly, that he was the most competent person in the room, and that if anyone was qualified to fix a problem, it was himself. Therefore, the act of throwing himself headlong into situations was less a matter of bravery or shrewdness, and more of an earnest frustration that moved him to solve things in the simplest way possible, simplest way being his way. Of course, this often led him into throwing himself into situations where he did not have the solution at hand, and what would follow was a barrage of improvisation and madness that was Solaire’s preference, the same way an artist might favor colors or a bard certain rhyme schemes. Viewed through this light, actions and events are easier to understand in retrospect.


Or at least, they are for me. After all, it is the only reason I can think of as to why he acted the way he did when the second affair of apples came around…


***


“Sir?” Withrop asked, quietly.


Weiss didn’t respond. Instead, he stared at the open plate at the back of the construct, observing the jumbled mess of runes scrawled into its back. Some were large, bold, and black sigils carved into the plate in a neat, orderly fashion: the runes Natalia had scribed into the metal when arranging instructions for the construct to follow. But squeezed in a chaotic mess around them were tiny white and glowing sigils that crowded every other square inch, creating a jumble of arcane symbols that made absolutely no sense.


“Vere did zose come from?” he asked the large mechanic standing next to him, pointing to the crowd of white runes.


“No idea,” Natalia said. “Best guess we can come up with is that it’s some kind of strange side effect of burning the Elysium, and that somehow, it caused those things to just… appear, making it act weird.”


Weiss contemplated the runes in silence. His two companions waited.


“Could you set up a series of experiments vith different configurations of ze engine?” he asked. “Come up vith designs of varyink efficiency, and see how long it takes ze rogue runes to appear?” He paused, then added. “Engine only, no conshtructs attatsched.”


“Sure,” Natalia said. “If I could borrow…”


“You tell no one,” Wiess barked. “Keep zis quiet and secret! If I hear anyone talkink about your work, it’ll be your! head!


Natalia reeled back, face pale. “Yes sir. Consider it done, sir.” She hurried out of the room, slinging the defunct construct over her shoulder and taking it with her.


Weiss sighed and began to walk over to his desk.


“Permission to speak freely, sir?” Winthrop asked.


“Alvays, Vinthrop,” Weiss replied in a tired voice.


“Your instructions to Natalia seem to imply that you intend to patent and sell the Elysium engine design with the least amount of rogue rune growth.”


“Zat is my intention,” he confirmed.


“And yet, you have constantly assured me that once we have acquired the armor, we will no longer need to worry ourselves with material wealth or conventional legality. This has traditionally been your response to my concerns about the losses we have taken in recent months.”


Weiss didn’t respond.


“Does this indicate a change in… priorities?” Winthrop hazarded.


Weiss shook his head. “You vere right, Vinthrop. I let my ambitions get ze better of me. It’s jusht… so close…” he reached towards the ceiling, as if to grab something from the sky. “But ve can’t allow ourselfes to crasch and burn right before ze finisch line, and if I let my impatience get ze better of me now…” He trailed off.


“Does that mean you’ve also changed your mind about the Solaire issue?” Winthrop asked.


“Yes, and I hafe plans to deal with him. Not immediately, mind you; he’s still useful at ze moment. But soon…” Weiss rubbed his hands together. “But enough about zis. Ve hafe ozer matters to attend to.”


“We do?”


“Yes,” he replied, eyes sparkling as two sailors carried in a large wooden crate and laid it on the floor. “Vinthrop, during times like zese, it is important to remember to enjoy ze fruits of your labor. After all, vhat is ze point of all zis vork if ve jusht sit around vorryink about our assets if ve can’t do anythink wis zem?”


He drummed his fingers along the top of the crate. “Tell me Vinthrop, are you familiar wis ze Golden Apples of ze Sacred Isles?”


“The ones that grow on the hills of Selene’s Rest?” Winthrop asked.


Wiess grinned. “Yes, zose ones.”


“I’ve heard about them,” Winthrop confirmed. “A tree only produces a single apple every thousand years, and only seven trees exist on the whole island. Taking a bite of one is supposed to enhance the senses tenfold. Stub your toe while under their influence, and it feels as if the whole foot had been set on fire. Kiss a beautiful woman, and you will feel more ecstasy in that moment than a night of passion with her otherwise.”


“All true,” Weiss confided. “And personally, I’m curious to see how ze whole night of passion plays out.”


“There’s some in there?”


“More zan some!” Weiss exclaimed as a sailor wedged a crowbar under the lid and began to pry it off. “Ze whole box is filled to ze brim, and we’re going to enjoy all of zem. Call up our normal guests for such prifate affairs: the high rollers, our political friends, ze most gorgeous vomen on ze schip right now. Tell zem to prepare for…” he stopped.


The box was empty.


Weiss paused, leaned into the crate, and screamed incoherent rage into its bottom.


***


Solaire didn’t recognize the scream of the short crime baron when it reached his ears. Traveling past the bottom mechanical deck to get to the small crew quarters area alloted for him and his compatriots, he assumed the strange, slightly feminine sound was one of the tortured jets of steam wizzing through the pipes begging to be rescued from the machinery it was trapped in.


As such, when Weiss comes to find him later, it will be a total shock for Solaire.


Instead, his attention was focused on the piece of conversation he had stuck around to hear from Weiss and Natalia while eavesdropping. Now that he finally had the information he wanted, the name of River’s buyer, he could focus fully on getting him and as much of his crew as he could off of this boat as possible.


And the obvious step one to that plan was figuring out how to get those damn slave plates off without killing themselves.


Solaire assumed that they worked off the same runic magic that he’d seen Natalia enscribe into the construct project, so the source of it’s malfunction had been of great interest to him. He’d snuck behind her once he saw the gigantic woman drag the thing away, and listened into Weiss’ and her discussion of the rogue runes.


If this Elysium substance really was the reason for all these strange malfunctions, could the answer to his escape really be as simple as burning a piece of it near themselves, letting the various new runes manifest and corrupt the original instructions of the plate? Solaire reached into his pocket and dug out the chunk of the substance he had stolen from Tomo’s stash of treasure they had snuck off of the Archive Ship. He frowned, throwing it up and catching it in his hand a few times, thinking.


Of course, that method would be dangerous. There was no way to guarantee that the plate would affect the right runes, or even not accidentally activate it, frying himself to death for the attempt. The best way to try this would be to find a geaniue pig, to try it on someone else and make sure the methodology was safe.


Willaby, then.


He ascended the stairs, made his way into the section of hallway where his and his companions allotted cot sat, turned to the collected group of Skyler, Willaby, and Austin, and managed to get through “Willaby, do you…” before collapsing on the ground and writhing in pain.


Solaire coughed, focused his eyes, and rolled to the other side of the floor to meet fancy black dress shoes and pants legs made out of red velvet. “Hello Wiess.”


“Solaire,” the shoes said in a conversational tone. “I hafe a matter of some urgency to discuss wis you.”


“And if I tell you I was in the middle of something, and to politely stick your request where the sun doesn’t shine?” Soliare asked.


Another spasm of electrical burning racked his body.


“Just checking,” Solaire panted.


“Of course,” Weiss replied. He waited until Solaire got back up to his feet before continuing. “A fery faluable asset was stolen from me recently. Do you know vhat ze Golden Apples from ze Sacred Isles are?”


Solaire raised an eyebrow. “Gold, shiny, worth the treasury of small kingdoms on the black market?”


“Zat’s ze one,” Weiss said brightly. “I’fe recently had quite a large schipment of zem stolen from me. A whole crate’s full.”


Solaire whistled. “And let me guess. You assume that I stole them, and I have twenty four hours to clear my name before zappy zappy death death?”


“Of course not Solaire,” Weiss said with a chuckle. “You are fery many sings: uncifilized, uncultured, infuriatink, someone who deserfes a slow and painful death, but you are not shtupid. I haf no illusions zat you vould steal such an obfiously incriminating object with no use to you.”


“Thank you.”


“Hovever, I am also fery annoyed at zis, and the only sing I can sink of to cheer myself up would be to put you through… how did you put it? Zappy zappy death death?”


Solaire grimaced. “Twenty four hours?”


“Twenty four hours,” Weiss confirmed.


“And you know they weren’t taken before they got to the ship?” Solaire asked.


Weiss nodded. “My schipment procedures are fery precise. Zey confirmed ze cargo was inside before accepting ze box. Zey hafe to be here, on zis schip.”


“And they were accepted through the cargo deck, like the rest of the normal shipments?”


Weiss paused for a second. “Yes, zey vere. Anythink else?”


“Nope,” Solaire said. “I’ll get this finished before lunch.”


“Splendid,” Weiss purred, stalking away from the ship.


Willaby watched the man go, then turned to Solaire. “You were just being cocky, weren’t you? You can’t actually find the perpetrator before lunchtime, can you?”


“Of course I can,” Solaire declared, walking down the hallway and forcing the three others to follow him. “While you two were flopping about, failing to catch apple poisoners and constructs and whatnot, I’ve been busy learning every in and out of this place, waiting for the day I can exploit all the security flaws to organize our grand escape.”


“And abandoning your allies in the process,” Skyler muttered.


Solaire scoffed. “Please. I’d hardly call it ‘abandonment’ when one person is a highly trained mercenary and the other is a powerful sorcerer. After all, what is the point of a captain’s crew if he can’t send competent men to deal with issues?”


Skyler and Willaby shared a nervous glance. Solaire continued walking on.


“Well, I’ll bite,” Austin rumbled. “How in the world are you going to find this person so quickly?”


Solaire smiled. “Watch and learn friends. These kinds of situations are exactly what captains are for.” They had arrived in the cargo bay, surrounded on all sides by boxes being moved about by various steam powered machinery and men yelling commands to each other as the crates danced around to their respective locations.


“We can assume that the apples had to arrive either late in the night or early in the morning,” Solaire said. “Weiss’ hesitancy to say where the apples arrived tells us that it’s his policy to keep these kinds of valuable shipments hush-hush. So the best time to unload them would be during fourth shift, when most of the crew was asleep, as well as the fact that our thief couldn’t have dragged his prize away in this chaos.”


Solaire gingerly waltzed around the heavy machinery and rushing men, companions struggling to keep up in the moving obstacle course.


“So you know when the apples arrived,” Skyler said, stopping for a second to awkwardly shift this way and that around a work man before the two finally agreed on a pair of opposite directions. “So what? That doesn’t tell you where they went.”


“Au contraire, mi compatriot,” Solaire replied. “Narrowing down when it happened tells us where it went.” The group stepped out of the general chaos and Solaire flicked his cane out of his coat, gesturing with it as he continued his speech.


“We know they couldn’t have gone there, there, or there,” Solaire said, pointing the cane at a hallway with each ‘there’. “The doors to those hallways are shut and locked during the non-work hours, when the fourth shift people are crawling about, presumably to stop this very thing. That leaves only the crew quarters.”


They continued into a row of bunks, and Willaby fidgeted. “Are you sure, Solaire? I mean, since this ship is so large, couldn’t they have gone somewhere else? Maybe climb around the outside?”


“While lugging a crate’s worth of apples around?” Solaire asked. “Certainly not. And while an experienced thief might have been able to plan and execute a secondary escape, we are not looking at an experienced thief. An experienced thief would have stolen the shipment when it was most vulnerable, out in the open ocean, not once his target arrived in the den of his enemy. Weiss said that the shipment had been confirmed, so we’re looking at an opportunistic crew member, and probably not a smart one, given what he stole.”


“This is based on quite a lot of guessing,” Skyler complained.


Solaire ignored him. “Given all this, we can narrow down that the thief put the apples in his bunk, under the mattress. It would be the only hiding spot available. So who would it be…”


Skyler began tapping his foot. “Solaire, just admit that you’re making all this up so we can move on to more productive actions.”


“It couldn’t have been any of the fourth shift members,” Solaire mused, still ignoring Skyler. “With something this valuable, Weiss would have already interrogated them, and if he suspected any of them, he would have pointed me there first. These things are worth too much money to just sit on a theft like this.”


“I-is that so?” Willaby asked. “And how much money would that be, exactly?”


Solaire added him to the list of people he was ignoring. “Now, the fourth shifter’s bunks are nearest to the end of the hallway, to keep them from climbing over everyone else and waking them up. And they couldn’t have gone farther than that intersection up there, because that’s one of the places where Weiss’ hidden guards sit around, trying to catch people pulling off these kinds of shenanigans. He'd have been caught then and there.”


Willaby turned pale. “Oh. That’s… new information.”


“But between fourth shift and that spot are only our bunks…” Solaire strode up to Willaby’s cot, grabbed the thin sheet draped over top of it…


“Wait!” Willaby cried,


...and flung it off, revealing a large pile of shiny, golden apples.


Everyone stopped.


Solaire glared at Willaby. “Really?”


“You steal stuff all the time!” he whined.


“Yes, Willaby, I do, but when I do, I make sure that I don’t get caught. Can you believe…” he turned to Skyler, then stopped. “Oh no, not you too.”


“You left us during the construct fight to go do your own thing!” Skyler protested. “And after you killed it…”


“Poor, poor Gerald,” Willaby sighed.


Everyone turned to look at him.


“He didn’t have time to pick a name,” Willaby said, blushing, “so I picked one for him.”


Solaire stared at the two. “Gods and demons, you’ve both gone mad.”


“We have not!” Skyler protested. “And anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, we figured that we deserved to go after something we wanted for once, so this makes us even!”


“No it doesn’t!” Solaire snapped. “I only left because I was gathering vital information that we, as a group, needed.”


Skyler folded his arms. “Which would be?”


“How to get these damn slave plates off!” Solaire answered without hesitation.


Skyler uncrossed his arms, looking uncertain.


“Why must I be constantly surrounded by idiots?” Solaire moaned, running his hands through his hair and pacing in circles.


“So… what are we going to do?” Austin asked.


Solaire lowered his hands and began to stroke his chin, still pacing. “We’ll have to frame this on someone else on the ship. Make it look like they did it.” He shot a look at Austin. “You won’t tell Weiss about this, will you?”


“It’s your head on the line,” Austin said. “If you want to keep this quiet, mum’s the word. Besides, I like these two.”


“Good, good. Not a word to Tomo, though. Can’t trust him to do the same.”


“Hang on,” Skyler interrupted, “what about you? How do we know you aren’t going to turn us in?”


Solaire stopped pacing and groaned to the ceiling. “How many times do I have to tell you this? You are both useful to me. I will need your usefulness in the days ahead. Ergo, I’m going to have to bail you out of this mess so that I can make sure you’re still alive when I need you to be. Now shut up and let me think!”


Everyone stayed quiet as Solaire paced up and down the row of bunks. Finally, he stopped and said, “Alright, speak. I need ideas.”


“Can’t we just stuff the apples in someone else’s bed?” Willaby asked.


Solaire shook his head. “Weiss is smart. If they turn up in someone’s cot, he’s bound to go through the same logic I did and figure out why it couldn’t have ended up there. Then suspicion falls on us.”


“So we put it in one of the cots that you figured it could be in,” Austin said.


Solaire eyed him. “That would still be one of our cots.”


Austin stared blankly at him, before going “Ooooooh, right.”


“Maybe you should just observe this session quietly,” Solaire offered.


“What if we just set it out somewhere conspicuous and wait for someone else to steal it?” Skyler offered. “Then we just tattle on them once they haul it away.”


Solaire thought about it. “No,” he decided. “Weiss will get whoever it is to sing, and then he’ll wonder why the hell it was just lying about when we were supposed to be finding it. Or someone will just report it in hopes of scoring brownie points with Weiss. Same problem, faster conclusion.”


The group fell silent.


“Solaire…” Willaby began, “how would you steal the apples, if you wanted to do it?”


“Well, I wouldn’t do it during fourth shift, when it was the most obvious,” Solaire spat. “I’d wait until shift change from fourth to first and make my move then.”


“Then what?” Skyler asked, mouthing ‘you’re a genius’ to Willaby while Solaire wasn’t looking.


Solaire paused. “I don’t know. The first thing would be to place them somewhere they wouldn’t be found once Weiss freaked and started tearing the ship apart looking for them. Perhaps empty another crate full of supplies, and stash it there? That way people would...”


He stopped, looking at the other two. “Ah. I see what you’re doing. Clever. Maybe there is hope for you two after all.”


Austin raised an eyebrow. “I don’t see it.”


“Don’t tax yourself,” Solaire replied. “If we can get the apples into one of the other crates that was on the dock at the same time, we might be able to pin this on one of the fourth shift workers. Make it look like they just sneakily misplaced them.”


Skyler frowned. “But if Weiss already interviewed them…”


“We’ll have to make sure our case is airtight,” Solaire agreed. “Make it seem like whoever we point out was a master of covering their tracks while making sure that the tracks obviously point to him.”


Willaby frowned. “That seems… impossible.”


“With that attitude, it will be,” Solaire said. “First things first, though… we have to get these apples into a crate.”


***


“I don’t like this plan,” Willaby hissed.


“I don’t care,” Solaire said. “You got us into this mess, and you’re going to get us out.”


“But I don’t know what’s going to happen!” Willaby protested.


Solaire rolled his eyes. “That’s kind of the point.”


“Look,” Skyler said, "we know if you get worked up enough, you’ll cast a spell of some kind, so just step out there and focus on some emotion and you’ll do something.”


“But what if the something is scary, or dangerous, or both?” Willaby pressed.


“It better be,” Solaire growled. “It isn’t much of a distraction otherwise, now is it?”


“But…”


Austin sighed and gave Willaby a small shove, causing the man to stumble out of the mass of crates the others had been hiding behind and into the open work area beyond.


Immediately, the gathering of men operating steam machines, loading, unloading, and generally carrying boxes, stopped and stared at him.


“Gentlemen,” Willaby announced, voice cracking. He cleared his throat. “Gentlemen, I have something to show you.”


They stopped to look at each other, then slowly back to Willaby.


Wincing slightly, Willaby threw his hands in the air and began to wave them around in vague motions. The beams of light cast from lanterns high above became harsher, brighter, suddenly swirling together in the air and coalescing near Willaby. Everyone shielded their eyes as the light became blinding, then slowly dimmed until a large white mass was standing proudly near the baker.


It’s mane was resplendent and white, as was its hair, shiny to the point of luminous. Strong muscles bulged underneath its equine frame, power conveyed in its stance alone. A long horn of pearl protruded from its head, throwing small rainbows across the walls of the dock.


It was a unicorn, and it was magnificent.


Jaws hung agap. Quite a few men dropped the boxes they were carrying.


“Ah,” Willaby said. “How… nice.” He reached out to stroke its neck.


And it bolted.


I apologize about ruining a cherished childhood legend yet again, reader, but much like mermaids, unicorns are yet another creature that has been exaggerated over the years. Yes, they are real, but they are not brave gatekeepers of the fairylands, nor are they docile beings that submit themselves to pure hearted maidens. They are, at the end of the day, a horse with a horn coming out of its head.


And horses spook. Especially when they are suddenly summoned aboard a large sea faring vessel with no say in the matter.


The creature gave out a terrified neigh, darted away from Willaby’s touch, and immediately stumbled over a large crate. It sprawled out upon the ground, flailing wildly, before righting itself and galloping away, weaving drunkenly in and out of the boxes.


The men watched it, bewildered, before turning back to Willaby.


“Why’d you do that?” one of them demanded.


Willaby blinked. “Weiss is offering one hundred gold to the person who catches it.”


The sailors looked at each other, then ran shouting after the unicorn.


“Not bad,” Soliare noted as Austin dug his fingers under the nailed lid of a crate and forced it off.


“He’s good at thinking on his feet,” Skyler agreed as he peered into the crate. “Potatoes?”


“Lots of ‘em,” Austin added. “Solaire, how are we going to get rid of that many potatoes?”


“The old fashioned way. Unless you’ve got a better idea,” he said as Willaby jogged up to the rest of the group.


“For getting rid of potatoes?” The large man removed his hat and scratched his head. “Lots and lots of stew?”


“Not that great at thinking on his feet,” Solaire grumbled. “Old fashioned way it is. Everyone, stuff your pockets with as many as you can.”


Quickly, and every so often stealing side-long glances at the group of men barking instructions at each other next to the majestic beast trying to remove its leg from one of the smaller boxes, the four men began filling their pockets and clothes with the foodstuff.


Willaby grabbed one last potato, found himself unable to wedge it into any of his pockets, and instead carefully balanced it on his head before placing his bowler hat on top of it. “Is that enough Solaire?”


Solaire grabbed the burlap sack of golden apples, dumped the collection in, and watched how high they came to the top. “Should be.” He motioned to Skyler, who laid the lid back down on the box and held it steady as Austin slapped each of the nail heads with the meat of his palm, driving them back into place as surely as any hammer would have.


“Okay…” Skyler said. “But… what do we do with the potatoes now?”


The crew looked at each other. Each man had stuffed so many of the tubers into various areas of clothing that they had a noticeably lumpier look to themselves, as if each were smuggling large colonies of guinea pigs under their attire.


“We’re going to have to throw them overboard,” Solaire said, grabbing his top hat as the weight of the food underneath threatened to topple it off of his head.


“But the only access to overboard is through the top deck, where all the high level patrons are going to be,” Skyler said. “They’ll definitely notice us just dumping potatoes over the edge, and then Weiss will know soon enough.”


“There’s the docking bay here,” Willaby added brightly, before wincing at the sound of a metallic CLANG and a terrified equine shriek.


“Well, you should have thought about that before you got us into this mess Skyler,” Solaire hissed. “After all, if this had been easy to get away with, I would have gotten away with it already.” He did a quick glance around, then whispered “we’re going to the top deck; follow my lead,” and began waddling (no man can really walk with that many potatoes on their person) towards the stairs.


With solemn faces, the other three men began to waddle away as well, each lumpy mass doing their best to look as inconspicuous as possible as they ignored the various whinneys of panic intermingled with the creative swears only a sailor can manage. They had gotten out of the docking bay, into the crew’s quarters, down one more hallway, and only a few steps away from the stairs before Skyler tapped Solaire on the shoulder.


“We’re being followed,” Skyler whispered, subtly jerking his head backwards.


Solaire followed the movement. There, at the end of the hallway, was one of the regular crew members, acting nonchalantly while stealing glances at the group every so often.


“Keep following me,” Solaire whispered back. “And don’t tip him off.” Skyler nodded, and the group continued, past the stairs, down a hallway, and into one of the many untraveled maintenance throughways. Once the man slid into the hallway as well, Solaire turned around.


“Why are you following us?” he demanded.


The man took a step back, seemingly surprised, before regaining his composure and pointing a finger at Solaire. “You know why. Like I couldn’t see through your little ruse back there.” He smirked at Willaby. “Cute trick with the unicorn.”


“Th-thank you?” Willaby replied.


“Wanted to talk to you before I tell Weiss and get the four of you fried,” the man continued, smug smile on his face. “I get Weiss to look in that box and kerzap! One dead Solaire. I just wanted to let you know who did you in.”


Solaire narrowed his eyes. “Is that so?”


“Yes, because no man tries to undermine my moonshine business and gets away with it!”


The group froze.


“So…” Solaire finally spoke, “you saw through our brilliant plan of stealing the potatoes away so that we could distill them into illegal alcohol and sell it to the rest of the crew, did you?”


“Of course,” the man scoffed. “As if it wasn’t obvious, with all of you hanging around that potato crate.”


“You’re a clever one, you know that? Seeing through our plans like that. But you made one mistake.”


The man raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”


“We’re not going to let you leave here alive,” Solaire replied, withdrawing a cutlass. “Austin, watch the hallway behind us. Make sure no one is coming this way. Willaby, do the same to the other side.”


“He’s not getting past me,” the man snarled, crouching low and holding his hands outward, before blinking in shock and looking past his shoulder where Willaby stood, behind him, at the other end of the hallway.


Willaby’s eyes went wide. “I can teleport? Solaire, I can teleport!”


Now, Solaire thought, flicking his wrist to activate the small, spring-loaded flintlocks hidden in his sleeve and put a bullet through the distracted man’s head.


And instead, out rolled a potato.


Solaire watched, dismayed, as the small foodstuff bounced, landed, and rolled across the floor to rest at the feet of the other man, causing him to turn around.


“So…” the man said, kicking the object away, “you want to do this now, huh? Fine. We can cut out the middle man.” He withdrew a saber of his own, narrowed his eyes at Solaire, and charged.


Solaire waited until the man got within range to thrust his weapon forward, then smoothly stepped back to be just outside of the sword’s point, placing him in perfect position for a counter attack.


Or at least, that’s what he tried to do.


It worked fine until Solaire had tried to place his back foot down, ending the movement. At that point, some strange, foreign force pulled at his back, staggering him off-balance, and actually dragged the poor noble around until he was force to totter off his feet and fall on his back with a hard THUD, the tuber passengers smuggled under his coat dispersing the force of the fall into many tiny bruises.


And, as if it had been summoned by the thought, a small potato rolled out of the neckhole of Solaire’s nice, fine shirt and into the noble’s line of sight.


Damn it, he thought, struggling to get up with the limited amount of flexibility afforded to him by his smuggled foodstuff and doing an excellent impression of a turtle flipped on his back in the process. Solaire’s hours of study in the gentlemanly art of sword dueling (one of the few studies he had actually enjoyed) did not factor in an additional difficulty one had trying to sword fight with several pounds of potatoes on one’s person. The extra weight and lost dexterity was more than an inconvenience; the additional inertia they provided was liable to turn his careful practiced moves into out-of-control spins.


Solaire finally managed to roll himself onto his side and scramble back up just in time to see Skyler’s swing of his hook sword stop several inches short of the killing blow it should have been, arm stuck as potatoes strained under the armor. The man, oblivious to the injury he should have sustained, swung the sword in a downward chop, and Skyler’s step back to avoid it also caused him to fall to the ground, swearing.


Amature duelist though this man was, potatoes had evened the battlefield.


At the end of the hallway, Austin glanced nervously from the fight back to the passageway beyond. Willaby raised his hands in an arcane gesture before a far-off neigh caused him to hesitate and lower them.


“Stay there,” Solaire commanded. He tried to reach his free hand around himself to get to his holstered pistol only to find that his limb stopped halfway, extended in front of him uselessly as several solid lumps dug themselves into his armpits. “Blast it, I’m never going to eat another potato for as long as I live, I swear!”


The man paused at this outburst and whirled back around. “Your pitiful attempts to defend yourself are almost laughable. Ha!” He stepped right in an obvious feint before swiping the sword the other way, allowing Solaire to bring his blade to meet the other man’s blade in a resounding CLANG.


“If anyone’s swordplay is laughable here, it’s you!” Solaire shouted, flicking his sword upwards and forcing the man’s blade to the side. He attempted to follow the move with a quick jab, meant to connect with his opponent’s shoulder, but his own motion made him stumble to the left and begin another spin. Only with a quick series of mad flailing did he manage to cancel out the movement and remain on his feet.


“Your moves beg to differ,” the man said. Skyler emerged to the man’s left and he swiped the blade at him. Skyer deflected the blow by bringing both of his hook swords into the shape of an ‘x’, catching the attack at the center, then whirled both of them up and over his head, trying to bring his weapons down on the man. Seeing the attack, he leapt over to the side and out of the way, forcing Skyler into a stumbling run that Solaire had to dodge.


“Let’s see you fight with potatoes shoved down your clothes!” Solaire yelled, irritation beginning to rise. Damn it, he thought to himself, I’m the one who usually irritates other people; that’s my job, which only caused his irritation to increase further.


“Excuses, excuses,” the man chided, attempting another leaping chop. Solaire tried to bring his sword over his head to block it, found he could not, and had to panickedly jump to the side out of the way. The movement caused him to stumble several steps and into a wall, smacking his face on the surface. The man chased him, sword raised high, and in his disorientation and confusion, Solaire commited the most amature mistake of sword fighting:


He raised his arm to block the blow.


Time slowed as he realized, horrified, what he had done. In the world of street brawls (another favorite study of Solaire’s), raising one’s arm to block is a perfectly viable strategy when your opponent’s weapons are arms and legs, and is therefore one the instinct trainers work the hardest to squash, because in training the worst injury one will receive is a very solid thwack with a wooden sword and a wound to the pride as the instructor berates you; in an actual duel, an opponent will not hesitate to bring his blade down and cleave through the limb, destroying and perhaps even severing the thing right through.


And by the evil glint in his enemy’s eyes, he knew it too. All Solaire could do was watch in terror as the sword came down, digging through his cloth and into the vulnerable flesh beneath…


...and stopping shortly after.


Both man stared at the weapon, dug only a few fractions past the sleeve of Solaire’s shirt. There was no bleeding, or terrified screams of pain from the attack. In fact, Solaire noted, there was no pain at all, just a dull itching sensation from where his skin made contact with…


“The potatoes!” Solaire shouted in triumph.


The man looked at him in confusion, and Solaire headbutted him.


It didn’t do much damage; Solaire hadn’t gotten enough time to perfectly line up his forehead with the man’s fragile nose. But it did cause him to stumble backwards in pain and surprise, ripping his sword out of Solaire’s lumpy defenses and cursing all the way.


Solaire looked at his own sword, dropped it, and crouched down into a brawling stance. “Skyler, potato armor!”


Skyler, having finally regained his balance from some unseen spin, seemed to understand the statement and dropped his own weapons, settling into a stature for unarmed fighting as well. With the extra tubar protection, the strategy was viable and, more importantly, easier to control than the large arching swings and steps made in sword dueling.


“You’re dead,” the man growled, stepping forward and swinging his sword in a wide arc. Skyler caught the blow with one arm, watched it dig uselessly into his foodstuff aura, and followed it up with a punch to the man’s kidneys. Solaire traveled with Skyler, landing a sharp uppercut on the man’s chin. His teeth clicked closed and his eyes went wide as blood began to pour from his mouth.


“I’th kith you!” he spat, eyes tearing up in pain. His swing lost what little discipline he had as he began to wildly chop back and forth, back and forth, like some sort of crazed, blind lumberjack. Solaire simply brought his arms up, allowing the weapon to hack away devastating blows to the potatoes underneath, bits of vegetable flesh flying through the air.


Skyler dodged the backswing of the blade and landed a hearty kick in the man’s side, causing him to stumble about. Solaire sidetracked with the man and punched at his chest. He buckled, wheezing, breath knocked out of him as he gasped up at Solaire.


“Noth… fair…” he complained.


“Join the club,” Solaire grumbled, before striking the man straight between the eyes, dropping him unconscious.


Slowly, the group of four men began to shamble over to the center, standing over their moonshine-motivated attacker.


“Dammit Kathers,” Skyler tisked, observing the nicks in his leathers.


Solaire raised an eyebrow. “You know this man?”


“Everyone knows Kathers,” Skyler replied. “He’s an insufferable blowhard, but he’s also the only source of alcohol for the entire crew, and you know how sailors are with their booze.”


Willaby looked from Solaire to Skyler and back. “So… what do we do with him?”


Solaire smiled. “We take a page from Weiss’ book. We’re going to volunteer this fine gentleman for our purposes.”


***


By the time the message had been passed up to Weiss and he had responded back down the chain, a small crowd had gathered around the cargo deck where the meeting was arranged to happen. Nobody knew what was going on, but it involved Solaire and Weiss.


It had to be good.


The short and velveted man strode through the crowd with head held high, people parting in front of him as he walked. As always, Winthrop followed on one side and a large golden automaton guard on the other, keeping step until he stopped in front of Solaire.


“You found my sief?” Weiss asked.


“And hello to you too,” Solaire noted. He nodded to Skyler and Willaby and the two men grabbed a large canvas cloth and whipped it off, revealing the very damaged Kathers, a large burlap sack filled to the brim with ever-so-slightly damaged tubers, and a supply crate labeled ‘POTATOES’.


“Tada,” Solaire said without enthusiasm.


Weiss stepped up to the battered man and examined him, a skeptical look in his eye. “Kazers?”


“He’s been running an illegal still under your nose for years,” Skyler said. “He smuggled potatoes out of the supply crates to distill into vodka.”


Weiss raised an eyebrow at Winthrop.


Winthrop blushed ever so slightly. “We have been having discrepancies with the potatoes specifically. It didn’t seem like a large enough issue to bring to you, so I was trying to resolve it on my own.”


“Zat shtill doeshn’t answer ze queshtion of vhere my apples vent,” Weiss replied.


“Kathers had deals with crew members on all shifts of the delivery docks,” Solaire continued. “He’d steal a couple potatoes from this crate here, a couple there to space out the thefts, keep anyone from noticing too much. And as a result, he heard rumors about what was being brought in from all shifts, including…” he paused, “...fourth shift.”


The various crew members stared at each other in confusion, but Weiss' attention seemed to raise by several degrees.


“There’d been a rather large event last Monday,” Skyler said. “Gunther wanted to celebrate finally paying off his servitude debt and threw a little party on his last day here. That cleared out quite a bit of alcohol from Kather’s still, so he needed to steal quite a bit more potatoes than normal to keep his operations running, and when he heard about the golden apples, he decided to try killing two birds with one stone.”


“He got someone from a different shift to steal a boatload of potatoes,” Willaby added, “and then asked a separate shift member to leave him alone with the potato crate and a crowbar. Both accomplices would have thought that they were only helping him steal more potatoes for the vodka, when in reality, they were helping him grab the apples. And most importantly, he did this all without involving the fourth shift at all, the only people who knew the golden apples existed in the first place!”


Solaire walked over to the crate and laid a hand on it. “If I’m right, then every single apple you’re missing is inside here.”


“If you’re right?” Weiss asked.


“We couldn't get inside the crate to check because your oh-so courteous crew,” Solaire said, raising his voice for emphasis, “wouldn’t give us a crowbar to open it. But I’ve gone through the evidence several times, Weiss. The logic checks out. They have to be in here.”


Weiss thoughtfully stroked his chin as several of the crew behind him began muttering “so that’s what he wanted it for.”


Winthrop stared at Kathers as he mumbled something incoherently, then turned to Solaire. “You assaulted this man because he potentially stole something?”


Solaire shrugged. “He potentially got me killed, so it seemed fair. Besides, all we did was corner him to ask a few questions and he outright attacked us. It’s self-defense at that point.”


Aggressive self-defense,” Withrop countered.


“Obviously. We couldn’t let the thief just waltz away once our backs were turned, now could we? He’s not going anywhere now.” Solaire kicked the man to illustrate the point, and he moaned loudly.


“Get a crovbar,” Weiss commanded.


A nearby crewmember hurried off, then returned with the large metal tool. Weiss gestured to the box and he dug it under the lid, leaning into it and prying the wood apart with a splintery pop pop pop as the nails came loose. Once the crate lid was off and moved aside, everyone nearby leaned forward to see what it contained:


A shimmering pile of bright, golden apples.


“Vell,” Weiss said, “it seems our case is solfed. Collect Kazers, please. I’ll deal vis him later. Aushtin, please help me mofe zis box to my prifate quarters.”


“Yes sir,” Austin grumbled, grabbing the box and moving away.


Willaby sighed and clutched his hat, removing it from his head. “Glad that’s over. Now we can get back to…”


And Weiss freezed.


There, perched on top of the baker’s head, was a single, balanced potato.


Solaire slowly covered his face with his palm and began rubbing his eyes.


“What?” Willaby asked. He reached up on top of his head, grabbed the offending vegetable, and went pale. “Oh no.”


A massive jolt of electricity ran through Solaire’s body as he collapsed, spasming, on the ground. He lay there in pain as Wiess calmly called out, “hang on zere Aushtin. Vinthrop, could you count zose for me?”


A silent, tense minute passed before Winthrop called out “374. They’re all accounted for.”


Weiss nodded, then bent over to whisper in Solaire’s ear. “Tell you vhat, Solaire. Since all my apples are zere, I’m suddenly in a good mood, so I’m not goink to fault you for tryink to help your friends out. Jusht tell me vho did it, and you’re off ze hook.”


Solaire opened a bleary eye. Willaby, Skyler, and Austin were all exchanging worried looks. It was time to play it smart. They’d done their best, almost gotten away with it, but it hadn’t been enough. Now was the time to make sure that he didn’t get killed for someone else’s stupid mistake.


And then, a different thought entered his mind.


But… what is a captain supposed to do when the ship is sinking? he had asked River an absolute eternity ago.


Easy, she answered him again. Keeps captaining until the ship unsinks.


“Vell?” Weiss asked, foot tapping.


Damn it River, Solaire thought. If you’re wrong about this, I’m never going to forgive you.


“I stole them,” Solaire replied loudly.


Everyone froze.


Weiss’ face turned scarlet. “Vhat did you jusht say?”


“I stole your precious golden apples,” Solaire said again, getting to his feet. “Obviously, I figured I could get away with it. Almost did, too, before this buffoon screwed the whole thing up.” He shot a dirty look at Willaby, and confusion and shame fought for control of the baker’s face.


“I… YOU…” Weiss fumbled with the shock controller, getting ready to smash in a button.


“Kill me, and you’ll lose everything on this ship,” Solaire said casually, picking at his fingernails.


Once again, Weiss froze. “Vhat?


“You really think I’d try something this dangerous without a backup plan?” Solaire raised his voice, addressing the room at large. Now that he’d started, the narrative had materialized in his head, and the words came to him easier. “Since I’ve been stuck here, I’ve been mapping this place front to back, side to side. Hell, that’s the whole reason I got caught; so I could get inside and crawl around, figuring what I could lift from this place.” He turned back to Weiss. “Seriously. You know me now. You’d think I’d do something as stupid as getting caught rigging slot machines for fun?”


Weiss didn’t respond. He was too busy turning from red to purple.


“I’ve got all of my notes written down,” he continued, addressing the room again. “All of Weiss security measures, known and unknown, every nook and cranny of this ship, how each of these steam thingies work,” he lowered his voice again and smiled at Weiss, “the location of certain super-secret decks on this ship.” He turned back to the crowd. “It’s worth it’s weight in gold. More, if we’re being honest. With it, you could… I don’t know, steal ultra-valuable golden apples? Escape this ship?” He locked eyes with Tomo for this last part, spying the samurai in the crowd. He wouldn’t be interested in the escape part, he was far too honorable, but others in the crowd who knew what Tomo’s plight was would understand the implication.


Men who were in the exact same situation.


Zis is all ze more reason to kill you nov!” Weiss finally spat.


“Uh uh uh,” Solaire waggled a finger at him. “You do, and I have instructions for people I’ve paid very well to start hiding those notes across the ship. Putting them in places where the crew could find them and use them to their hearts’ content.”


Weiss’ anger suddenly flowed out of him. He narrowed his eyes. “You’re bluffink.”


“And you know what the best part is?” Solaire said, leaning in and lowering his voice to a whisper, “Even if I am, it doesn’t matter. You fry me, and you’ll have hundreds of desperate men that you forced to be here suddenly tearing this ship apart trying to find my little pages. Operations would grind to a halt in an instant, and that’s not talking about all the repair work that’ll be needed afterwards. Plus,” he rose, winking, “I’m not bluffing.”


Weiss went very, very still.


Everyone held their breath.


Weiss inhaled, held it, exhaled, then looked up. “Excuse me for one moment,” he said, walking over to a nearby room used for storage and closing the door behind him.


Immediately, the sound of smashing could be heard.


“DAMN IT!” Weiss’ voice thundered behind the door. “BLASHT IT! BY ALL ZE CREATED VORLDS, BY ALL ZE GODS AND DEMONS, IN ZE NAME OF ZE TITANS ZEMSELFES, GODS. DAMN. SOLAIRE. AGHHH!” The rant broke off into incoherent screaming, various BANG SMASH CRASHes punctuating the noise.


Then, it went quiet.


Nobody spoke.


The door opened, and a slightly disheveled Weiss stepped out.


“We good?” Solaire asked.


Weiss squinted at him. “Get out of my sight.”


“Can do!” Solaire replied enthusiastically, turning to march down a hallway. “C’mon crew!”


The collected crowd watched as the Solaire, Skyler, and Willaby made their way out of the cargo bay.


Vhat are you doink?” Weiss demanded. “If you don’t stop gavkink and get back to vork in ze next fife seconds, I’ll strangle you myself, apples be damned!” A flurry of panicked scampering followed as each man attempted to get back to their work stations, bowling each other over and giving Weiss a wide berth as he stomped through the crowd. “Aushtin, get zat in my office! Vinthrop, I vant efery infentory report you hafe on my desk now! Tomo, get all my security staff in my office for a meetink immediately!


Solaire, Skyler, and Willaby watched the chaos unfold from their spot in the doorway, slight smiles on their faces.


“I knew it!” Willaby cried. “I knew you wouldn’t turn us in!”


“Please,” Solaire said. “If I wasn’t 100 percent confident that my ruse wouldn’t work, I’d have handed you over in a heartbeat.”


“Suuuuurre you would have,” Skyler said, folding his arms.


Solaire stiffened as Willaby threw his arms around the noble. “Oh Solaire! You saved us! I can’t thank you enough!”


“You can start the effort by letting go of me!” Solaire spat. Willaby disengaged, and Solaire straightened his clothes out. “Gah… actually, there might be something you can help me with.”


Skyler straightened. “Willaby, don’t…”


“Anything!” Willaby shouted.


“Wonderful,” Solaire said, grabbing the chunk of Elysium out of his pocket and absent-mindedly tossing it. Hang on River, he thought. I’m getting off this ship soon.


I’m coming to get you.

©2019 by N's Corner. Proudly created with Wix.com