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Revelers crowded the Stormwind streets, trampling lanterns and candy wrappers. Hallow's End was fast approaching - the best damn holiday of the year, or so Zevedron Bosch would claim until Winterveil had come and gone. A nice dress for Felicia, who would fuss if she were dressed up as anything but a princess, a black cat suit for Junior (Era’s emphatic idea), a pirate suit for Heth complete with hat and tiny wooden sabre. He grinned as he made his way toward the auctions, carefully dodging between people to avoid the "festivities" which rained down from the sky: stinkbombs.
None took particular notice of the pair of golden-haired highborne that fell into step in his wake. They were good costumes, down to their somber expressions and perfectly synchronous gait. They murmured quietly to each other; yes, that was the one. They waited until he ducked into the relative calm of the auctions. Their voices still shouldn't have carried so well through the din. "Zevedron Stuart Bosch."
Zeve didn’t turn right away. Most people who knew him in Stormwind either called him 'Zeve' or 'Botch.’ No one he knew would use his last name. But 'Stuart?' Few people knew that one, the name Fells had given him. His mother. His miss. His mate. Did the Riders? "Aye?" he responded, a cool tilt of the head the only recognition granted.
“We have word from your wife," one of the pair intoned. The other cleared his throat politely, and immediately afterward his companion corrected, "From Miss Clemens."
"What?" He turned to regard them. It might have been Hallow's End, but those neutral expressions didn't look like shoddy masks, and the faint glow in the pair's eyes was unlike the illusions of the revelers. "What word?" he asked, unable to disguise the tightness of his voice.
"Would you like to speak privately." The question -- if it even was that, and not simply a command-- bore little care for his comfort. No, theirs was the tone of those concerned with discretion.
"Package that for me, mate." Zeve waved at the auctioneer without looking at him, letting his other hand rest idly on the heavy dagger at his side. What was it, some ransom? Had someone found out about the Job? He smiled thinly and gestured at the door. "Sure, fellas. After you."
Despite the subtle threat, they turned their backs to him without a hint of reservation. Shoulder to shoulder, they bore a tidy tunnel through the crowd. It thinned when they stepped through the archway and descended the steps towards Olivia's Pond. "So. How do you know Miss Fells, fellas?" Zeve asked.
"She is safe." It ill suited the question, but they didn't appear terribly concerned with properly answering him. In the shadows of a broad oak they stopped. Sunset burned fire through the canopy overhead. "She asked to have a message delivered."
Edited by Fells on 8/19/2012 4:02 PM PDT
Zeve glanced around, turning in place before he stopped walking. "Right? Some reason we need to be 'way from folks for me to hear this message of hers?" His idle grip tightened, knuckles going white on his blade’s hilt.
The pair shared a brief look. The longer haired highborne lost their silent coin toss and stepped forward to explain. His voice held the still, unsettling weight of the ages. "We thought privacy the best, Mister Bosch. She apologizes that she had to leave, and that she couldn't be the one to tell you. All of you."
Eyes narrowing, Zeve drew his dagger almost as slowly as he spoke. "Fellas? Don' particularly like your kind. Don' like bein' snuck up on. Rightly don' care for two strangers talkin' on my family." The dying sunlight flashed on steel. "This's me bein' polite: the feck are you on 'bout?"
The man closest to him slowly held a hand up, palm out, then cautiously slipped fingers into the pocket of his cloak. The golden seal he retrieved and offered forth bore the sigil of an hourglass with a wyrm curled around it. "There was need," he murmured with all the gentility of one trying to soothe an injured beast, "and she consented to serve."
That seal. He'd seen the ornate, multi-tiered hourglass before in person as well as the bronze behemoths circling it. "What...what?" Zeve didn't reach for the seal, regarding the two emissaries with more confusion than hostility. "Where is she?"
He never took it easily, no matter how many times they had to explain. The man in front of him eyed Zeve solemnly as he palmed the seal and slipped it back into his pocket. "The more appropriate question is when."
"I'd rightly 'ppreciate a damn answer. When? Where?"
"We can't provide specifics. She is safe, and we will do our best to return her. If it's any consolation, we will be able to bring her back to you." He quieted. This was always where the conversation turned dangerous. "We cannot promise that it will be the you in this timeline. But you will have her back, here or there, then or now."
Zeve's gaze flitted about in confused panic for a quiet, strained moment. "The...the feck do you mean? We..." Haemon and Era. The minis. The dagger dropped from his fingers as frustration turned them to claws. "Us, but not us? The feck did you do?" The last was roared from canine jaws.
The man closest breathed deep and even, steeling himself imperceptibly. "We gave her a choice, Zevedron. We could not offer her time to make it."
The worgen stalked to him and grasped the collar of his fine robe, jerking him into the air. "What choice?"
It had to be maddening, that calm countenance that gazed up at Zeve's bared fangs with all the expression of a marble statue even as his toes dangled above the ground. “To serve or not to serve."
"An' I'm s'posed to believe 'ever job you had was 'nough to make her leave me? Us? Her damn family?" Fangs clicked inches from the highborne's face.
The faintest hint of concern finally showed when he craned his head an inch away. Not another mauling, please? "If I tell you yes, then I hope it will give you an idea of the gravity of the situation."
"Bull!@#$. Bull%^-*!" Zeve threw the highborne back. "Bull--" Hackles on end and ears plastered back against his head, he half turned from the two emissaries and roared.
The other closed his eyes and winced subtly as his compatriot flew past, hitting the tree with a bone-jarring thud. Neither said a word as they allowed Zeve to bellow his rage to the sky, though it spooked several pairs of figures into dashing for the Stormwind gates. Guardsmen greeted them, peering out at the landscape below with weapons bared and barely visible in the failing light.
Zeve turned back to the still-standing highborne, his words little more than a growl. "Give us a choice. We can serve too. An'...if the minis come, we'll take care of 'em."
It was almost easier when this ended with a mauling. "We cannot," the other said, stepping slightly in front of the man still trying to catch his breath. "It is too much of a risk. This isn't undertaken lightly. We don't expect you to understand. You're needed here." Truthfully, they all were. But still. "If a disturbance must be made, we must keep it to a minimum."
"Feck all! You want a damn disturbance, you've feckin' got one! M'needed 'ever she is! We all are!" His Miss. His wife, apparently? That thought slipped by with the rush of others as he stalked towards them, claws and fangs bared.
Torchlights and cries in the name of the King began moving down the stairs toward Olivia's Pond. "You don't want to do this, Zevedron," the Bronze warned, tension singing through his voice. "You're needed here. You cannot provide if you're in manacles." He began to twist into the scaled, clawed thing that would escape more easily.
The other gave Zevedron a last look, long and quiet. "Go to your family, Zevedron Bosch,” he murmured, falling back. Then he too shot into the sky in a blur of bronze with the reflection of flame licking at his wings.
"Damn you! We'll find her!" With the torches near enough to cast light on Zeve’s form, he spared one look at the incoming guards and roared again before bounding off deeper into the darkness. He'd promised to protect her even though she didn't need his protection. He'd promised he wouldn't leave. Haemon and Era had likely made the same promises. They'd all promised to each other. Now this...whatever "this" was...hadn't even given them a chance to try to keep those promises. She was gone. Fells was gone. She...
The box was silent, but he heard her anyway: “Willful thing,” that pet name she’d said so often and with so much adoration. No. She wasn't gone. Missing, mayhap, but damn it if she was gone. Damn it if that horrible silence meant that they wouldn't find her. We'll find you, miss. Truth and swear on it, we'll find you.
He'd have to return home. Tell Haemon and Era what he'd been told. He'd have to be strong for them so they could be strong for him and they could all be strong for the minis. And then they'd find her. Alone in the forest, Zeve howled, long and resolute. They'd find her.
The itch at the back of her mind burned. I'll find m'way back, Fells thought, blinking away unbidden tears. She didn't know where it came from, or what it was in answer to, but she ached all the worse for that brief moment where rage seared her consciousness.
Fells pulled herself to her feet, eyes narrowing into slits against the sea breeze that buffeted her as soon as she stood. Sharp hemp fibers bit into her palm; she gripped rope, and then the hewn railing worn smooth by wind and salt air. It only took her a moment to recognize the deck she stood upon, with its billowing sails and main cabin windows blazing bright against the night. If her hunch was right, she knew who waited inside. She knew where this was, and when. Her jaw set. Will. I'll find m'way back t'you.
The deck rocked beneath her feet. Everything was just as Zeve had described it; the black and red sails, the sabre-and-rifle flying from the masts. Fells instinctively tugged her threadbare cap down to keep it all the more firmly in place. Her eyes rolled up to her hairline a second later; it was like any other cap she might have stolen while scrapping in Stormwind years ago. A quick check confirmed she’d tucked her hair away underneath just as she’d used to. That meant…
”Oi, boy!” Fells jumped and twisted to look over her shoulder. A barrel-chested man pushed sailors out of the way as he bore towards her, cudgel in hand. “Feck’re you standin’ ‘round for?!” Fells pressed back against the railing, sparing the briefest of glances down at herself: twiggish, flat, and too long of limb by a good margin. Hells. There was no chance to think it over, though, not with a meathook hand grabbing her shoulder. "Who're you, then? Too feckin' lil' to be a new scrub — cabin boy, eh? S'at you, boy?"
“Tha’s me!” she agreed hastily, flashing a broad and convincing smile. She’d have agreed to being Arthas if it meant not being pitched overboard.
"Lil' feckin' things dragged on board...an' too skinny. On, then! On! Up to the cap'n's cabin, on!" The boatswain raised his sap over his head and Fells yelped and scrambled aft, ducking behind another crew member on her way. If her hunch was right, then the captain’s cabin would have to be the door at the top of the finely crafted stairs just behind the…
She rounded the main mast to see just what she expected; just like he’d described. She took the stairs two at a time and banged the ornate brass knocker against its plate. "Enter!" The voice that shouted from inside the cabin was not particularly deep or intimidating. If anything it was businesslike--curt and professional. Fells ducked within cautiously, holding her tongue. She'd been married to Laurus Drachmas. She knew how serving sorts were preferred to behave.
She'd always pictured pirate captains as boisterous, drunken or insane. Or some combination of the three. In fairness, many of them were. Pirate captains could control their crews through charisma or fear or promises of wealth and debauchery, and maintaining an image of a wild and furious lunatic was certainly appropriate. The captain of the Black Card, however, took a different tact. His closely cropped blonde hair was clean and well managed, including a thin trimmed mustache. He wore a long black coat and a pressed white shirt. Sitting behind a desk, he didn't look up from his writing as Fells entered. "Yes?"
“Cap’n boy, cabin. Mean, cabin boy. Cap’n. Sir.” She dropped a proper bow, ignoring the sweat that had broken out on her brow.
It had been ages since she’d dropped out of her habit of nameplay, and she hadn’t tried to pass for a boy for even longer. “Kendel,” she stammered. It was the first name to flash to mind that wasn’t Shad, Botch, or Avers. She regretted it instantly. “Kendel Brackwell,” she forced out. “If’n it please, cap’n.”
Still he didn't look up, and his tone bespoke nothing but routine inquiry. "Age, Kendel Brackwell?"
“Sixteen.” Or thereabouts. Sixteen-ish? Had the Flight even given her her existing body, or had they just fabricated one for this little exercise? Something told her that he wouldn’t exactly buy that she was in her twenties.
"And how did you come to be on my ship, Kendel Brackwell, age sixteen?" He'd spoken enough to make it clear that he was not of the same stock as the sailors outside. His clipped dialect bore a lilt that she couldn’t place.
Fells straightened where she stood. “Came ‘board, cap’n.” Not that she knew how long they’d been at sea, or where their most recent port was. She subtly wiped her palms on her thighs.
The man deliberately set his quill down and looked up at Fells with hard blue eyes. "Mr. Brackwell, when you respond to a question, make certain it is with an appropriate answer. You're sixteen years old, a man to be, and are capable of speaking and bowing. You did not have to come to the Black Card to be cabin boy to a captain of pirates. But here you are." He paused, looking down at a mastiff which had until now been lying quietly next to his desk. The large dog glared up at Fells and growled as if prompted by its master's gaze before the captain’s attention returned to her. "Why?”
She would have felt much more comfortable if she’d known the answer to that herself. “Somethin’ tole me I needed ta be here.” Two somethin’s, who had interrupted her conversation and dragged her through a portal…how long ago? Had it been minutes, or was even that timeline skewed now?
For several long moments the captain stared at her. She fidgeted as little as possible and met his gaze, ignoring the way that it made her feel far tinier than she already was. Finally he nodded and the mastiff quieted. "A boy of your stature might be mistaken for a young woman, Mr. Brackwell." He returned his attention to the documents neatly laid out in front of him, picking up the quill. "As such, you will sleep in the nook beside the door and not with the others. Have a cot brought in after you see to fetching supper."
Fells tugged at the brim of her hat. “Yessir, cap’n. Uh, mean…aye aye?”
"Captain or Captain Vane will do. Captain." He clipped both syllables cleanly. "Enunciate, Mr. Brackwell, or you will be disciplined."
She'd been teased for her speech before. Looked down on for it. She'd never once before been threatened over it, but his tone left little gray area to wonder over. This was her new employer, then. Fells nodded slowly. "Cap-tain. Ser. Sorry."
"Good. Supper, Mr. Brackwell, in…” He quickly consulted a gold pocket watch connected to a long chain which disappeared back into the pocket of his waistcoat. "Twenty minutes."
"Yessir. Should I -- y'need me ta fetch it?" Cabin boy had sounded like a fine idea, mostly in that it kept them from hauling her overboard before she figured out what she was here to do in the first place. What did a cabin boy do, again?
The scratching of his quill slowed and Captain Vane looked up at her again, tilting his head slightly. "Yes, Mr. Brackwell. Were your duties not explained to you?"
"Uh, not s'much, no ser. Cap'n -- captain! No ser, Captain Vane."
Vane's eyelid twitched just slightly. "I see. You are responsible for my errands about the ship. Do you know the name of the crewman who took your signature or your mark when you came aboard?"
At least she didn't have to lie. "I can' write. But no, I don' r'member. Don’t. Ser."
His eyelid twitched again, but he nodded. “We will need to remedy that, Mr. Brackwell. You will be of limited use to me if you cannot take dictation." If this was someone’s cruel idea of making sure she learned to read, she would introduce them to a blade when she got home. Who'd have thought, re-education through high piracy. Vane's attention again returned to the quill and documents before him. "Supper in eighteen minutes."
Fells loitered subtly about the deck until she got the chance to follow a pirate into the belly of the Black Card, and the smells of supper in progress guided her the rest of the way. She drew snickers as she slipped through the narrow passageway, pressing close against the wood to avoid brushing against some of the ripest-smelling men she’d ever encountered. "Get my crop, sweet lad, put bit 'tween yer teeth, eh?” one hollered after her. “Race yeh till mornin'!"
Her cheeks burned at the raucous laughter that followed. It was a matter of survival that had her call back, "Too fat fer a jockey by half, ain'tcha!" On an afterthought, she rudely grabbed her nonexistent package and shook it in his general direction. "This horse don' take ta menfolk leastaways, if'n y'even gots a pair!" Those who had been leering moments before shouted and cursed approval, leaving her free to push her way past them. One in particular, a thin, greasy man who rubbed his stubbled jaw with a hand with two missing fingers, stared for a few moments before licking his lips and turning away down the corridor.
Fells smirked in a way that she hoped was convincing as she rushed to the galley, shouldering past others as though she owned the place, or at least as though she belonged there. Being timid could be her undoing. Even if the crew didn’t get her, she clearly had to watch out for Vane, too. What did shipside disciplining entail, after all? She'd heard of flogging, and walking planks, and hauling keels—whatever the Nether a keel was, anyway.
The oily smell of whatever they were preparing led her through the Card’s tidy mess to a galley that had clearly been either moved or extended at some point. Cannons had once been positioned in openings that now served as ventilation for the smoke from several ovens. Three men bustled about. Fells stumbled and caught herself on the doorway, suddenly unable to breathe.
The cook was a portly, pox-marked fellow in a greasy apron. His assistant could have been missing a head, for all Fells saw. Her stare was fixed solely on the third. He was slighter than she knew him. Younger by a good stretch. But there was absolutely no mistaking that a different Zevedron Bosch fretted over an oven not a stone’s throw away. She silently berated herself for acting so moonbrained. Especially now, when she could ill afford being found out. Fells straightened and sidled amiably into the galley, rapping her knuckles smartly on the archway. "Cap'n wants his supper, lads!"
A string of unintelligible curses came from the chief cook. When he began using actual words again he spat, "Time'sit, boy, d'we got time?" He grabbed the back of the young Zeve's collar, yanked him back, and used the same hand to slap the back of his head. "Useless lil' bugger, bread's burnt! GET! IT! OUT!" Whipping back around to glare at Fells, he repeated himself urgently. "TIME?!"
All three of them seemed to be in more of a panic than a rush. It was just supper. Was the captain so demanding that a couple minutes would make a difference? It took her a moment to assume how long she'd taken finding her way down there. "Supper in twelve, says the cap'n."
The rotund cook heaved a sigh of relief. "Thanks be to all the feckin' demons in the Nether. Know 'ow to work a stove, boy, feckin' useless..." The man glared at Zeve again who was quickly trying to salvage three loaves of blackened bread. "Well?!" The cook returned his attention to Fells.
Fells made a show of huffing. If there was one thing she was good at, it was appearing displeased. Three strides took her to Zeve’s side, and she nudged him out of the way. "Git t'the fish, bread takes a--" don't say woman's, don't say woman's "--carefuller touch."
Edited by Fells on 7/29/2012 11:48 AM PDT
He grunted in reply, shaking his head. "Careful. Plenty careful, thanks."
"Heat the slop, boy!" The cook smacked the back of Zeve's head again and Zeve made a face. "Want to tell the captain why 'is crew's eatin' late? Do ya? Tell 'im yer feckin' 'round in my kitchen an' be cookin' you next."
Despite grumbling something under his breath, Zeve all but jumped to do as he was told and moved to tend to a large cauldron filled with boiling liquid. "Six minutes is plenty."
Sullen thing. She wouldn't grin. Would not. Instead she chucked the burnt loves onto a battered countertop and cut chunks off of a mound of dough with a blade produced from her sleeve. It took moments for her to shape it, check the coals' temperature, bank them and drop the pans back inside.
Despite the cook's sweat-stained shirt and otherwise dirty appearance, the man apparently knew how to actually cook when he needed to. He handed the captain’s gilded tray to Fells almost reverently. "Do not drop that, boy, or I swear to every devil what ever lived I'll chop you for every lash I get." Grinding his teeth he pointed at Zeve. "An' you get yer damned worthless 'ide up there an' shout for supper on the mark." He looked about ready to strike again, but Zeve was out of range and already moving toward the door.
Fells rushed after him, using his wake to shield the captain's tray. Not that anyone dared jostle it, when they saw. "Right 'hind ya," she called quietly to his back. "Don' stop real sudden, ayeh?"
"What, not careful enough?" Sullen indeed. His tone had none of its usual humor. More, his Gilnean accent--the one which came through so clearly from the Zeve who had brought her here--was just beginning to show signs of South Seas influence. It was like listening to a different person.
The three-fingered man who had been watching Fells earlier fell into step, placing himself in the small space between them. "Mm, cookie, somethin' fer me, eh?"
He scowled without looking over his shoulder. "Piss off, Cut-up."
The man cackled quietly and reached down to goose Zeve. "Sweetlin' gettin' me supper first, love ya bein' coy, mmm."
"Piss. Off. Come on." Zeve nodded back at Fells and shouldered the man away.
There was venom in the glare she shot the stranger as she followed. No time nor thought was given to squelch that look: get your hands off of my man. Fells followed Zeve all the closer, though she kept her eyes on the ugly blighter until they were well away from him. "Charmin' fella."
"Be on you soon enough when he realizes there's someone younger than me on board."
Something in her stomach clenched. One of those. Fells cast a glance over her shoulder to make certain they weren't being followed. "Why's he still aboard? Bastid like that, why don' the cap'n chuck him t'the fish?"
"Why would he? Does his job an' doesn' kill anyone." They weren't being followed--only watched by Cut-Up who stood where they'd left him. His lips parted in a grin, showing blackened teeth where they weren't missing altogether. "Don't do your job? Get disciplined. Kill someone? Get disciplined. Have your way with a fella? As long as the fella can still do his job, the feck does it matter?"
Fells bent over a slate in her little alcove, cursing under her breath at the sums she scratched out in chalk. She hopped up, narrowly avoiding smacking her head on the low ceiling above her cot, and circled around to present it to the captain at his desk. “Within seconds. Well done, Mr. Brackwell.” He set his papers aside, clearing a place to review her work. "I think there may be hope for you yet."
Fells allowed herself a grin. Really, her tasks weren’t proving to be so terrible after all. She’d cater to Vane, find out why she was here, do what was needed and then get the Nether home. "Thanks, cap’n. ‘Thout a pocketwatch, even. M’jest skilled.”
Any satisfaction she’d won with his praise withered when he eyed her cooly. “Enunciate, Mr. Brackwell. I will not remind you again. If — “ He cut off sharply at a shout from outside which was immediately followed by clanging bells. “Interruptions…” Vane carefully placed his quill in its inkwell and strode to the door. It opened to a scene of chaos.
Bloodsail colors could be seen through the rigging and behind the sails of the Black Card. Another galleon had approached, barely smaller than their own, close enough for Fells to see sun gleam off of the blade clenched between a Bloodsail’s teeth. “Orders, Captain?!” the huge boatswain who had nearly cudgeled Fells earlier shouted up at them from the decks. Vane looked down to him and the brute flinched.
“Take their ship, Mr. Bell. They've been kind enough to offer whatever they have in their hold before we sink them."
Bell cried directions to the Card, and men leapt into action just as their aggressors’ ropes took hold in the rigging. Bloodsails swarmed the Card to be met with violence. So this was piracy.
Fells pressed herself flat to the cabin’s outer wall and snuck towards the stairs. Her gaze darted about frantically. She could have hidden in the cabin and not been in the fray at all, except for Zeve. If she remembered correctly, she knew this fight. He’d told her about it in detail that hadn’t quite done the scene justice. Red blossomed on cutlass blades and splashed in swaths on the deck. When one of the attackers hit the stairs beside her Fells shrieked and reached for her blades, only to find nothing where she usually kept them lashed to her hips. She swore under her breath.
Dodging the dying man’s flailing stole her attention away from the fighting for just a moment. When she looked back to the fray, there was her Zeve -- no, dammit, not her Zeve -- trading sword blows with a hulking lout near the railing. She was used to seeing him with heavy two-handers or axes or hammers. The simple longsword he wielded sang through the air with as much skill as she’d seen out of Galvan, or any of her Riders. Zeve’s skill held the bigger man in check, and when he staggered backward, Zeve should have gone in for an easy kill. Instead he kicked the man away. The Bloodsail staggered and then turned to dart back into the fighting elsewhere.
Bile rose in Fells’s throat, and she crouched low against the banister. This had to be the fight he’d told her about. Would he have wanted her here to see this? Was she here because of it? As she watched him stare after his opponent, another dropped from the yardarm above. He blocked Zeve from her view when he turned and readied his mace.
She could ruminate over the consequences later.
“BOTCH!” Fells rushed to yank the mismatched longknives from the hands of the near-dead Bloodsail she’d dodged. She slipped in blood when she took the stairs down, and nearly didn’t make it in time. The mace was high above his head when Fells leapt onto his back, wrapped her legs around his waist, yanked his head back by his hair and opened his throat with her stolen blade. Zeve turned just in time to see the spray of blood as Fells rode the corpse that came crashing to the ground.
Zeve stared, open-mouthed, as she disentangled from the dead man and frowned up at him. “Dammit, y’coulda got yerself — “
He pointed with his sword over her shoulder and Fells spun to face the bastard that advanced on them with teeth and steel bared. "C'mon, ugly!" Fells backed against Zeve. He brought his sword up, as ready to face him as she was, but a gunshot cracked from above them before the pirate could close in. The man fell to his knees and slumped forward. From his vantage point at the cabin, Vane steadily pointed a pistol at them for several moments before holstering it.
“Damn,” Zeve breathed. “Right, go on.” He pushed Fells forward, then looked to the ropes between the ships that the Card’s sailors were now using to chase the Bloodsails back across, as though their diminished force could hold their ship for long. Instead of moving to join, he grimly set to what little defense was still needed.
Fells frowned at the captain. “We had that’n!” she called before chasing after Zeve.
More sailors died, and not without her help. It wasn’t a quarter hour before the few that remained threw down their weapons and cried surrender. They were gathered by the jeering, triumphant crew, and herded to the foot of the stairs where Vane eyed them dispassionately. To their credit, they didn’t blubber or beg. One spat on the deck. Fells watched from where she was hidden in the throng. They were pirates. Pirates didn’t take prisoners. Even if they did, she didn’t think Vane would regardless.
“Mr. Bosch.” Vane’s voice cut through the air, and the crew fell silent.
Fells’s stomach dropped as Zeve swallowed hard, nodding and moving to the foot of the steps. “Captain.”
“You fought very well. Why didn’t you press the attack?”
Zeve blinked. “I…I was defending the Card, captain.”
"Yes, you were, weren't you. And yet your sword..." Vane withdrew his pistol to point. "…has no blood on it. Mr. Brackwell, our new cabin boy, killed more than one man today in defense of our ship. And yet you have killed no one. Why?" Vane's gaze moved to Fells and she shrank back into the crowd, all too aware of too many eyes on her. This hadn’t been in Zeve’s story. Damn it. All at once, she wished that she'd stuck to the shadows. Better than than embarrass him like this. Fells ducked her head, apologizing to him silently as her cheeks burned. As though she could somehow hide it, she subtly wiped blood onto her thighs and slipped the telltale blades away.
"'E's a coward, captain!" One of the sailors shouted.
"Is that true, Mr. Bosch? Are you a coward?"
"You didn't hide. I don't believe you're a coward. But you didn't kill; not to attack, not to defend." Vane's gaze shifted to Zeve, still considering. "Mr. Bell!"
The huge boatswain, bleeding from multiple wounds, stopped hauling the two bodies he'd been preparing to dump to straighten up and salute. "Captain!"
"Bring me two prisoners." The boatswain did as ordered, picking two of the group at random and dragging them forward by their collars.
Vane's aim shifted slightly and another gunshot rang out. With the exception of Bell, the entire crew flinched, and the prisoners jumped outright. It hadn’t been enough for one of the two that had been volunteered. He cried out and fell forward on to the deck, clutching his stomach. The shot had not been fatal, apparently, because despite the blood which began to slowly pool around his knees, the wounded man still groaned.
Captain Vane set Zeve back in his sights. "Whether you kill him or not, that man will die, Mr. Bosch. If you let him die, I will kill you. Consider what you're doing an act of kindness as well as an act of self-preservation. You’re saving him from a slower, more painful death." There was no anger in his voice, nor judgment. He might as well have been requesting dinner from Fells earlier. She averted her gaze, and covered her mouth with a shaking hand. It smeared blood across her chin. She already knew he’d finish the job. It was a piece of mercy. That wouldn’t make it any easier.
She hated herself for not looking, but before she could change her mind there was a dull noise, followed by a rattling gasp. Survival was a messy, horrible business. Fells didn't look at the man perishing on the end of Zeve’s sword. She only looked at Zevedron. He really was practically a boy, wasn’t he? He shook slightly, but to his credit he maintained a tight grip on the sword he withdrew from the dead man’s chest.
Vane didn’t so much as nod his acknowledgment. "You've ended a man's life, Mr. Bosch. Now you must kill a man." The pistol shifted again and brought Zeve within its sights. "Cut his throat." The whimper the second prisoner gave was a pathetic, doomed sound.
"His life or yours, Mr. Bosch. Cut his throat."
Zeve walked around the prisoner, stiff-legged. At the last moment the sailor broke into blubbering. "Please...pleeeease don'...don'..."
It dissolved into wet choking.
The prisoner stopped crying, eyes blinking and terrified as he drowned in his own blood. As he fell forward to the deck, Vane lowered his pistol. "When we enter combat again, Mr. Bosch, you may defend the Card all you wish. If I find your blade clean again, you will be disciplined. Finish cleaning." With that, he turned and entered his cabin.
Fells swallowed the formidable lump in her throat. The crew dissolved back to the routine of things; they dumped bodies overboard, set to scrubbing blood off of the deck, cleaned their weapons. All the while they shouted ribald combat-drunken insults at each other. For all the bustle, the world still seemed to consist of no one but herself and the distraught young shade of her pup. She couldn't comfort him, not here. It'd do more than raise suspicion. Fells watched him mechanically set about helping the others and then slowly dragged herself back to the cabin.
The Bronze drake circled twice in the air in lazy loops that made it look lighter than a feather before it drifted gently down to the hillside next to the silver-haired elf. It'd been weeks--no, months, was it? Calasdormu was beginning to have the difficulty with keeping track of time in a linear sense that was typical of his Flight. Regardless, he was sure he hadn't been called upon in quite a while, and there was a certain sense of relief that his sometimes-companion was all right. "At your service as always," he intoned, crouching for the elf's convenience.
Shad didn't move an inch. Perhaps he was lost in thought, what with the way he was staring straight ahead. "Haemon?" Mortals were so easily distracted. Still, the elf was usually more attentive than this. If not him, then the other spirit in his head; one of them was always ready to respond. "Haemon? Didn't you call for me?"
The subtleties of mortal emotional response were not beyond him. That did not mean that the white knuckles were the first thing he noticed when the elf finally turned to him. No, first it was the blank expression; Shadowind had always greeted him with a respectful smile and a bow, like he was as grateful for the honor of partnering with the Flight as the Flight was for his help in saving the life of one of their own. Today he almost had the look of one brainwashed. "Calasdormu." And his voice was far too smooth, a sugary jam spread thin in a poor mask over rock-hard bread. "Remind me what your charge was, in serving me?"
Immortal though he was, the young dragon still had instincts, and while the prickle that skittered down his neck wasn't fear as such, it was a base realization that something was not right and he would be better off turning and leaving immediately. Fortunately, he was above such reactions. "To be at your call for transportation and whatever other matters I might aid with."
"And other matters you might aid with," Shad chimed in, treading close upon the drake's words. "Now that is a fairly open-ended mandate, is it not?" The smile that stretched the elf's lips reminded Calasdormu of the Earthwarder's twisted Flight. There was that prickle again. "Do you think perhaps it could have extended to throwing me a !@#$ing bone when it came to Fells's impending disappearance?"
"I did warn you," the dragon protested after a moment's throat-clearing. "Remember, I said that she ought not become pregnant again, because the Flight would have need of her."
He was fairly certain that the druid was not even partially in an animal form, which made his growl all the more disturbing. "You know perfectly well that we could not have guessed from that." Haemon stalked forward--Calasdormu was sure it was Haemon, even though his hackles were raised like the cat's. "When you said the Flight would need her, I thought you meant in the same way they needed any of us! To do the things you all are too damned scared to do on your own!"
The very quiet scrap|ng sound that followed was the drake's scales ruffling. Scared? The Bronze, the protectors of time? Foolish mortal. "You are upset and don't know what you're saying, Haemon. My kind are not permitted to interfere with the natural flow of time by revealing--"
"The natural flow of time?!" Shad scoffed. "There is absolutely nothing natural about pulling her outside her own timeline!"
"Nevertheless," Calas insisted, "it was necessary. She was needed. If you had known, wouldn't you have tried to stop it?"
"Can you tell me why she was needed?"
"Then you are damned right I would have stopped it."
In draconic form, Calasdormu lacked a chin to stick out in defiance, but the air of the gesture was definitely there. "You couldn't have stopped it anyway. You're not powerful enough to resist two dragons." He sighed with exasperation. "I thought you of all mortals would understand. This had to happen, and while we're grateful for your service, it doesn't grant you the right to special treatment."
Edited by Shad on 7/30/2012 10:33 PM PDT
The elf did not shift. He did not advance. He did, somehow, draw himself up a bit taller, and he definitely started to glow with a great deal of not-very-gentle nature magic. Two dragons, fully grown, were perhaps too much for him to handle. But one lone drake? Calas felt that prickle again, but his stomach didn't sink in true fear until Haemon spoke, deadly calm and low. "You are hereby released from your bond to me."
For a moment, he genuinely didn't grasp what he'd heard. Dismissal? That wasn't...that just didn't happen. He had a duty to pay his Flight's debts, and if he'd...if he'd failed... "You...you can't be serious, Haemon."
"Oh, I am entirely serious. You are free. Free to go, freed from having to serve a lowly mortal." The epithet rolled off of his tongue like tar.
"I didn't mean--"
"I know precisely what you meant, dragon!" It was impressive, really, how he could make that title sound like a bad thing. "You meant that I am too short-lived, too small-minded to ever possibly comprehend what your kind do, and therefore I do not even merit an explanation! Why bother, when I would not get it, right? I am, after all, only a pawn, a slight step above all the other mortal worms your Flight manipulates as it sees fit!"
Calas shook his head, internally cursing himself. "Haemon, that isn't--"
"I KNOW how you think, because I used to think that way about humans! A younger race, shorter lived, worth less than me. I was immortal once too, remember? I will still outlive every human I know by centuries! But I am NOT eternal, and NEITHER ARE YOU!" Haemon's hand shot out, and the drake reeled back. For the first time, he felt panic. Nausea. Mortality. But the aptly-named bolt of Wrath that burst forth was not for him. A fawn shuddered and fell lifeless in his stead.
Silence hung thick in the air as they both observed eternity in action.
His rage spent, the elf quietly stepped over to the new-made corpse. "It is easier to understand how the Twilight cult is appealing," he mused as he knelt and pressed a hand to the still-warm fur, "when the protectors of this world see us as nothing more than ants beneath their feet."
"It was given the Timeless One to know the hour and method of his own death," the elf recited. "That was...a lesson from my childhood, meant to teach humility. I never truly understood, until I grasped mine own mortality. Now...I even value the ants." He smiled, genuine at last, and with a gentle caress breathed life back into the young deer, which struggled to its feet and pranced away.
Haemon stood again, and Calasdormu scr@ped for something to say. Some excuse, some explanation. He had plenty when the elf was angry, but with the gentility back in those golden eyes, there was nothing he could say. "I never thought of you as a servant, Calasdormu. I considered you a partner. I trusted you." Shad shook his head. "I suppose it was foolish of me to think that you respected me."
"I...I do," the drake protested forlornly.
"And yet you continue to treat me as a child, too dense to understand your kind's reasoning."
"I don't know where she is, or why. I can't tell you because I don't know."
Haemon smiled slightly. "You could have just said so earlier." Could have, if he'd been willing to admit weakness.
"I'm sorry. I...I'll find out. I'll find out what’s become of her."
"I would...appreciate it," the elf admitted with a nod. “Thank you."
"And thank you as well, Haemon," the drake replied as he took to the air.
Edited by Shad on 7/30/2012 10:33 PM PDT
Fells's legs were too long for her cot my nearly a foot. It was why she so rarely slept on her back, knees cocked and pointing at the low plank ceiling. Tonight she stretched out and let her feet dangle midair where they swayed idly with the swell of the tide. Her fingers laced together behind her head and played in the braided and bound hair still hidden by her cap.
Unfocused eyes gazed through the wooden planks until they fused into dimensional patterns that wove in and out of themselves when she tilted her head. If she didn't concentrate too hard, it almost reminded her of the moment she'd had between the Pig & Whistle and the Card, just before the world had gone white and she'd dropped to the deck as a different version of herself. The illusion only worked if she focused on not thinking about it, and never failed to give her a headache. She still tried it every night. This attempt ended like all the others when Fells scowled and closed her eyes against the sight of shifting woodgrain patterns.
It'd become a nightly ritual, trying and failing to resummon the portal with eyesight tricks and stubborn will alone. Typically she would give up a few minutes into it, roll onto her side and curl around her thoughtstone. Tonight, though, one eye peeked open to squint at the ceiling. Ever so gently, she set the thoughtstone onto the floor beside her cot. Her brow furrowed, her shoulders set, and her bound chest rose and fell with three deep breaths. Fells closed her eye and settled down onto her cot.
"Welp. Here I am."
The words were barely breathed. Vane's great beast of a hound might be able to hear her, but the captain certainly wouldn't, and she wasn't much worried about the dog spilling her secrets. "Been listenin', here. When I ain't dodgin' grabasses, which, y'know. Thanks fer that."
More ire bubbled towards the surface, but Fells swallowed it back and forced three more breaths, deep and even. “M’here,” she repeated near silently. “M’here, I done helped save Botch, issat what I needed ta do? He’s gots t’be the reason thatcha took me ‘board here, an’ took me ‘way from m’damn family…” She took tight hold of the frame of her cot, then waited until the tips of her fingers tingled to ease her grip and continue. Deep breaths. “He’s gots t’be why, but I done saved him an’ here I am still. Am I gonna git some kinda message, here? If’n it ain’t Botch then why the Nether’m I onnis boat?”
The sounds of the ship answered her, as wood creaked and wind snapped the canvas outside. Fells opened one eye to peer at the solid ceiling above, then the other. After a solid, silent minute she glared and hissed, “Fine! Nether withit, then!” A thoughtless moment later, Fells was curled on her side cradling her fist to her chest and swearing. The stupid ceiling was a terrible excuse for a portal, and punching it would only leave her knuckles bruised in the morning.
Time aboard the Card was regulated with tasks that had to be carried out to the captain’s exacting specifications. The ship’s bell ruled everyone aboard, including Fells, keeping their days and nights at sea strictly regimented. Fells marked time of her own in precious, stolen minutes with her silent stone. It all seemed so absurd; the bells, the commands, the constant threat of the tiny ticking hand of Vane’s stopwatch. This wasn’t her world. It was enough to disorient a girl terribly, not that she could be a girl here.
Furthering that disguise was what found her rummaging through a crate in the hold, bent over the edge and half in the damn thing with one foot kicking to help keep her balance and the other just barely keeping tiptoe on the floor. Fells grumbled under her breath as she dug through clothing that had either been pillaged or just plain discarded. She slung pieces over her shoulder when she came to those that might, theoretically, fit. Slacks, sash, tunic, unders…ugh, unders. She’d scrapped the Stormwind canals on her own for years, but she’d never stooped to secondhand unders.
Fells scowled as she struggled to keep her hat in place while fishing for clothing. She needed to get her hair cut off, and soon. If Shad and Era didn’t love it so much she would have chopped it off already, but it was one more stubborn way of keeping ahold of who she was. That didn’t mean it didn’t have to go, and with that she really would be just another pirate aboard the Card, wouldn’t she. Not that they cared overmuch; cliques circulated amongst the others, and precisely none of them wanted much to do with the new cabin boy. Zeve didn’t seem to run with any of them at all; The few glimpses she’d caught of him showed little more than blind determination to carry out orders and return below deck.
She was just wrapping up her search when light footfalls sounded on the steps leading below. Fells blew loose hair out of her eyes before grabbing a last pair of hole-ridden stockings and swinging back out of the crate. Unless it was Zeve, she didn’t care a whit to talk to them. They didn’t want to be bothered with her? Well, fine. They could twist. She didn’t want new folk, she wanted her folk. “Near done here!” she called as she stuffed her rucksack full. “Two ticks, an’ don’ touch what I fished out a’ready, I gots dibs.”
“Mmm, don’ mean to touch yer spoils, sweetlin’.” The accent oozed on a raspy voice that seemed all too close, regardless of how far away he actually was. “Puttin’ off touchin’ all, though?” The footfalls stopped when they reached the floor, not moving past the bottom of the stairs. “Waste, methinks, aye.”
Something turned over in the pit of her stomach. Fells steeled herself before turning to glare at the slimy thing that blocked the stairs. “Can’ waste whatcha don’ got, Cut-Up. M’goin’ back up, lemme past.”
Her glare and her tone were much better suited to a form that could back them up. Instead Fells swung her harmless sack over her shoulder and cocked a reedy arm on her hip. Cut-Up’s lips spread in a grotesque smile, showing off blackened teeth in response to Fells’s glare. “Hmm. N’even gonna show off a bit, sweet?” He crossed his arms lazily and leaned on the too-narrow passageway up.
The morning’s gruel turned over in her stomach, and her fists balled in impotent rage. If Era heard this, he’d rip the bastard’s throat out. Nether, Shad would. And Botch… Fells’s gaze darted briefly up the stairwell. She could call for him. She could call for all of them, but this deep in the belly of the ship, would anyone even hear? And if they did, would they bother coming? She swallowed before looking back to him and forcing a step forward. “Lemme past, !@#. I don’ do shows.”
“What, don’ like tolls? Ole Cut-Up don’ ask much, rightly. Kiss an’ a squeeze an’…” Twitchy eyes made a show of wandering over her form. “Other things.” Fells’s skin crawled. She couldn’t count on anyone to come, whether shouting went unnoticed or not. But Cut-Up looked unarmed, and she wasn’t about to spend any longer than she had to trapped down in the hold with him.
“Never did take ta payin’ taxes.” Unless he was faster or more clever than he looked, she could probably make it past him. Clever, she assumed, wouldn’t be an issue. And if he was fast, well, she would just have to be faster. Hovering like this only made her look scared, and she wasn’t. She could take him. Fells sneered and paced over with more swagger than she felt. Damn, what she wouldn’t give for the blades Botch had forged for her back at home. Fells shouldered her way past him, squeezing tight against the wall. She was a wily thing, right? She could do this. ”’xcuse me.”
Rolling with her shoulder, Cut-Up snaked his hand down to grab at her viciously as she passed. “Mmm, heh heh heh…aye, lovely bit’a tender there, aye sweetlin’.” He chuckled as he leaned back against the hull, leering after her retreat. “Get the rest of mine later!” He hadn’t shown steel, but he hadn’t seemed intent on stopping her either. As she climbed out of the hold, the air of the crew bunks was fresh compared to what she’d been forced to drink in with Cut-Up nearby.
Her face burned more with rage than embarrassment. She should go back there and cave the rest of his teeth into his mouldering skull with an Andorhal Kiss. She should go back and make sure he never goosed another soul. He didn’t have any damned right to touch her. Instead she made her way for the decks as quickly as she could, dropping the odd piece of pilfered clothing in her wake. Low profile. Low profile. Had to keep a damned low profile. Right.
There was a cave deep in the Swamp of Sorrows that Shad had visited years ago, back when he was Haemon and Era was a cat and everything seemed so much simpler. Itharius - he’d never introduced himself as ‘Lord’ - had offered him a stone in exchange for another average, everyday adventuring task; a stone not much unlike the Oathstones he offered just about every passing traveller to bind their minds to his own, if only temporarily. These weaker, simpler runes still took ample effort on the druid’s part to create, but they were worth it, and in the end he’d requested of the Green flight a set of five that he’d used to keep his friends close and, yes, his enemy closer.
Zeve turned the enemy’s former thoughtstone over in his fingers before palming it and pushing it into his pocket. A brief smile tugged at the corner of his lips; the stone warmed against his skin, and the comfortable presence of Shad’s mind became a faint descant to reality. Oi, fellas, he thought not entirely to himself. Did the minis settle alright?
They did, sounded Shad’s answer in calm reply. He had so much more practice with using the thing. Zeve still struggled to keep his own rogue thoughts in check, where Shad and Era seemed to have such control. As much as they ever settle. Delion should have an easy time with them. Are we going, then?
Zeve exhaled unevenly and wheeled his bird around midair. Are we rea - Aye, I suppose - I’m not sure - so.
Zeve. Look at it this way. What have we got to lose?
His hackles raised, and he spared a hand from the reins to scratch at the back of his neck irritably. Long claws raked through his fur. Nothing, I suppose. Just…aye, nothing. Pride and energy, figure. They said they’d bring her back.
Sand whipped through the arid Tanaris sky as he circled towards the Caverns’ gaping maw. Just not to us, right?
Didn’t say that for certain. Just…possibly. Possibly not — she’s not — NO. Zeve grimaced and focused on guiding his gryphon inside. Possibly.
Shad half-smirked when he caught sight of him. His amused answer came over stone and voice both as Zeve touched down. Then it cannot hurt to ask. “You are looking just a tinge savage,” he continued, the strange echoing quality gone without the stone’s assistance. “Is that intentional?”
Zeve made a point of self-consciously adjusting the trollish mask that ill suited his canine snout as he dismounted. “If’n I meant to look savage, would’ve just come naked an’ covered in blood, figure.”
“I suppose that is a point,” Shad conceded with a nod, “though that would be terribly unsanitary.”
"S'why I went with this, figure. M'all 'bout sanitation."
Both men shared a quiet snicker before Shad motioned towards the depths of the Caverns and lowered his voice. “Are you ready for this, then?”
“No. But.” Zeve shrugged, eyeing the drakes that circled in the air. “We’re a’ready here, eh?”
“We are. And we have nothing to lose.”
Provided we behave. Shad’s wary thought came silently, more concern than warning.
Zeve cast a knowing glance at him. Not starting a fight I can’t walk away from. Minis. The sentiment came with brief mental flashes of the three children sleeping at home under Delion’s watchful eye. Going home to them was more important than picking a fight with one of the Flight, no matter how he itched for it.
Shad cleared his throat and patted the warrior’s armored shoulder. “Wait here. I will see what we can do.” If anything, Zeve added in his own mind, crossing his arms and leaning stiffly against the wall of the Caverns as he watched Haemon stride off in search of orders. It irked him, having to ask the ones responsible for stealing the Miss away what could be done to get into their good graces on the off chance that they might, might get help bringing her home.
He didn’t know that he was growling when Shad returned. “As usual, there is work that we can do for them.” Tension pulled his voice tight. They didn’t have to bother thinking it; if there had been specific news about her, Shad would have come running. Nothing, then. Just ingratiating themselves.
Zeve snorted and unslung the massive battleaxe. “Right. Let’s set to it.”
Zeve spit to the side as his axe cleaved through the air, crushing carapace and sending ichor spraying. “Taste awful!”
“Stop biting them!”
“Can’ — pfeh!” He spat again and shook his head vigorously to clear the stink from his too-sensitive nose. “Can’ help it.”
“Are they sticking their limbs into your mouth?”
“May’s well be!”
Shad and Zeve swung and cast their way through waves giant insects, hulking brutes, and all other manner of bad thing set on mowing them down. Ah, the glamour and glory of working for the Bronze.
Wisps dispersed into the sky when it was all said and done, leaving Zeve and Shad behind. Zeve leaned on his axe, Shad leaned on him, and both of them panted as they watched the aftermath of their handiwork. “Interesting,” Shad wheezed, waving at what still towered overhead. “We…appear to have saved the World Tree.”
Zeve squinted up into the sky, shading his eyes. “Aye. S’…s’all there.” Not a leaf out of place, not a single scorch mark marred the magnificent tree.
“Which is odd,” the druid continued, “because I remember it blowing up.” The light of it had been blinding, even from the eastern coast of Kalimdor.
“Huh.” Zeve shook his head. “If’n it rightly went, why’d the Bronze have us save it?” It wasn’t like them to purposefully meddle in history. Hell, hadn’t they been forced to help Medivh ruin everything in the name of preserving the timeline?
“I do not know. I did not even…” Shad pushed himself off of his companion and straightened, turning in place to survey the area. “Did you see any Infinite Dragonflight?”
“Not a damn one.”
Shad gazed back up into the great Tree’s boughs. “I wonder…perhaps this is an alternate timeline? Since this is obviously not what happened in ours…” He trailed off for a moment. “And recall what was said in Stratholme, when we assisted another one of theirs. We had his thanks for saving his existence in that timeline.”
“So…whole ‘nother world, mean.”
“You know what I wonder…” Faint hope dawning on his face, the elf dug into his bags and fished out his thoughtstone. “Just checking…”
“Aye. Aye,” Zeve agreed fervently, watching Shad grip the stone like a life depended on it. And really, didn’t theirs? “If’n they put us in the same…”
“Precisely,” Shad whispered. He remained still and focused for long, tense moments while his mind cast about for any familiar traces, but after a moment he relaxed and shook his head. “I do not feel her. Of course, if she does not have her stone…”
The worgen’s shoulders slumped, but he nodded. “Aye, could be anythin’ like that.” Or it could be something terrible. No. No, couldn’t think like that... “But…mayhap s’worth tryin’, ‘ever we do somethin’ like this.”
“Precisely. We will keep checking when we try this again. It will likely just continue to be other timelines. I cannot imagine that the Bronze Flight would repeatedly need us to save the same one.”
Zeve slung his axe back into place on his back with a quiet grunt, frowning as an unsavory idea crept into his mind. “Us but not us,” he muttered under his breath. “They take her an’ put her in one of these alternate worlds…she runs into the us there.”
Shad’s face fell a bit. “At least,” he murmured quietly, “she might be happy that way?
“Aye, but…just said they couldn’ promise.” The Bronze couldn’t promise. “Couldn’ promise they’d bring her back.” Of all the creatures to not be able to promise, the masters of time? Bull!@#$e. “Nether on what they promise.”
“We can still go looking.” Zeve turned to see Shad with jaw and shoulders set, his gaze hard. “All we have to do is, well…” He took in the alternate world they stood in with a gesture. “Replicate this. …simple, right?” he added with a touch of sarcasm.
“Aye.” Zeve smirked, and Shad broke into a grin of his own in answer. “Do like simple.”
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