The island was a flat topped mass of ice and snow that lingered in a cloudless patch of clear sky. How it got there? No one knew for sure. There were myths about Arthurian age magic and sea deities who thought the island was too impure for the water so they banished it from the sea. Some people said that it was raised from the ground by a mad scientist. Others claimed that it rose after Jesus was crucified. Obviously, all bullshit. Ara wrapped her cursed scarf tightly around her neck and hopped lightly up and down for warmth. David came up beside her, sniffling in the fresh icy air.
"Meiling doesn't know that you were her first mate." I know. Ara thought but didn't say aloud. "You can't let her know you're upset."
"I'm not fucking upset." She hadn't spoken to anyone in days since the letter had arrived. Something had felt so official about it; so final. David had left it alone, especially after Lang had made comments and received a black eye in return. But now that they had arrived at the island, he had to intervene on her attitude or it would cost them their lives, if they had a chance in the first place.
"Then stop acting like you are." He said. "Come on, show me you're not upset." Ara flashed him a fake smile and then melted it back into a frown. "Hold that a bit longer and maybe Meiling will die of fright before she can blast our heads off."
"Fuck you, Captain Brattle."
He chuckled as they stared out. She tried not to laugh but the smile still crept through. He gave her a solid pat on the shoulder and turned around, shouting orders as they got closer to the island. Finding a space to dock was simple among the few ships. In the distance, a crowd of pirates gathered around their captains who gathered around the three out of seven pirate lords. Meiling stood out from the rest in her red and gold ensemble. Since her first introduction to the feisty sky captain, Ara had decided that she no longer appreciated red and gold as a color combination. But there was someone else standing there too, someone who made her eyes adjust their focus. She peered as the Nyctimene docked steadily, trying to catch the darkly bearded face of the man in the mint green coat. When she noticed who it was, she tensed a little.
The crew of the Nyctimene poured onto the land and crunched through the snow with David and Ara at the front. "Just let me do the talking. This is a quarrel between captains, not crews." He told her. But when they approached, the crowd split for Meiling like water as she stormed at him. With a wild yell her sharp nails sliced through his skin demanding him to crouch in pain with his palm shaking against his cheek.He lifted himself up and pulled his shivering hand away to reveal the four red rimmed scratches that ran down his face. The rest of the Nyctimene backed up slowly.
"I'll skin you alive right here and use your blood to paint my study!" The red coated pirate lord shouted intensely.
"My lady Captain, wait!" he cried out!
"Meiling, hold on." A dark-eyed, clean cut American in a black coat with gold embroidery stepped forward, holding up a grey leather gloved hand. "Let's not get all wild out here." He said with his hands up.
"None of your business Lije!" Meiling exclaimed.
"Beg your pardon, china doll, but you dragged all of us here for his 'trial' and now it's none of our business? We don't know for sure what happened. Let's use him for target practice later and get our answers." He asserted. Ara looked to David with a questioning look but he shook his head slowly.
"Don't say anything." He whispered.
"Someone tie this man up." the American ordered but Ara stepped in the way.
"Hold on, yankee, What makes you think you need to interrogate us to get an explanation? We don't even know what you're upset about yet." She piped up. The American locked eyes with her, shooting a knowing stare.
"What's to stop you from running?" He asked.
"What, besides the fact that we'd have more than fifteen crews who fly in the same skies to avoid?" She asked rhetorically.
"And we have nothing to fear 'cause we're not guilty." David added. Captain Elijah looked back to the china woman.
"You know, Mei, they have a-"
"I'm not waiting, Elijah. I want this bastard dead." Meiling grabbed David and held him by the hair, a metallic slither scratching the air as she unsheathed a knife and held it to his throat.
"Will you wait just a second?" Elijah raised his voice. She glowered with David's throat still at her blade. His adam's apple pulsed with every shaking gulp as his thick, panicky breath steamed into the air. Elijah turned back to Arabella. "Charlotte Bennet was seen on her own ship recently. The Silver Widow attacked the Bloody Lotus. Now, either a ghost was captaining that ship or you have some explaining to do."
"Or maybe it has a new Captain." Ara argued."Charlotte Bennet's not that stupid."
"Ara," David snapped.
"No, really, If the stories I've heard are true, then why would she attack you right after faking her own death? And she didn't fake her own death. I was the one that shot her." She continued.
"Well you fucking missed." Meiling seethed.
"Even if I did miss, explain to me how a human girl survived a 20,000 foot fall. Charlotte Bennet is dead!" Ara hid the sting of those words behind a dog like stare.
"Then who was the short blonde haired bitch I saw in her study window?!" Meiling screamed.
"I DON'T KNOW! WHO'S THE BLACK HAIRED BITCH JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS?" Arabella roared back. The wind stopped and the air grew quiet in the tempestuous release as the two women stood their own.
"We should continue this underground." The american suggested. Meiling continued her unadulterated death stare at the Nyctimene's first mate but dropped her arm and sheathed her blade, letting David stumble away from her. Arabella looked bluntly to at Captain Elijah.
"Underground?" She asked but he only smirked and turned away to begin walking.
"Watch your back, little girl." Meiling slithered as she passed her.
"I'll be busy standing behind yours with a knife." Ara hissed back. Marcus patted her on the shoulder as he walked past.
"I don't think I've ever seen you do something like that before." David said, walking up next to her, rubbing his neck as they stood there and watched the crowd begin to move. She didn't look at him, but kept a numb stare at Meiling's strolling figure.
"Well I think we switched personalities then because I've never seen you look like such a coward." It was a new peak of her irritation but she could see David's subtly shocked expression form out of the corner of her eye before it disappeared as he strolled forward without response. Something flipped her stomach as she watched him walk away silently but she was done with this mess already. Everyone followed, walking through the snow, captains behind them and crews behind their captains. Ara lagged behind a bit and stopped walking when she noticed the black bearded man from before, standing there patiently. There was no doubt that it was Captain Alfonso of the A.S Monstro. He hadn't said anything at all during the scrape and Ara hoped that she could avoid him. He gave a short laugh when she stood there, hesitant to approach.
"I've got no quarrel with you." He said to her. She breathed and cocked an eyebrow before cautiously, crunching toward him. When she caught up, they started walking again. "You're not easy to forget, Arabella Porter." He said quietly.
"I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult, my lord captain." She stated.
"It's neither. It's a fact. I remember you, that is no remark on your character or person. That was good move, disguising your personal connection with 'stories'. I know you had nothing to do with this though." He assured her.
"You know that for sure?"
"She told me when we spoke briefly on the Bloody Lotus. Meiling thinks that Bennet's first mate is named Annabelle Potts."
"You didn't correct her?" Ara asked. He shrugged with cartoon-like apathy. "You know when Captain Bennet had the chance to kill you, she didn't. She told Captain Cortez that she liked you too much."
"That's none of my concern now." Ara stopped walking and so did he, letting the crowd move farther away from them. "I'm going to say this once and not again." Alfonso declared quietly with graying black hair pushing back in the breeze. "You are going to leave this island alive." Arabella gazed around at the flat tundra wanting to laugh but not finding the humor in it. What the hell did that mean? She shook her head at him with a confused look on her face.
"She's dead. I watched her fall." She whispered to the sky captain. "I shot her myself."
"In the heart or other organ areas?"
"In the head?"
"No but if the bullet didn't do it then-"
"Then anything is possible. That's what I say. Either the lack of pulse is witnessed, or it is not official; especially with a child prodigy like Charlotte." He simpered and walked on ahead of her. Child prodigy...
"Is there something going on that I don't know about?" Ara called ahead to him but he whirled back around with a finger to his lips. She squinted as he turned again and watched as he walked slowly as if their conversation hadn't happened.
The group reached three heavy metal hatches that Elijah opened after brushing off a layer of snow. The man gestured his hand to the last for Meiling who smiled coyly and then elegantly slid herself on the edge of the hatch before pushing herself forward and then disappearing quickly down it. Everyone did the same for the other two hatches, one by one, jumping down.
"Are they chutes?" Ara asked someone.
"They're slides." a man answered in a husky Italian accent. The captains slid and so did David Brattle and the rest of the Nyctimene. Arabella looked down the hatch....ugh, dark..... but there was no room for weaknesses here.
"any other way down?" The group behind her laughed.
"Oh, get on with it, you dumb tart." A hand slapped her back hard and she slipped, falling backward and hitting her back hard on the edge of the hatch as she fell through with an adrenaline pumped gasp.
She quickly held her breath and closed her eyes. Her backside hit the interior of the slide in a cold, hard instant. She could feel cracks and bolts rush under her, contrasting against the slick feel of flat metal. It was only a few more seconds though before the inside of her eyelids let an orange light through and she opened them to see a warmly lit tavern room.
"I need a goddamn drink. Someone get the girls out here!" Elijah shouted as the crowd dispersed among brass tables and leather booths. A metal bar at the back of the room filled up in a matter of seconds and it wasn't a second more before scantily clad women glided out with trays of food and drink. Some of them had mechanical eyes, others mechanical legs, a few with wheels for feet, and one woman had hair of copper wires, braided down her back. Elijah waved Arabella down. "You, blondie, sit next to me." Blondie? She opened her mouth to make a snide remark but David shot her a glare.
"Yes, my lord Captain." She responded instead, returning her captain's look.Calling him a "yankee" in front of everyone had caused enough damage to David's reputation if his cowardly response to Meiling hadn't done it. a man stood up and walked away to make a seat available next to the dark eyed pirate lord. She sat down with a sigh.
"Most of the first mates I've met don't open their mouths unless the captain tells them to." He said as one of the mechanical women slid two ales in front of them.
"I find that a bit strange." She said between gulps.
"To be a first mate is to be on a certain level of trust with the captain. And even if it's not, Isn't the point of piracy that we do what we want without fear of rules and hierarchy?"
"I guess but many captains like to be feared, am I right? It's human nature to watch your back before your ideology." He pointed out.
"Sure but if I wanted to spend my days being told when to speak and what to say, I wouldn't need Captain Brattle to do it. I could Either join the navy or suffocate myself in a corset. Although, it's a bit too late for that option unless I'm looking for handcuffs and noose to go with it. " She countered.
"Well I don't see what you're doing with David Brattle if you're not about following the rules. " He said further.
"The captain chooses his battles. Trust me, he's not as innocent as he might have seemed back there."
"I never said he was innocent."
"Well you're not exactly calling him a rebel either." She argued.
"So you think all rebels are guilty?"He asked. Ara opened her mouth but nothing came out.
"You're from the slums, right?" He asked.
"Ever seen someone do something against the rules for survival?"
"Wait, how did you know I was- Well yeah, plenty of times!"She called over the noise. As people began to get comfortable with each other, the volume grew and grew. Elijah scooted closer so they could hear each other.
"So would you classify them as criminals?" He asked.
"Of course not."
"Well, the police say that they are. And according to the rules, they can lock them up and make them feel like had no right to survival."
"Trust me, I know." She said between clenched teeth.
"Don't mean any offense, just having a philosophical conversation." He shrugged.
"Don't worry about it, I'm in a bad mood." She replied.
"Well don't be. You're going to make it out of here alive." He said further into her ear. She blinked twice, moving her head back to clearly see his face; perfectly serious. She then scanned the room until she caught Captain Alfonso who quickly but coolly looked away from her when she caught his gaze.That was it. She looked around again to make sure everyone was occupied and then grabbed his hand. "Where are we going?" He called. She ignored him until she found a door. "That's a closet!" He yelled over the noise but she pulled him in and slammed him up to the wall once the door was shut and locked. "Getting a bit feisty?" He grunted.
"Don't be dumb. What's going on?" She held his shirt to the wall but he only laughed and shoved her off, reaching to grab her hands. She tried to push the away but her got a hold of her wrists and and pinned them on the wall across from him. She squirmed against him, but he used his body weight to hold her, knocking over a mop in the process.
"About what?" He asked with his face in close.
"Alfonso said I would make it off here alive and now you're saying the same thing. It's no coincidence.Why do these people who don't know me think I'll get out of this clean? Is there something going on that I don't know about? I want answers." She snorted as she wrestled with him.
"It's a long story."
"I'm an attentive listener." She gave up the struggle and breathed heavily as he examined her expectant stare.
"Have you ever read the Art of War by Sun Tzu?" He asked.
"No." She replied.
"Sun Tzu suggests that a proper general irritates an ill-tempered enemy so that the enemy will rule with their temper and not their head. If we were going to kill off Meiling, this was the best way to do it. Take her pests, give her the temporary satisfaction of their extermination, and drag it out from under her, keep bringing them back to life. It's like dangling fresh meat in front of a rabid dog. "
"Kill off Meiling?" Was that what this was about the entire time?
"Charlotte used and killed Cortez to get his two faces out of our way. Then she had to pretend to get caught trying to kill me off. Meiling's always felt threatened by her and was waiting for an excuse to get her killed." He explained.
"she's never needed an excuse to kill someone before." Ara noted.
"Sure, but think back to when you were Bennet's first mate. You remember the influence she had." He pointed out.
"But Meiling's still alive and Bennet's dead....will you unpin me?"
"No, I'm enjoying myself. Now pay attention. David was supposed to get you to shoot because we knew you wouldn't actually be emotionally capable to shoot her in her vital areas. We convinced him it would be satisfying and ironic if he had you do the job. Charlotte said you were too...." He ran a free hand down her neck. "soft to kill her after all that time."
"That's a bit of a risk." She commented. "Besides, even if I missed,..what are you doing?" Ara shot him a look of disbelief but he shrugged. "What about the bloody fall? I feel like no one understands that she fell off a bloody plank in the sky."
"I'm not done." He said irritably."As said before, with Meiling thinking that Charlotte was dead, Charlotte was supposed to launch an ambush and taunt her but something went wrong." He shook his head "She didn't win." he slid his hand up her raised arm and back down.
"you've got soft skin for a gal in this profession."
"Cut it out, Yankee. What happened?"
"Chinese air patrol showed up and went after the Bloody Lotus. The Widow flew out of that shit storm as fast as they could." He said, taking his hand off her arm and pressing it against the wall while the other continued to hold her wrists.
"So now Meiling knows that she's alive and thinks David let her go. And David did let her go....but David is a part of the plan... But you're still not telling me how she survived the fall."
"Don't you have a creative quartermaster? Did you notice anything strange about her?" He asked.
"What was she wearing when she was dropped off?" Elijah pressed. Ara thought back. She wasn't thinking about what she was wearing. It was all so blurry with everyone surrounding her and.....holy shit.
"Charlotte doesn't wear dresses." She stared back at him. "Are you telling me that Charlotte Bennet fell off that plank, and parachuted,"
"Onto the S.S Silver Widow," He added.
"With a ripped white dress...." Ara ended it. "You're actually fucking with me."
"I swear on my father's grave I'm not."
"you must hate your father because that's more bullshit than the myths surrounding this bloody island." She laughed. "And what if David had her jump naked?"
"She didn't land on deck. We had a net stretched out."
"And why are you killing off Meiling in the first place? So what if you don't like her! I don't like half the people I work with. They tried to kill me and we still manage to get along."
"Because she's beginning to get cocky with her power. She's also been trying to control our fleets. We're thinking she's planning to take over the entire throne for herself and we're going to nip it in the bud. You're not necessarily involved in that though as far as I know. All Bennet said about you was that she had plans for you. But we have to keep you alive." He informed her.
"I can keep myself alive, lord Captain." She returned with a snarky sting to her voice.
"I can see that." He whispered in her ear.
"Get your snout off me and focus," She demanded.
"On what?" He chuckled into her neck. "I told you everything I know. You pulled me into a closet. "
"I want Meiling's blood all over my hands." She said bluntly.
"Or your body." He grinned. She shook her head in irritation, feeling his hot air on her neck.
"Has it been awhile since you've had sex or are you just excited by your own intricate plans?" She wrestled against his hands.
"I'll admit, it's been awhile. You know how it is being up in the air for so long without getting any." He cleared his throat when he noticed how unamused she was. "So you want to kill Meiling yourself?" He let her wrists drop and stepped back.
"Yes, and now that I know that's what this was about, I don't see why not." She crossed her arms, leaning comfortably against the wall.
"Well we can't let you." Elijah informed her. "The code goes that whoever kills the pirate lord, gets the lordship. If you kill Meiling, you get the lordship and the deal was supposed to be that Bennet gets the lordship. We didn't just pick her because she'd be happy to kill the bitch off. Bennet's going to be the next new pirate lord."
"She missed her shot. Besides, I don't want the lordship. I want this mess to be over. If I do it, I'll give it to Captain Bennet; whatever the hell you want!" Ara argued.
"It's not that simple, blondie. If you do it and give it to Charlotte, there's going to be a whole lot of arguments and blood that could have been avoided." Elijah slipped off his coat. "People will question Charlotte's rightful claim to it. Her title will lack the required respect. Last time that happened was before the airship was invented. And you know what happened to the captain who took the lordship as a gift? They fed him to sharks....alive. Is it hot in here?"
"There are worse things." she said, ignoring his lack of attention to the subject at hand.
"So you want Charlotte to be fed to sharks while still having the ability to think, breathe, and feel pain?" He asked. "You couldn't even kill her yourself." She paused, understanding his point.
"Ok, I get it but what's all this crap about the treasure?" She continued.
"Treasure?" He raised an eyebrow questioningly. "What treasure?"
"Well, when all this started out, Charlotte said she was after your treasure. David still thinks it's here I think."
"What sort of Robert Louis Stevenson bullshit did she feed you?" He laughed. Utter embarrassment. Of course it wasn't real. Ara closed her eyes in vexation. "You ok, blondie?"
"So it was all a bunch of crap." She muttered.
"Well yeah. I mean, I don't know how you fell for that campfire stuff in the first place but-"
"I'm so done with this bullshit."
"What?" He leaned in to hear her.
"I've been emotionally tossed around, beaten up, choked,"
"SHUT UP, LIJAH." she yelled but he only chuckled. "Why do you keep laughing??" She snapped.
"Cause this whole thing is rigged to your benefit and you're angry that there's no treasure?" He laughed harder and she watched for a moment, processing what he had said, before....
"Oof!" He leaned over his stomach as she pulled her fist away from it.
"You ridiculous, sex deprived, nonchalant yank." She kicked him against the other wall but as she attacked him, all he did was laugh. "Yeah! keep laughing! My emotional fatigue is very amusing, I'm sure!" she elbowed him in the back. "smiling is going to hurt by the time I'm done with you!" She went to grab his wrist but he already had her's and held her in the position they were in before.
"Relax, Porter." He whispered, sliding his free hand around her waist.
"I need to kill something, not fuck something." She yelled.
"What, and blow our cover?"
"There's plenty of time for that later. In the mean time, when was the last time you had sex?" He asked. She gawked with disbelief.
"I pulled you into a closet, not a boudoir." she growled.
"It's the best way to let off steam." He appealed.
"What makes you think I want to spend another second with you?"
"You don't seem so repulsed by me pinning you against the wall." He explained. She took a moment and looked over her situation. "Sort of turned me on when you were struggling against me before."
"That's not creepy at all." She added sarcastically.
"Well if you can hiss at Meiling the way you did outside, you can certainly tell me to screw off." He defended.
"I've already tried that." She argued.
"Oh come on, blondie, you expect me to believe that you can't get yourself out of this position on your own if you really wanted to?" He asked into her neck.
"That doesn't matter. I'm saying no." She said louder.
"Alright." He backed up and turned away, grabbing the door handle.
"Well you're not going to get me naked in this closet." He turned back and they stared at each other for a moment.
"So let's get out of here." He smiled.
Meanwhile (back at the refet) David Brattle knocked back a strong drink and a pathetic grimace. He turned away from the bar and gazed around the room. His crew was getting drunk, scattered between Italians, Americans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Brazilian, and whatever Scandinavian bullshit the crowd in the corner was speaking. He wasn't very well liked by these people, being the new guy in their little kingdom. His crew liked him, but after throwing a mutiny over being captained by two blonde kids, and then getting his arse dug out of the dirt by one of them, he wondered how long his leadership would last. Not long, he assumed. They would see his doubts before his democracy and his cowardice before his strategy. In fact, he might as well just blow his own brains out. He split his attention to a furry grey mass that climbed up on the bar counter.
"Couldn't have got a fucking parrot." David scowled as Jabber stared at him. "Stop that." The koala kept staring. David turned back into the bar. "You know that feeling when you knock down the dominos before finishing the build?" He asked the marsupial. "I've got that right now." Jabber continued to stare blankly.
"Brattle!" A scottish captain called over from across the room. "Our Lady Captain would like to see you in her office for a good screw in the arse!" The whole room erupted into obnoxious laughter. "Then!" The captain caught his breath, "then we'd each like a go at ya' ourselves!" David turned back into the bar and looked back at Jabber who was now asleep.
"I wish I could do that." He said.
At five in the morning, crews and captains slid drunkenly back to their own ships for shut-eye. The crew of the Nyctimene jumped into their hammock coves and snickered over the fact that a few hadn't come back. David's eyes slid drunkly around, half open,....pathetic. He heard quiet laughter and mischievous whispers. They were laughing about him "Stop talking about me!" He cried out. The hall broke into more laughter.
"Go to sleep, captain. We ain't said a word about you." Someone called over.
"Sleep it off!" said the rest.
"I ain't drunk." David mumbled.
"If you ain't drunk, then you must've been knocked in the head few times, yeah. "
The crew of the Nyctimene gathered around his hammock.
"He was never fit to lead us, poor bloke." Marcus sighed.
"We should have stayed with Charlotte Bennet." Said Emmet. Chanter shook his head as the ship swayed.
"Don't say that shit." David growled.
"You was going to be a sailor, like me, son. Look what you've fucking done." His father peered down at him. "Getting the shit beat out of ya's by a woman. You could never be your triplets."
"No wonder you sold him when you had the chance." Victoria snickered.
David shot up and peered around the room. No one...but...wait...
"Nightmare?" a voice said quietly.
"I told you not to do it, but you did it anyway."
"This could've been avoided."
"Why are you here?"
"Captain Bennet sends her regards." The dark haired man stepped out of the shadows and pulled off his green cap, raising his gun. The last thing David Brattle heard, was a blast. The last thing he felt was a bullet. The S.S Silver Widow drifted slowly away.