Friday, 8 January 2016

The Quest for Verdisc (part 11)

Marcus tried to distract himself with work. At first it had been helpful; Davelron had been pleased to have someone wiping the boot prints and blood from the deck behind the prow. Then, Pontsher had appreciated the help making food. Then the Mechanical Wizard had appreciated Marcus loading him with new paper and ink, tightening the bolts on his back and polishing him to within an inch of his life. And then, Marcus had gone to clean the deck once more, and that was when Davelron realised that he wasn’t just being surprisingly helpful for once. 
“Don’t worry, lad.” First Mate (Acting Kapteni) Octavius Davelron had said. “We’re going to find her.”
“But what if we don’t get there in time.” Marcus whined.
“We will.” 
“But what if we don’t?”
“We will, Marcus. There's no doubting it.”
Pontsher, a broadsword that was taller than him strapped across his back, came waddling across the deck. His curled grey mongrel of a beard blew in the breeze. The parts of his face that were visible were a jolly red. “Don’t worry, lad! You know what girls are like. She’s probably taken command of the Unexpected Morale, probably bossing them all around!”
“Alternatively, some of us live in a world without sexism.” Davelron muttered.
Marcus didn’t reply to either of them. As bossy as Emilia was sometimes, he doubted she could order around a group of rogues and monsters, and especially not someone as heartless as the Captain. It was said that he didn’t have a- no. Marcus looked in a completely different direction, and tried to banish the subject from his mind. The myth of the Morale's Captain made him feel sick enough even when his sister’s life didn’t hang in that demon’s hands. He rubbed his face and sighed. 
“Get under deck.” Davelron shouted. “And get yourself some sleep. I’ll wake you if we get there.”
“Aye, Kapteni.” Marcus said and strolled over to the shed that perched in the centre of the deck and guarded the lower deck. He felt as if all the energy had suddenly been drained from his body. It all seemed so helpless. Emilia was as good as dead and he was stranded in the middle of the sea with two men and an automaton. As predicaments go, he doubted it could get much worse.
He went down onto the lower deck and looked through the porthole at the back. Half of it showed the swashing of the salty water, but the top half showed the open water for miles and miles. He could just make out the burning ruins of Nexelspire, with it’s plumes of endless smoke. They’d hung around to make sure that Emilia wasn’t trapped in any of the sinking buildings or flailing in the water itself, but when they couldn’t find her they resorted to what they should have done in the first place. The Mechanical Wizard had tickered and clicked and then dinged, a string of paper rolling out of his chest. Davelron had read it quickly in his head and then again out loud. “The Wizard needs two candles and a knife, as well as an item of Emilia’s clothing.”
“I’ll get a knife from the kitchen.” Pontsher had said. “Have you got any candles on this tub?”
“This tub is the Black Addison!” Davelron had looked outraged. “It’s the best ship on the Quadrant Seas!”
“I know that, but does it have any candles?”
“Check under the sink.” Davelron had sighed. “I’ll still the ship. Marcus get some clothing for your sister.”
The Mechanical Wizard had carved a strange symbol into the door and then melted the candles into the grooves. Then, he had raised his hand and a green spark leapt from the metal palm. Green fire ignited across the door- it was still burning now; Marcus had had to be careful when opening it- and into that fire, the Wizard had placed Emilia’s jumper. The fire had roared and twisted, turning into the shape of an arrow. A piece of paper rolling out of the Wizard's chest announced that the arrow would lead them to Emilia. Seven hours on, Marcus wasn’t quite convinced the magic would work.
Marcus drowsed his way past the sofa and the table, pushing open the door to the bedroom. He climbed up the ladder to his bunk and let sleep take him over almost immediately. His last thought was to Emilia, and how he wondered where she was.

An hour after Marcus fell asleep, Emilia awoke. The cell was dingy and damp, the only source of light being the barred hole in the corner. The swaying of the Unexpected Morale beneath her was making her feel slightly ill. She’d been lain on the bench beneath it, but lain by who? She raised a hand to her forehead and felt the burning lump growing on it. She instantly remembered the jeering faces, the guns and the swords. She could smell the rancid breath and the foul curses, and then she felt the smash of the musket into her forehead and the deep drowsiness that had afterwards consumed her. She shook herself and cursed the pirates above.
She swung off the bench and planted her feet firmly on the floor, but the process only sunk her ankles in water. She cursed under her breath in a vulgar tongue, and then she immediately said, “Forgive me, Thinker.”
“We call that cage ‘The Pond.’” Said a rude voice, with a malevolent chuckle at the end of it. “Fish around too far, you’ll find some bodies.”
“Who’s there?” Emilia shouted into the gloom.
The hanging lantern moved slightly closer and revealed that it was suspended form the end of a stick, being carried by a man who was so obviously a pirate, it almost hurt. He was a walking collage of stereotypes, scabs and scars. His eye was missing and one of his hands was a hook. His face was blemished, not only with the scabs of spots once picked but also with scrapes from enemy cutlasses and foreign bullets. He hobbled towards her on a wooden leg. “I’m First Mate Jones. They call me Scabby.”
“I can’t see why.” Emilia said, trying to come across as confident as possible but cringing as her voice broke.
“How old are you, girl?”
“Why?” Emilia said.
“Because I asked and I’ll rip yer brain out if you don’t answer.”
“I’m thirteen.” Emilia said. 
“Damn.” Scabby Jones said. “That’s a bloody inconvenience.”
The First Mate loomed over her, and Emilia decided that, of the two first mates she’d met, Scabby Jones was her least favourite. “You ever heard there’s honour amongst thieves?”
“I’ve heard a lot of lies.”
“Yeah, well, there’s plenty of honour amongst pirates, too. A code of conduct, if you will. On the most part, it’s frowned upon for an honourable gentleman of the seas to harm a person of the fairer sex.”
“Then why do you all care? None of you are honourable.”
“Sharp tongue, girl, but not as sharp as my knife.”
“That would be threatening it wasn’t for the fact that you just told me none of you want to harm me.”
“I said honourable gentlemen of the seas. I ain’t no honourable gentleman.”
“I could have told you that.” 
Scabby roared. “Argh!”
“Get on with your story, would you?”
Scabby sighed. “Most pirates aren’t willing to harm the fairer sex at any ages, especially not below the age of eighteen. Political correctness gone mad, that’s what I call it. Still, I suppose it’s only right. It’s generally accepted though, that when a girl reaches eighteen, she’s fair game. So, only five years for me to wait before I can show you just how sharp my knife is.” He smiled.
Emilia said nothing.
Scabby set down the lantern on a table to the side of the Pond. There was an iron brand sat next to it, which he picked up and weighed in his hands. Then he stuck the end of the brand in the fire of the lantern and watched until it turned sufficiently orange, beginning to glow.
“Put your hands through the bar, girl.” Scabby said.
“No!” Emilia said, withdrawing as far as she could. “Why would I do that?”
“Do as I say!”
Emilia pushed herself a little further backwards. 
Scabby’s face, lit by the glowing brand, looked demonic in it’s irritation. “Don’t make me come in there, girl.”
Emilia said nothing and neither did she move.
“You come here now, I brand you on the hand. You stay where you are, I brand your face.” His eyes seemed to drill into her. “And we’d hate to ruin that pretty little face of your’s.”
Emilia stayed where she was, pushed up against the rear wall of the cell, for a few moments more, but she soon realised that it was a bad idea. The situation could only get any better if she did exactly as she was instructed. Praying to the Blessed Thinker, asking him dearly for help, for assistance, for anything, she stepped forwards and slid her hand through the bars. 
“Much obliged, young lady.” Said Scabby Jones. He held her wrist firmly with his left hand. With his right, he lifted the brand from the lantern and moved it closer to her. She could feel the heat of the metal before it was even on her. She screwed her eyes shut, took a very deep breath. She clenched every part of her that could be clenched, and tried to think happy thoughts. For a moment, she believed it had worked. She believed she had seriously distracted herself from the pain of the brand. 
And then the heat intensified and she screamed with more power, pain and horror than she had ever experienced. The wail of the scream was so strong, she believed it would tear her throat open and escape through a gorge it’d rip in her neck. Instead, it howled through her mouth where it met the tears rolling from her eyes. Her entire body began to shake in pain, but Scabby kept her hand where it was, pressing the brand into it. She continued to scream.
It felt like the brand was made of a thousand tiny pins which had been stabbed into her hand until they were lost deep in the flesh, only then to be pulled through the other side whilst acid followed the bloody tunnels produced. She was sure that the force with which he’d smashed the brand into her hand had broken at least one of her metacarpal bones. Her skin, meanwhile, felt as if it was boiling. She could feel it bubbling and swelling, the blisters already rising from the growing scars like birds from a canyon in the deserts of New Tunisia. Her blood simmered, her hand burnt both literally and metaphorically, and she screamed until she blacked out.

Marcus awoke from a nightmare. He rubbed the back of his hand, where it itched like mad. He couldn’t remember what the nightmare was about, but he’d spent a lot of it screaming. His throat felt dry, and so he went in search of a drink. In the main hull of the lower deck, all seemed calm. He took a glass from the shelf above the kitchenette. The tap had several gauges that had to be opened before it could work, but it was one of many procedures he’d learnt by heart since moving onto the Addison. He twisted knob after knob, then finally put the glass beneath the tap and turned the handle. The pump on the exterior of the hull sucked in some water from the sea, cleaned it using one of his uncle’s special filter pads, and then poured into the cup.
Marcus turned the tap off, closed the gauges and then lifted the glass. Immediately upon seeing the liquid within, he dropped it and back away. He nearly fell over a coffee table in the process, before turning around and running purposely towards the steps that led to the deck. The glass, laying on it’s side in the sink, was slowly saying goodbye to the red liquid held in it mere seconds ago.
He burst out of the shed and raced across the deck towards the large ship’s wheel, which Pontsher was carefully tending. Marcus opened his mouth, ready to tell Pontsher about the red liquid which had come out of the tap, but then he looked over the sides of the Addison and realised he didn’t need to. The source of the red liquid, which was almost certainly blood, was quite apparent. They were currently sailing through a floating graveyard.
The wrecks of dozens, hundreds even, of Trident Holder vessels bobbed in every direction. Smoke wafted from the ashy remains of their hulls. The smoke seemed to have melded together to create a fog which cocooned the Addison. As the prow cut through the water and the smoke, it sliced into congregations of debris, pushed them gently to either side. On a couple of these clusters, Marcus saw blue coated corpses. He found himself having to look away. It made him feel sick. 
“Where’s Davelron?” He asked Pontsher.
“Gone for a swim.” Replied the portly fellow.
Marcus’ eyes opened his horror. “What? No! He’s dead?”
Pontsher looked suddenly quite guilty. “Oh, I am sorry lad! I didn’t mean to scare you! I was just joking. He’s at the front.”
“The prow.” Marcus muttered as he trailed across the deck.
Davelron was stood there, an imposing figure against the grey of the smoky fog in front. He had his trident in his hand, and when he turned, Marcus saw there was an anger in his eyes. “Kapteni!” Marcus cried. “What happened?”
Davelron’s knuckles were white from the way he was gripping the trident. “Qamatha has ruled that these beings have reached the end, and he sent the Reaper to finish them off. It just so happens that the Reaper came in the form of the Unexpected Morale.”
“Are these the Trident Holders from Nexelspire?”
“Yes.” Davelron said. “They must have reached the Morale quicker than we did, and they paid the price for their speed.”
“How many ships were there?”
“Fifty.” Davelron said. “Fifty two if you count the amphibious vehicles.”
“That’s 260 Trident Holders.” Marcus calculated, taking into mind the average crew of 5. 
“Swatted from the face of the Earth like flies from a wall. Once we find Emilia, we’ll have to go and report this to the Trident Holder court. Your journey will have to lengthen further still.”
“I don’t mind.” Marcus said. “At least I know you. I don’t know my Uncle Demetrius, not since I was little at least.”
“We’re here!” Cried Pontsher. 
Davelron smiled at Marcus. “Told you we’d find her. We’ll tether the Addison to the Morale’s rear and then climb up to one of the cannon hatches. Go in through their, incapacitate anyone we find, and rescue Emilia. As we’re leaving, I’ll throw a grenade-“
He didn’t finish his sentence. He’d seen their destination. He suddenly realised there wouldn’t be any climbing the rear of the Morale, nor would there be any throwing a bomb in. Their destination wasn’t the Unexpected Morale. Their destination was an island called the Marauder’s Atoll, and it just so happened to be the most famous pirate's retreat in modern myth. Marcus gulped.

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