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Night of the Pirate

Short story By: PThomson
Fantasy



...just read it


Submitted:Aug 2, 2012    Reads: 67    Comments: 2    Likes: 2   


Night of the Pirate

A Story by: Peter Thomson

It was exhilarating to be back on the Lady Veronica again. Caspian grasped the carved wooden handrail tightly, scars on the back of his hands standing out white against his nut-brown skin. He breathed in deeply, the metallic air of the shipyard leaving that all too familiar burning sensation in the back of his throat. It had once made him gag, but he had come to love this acidic smell during his years on the skies. It was perfect. Everything was as beautiful as he remembered. The hulls of the ships creaked and swayed in their tethers and the great green skycores which kept them aloft hummed ever so slightly with a strange energy. A motorized cargo board whirred past, chugging steam. Airships really hadn't changed much since Caspian had started flying thirteen years ago as a cabin boy on his uncle Gaelann's ship.

Caspian was from the Kheldran Isles, a rather large archipelago out in the middle of the Serpent Sea. The Kheldrans were a tough people, hardened from years of scouring a life from the rocky slopes of the islands they inhabited. The Kheldrans were renowned for their craftsmanship of airships, and were the only nation that knew how to construct the skycores that powered them, a secret they guarded with the utmost care. As was tradition with most Kheldran boys of the merchant class, Caspian began to fly on airships as soon as he was old enough to walk their broad wooden decks without falling over. He watched a gull wheel about overhead, its snowy wings spread wide to keep it aloft.

"Captain!" Caspian snapped out of his reverie by the gruff voice and turned to face his first mate, Cale. Cale had a very different build than Caspian. Where Caspian was lean, Cale was heavy with muscles and corded tendons that stood out against his skin like so much steel wire. In juxtaposition to Cale's broad flat face, Caspian had rather angular features and a high, aquiline nose with thin, elegant brows. "We have a situation on the bridge." Caspian looked at his friend, turning to lean his back on the railing. A faint zephyr played a stanf of his long, dark hair about his face. Annoyed at the interruption, Caspian kicked out his heals against the wood of the deck. He swept the offending lock out of his face and looked at his friend. Cale was always interrupting his thoughts. It was pointed out a few years back that Cale was like the lodestone that kept Caspian grounded in the present.

"Have Jonah deal with it," He said, waving his hand. Jonah was the Lady Veronica's quartermaster who was gifted with a silver tongue and had a long standing loyalty to Caspian, who had gotten him out of a sticky situation with the Kheldrain authorities a few years ago.

"I think you had better deal with this yourself, my friend." Jonah said rising from the hatch that led to the bridge. He looked uneasy. Caspian cursed and stalked off, only to swear again as he flung open the catch leading to the bridge. The bridge was a large, dim room that served as the ships main living and dining area. While the ship was in dock, the motley collection of benches, chairs, and tables were stacked haphazardly in the back of the room. Two men dressed in bright, flamboyant clothing with gold and silver cloak fasteners at each ones throat stood in the center of the room. They were a mismatched pair who stood by one of the many tables. One was very small, with large watery blue eyes. The other possessed a hefty build and a jutting jaw line. They where Masterazzi, Caspian realized after a minute of gazing down on them from the hatch. The Masterazzi where the King's secret police force and where directly responsible for Caspian's recent ten-year exile to the Far Reaches. It boded ill that they were here now, Caspian thought, and they hadn't changed a bit since he had last seen them.

"Friends! What are you doing in my ship?" He called, sliding down the ladder to stand in front of the duo, "What does the Doge want with me? Does he want to barter a contract?"

"Come now, Captain, we both know you are no merchant." The smaller Masterazzi replied. "And His Excellence simply wishes to collect the protection money you owe." The man strode forward, a sneer twisting his thin lips. "As I recall, you have somehow managed to be conveniently out of port on the last four collection days." Caspian gave an exaggerated bow to the pair,

"A fact I most sincerely regret," he replied, his voice playful, but as he raised his head, it was apparent there was no good humor in the lanky ship captain. His dark eyes where as hard and as cold as two chips of flint. "Although I am even more aggrieved to tell you that I will never give a single coin to filth like you." The good humor disappeared from the faces of the two Masterazzi.

"Friend, Caspian. We're not asking you a question. You will pay your dues, plus a little extra for your insolence, or the Doge will be forced to take you into custody."

"And if I refuse?"

"Then we will kill you. It's really quite simple."

"Bold words, but I doubt a scrawny weakling like you could manage anything quite so impressive."

Sneering, the smaller Masterazzi nodded at his larger companion, "Take him." The large man lumbered forward, stepping over a barrel in his path, his meaty hands reaching for Caspian's shoulders. Quick as a snake, Caspian drew his pistol from its holster and pressed the cold metal of the muzzle against the man's forehead

"Ah ah ah." Caspian said in a condescending tone. "I'm staying right here for the time being." He looked up at the wooden ceiling, "And if you keep trying to get behind me, you little shit, I'm going to put a bullet between your ugly ears." No one moved for a moment. The two Masterazzi locked eyes for a moment, a slight movement not missed by Caspian. The smaller one nodded and his companion exploded into action. Raising his arm, he rammed the heel of his palm into Caspian's wrist, discharging Caspian's gun harmlessly into the rafters. As he did this, he brought to bear small, wickedly jagged knife. Caspian only barely managed to prevent it from entering his ribcage by jumping back into the smaller Masterazzi, who had been charging at him brandishing a short blade. Caught off guard, the Masterazzi staggered back over a nearby bench as Caspian barreled into him. Before he could recover, Caspian was on him, blade flashing. The Masterazzi desperately tried to parry Caspian's wild attack, but to no avail. Caspian blasted apart his guard with a two handed chop that sent the smaller man's sword clattering to the deck. Not wasting his momentum, Caspian drew his arm back and stabbed the stunned man in the chest. The Masterazzi gaped at the blossom of red that had started to spread across the front of his yellow doublet. His shaking hands reached for the sword as if to somehow stem the river of blood that had begun to pool on the floor to mingle with the grime and sawdust. With a sickening squelching noise, Caspian withdrew his blade, and turned to face the other man, bringing his second pistol to bear.

"Get out," was all Caspian said, his voice hard as the blood-soaked steel by his side. The man looked as if he were about to charge, pistol be damned, but decided against it, and backed out of the ship.

"You know they'll be back," Cale said, coming down behind Caspian. Turning to face his friend, Caspian replied,

"I hope so," he nudged the body of the Masterazzi on the floor with the air of someone who had just stepped in a large and unpleasant cow pie. "Damned thugs, they never would have tried anything this bold five years ago. We were in the Far Reaches for too long."

"We had no choice." Cale said, recalling how they blew the Count of Erol's merchant fleet out of the sky by lobbing barrels of gunpowder and pig shit at the unfortunate bastards. Caspian smiled,

"No, we really didn't did we?" he stretched, scratching the back of his head. "Aye, those were the days. Back when we were respectable pirates, not some bloody merchants. "

"Unfortunately, those days are gone. The Masterazzi are a powerful force in this rats nest we call a city. Caspian, you're my closest friend, and I trust you have a plan for this?" Caspian looked thoughtful for a moment, the smoky oil lamp in the corner flecked with rust and resting on a nearby barrel throwing the left side of his face into a deep shadow. Caspian glanced at a rat that was scurrying across a coil of rope at his feet and a sly smile spread across his angular face.

"Find Jaggar Duke. I have a proposition for him."

****************

In the festering cesspool of lies, backstabbing and corruption that was the Altera capital city; Mole's Town was the dirtiest, meanest district of them all. Smoke plumed from countless chimneys to hang, thick and heavy, over rows upon rows of patchwork tin, brick, and wooden huts that served as housing for the city's teeming poor. The whole mess was overshadowed by huge, grey factories that belched out noxious fumes as they produced weapons and automatons for his Majesty's imperial army. The real treasure of Mole's Town, however, was in the sewers. Ever since the instatement of the new Chancellor of Justice, the criminal world had been forced to relocate their operations from the various shacks and basements of factories to the sprawling warrens of the cities sewers. The citizens called it the Snakeway.

Forgoing their normal flamboyancy, Caspian, Cale, and Jonah, made their way through the maze of slums dressed in grey laborers clothing.

"Bloody depressing," Jonah muttered as they passed yet another emaciated waif lying huddled in the storm drain. "The things the King does for progress," Caspian signaled Jonah to be quiet. The trio stopped in front of a seedy looking tavern named The Clockwork Flagon. Above the door, a faded stencil of a cup of ale comprised of various cogs and gears hung limp in the fetid air. It was one of many taverns that had sprung up along the street like warts on a whore following the Alteran Civil war.

"Is this the place?" Caspian asked Cale, pinching his sleave.

"Hard to say," the larger man replied. His deep-set eyes roamed the grimy exterior of the building, "so much filth… Wait! I think this is it!" he stepped forward and withdrew a rag from his pocket. Cale wiped away the soot from a patch of the gray, stone wall, revealing a strange symbol. It appeared to be an inverted square with two parallel lines that ran down the centre.

"What's it mean?" Caspian asked, squinting at the rune. "You were always the scholar Cale, is it important?"

"Aye," his friend replied. "Tis the ancient Alyed symbol for 'tunnel'. It shows that there's an entrance to the Snakeway here."

"Things have really changed around here," Jonah muttered.

"You can thank Chancellor Vipond for that." adjusting his grey tunic, Caspian pushed his way into the inn through the soiled wooden doors.

The interior of the inn was dimly lit and heavy with the smoke of pipes. The cheep wood that made up the walls was thick with rot and grime, and the oaken ceiling sagged, laden with mildew. The bar area was packed with tables and stools, each one occupied by a sorry looking fellow nursing a grimy cup of ale. At the far end of the room, a rather fat, balding barkeep stood behind a low stone bar. He wiped at a glass with a filthy rag, making it dirtier with each pass of the cloth. Caspian exuded confidence as he approached the barkeep, oblivious to the disapproving glares of the various scruffy patrons, most of whom nursed scars from the recent iron plague outbreak.

"Whaddya want?" the barkeep asked, placing the cup on the shelf behind him.

"Well my, unpleasant friend, I need to get-" Cale dragged Caspian to the side where he could do less harm.

"What my friend meant to say was 'where does the lion never tread?'" The barkeep looked blankly at Cale, wiping his hands with the dirty rag. After a moment, his piggish eyes lit up with a greedy hunger.

"Aye, I have a port, but it'll cost you."

"Fine, here's twelve drachmas," Cale said, slapping the money on the counter. "It's all we've got."

"Twenty."

"Fifteen and not a coin more," Cale countered and slid the other three coins onto the table. The man picked up the coins and bit them to check their authenticity. Satisfied, he deposited them in his pocket.

"Mort!" the barkeep called. A floppy-eared young lad of fifteen or so years slumped up to the counter.

"Yea Pa?" the boy asked, scratching his flaxen hair.

"Watch the counter while I take some friends below."

"Mmkay," the boy shuffled behind the counter and idly slid his father's rag back and forth between his pudgy hands. At a nearby table, a large, dirty man bellowed for more ale as he ripped into a haunch of meat.

"Follow me," the barkeep grunted, stomping over to a small iron door behind the counter.

"How did you know that phrase?" Caspain hissed to Cale as they made their way into the bowels of the tavern.

"Unlike some people, I bother to think ahead."

The barkeep took them down a flight of dank stairs into the cellar, which contained a few barrels of ale and the odd bit of spoiled food. The barkeep brushed aside a threadbare tapestry to reveal a passageway. He gave Caspian a small oil lantern and a large rust-bound key. After the three crewmates of the Lady Veronica had shuffled inside, the barkeep shut the door, plunging the trio into darkness. Caspian fumbled with the oil lamp for a moment, until he got it light, revealing their surroundings. They were huddled on a small dock made of stone and wood in a river of sluggishly flowing brackish water. The arched gray stone ceiling rose high above their heads, and disappeared into the darkness where the feeble light of Caspian's lamp could not penetrate. In front of them, a small boat was tied to an iron stake that had been driven into the flags. They shuffled onto the skiff, careful not to fall into the rushing water below.

"Quite the operation," Caspian muttered as Cale and Jonah took the set of oars and began to row.

They followed the twisting turns of the river of sludge for a few meanders, the gloom so thick that they were barely able to see five feet in any direction, even with the help of the lantern. Eventually, they came to a metal grate that was just above the water line. A crude wooden dock had been built into the iron.

"Here's our stop," Cale grunted bringing up his oars and throwing a line to Caspian who had nimbly jumped onto the planking. Just as soon as they had tied up the boat, two men emerged out of the gloom. They wore the dark leather clothing of the Rouges Guild. Their faces were shrouded behind black cloth masks, and a large, wickedly carved sword hung at each ones hip. The Rouges Guild was the largest underground operation in Altera, and most likely the largest one in all of Kryta. It rose to power after the Alteran Civil war had sent the empire into chaos. It was a time when a lucky band of opportunists could flourish.

"State your business!"

"I would speak with Jaggar Duke!" Caspian stated. The two guards, for that is what they were, looked at each other briefly.

"Duke isn't taking visitors."

"We're not here for idle talk," Cale said. "We have a business proposition-"

"No visitors," the guard repeated.

"Duke wouldn't be too happy if he missed an opportunity to move out of this stinking hovel you call a hideout and retake the streets, now would he?" Caspian interjected. This got the guards attention.

"Wait here," One of the guards instructed and strode back into the gloom. A few minutes passed in silence until he returned. "He'll see you. But I warn you, you had better not be wasting his time." He beckoned to Caspian to follow him, while Caspian smirked at his companions as they followed the guards into the darkness.

"I thought so." Jaggar Duke said upon seeing Caspian. "Caspian Artivon, you dirty bastard. Where have you been hiding these last five years?" Duke was a large man, with a black, scruffy beard and large green eyes that glinted good naturedly out of his craggy face. It was good to see Duke again, Caspian thought. Caspian and Duke had a long and complicated history, going back to a botched smuggling operation in which Caspian, disguised as the local marshal, had ferried Duke and his cargo of illegal spices out of a Federation prison. Duke took a decanter from a nearby table and poured himself and Caspian a generous amount of ale.

"I was enjoying the sights of the Far Reaches, courtesy of the Count of Erol." Jaggar Duke let out a barking laugh.

"Aye, I had wondered what had happened to the Count's oh-so-mighty fleet."

"And I arrive back only to piss off none other than His Majesty's royal police force." Suddenly, the laughter melted off Jaggar Duke's face to be replaced by a look of intense seriousness. The nearby fire popped and crackled, shooting sparks out into the room. "Caspian, if you've crossed the Masterazzi, I don't think I can protect you. I simply don't have the manpower." Caspian waved his objections away.

"I'm aware of this," he said "I didn't come to you seeking protection. If I was looking for safety, the Lady Veronica would be halfway to Corsia by now. No, what I propose isn't anything so crazy. I know we can't take on the might of Masterazzi, but I do have an idea how we can control it." Jaggar Duke looked at him; a thick eyebrow raised the flickering lamp light throwing half of his face into shadow.

"And how exactly are we going to do this?"

"We're going to abduct the Doge." Jaggar Duke looked as if he hadn't heard him for a minute, the broke out in rowdy laughter.

"Caspian, you're a crazy bastard, and if it where anyone else, they would have felt my boot up their ass for making such an insane suggestion, but I feel if there's anyone who can pull this off, it's you. What do you need?"

Caspian sat down on in chair leaned his head back and, grinning, explained his plan.

********

The moon burned bright in the sky as Caspian, Duke, and seven of Duke's finest infiltrators made their way to the Doge's villa. Cale had opted to stay behind with the Lady Veronica because, as he so aptly put it, he was as about as stealthy as the Emperor's parade. The villa was located in the vaunted Wind District, home to the greatest sky-captains of all time. The heavy shadows along the walls made it easy for burglars to get close to the yellow and red building undetected. Once, Caspian had dreamed of entering one of these elegant houses, although not in this particular manner.

The outer wall was no problem. Caspian raised his hand, signaling to the men behind him to douse the lights. They knocked water arrows, light metal shafts with a vial of liquid that shattered on impact, releasing a burst of water, and took careful aim. The arrows whistled through the air like a small swarm of angry hornets. Each one struck their respective torches, throwing the area around the nearby iron door into darkness. Caspian stood aside as Duke bent down to the door, inserting two long, narrow picks into the lock. A fly buzzed above their heads, spiraling around the bright masonry of the wall. He moved them around for a minute, the picks clicking audibly. After a minute the lock gave an audible click and the door sprung open. Duke turned and gave Caspian the thumbs up. Caspian drew his sword, the metal throwing a dull reflection onto the neatly manicured lawn as he slipped inside, his black clothing and dark skin making him all but invisible in the murk. Caspian and Duke crept quietly to one of the servants entrances as Duke's men ran to the side entrances, slipped inside and quickly dispatched the guards.

"Go around," Caspian said, "prepare the boats." Duke nodded.

"Be careful. See you on the other side." Duke and three of the men slipped away through a low hanging side exit, where the masonry had partially crumbled away revealing the woodwork beneath. Duke paused, his hand gripping the stone of the gateway, and looked back at Caspian. Caspian waved him away, and accompanied by the four other men, began their descent into the villa.

Their footfalls were muffled by the thick Persian rugs that covered the floors. Caspian and the four other members of Duke's gang prowled silently through the brightly colored stucco rooms. The entire place practically oozed wealth, with rich tapestries adorning the wall and rich oaken furniture was artfully placed along the walls. They slipped along, quite as a shadow, untouchable as smoke through the wide hallways. The band eventually came to a pair of guards, facing away from them. Caspian and another man snuck up behind them and dealt each a blow to the back of the skull, causing them to fall to the ground, unconscious. Stepping over the bodies, they came to the door to the inner chambers. The door was huge and made of thick oak, reinforced with bands of iron. In place of a regular tumbler and key lock, there was a mechanized seal that kept the door tightly closed. These seals where constructed only by the most skilled Atrifices from the citadel, and could only be afforded by the wealthiest of the citizenry.

"How the blazes are we going to get through this?" Caspian said.

"Sigrund, Bjorn, search the guards," the closest of the four infiltrators instructed. "Jori, see if you can do anything about that lock." the burglars set about their respective tasks, either dragging the two guards into the deep shadows cast by a nearby stairwell that spiraled up into the gloom of the floor above, or tinkering with the lock.

"Nothing on these louts," one of the rouges said, "Just a bit of coin and the odd trinket."

"Keep searching. There has to be a way to open this blasted door."

"Wait! I think I got it!" Caspian turned to see the rouge, Jori, burst open the lock with a particularly violent wrench of his crowbar. The lock, fizzing sparks, popped off the doorframe, and clattered to the floor. The door swung open with the loud squeal of rusted hinges. The five men paused to make sure no one had heard the portal open.

Suddenly, the grating sound of stone against stone rumbled through the still night air. Caspian saw a gigantic sword lash out of a newly formed alcove in the wall and bury itself in the chest of one of the infiltrators. The man gaped at the sword, hands splayed, until it was pulled out of him and he fell to the carpeted floor with a muffled thunk. Before anyone had had time to register this, another sword shot out of the opposite wall, where the tiles in the mosaic had slid apart to reveal a large, robotic arm. An arm, that ended in a wickedly curved blade which had severed the head of a second of Duke's men. The remaining three watched in fascinated horror as the bright mosaics that flanked the doorway to the inner chambers slid back into the surrounding walls, revealing two large automatons. There metallic skin gleamed in the moonlight that spilled in through a nearby window. The reactor behind their glass eyes glowed and fizzed with a faint pulsating green light that gave the constructs an unearthly quality in the darkness.

"Run!" Caspian shouted, and they bolted through the door. Caspian was just through when a searing pain exploded from his shoulder, causing him to cry out and stumble. Glancing behind him, he saw the nearest automaton wrenching its blood-stained sword out of his shoulder. Looking down, he saw a stain of crimson emerging from the deep wound in his shoulder. He clutched his wound and staggered to his feet. He had to throw himself forward on to a low hanging window sill with all the grace of a flying tortoise to avoid being skewered by the automatons second strike, which glanced off the stucco of the wall, leaving a deep, ugly gash where Caspian's head had been a moment before. Panting, Caspian stood up and sprinted as fast as he could after his comrades.

Caspian dashed through the dark rooms of the Doge's villa at a breakneck pace. He ran through a kitchen, sitting room, and dining room, not pausing except to jump over an unfortunately placed bench that obstructed the way out of a chapel. All the while, Caspian could hear the loud, stomping footfalls of the automatons that pursued them. Those blasted machines are making enough noise to wake the entire villa, Caspian thought as he saw a pair of guards come running out of a side passage to his right. The wound in his shoulder was bleeding freely now, and Caspian knew that soon he would no longer be able to evade his pursuers, a thought which sent a white-hot stab of fear through his stomach.

A scream from the hallway in front of Caspian rent the air, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. Caspian turned the corner, hand on the stone wall for support to see his other two companions being hacked apart by one of the automatons. It had somehow managed to get ahead of Caspian and had struck just as the two burglars had sprinted past, brutally slashing at torso, head, and neck, spraying the narrow walls of the corridor with a crimson spray that oozed and dripped down into the carpet below. Caspian managed to keep the bile at the back of his throat from erupting from between his lips and only barley managed to slip past the automaton as it finished its grisly work. As he did so, however, the back of the automatons hand came down sharply and swatted Caspian's wounded shoulder, causing him to stagger and almost black out with pain. He shook his head and continued at a slow run down the corridor.

Despite the odds against him, Caspian finally located the Doge's room. Clutching his shoulder, he elbowed the large, brightly painted door open and staggered into the waiting arms of a squad of Masterazzi guardsmen. They swarmed around him, taking his sword and binding his arms to his sides.

"Welcome, Captain, so good of you to come," A high, cold voice said somewhere above his head. Caspian raised his vision from the marble floor to see the Doge standing before him. The Doge was a large man, with long, greasy dark hair and a hooked nose that gave him the vague appearance of a vulture. Deep set dark eyes that glinted with malice observed Caspian with disdain. "Although, I must admit, I was worried you wouldn't make it, what with the horrible mess my automatons were making of your men."

"Bastard," Caspian spat.

"I have to thank you; you've made the task of reprimanding you so much easier." The Doge turned his head, and nodded to a man in the corner. The man rose from his small chair and strode across the marble floor, sliding on thick leather gloves as he came, his slicked back hair reflecting the torchlight. The other Masterazzi who had been holding Caspian released their hold on him, allowing him to slump to his knees. The man gasped Caspian under his armpits with hands the size of dust pan lids and dragged him to the far corner of the room, where another chair, this one larger than the rest, with thick leather straps on the arms, legs, and back for holding down a person. Caspian could only watch in dull detachment as he was flung into the chair, and his legs and arms were securely bound. The man went over to a large brazier in the corner. It was glowing red hot, with the heat from the coals causing the air to shimmer and distort around it. The hooded man reached for what appeared to be a pair of tongs resting in the bed of coals, but when he withdrew it, he held a large sword, the blade glowed a fierce cherry red.

The hooded man raised his sword over his head when suddenly; the whole room began to shake as if some giant hand had scooped up the room, placed it in a sack, and was playing an overly enthusiastic game of corn-hole. There was a loud rumbling noise and white plaster began to fall from the roof. Every head turned up to look at the arched ceiling to see the murals that covered the plaster to crack, then break off and fall to the floor with a large crash, crushing the Doge's ornate and plush bed. Jutting out of the roof of the Doge's villa was the hull of the Lady Veronica. Ropes dropped down from the ship, landing amongst the confused Masterazzi as the crew of the Lady Veronica belayed down. Caspian saw Cale jump down from his rope, with Jonah and Jaggar Duke not far behind, and land next to a Masterazzi, laying about him with his broad axe as he did so, neatly beheading the nearest opponent. A Masterazzi detached himself from the brawl, and rushed over to Caspian, intending to end the leader of the intruders, but an expertly placed stab from Jonah ended his ambitions before they could reach fruition.

"To the deck!" Caspian heard the Doge shout. Five Masterazzi surrounded their master as the Doge made his way to a pair of double doors at the other end of the room. The curses of frustration and screams of pain mingled with the pounding in Caspian's head, causing his vision to swim, the elegant white-washed walls of the room swaying drunkenly back and forth

The combined force of Caspian's men and Duke's rouges made short work of the opposition. After what seemed like just a few heartbeats, the last Masterazzi collapsed to the ground, a dozen deadly gashes covering his body, to lie lifeless along with the rest of the carpet of newly dead. Cale wasted no time in rushing over to where Caspian was bound and undoing the leather that kept him bound.

"Caspian! Are you hurt? What did they do to you?"

"I…I'm fine, just… shoulder." And with that Caspian slumped forward into the arms of his friend, falling into the dreamless sleep of unconsciousness.

****

Caspian awoke in his own bed in the captain's quarters of the Lady Veronica. He lay on his back for a moment, looking at the wooden rafters above him. Taking great care not to jostle his injured shoulder, he swung his feet onto the carpeted floor and looked about him. There was a rich mahogany table situated in the center of the room, with a few chairs surrounding it. A desk heavily laden with notes, maps, and pens sat off in the corner near a plush red armchair Caspian had acquired from the Duke of Redbroak's personal cruiser, which he used for reading. The whole far wall was a large window that was currently providing Caspian with a magnificent view of the sparkling ocean.

A large sky-chest was situated near his bed, with a chair nearby. Cale was asleep in the chair, his massive booted feet propped up against the chest as he leaned back in the chair, causing the front two legs of the chair to leave the ground.

"Cale!" Caspian said loudly. His friend shook himself awake, almost toppling out of his chair.

"Christ Caspian!" Cale exclaimed, lowering the chair to its normal sitting position. He walked over to stand next to his friend and captain.

"What happened with the Doge?" Caspian asked.

"We corned him on the balcony outside of his chamber. Fought like a wildcat he did, gave me this little parting gift," Cale said, pointing to the bandage on his right bicep, "He lost heat soon as his last man fell. Bastard sniveled like a pig after that, pleading for his life." Caspian smiled at the thought.

"I trust you didn't let him off too easily?" Cale laughed,

"Aye, we tickled him a little with a sword, but in the end we spared him and handed him over to Duke." Caspian walked over to the table and picked up an apple from the silver bowl.

"What does duke plan on doing with him?"

"I think he's just going to hold on to him for a little bit, use him as leverage to get back on top in the criminal underworld, then probably ransom his back to the Masterazzi for some exorbitant amount of money."

"Sounds like Duke," Caspian walked over to the window and looked out to the panorama of water that was splayed out below him. A gull flew past just below the ship, spiraling along the hull, its white wings standing out in sharp contrast to the ships dark wooden body before it wheeled away over the vast watery plane of the ocean. "Where are we exactly?"

"About halfway to Kheldra," His mate replied.

"Kheldra? Why would we go there?" Cale withdrew a letter from his coat and handed it to Caspian.

"A message from your uncle,"

"Julian?"

"No. Gaelann," Caspian took the letter from his friend and tore it open. Inside where scrawled two words. Kheldra and Dawn. Gaelann was the former captain of the Lucky Dawn, the airship that Caspian had first served on when he was but thirteen years old. Gaelann had been more of a father to Caspian then his own had ever been. The Lucky Dawn had gone mysteriously missing ten years previous, just after Caspian had left his uncle's service. "We found it on your desk just after we left Altera. We thought it would be prudent to set our course for the Serpent Sea." Caspian sat down at his desk, holding the letter in trembling hands. Gaelann. He thought Gaelann was dead; it had been so long since he had heard from his uncle. Whatever else it meant, something big was coming, and Caspian intended to find out exactly what that was.





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