The Adventures of Penney Dreadful The Battle of Blackpeak

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


Pepper recruits Penney and her crew to take back her pub from Regency control.

Submitted: September 24, 2017

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Submitted: September 24, 2017

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The Battle of Blackpeak

Penney stormed through the crowded pub. Her crew followed close behind, weapons drawn and at the ready. The patrons, normally an unruly bunch, watched the pirates go by in silence. Despite her long absence, Penney Dreadful had quite a reputation. No one wanted to put that reputation to the test. She radiated rage. One could almost feel the heat of her passage, like an eternal furnace. Yet, strangely, her face was relaxed. Except for the eyes. Those amber orbs burned like stars. If looks could kill, Penney's gaze could do far worse than that.

Penney and her crew pushed aside the green bead curtain leading to Sage Grover's office. Once inside, they leveled their weapons at the great high-backed chair that was sitting behind the fake oak desk. The chair was facing the wall, away from the assembled pirates. Both the chair and the desk had been stolen from some Regency ship a long, long time ago.

"Alright Sage," said Penney, "we ran your little errand. And I'm sorry to say, it didn't go quite as planned. Now, I believe you have some explaining to do."

Sage did not answer.

"Sage, you are going to turn around and explain yourself to me!" Penney shouted.

Slowly, the shape behind the chair rose up and turned around. To Penney's disappointment, it was not Sage.

"Pepper?" she said, blinking. Her crew exchanged puzzled looks.

"Who else does it look like?" said the gray  haired bar matron.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Penney demanded. "Where's Sage?"

"He's not here. Obviously. Did the lack of security not tip you off?"

"Okay, so I'm not the only who noticed that." Qri mumbled. Penney shot him a dirty look.

"Well?" Pepper said to Penney.

The captain of the Ruckus glared at Pepper, but said nothing.

"You know you don't think straight when you're angry."

"Shut up. I need to find Sage."

"So do I, Penney. That's why I'm here."

"This about the pub?"

Pepper scowled and crossed her arms across her chest.

"Oh," she said, "so you do know about that!"

"I heard some rumors, yeah." said Penney, squirming under Pepper's interrogatory gaze.

"And you decided not to help me because...?"

"I was busy, Pepper."

"Bullshit! You owe me, Dreadful! How many times have I hidden you there when you needed to lay low? How many times have I lent you coin, or free drinks or men? It's about high time you do something for me!"

"I've done plenty for you," said Penney, crossing her arms. "Do you not remember the time when I was your muscle? Or how about the time I saved your little establishment from a Regency raid? I killed your father, for fuck's sake!"

"And for that, I am grateful. But now, I need your help more than ever."

Pepper placed her hands on the desk and leaned forward.

"Look," she said, "You  need a fleet, right?"

Penney nodded.

"Well, so do I. That's why I came looking for Sage. I already managed to snag some help, but the Regency has a tighter hold on the place than I realized. If I can't get an army, can I at least get the help of a friend?"

The women stared at each other darkly.

"I'm betting on a catfight," Jason muttered  to Caixia.

Finally, Penney said, "How much are you willing to pay?"

"I'll take that as a yes." Pepper sighed.

"So," said Qri, "who did you get for help?"

 

"Hello darlings!"

Penney resisted the urge to jump right off the tower when she heard that high-pitched voice.

"Who the hell is this?" she asked, pointing up at the silver vessel floating at the dock. The Ruckus had passed the ship when she pulled in, but Penney had paid it no mind. Now, however, she noticed how delicate it looked. The ship was freshly polished, with nary a scar or blemish in sight. Despite the lack of sunlight down in the lower district, she seemed to glow with her own unearthly light. The name of the ship, stenciled in an elegant cursive hand, was The Countess.

Behind the wheel of the impeccable ship stood a woman dressed in a white gown, laced with pink and blue. She wore a frilly, wide-brimmed hat. A smaller woman stood next to her, with an umbrella in hand. The short woman, to Penney's relief, actually looked like a pirate. She wore a short, dark leather coat, boots and gloves. It was clear, however, that her outfit had been cleaned up. She was practically sparkling.

"That," Pepper said, indicating the woman in the dress, "is Shayna Frimm. She's new on the scene, but she's got a good rep."

"Right," said Penney doubtfully. "Where did you find her, the upper levels?"

"No. She's from there, though."

"She doesn't look much  like a pirate."

"Neither did you, when you first started."

Penney scowled at Pepper.

"Let's just fly, already." she said.

 

A bottle of rum sat between Penney and Pepper. The two women stared each other down in Penney's cabin. The small space was cramped with charts and books. Penney's worm-eaten bed faced the only window, which, to Pepper's surprise, was spotless. Discarded bottles and crumpled papers littered the floor. Penney occupied the only chair, forcing Pepper to rest on an upturned waste bin which had never been used. Pepper eyed the rum skeptically. The bottle rested on a small table with innumerable scratches on its surface and two bad legs. It rocked in time with the Ruckus as she sailed through the clouds. Penney wore a grin, as if she was proud of the whole mess. In all likelihood, she was.

"Well?" Pepper said, nodding at the rum.

"You're the bartender." Penney said with a shrug.

"And you are an ass." said Pepper, pouring the drink into two grimy glasses.

"Duly noted," said Penney.

She downed the drink in one shot and held out her glass. Pepper sighed, but poured her another.

"So," said Penney, sipping slowly this time, "you broke out of prison, stole a ship...then what?"

"I flew to Blackpeak, like I said. Place was crawling with Regency, so I fled and came looking for Sage. Found some blokes there who were willing help...but of course, no Sage."

"That's where you found this Grimm woman?"

"It's 'Frimm', Penney. And yes, I found her there, looking for work. Found some hands on Christina as well, after the prison break."

"I didn't know you had contacts on Christina."

"Penney, I own a bar. I have contacts everywhere."

"Fair enough," Penney chuckled. "But are they trustworthy?"

"They haven't stabbed me in the back yet."

"Give it time," Penney smirked.

"Everyone needs a place to drink, Penney. Especially now that Sage is missing. They'd be fools to deny themselves a haven like Blackpeak."

"Which brings me to my next question," said Penney, finishing off her drink. "Why exactly is your place swarming with Regency filth?"

"I've been wondering that myself. I mean, sure, you got the mountain itself, but that was mined out years ago. As for the money and the weapons...well, they could've just taken those and left the rest to burn. Maybe they just want the land."

"You really think so?"

"Yes," said Pepper after a moment of hesitation. "I do. Unless they know something we don't."

"They always do." said Penney.

Pepper frowned and downed her drink.

Outside, three ships followed the Ruckus. The Countess was close behind, captained by Shayna Frimm, but piloted by her much more piratical first mate Sudie Connell. Two others had come to Pepper's aid; the Wormwood, ruled by Cordia Abberton and the Gravewind, helmed by Tobais Stagg. Penney did not know Cordia  personally, but she had heard favorable things. Penney knew Tobias, but really wished she didn't. With four ships, they stood a chance. A slim chance, of course, but it was better than nothing. Barely.

 

Brandy looked down at the scarred rock of Blackpeak. She had been staring at the mountain for hours. It was her first time seeing land. She could scarcely believe it was there, even though she was seeing it for herself quite clearly. More than half of the Regency personal stationed at Blackpeak were more focused on the mountain than their duties. Granted, there wasn't much to do around the place. The area had been mined to the bone ages ago, and no artifacts or compromising items had been located in or around the tavern. Truly, Brandy had no idea why she was here. She didn't know what interest the Regency could possibly have in the place. Even if they claimed the spot as an outpost, it was far removed from all major trading routes.

"Captain on deck!"

Brandy tore herself away from her mountain view when she heard the call. All eyes were on the captain now. Ludwig Pabst sauntered across the deck. Brandy could tell right away that he was drunk. Nothing new there. Ludwig gathered himself as well as he could, eyeing his assembled crew. He smiled amiably at them, but Brandy knew it was just the booze. Ludwig rarely smiled without alcoholic aid. She despised him for it, but had long ago learned to except it. When she had brought up the issue to Ludwig's superiors, they had ignored her. Jameson was no help either. In fact, Ludwig's first mate seemed to approve of his captains behavior.

Despite her reservations, Brandy was loyal. A captain deserved respect. So she saluted with the rest of the men.

"I suppose you are wondering why we were summoned here?" Ludwig drawled.

Before anyone could respond, Ludwig held up one hand. He thumped his chest with the other. After a few thwacks, a belch issued forth from deep within his stomach. Brandy rolled her eyes.

"Where was I?" said Ludwig. "Oh, yes, our purpose!"

Ludwig produced a scroll from his pocket and unrolled it as he spoke.

"According to my orders, we are to scour this fucking mountain for a...what's this? Ah, yes, here we are. We're looking for an artifact, people. A relic from the Surface."

The crew gasped. Ludwig shrugged and laughed.

"Yes, I know. Find it hard to believe myself. There ain't supposed to be any bloody relics here, but I suppose the surveyors missed a spot. We are to dynamite certain areas of the mountain, in the hopes of revealing our objective."

The crew waited for Ludwig to continue. He did not.

"Well, what are you waiting for, dogs? Go line up for troop assignment! If you need me, I'll be...inspecting the tavern. For contraband, and the like."

Ludwig stumbled away, chuckling to himself. Brandy rolled her eyes again, hoping that no one would notice.

 

"So...what's the plan, exactly?" said Kristen as the Ruckus descended toward Blackpeak.

"Haven't we been over this enough already?" Pepper sighed.

"Sorry, I just want to get it right."

"We've had days to think this over, kid."

"Hey, she's an idiot," said Penney. "Go easy on her."

"We can't afford to go easy on anyone, Penney."

Penney frowned behind her bandana. She knew the plan, but she wasn't thrilled about it. The air of the lower skies flowed over her tingling skin. According to Pepper, the majority of the Regency fleet was stationed at the top of the mountain. Pepper seemed to know a lot of things. She had devised her brilliant plan soon after she had fled from the fleet occupying her mountain. She had already informed the crews of the Wormwood , the Gravewind and the Countess. When she had brought it up to Penney's crew, no one was exactly thrilled by it, but no one could think of anything better.

And so they sailed low while the Wormwood stayed above to watch the Regency fleet. The Countess had taken a position half-way up the mountain, waiting for Pepper's signal. Finally, the Gravewind accompanied the Ruckus. Stagg's ship was to patrol the lower skies for Regency ships, Old Machines or any other beastie that threatened the mission.

The air grew thin and cold as the Ruckus approached the mountain. The dark, pitted stone of Blackpeak rose above them like an age-worn grave. No matter how many times Penney saw it, she could never shake the feeling of being watched by the great colossus. Blackpeak was one of the few mountains left in the world. The others had been lost to time, the Burn or the Regency. Blackpeak herself did not survive the ages unscathed, however. According to historical records, Blackpeak used to be the greatest mountain of them all, coated in white, glistening snow. Then, the world burned and the mountain's stone skin was scorched by the dying breath of the Old Machines.

Penney knew better than to trust the records, but the awe she felt was real. Here she was, standing in the shadow of a mountain. One of the last remaining vestiges of the old world. A world of forests and oceans. A free world.

Carefully, the Ruckus sidled up to the mountain. Grappling cables bit into the burnt rock. After a few tests, they were deemed secure. Moments later, the crew disembarked. Pepper led the way, with Penney right behind her. Parker and Kristen watched their comrades make the first few perilous steps.

"Glad you decided to join us this time," Kaja said to her captain.

"I only agreed to this because Penney's short two hands." said Jason dismissively.

Pepper guided Penney's crew across the charred mountain, showing them what steps to take and which rocks to grab a hold of. They only climbed for a few moments, but it felt like hours. The crew was wracked with cold sweats, aching muscles and weary feet. Taking simple step became a chore. Penney found it hard to concentrate on anything but her own soreness. Behind her, Jason stumbled on a loose stone. Penney whirled around and grabbed him. Without a word, she helped him to his feet.

Jason mumbled his thanks.

Along the way, Pepper stopped and pointed. On the side of the mountain, a few ledges away, was the corpse of an Old Machine. The dead thing was stripped to the bone. Only a twisted, blackened mass remained. Vacuous sockets stared into the murky sky.

"Keep an eye on that," said Pepper. "If it moves, run."

"If it moves," said Penney, "we're already fucked."

"What are you talking about?" said Marina. "It's dead, isn't it?"

"Sure looks that way, don't it?"

With that, the expedition continued. Marina looked back at the mechanical corpse and shuddered.

At last, Pepper halted. She kneeled down in front of a large, smooth stone etched with esoteric markings. Pepper heaved the stone away, revealing a circular metal grate. She then removed a key from her pocket. As she unlocked the grate, Penney looked over her shoulder and said, "And this leads up?"

"Yes," said Pepper. "My father built these tunnels around the same time he opened the bar."

"Impressive. For a psychopath."

"He had help."

"I figured."

"Alright," said Pepper, opening the grate with a creak. "Let's get moving."

 

Who knew that blowing things up could get so boring?

Brandy watched chunks of Blackpeak fly into the Aether for the fifth time that day. The mountain was beginning to look a bit like Swiss cheese. The teams were careful to place the explosives far from the tavern. They did not wish to disturb the captain. Something about the whole procedure just felt wrong. This mountain had withstood the ravages of time. It had stood in this same spot, unmoving. Unflinching, even when the great Burn wiped the old world away. Even when the Regency came to take its ore, its lifeblood, the mountain was unmoved. Even when pirates came and built a filthy pub into its side. The blackened spire of old stone withstood it all.

Now, here was Brandy, blowing holes into it for profit. The thought of it saddened her, although she did not precisely know why. It felt like she was destroying the last chunk of a better world than the one she knew. A world without pirates or hate. A world without the Regency. It  practically felt sacrilegious.

Brandy shook her head. Like it or it, this was her mission. True, she could have chosen a better life. A life on her home tower of Angela, safe and secure. But the jobs there barely paid well enough to keep one person fed, let alone three. Brandy chose her life in the sky not for herself, but for her children. For sweet, little Jacob and brash Gabriel, who was so much like his father.

Yes, Brandy was here for a reason. That did not mean that she had to enjoy the work, or the company.

"Mrs. Alexander, quit dillydallying!"

Brandy turned and snapped to attention. Bud Jameson, Ludwig's first mate, stood before her, glowering.

"My apologies, sir!"

"I need you to focus, missy."

"Yes, sir!"

"Good. Now, get to work. The deck is filthy today, and it's not going to clean itself."

"Yes, sir!"

Jameson grunted and stalked off, complaining about the noise and the ash. Complaining about Brandy. She rolled her eyes. These men needed to get with the times. Women had been rising in the Regency ranks for years now. It was slow progress, but it was progress nonetheless. Still, being the only woman in the fleet was difficult. She always got stuck with cleaning duty. She even cooked, even though the ship already had a cook. Worst of all, the way the men looked at her...it was...Brandy closed her eyes and shook her head.

She was here for a reason. She didn't have to like it.

 

"How much farther?" Jason whined.

"Does he ever shut up?" asked Penney.

"No," said Kaja, "but you'll get used to it."

"Will I?"

"No."

"All of you shut up!" Pepper groaned.

The crew walked in silence. Penney felt like an insect crawling through the dry, hot veins of a titanic god. It was not a pleasant feeling. Up and up they went, into the barren blackness. By now, Penney felt like her feet were bleeding. Still, walking through a scorched mountain wasn't nearly as bad as walking through a tower.

At last, the excruciating climb came to an end. Pepper stood in front of a metal door built into the bare rock. It was clearly very old and well-used, yet there was not a speck of rust on it. Sighing, Pepper produced a silver key and unlocked the door. A wide, caged elevator greeted the crew.

"Your father was quite the sneaky bastard, wasn't he?" said Penney.

"He was...eccentric. You know that."

"I also know that he was a murderous, backstabbing son of a bitch."

"Well, yes. He was. But his handiwork here has proved invaluable. Makes smuggling a little easier."

"I bet," said Jason, grinning like a fool. "Mind if we help ourselves?"

"I do mind, actually." said Pepper. "However...if the Regency hasn't ransacked the backroom, I may consider rewarding you."

"The 'backroom'?" Marina inquired.

"It's where I store the contraband," answered Pepper. "All the toys the Regency doesn't want me to play with."

"Why am I only hearing about this now, Pepper?" said Penney, with her hands on her hips.

"You didn't need to know."

"I'm your friend, for fuck's sake. I've known you for years, and you never bothered to tell me about any of this?" Penney gestured to the tunnels and the elevator in a grand, over exaggerated fashion.

"Penney, I've only told a few of my employees about this place. No one else. I didn't want to risk greedy little vagabonds like your friend Smithy over there getting any funny ideas."

"So you don't trust me, is that it?" said Penney, jabbing her finger at Pepper's chest.

"No, I don't." said Pepper, rolling her shoulders.

The two women snarled at each other for several minutes. Penney's crew watched the whole debacle with bated breath.

"Okay," said Jason, "this time they're gonna kill each other for sure."

"You sound way too excited about that." said Kaja.

Before the women could trade blows, however, Caixia stepped between them. She walked on into the elevator and turned, placing her hands behind her back in a patient stance. Penney and Pepper glared at each other, but joined Caixia on the elevator. The crew followed. Jason was a little disappointed that no blood had been shed. Wordlessly, Pepper pressed a button and the elevator jerked to life. It rose them up at a slow, rackety pace. The ascent was made in silence. One could almost feel the fury dripping from Penney, while also feeling the icy coldness radiating from Pepper. Qri began to whistle an old mining tune. Penney and Pepper both gave him looks that could have shattered the mountain. Qri shut himself up.

 

"Ma'am," said Sudie Connell, "I don't think an umbrella is necessary in this particular environment."

Shayna Frimm giggled at her first mate, as if the little woman was a child who had just said something stupid. Sudie hated it when she did that.

"Why, it's not about the necessity, darling. It's about style!"

Frimm laughed and danced about, twirling the umbrella in her slender hands. Sudie rolled her eyes. She would never understand her captain. She would never get used to Frimm's strict code of politeness and honor, nor the curfews and the need for tea time. Sudie could forgive Frimm for forcing her to wash herself and her clothes, but if she had to eat one more cucumber sandwich, she was going to throw the noble woman overboard.

Life aboard the Countess had become even more insufferable with the addition of her new members. Pepper had dumped Jim Buckle, Sam Leen and Two-Teeth Tom onto the ship as soon as she had the opportunity to do so. Those three were trouble. Not in the dangerous sense of the word. They were idiots. Legends of their stupidity and incompetence had spread far across the sky. Sudie desperately wanted to throw them overboard as well.

"She'll come back for us," said Sam.

"Yeah," said Tom, "we're her favorite customers. She could never abandon us!"

"Where's the grub on this boat?" roared Buckle.

So it went. Sudie tried to distract herself from Frimm's fanciful nonsense and the pirate trio's inane ramblings by scanning the dark horizon. They were supposed to be on lookout after all. Sudie covered her ears and watched the perpetual mist go by. For a long, long time she saw nothing. She almost nodded off before she spotted a light in the dark. It was a red light, red as blood. It blinked slowly but without any sensible pattern. Sudie was not a superstitious woman, but she could not help to think of the light out there as an evil eye of some mad beast. She called to her captain. Frimm rushed over.

"What is it?" asked her captain.

"I don't know," said Sudie. "And I don't want to find out."

"Understandable," laughed Frimm. "It sure is pretty though."

"Ma'am, that light likely belongs to a creature that wants to eat us. It is not pretty."

"Of course it is, Sudie my dear."

"How?" Sudie cast a puzzled and frustrated look at her captain.

"Because it's a light in a place of darkness. Think of it as a jewel. And look! Look how it dances! Isn't that lovely?"

All Sudie could see was a cyclopean eye harboring ill intent. Frimm began to hum a sweet little song. She swayed her body slightly in rhythm to the music. Sudie rolled her eyes. After a while, however, she found herself swaying slightly. She stopped herself before Frimm could notice. Eventually, the red light was swallowed by the fog. Sudie sighed in relief. Not that the danger was over, of course. In the lower skies, there was no such thing as a safe haven. Sudie and Frimm watched the sky together in silence. In her head, however, Sudie could still hear her captain's little song.

 

Ludwig Pabst drunkenly bellowed orders as he sat on the counter of Pepper's Pub. He was surrounded by an army of empty glass bottles. His men searched the place as he drank and drank and drank. Ludwig knew he was violating several protocols, but he didn't give a shit. He was in a pub, after all. Why waste the opportunity? The only other alternative was to work, and there was no fun in that. Ludwig watched his men tear the place apart while he sipped a glass of whiskey. It was horrible stuff, filtered with rainwater and probably some sort of fuel. But it would do. Was this his thirteenth drink, or his twentieth? Ludwig had lost track years ago.

Thoughts spun lazily in his head. What a job, blowing up a mountain. It was slightly more exciting than flying through endless clouds, patrolling a seldom-used trade wind. But the novelty had worn off. To say nothing of the woman on board...what was her name? She would bring nothing but bad luck, Ludwig was sure of it. Women always do. Still, at least the place had a bar. He reminded himself to thank Lord Sim for that, then immediately forgot.

Ludwig was still thinking in circles when a group of pirates rushed in from some dark space behind the back wall. It took him ages to react. His men readied their guns, but were cut down in short order. They were not expecting a fight. Ludwig opened his mouth to protest, but a thick bronze arm coiled around his neck.

"What should we do with him?" he heard the pirate woman ask.

Another pirate walked into his blurred vision. Another bloody woman, wearing stained work clothes. If he wasn't so drunk, he would have immediately recognized her as Pepper, the owner of the fine establishment he had taken advantage of.

"Well," said Pepper, "this worked out better than expected."

 

"Did you hear that?" Brandy asked.

"Hear what?" said one of her coworkers.

"Gunfire," she said.

"Ah, you're hearing things." scoffed another man.

At that moment, a gun went off. This time, everyone heard it. The crew of the Helios looked to Pepper's Pub. There, at the entrance, was their captain. A small, red haired woman had an arm hooked around his neck. Pepper herself stood beside them, accompanied by a whole crew of bloodthirsty pirates.

"Attention all bluecoat bastards!" Pepper screamed to the wind. Her voice boomed across the sky like cannon fire.

"We have your captain!" she screamed. "You can have him back if you piss off and never return!"

"Seriously," said a man beside Brandy. "This was their plan?"

"I have a fleet of thousands in the skies below, waiting to blow you away!" Pepper continued.

"Oh," said the man.

"I'm not bluffing," said Pepper, "scram, and you will live to see another day!"

For emphasis, the red haired pirate woman shoved her gun into Ludwig's face. The pirates waited for an answer.

"Well, sir," said Brandy, turning to Jameson, "what should we do?"

"I say we blow the place to smithereens." he said.

"What?" hollered Brandy.

"We could kill them all now," said Jameson, speaking as if he was explaining a simple concept to a particularly challenged child. "They're likely bluffing about that 'fleet of thousands'."

"You would sacrifice the captain just to kill a few pirates?"

"Yes."

"Th-that's," Brandy stuttered. She wanted to say that's monstrous. Instead, she said "That's against protocol!"

Jameson sighed. He hated this woman, he truly did. But she was right. Perhaps it was best to try a different approach, rather than resorting to violence right away. So he went to the railing and looked down upon the pitiful crew of scoundrels.

"We will not leave until we have what we came here for!" he shouted at them. "In return for our captain, we demand the artifact!"

On the mountain, Penney shot Pepper a puzzled glare. "Artifact?" she asked.

"I don't know what he's talking about," said Pepper.

And judging by her look, Penney believed her. But only slightly. Looks could be deceiving, after all.

"We have no artifact here!" Pepper shouted to Jameson.

"Huh," said Jameson. So they were liars in addition to being thieves and murderers. Go figure.

"Think she's lying?" asked Brandy.

"Yes," said Jameson. "Kill them all."

"Jameson, you can't be serious!" Brandy protested.

Jameson struck her across the face. She nearly fell from the blow. Tears welled in her eyes, although she struggled to contain them.

"I am sick and tired of your whining, Mrs. Alexander. Fuck you and fuck your protocol."

Jameson ordered the men to load the cannons. They obeyed without question.

"But," Brandy started.

"You need to know your place, wench." Jameson growled.

"Uh, Penney," said Jason. "They're arming the cannons."

"I can see that, Jason."

"Well," said Pepper, turning back toward the door, "it was a good attempt. Now, if we hurry, we can at least get some of the goods below before they blow this place to hell."

"Why Pepper," said Penney, "did you bring us all this way just to save your gold and contraband? I'm shocked, truly I am."

Pepper glanced over her shoulder at Penney, ready to spit out a witty comeback. Her eyes went wide and her jaws went slack.

"Oh no," she whispered.

Penney and her crew turned to face the sky. The Gravewind had risen from below. The silver patchwork ship hovered behind the Regency fleet, readying her own cannons.

"What the hell is that idiot Tobias doing?" said Penney.

"Getting himself killed, it seems." said Qri.

From below, Penney could hear the engines of the Countess and the Wormwood. Like it or not, Pepper's 'fleet of thousands' was coming to their aid.

The Gravewind fired a volley into the Helios. The great Regency ship buckled under the blast. Jameson roared and ordered his men to prepare the starboard cannons. The other ships in the Regency fleet converged on the small pirate vessel. The Countess broke through from below, swiftly followed by the Wormwood. The calm blue sky was colored black and red as the pirates met the Regency and their ships spit fire.

"We're all gonna fucking die," said Jason.

Penney hated to agree with Jason, but things were looking rather grim.

"Hey Penney," called Pepper from the pub doorway.

"Yeah?"

"You got something on your arm."

Penney suddenly remembered that she was holding a prisoner. Ludwig Pabst wasn't even trying to resist. He was caught up in a lively sailor tune.

"Oh, right," said Penney, shooting a hole in Ludwig's head.

When she looked back to the doorway, Pepper was gone. Jason was running after her.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" she yelled after him.

"You heard the lady," said Jason, "we gotta secure the goods!"

Penney opened her mouth to reprimand him, but Jason had already retreated into the dark.

"What's the call, captain?" said Marina.

Penney looked to the sky. Most of the Regency ships were swarming around the Gravewind. The little black and gray ship glided between cannon fire, swift as a hawk. Fast as she was, the little ship could not hold up against a whole fleet of killers. Even with the Countess and the Wormwood closing in with supporting fire, Penney knew that the battle was already lost.

"Back to the ship!" Penney hollered.

The pirates ran back into the pub, where they found Pepper and Jason loading heavy crates onto the elevator.

"It's about time," said Pepper. "Care to help?"

"Clear that shit out of there," said Penney, kicking a chest full of coins.

"What?" said Jason. "There's enough room."

"No, there's really not. Besides, all this baggage will weigh us down."

"I don't appreciate you calling my goods 'baggage' and 'shit'." said Pepper, narrowing her eyes at Penney.

"Pepper, please! How are we even gonna get all this down the mountain?"

"Very carefully," said Pepper, slowly.

"We really don't have time for this."

As if to emphasize the point, an explosion rocked the whole pub. Entire shelves of cheap liquor fell, briefly deafening the crew.

"I hate to agree with Penney," said Jason, carefully readjusting his footing, "but this does look bad."

"Fine," Pepper scowled. "Just let me grab a few things."

"Fine, but hurry, will ya?" said Penney.

As the crew began moving all of Pepper's junk off the elevator, the pub owner fled from the backroom and knelt underneath the bar table. She pressed a button, which opened a hidden compartment by her feet. She pocketed the contents and rose. Broken bottles and furniture were strewn across the pub. It pained Pepper to see her beautiful creation in such a mess. For nearly half her life she had lived and worked within these walls. Her history was etched into the wood. Every corner told  story.

In fact, the first table by the window on the right told a very interesting story. The story of how Pepper first came to know a certain pirate who called herself Penney Dreadful. Pepper hated every memory of that day, but it made for a good tale.

Penney called her back from the elevator. With one last look at her life's work, Pepper ran.

 

In the skies below, the Ruckus roared to life. Penney's crew bustled about, preparing for launch. The grapplers were disengaged, the sails were raised and Parker breathed life into the engines. Everyone was on the move, except for Pepper. She stared at the mountain as they pulled away. Her eyes were hard as diamond. She had failed to take back her home. Now, if the news of Blackpeak's takeover was not spread like wildfire, every scoundrel and lowlife looking for a safe harbor would find only death by Regency hands. Or, at the very least, a barren mountain with no fuel and nothing to drink. Even worse, most of her hard earned coin was in Regency possession. Her hatred for the bluecoat bastards was likely the only thing keeping her from murdering Penney.

Despite the setbacks, hope was not lost. A new plan was forming in Pepper's head. Like all proper plans, it was tremendously risky.

The sounds of battle drifted down from above, muffled by distance. Rackham looked up, his face wet and white. His shoulder was still wrapped up, but Heydrich had treated it well.

"Any reason you ain't workin'?" said Penney.

Rackham started. He hadn't noticed her approach.

Collecting himself, Rackham pointed up. "You sure we can't help?" he asked.

"You never fought against a Regency fleet, have you?" said Penney.

Rackham shook his head.

"That's what I thought. Even with a fleet of your own, it's not recommended. Trust me, kid, there's nothing we can do."

"We can try." Rackham pleaded.

"We'd die. I want to help, I do. But it's really not a good idea. Not yet."

"We can't just leave them to die up there!"

Penney studied the boy from head to foot.

"You're awfully sentimental for a pirate," she mused.

"Well, sorry for being human, ma'am."

"You're feisty, at least. When you want to be. It's a start."

"Penney, I'm serious! We can't just-"

"So am I, kid. And no, we can't. Someone's got to live here, and it might as well be us."

Rackham finally shut up, but his eyes hardened. He looked up one last time before pushing past Penney. The pirate captain looked after him, shaking her head. She had lied when she said she wanted to help the others. Everything else was true. Still, looking upward, Penney felt something pulling at her. Was it bloodlust, or was it altruism? Whatever it was, it flooded Penney with remorse.

But Penney was a pirate. Penney was a captain. She had no use for remorse.

 

"Think they got away by now?" Sudie asked her captain.

"I certainly hope so, my dear." said Frimm.

"Why the hell did that idiot Tobias attack?" said Buckle. "You lasses tried to stop him, didn't you?"

"Oh, men never listen." said Frimm, waving the portly man away.

"At least we gave Penney and her crew time to flee." said Sudie.

"Yes," said Frimm. "It was quite nice of that Abberton woman to aid us."

"Now we just need to get the hell out of here." said Sudie, grimacing at the blackened sky around her.

"We are in agreement there, Sudie. Now, be a dear and signal the Wormwood."

"Aye, aye!" said Sudie.

Within moments, the Countess and the Wormwood flew beside each other, desperately attempting to flee while avoiding cannon fire. The Gravewind still fought like an enraged hornet. The little ship fired again and again at the gleaming hulls of the Regency vessels. Each direct hit looked like a tiny pinprick on the silvery white ships. The Gravewind meanwhile looked like it had been chewed up by a flock of harpies. Her hull was breached in several areas, and half her masts were burning. Sudie was amazed that Tobias could keep his boat afloat after suffering all that punishment. It wouldn't be long, however, until the Gravewind was timber.

The other two pirate ships weren't faring much better. Only speed and the element of surprise had kept them afloat. Now, her crews pushed themselves to flee as fast as possible. The Regency fleet gave chase, forgetting all about the mountain. Without warning, a foghorn sounded. It was loud enough to nearly deafen all crews present. Sudie and her captain looked behind them, toward the sound. A great white ship emerged from the clouds around the topmost peak. Unlike most Regency vessels, her hull was pure white and undecorated but for her name; the Hand of Saint Anne.

She was a gargantuan ship with a hull as thick as the stone of Blackpeak. Massive sails fluttered like wings. An ocean of fire propelled her through the sky. Her cannons looked like they could swallow the Countess whole. The smaller Regency ships stopped dead. Even Tobias ceased his crazed assault. Sudie and Frimm exchanged a frightful glance. Without another word, the pirates took advantage of the opportunity and ran.

 

Brandy could hardly believe her eyes. Lord Morgan Sim was here! His ship, the mighty Hand of Saint Anne, had signaled the Helios with a request to board. Sim himself strode onto the deck, surrounded by a cadre of guards. Jameson stumbled his way into a bow.

"S-sir!" he stuttered. "I had no idea you were coming. I would hav-"

"Where is Captain Pabst?" asked Sim.

"I...well, I believe he's dead, sir."

"Explain." Sim demanded.

And so Jameson explained. As he meticulously recounted recent events, Sim wore a stoic mask the entire time. His eyes never left Jameson for a moment. Brandy didn't even notice him blink. Jameson notably left out the part where he had almost killed Pabst himself. When his tale was over, Jameson tried and failed to look directly into Sim's eyes. Brandy didn't blame him. Sim was a hard man to look at, with those black pits he called eyes, a face shaped by wrinkles and age-old scars and a scraggly mass of coarse black hair. It was like Sim had been forged from the scorched stone of Blackpeak itself.

"Well, sir?" asked Jameson in a low voice. "Shall we give chase to those pirates?"

"No," said Sim. "I have other crews for pirate hunting. You shall continue your mission here, and I shall supervise."

"Aye, sir!"

"Ah," Sim breathed, looking at the mountain. "I can hardly wait."

"Sir?" asked Brandy.

"Much of the work I do requires isolation," Sim explained, "which is normally quite pleasant. But I simply had to be here for this occasion."

Brandy cocked an eyebrow. Sim held the same bored expression he had worn when listening to Jameson. Brandy wondered if his face was frozen like that. Sim must have seen her puzzled look, for he looked down at her and smiled. At least, she thought it was a smile.

"We are at the site of a momentous discovery, my dear." he said to her.

"And what discovery might that be, sir?" asked Brandy, careful not to sound impatient. "What exactly are we looking for?"

"A map," said Sim.

"A map?" said Brandy. "What kind of map would be buried in a mountain?"

"Do you believe in the Surface?"

"What?" said Brandy, taken aback by the sudden question.

"The Surface. Do you believe in it? You'd be surprised how many people don't, even with such clear evidence." Sim gestured to Blackpeak, as if Brandy had forgotten it was there.

"I...I suppose I do, sir." she said.

"Do you want to go there?"

Brandy suppressed a laugh. Sim sounded almost as drunk as Pabst. Sure, she believed in the Surface. But she didn't believe it was a place she would want to go. No ship had made it all the way to the Surface. The venomous Abyss only got worse and worse the further down you went.

"I was under the impression that the Surface is...inhospitable, sir." she said, still fighting a giggle fit.

"Perhaps it is," Sim said, shrugging his thin shoulders. "But it is worth finding, I think, if only to regain what our species has lost. And this map will lead us to it."

Sim looked to Blackpeak and grinned. Brandy immediately lost the urge to laugh. Sim's long, ivory white teeth did not make him any easier to observe.

"Yes," Sim whispered, eliciting a shudder from Brandy. "The map will lead us to paradise."

 

Fin


© Copyright 2018 Daniel Borin. All rights reserved.

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