Two men stood, their backs to a massive pit, the snarls and clicks of the enormous thick-bodied, man-eating, leaping lizards a cruel reminder of what their fate would be if they should stumble and fall. The one man, hair as black as pitch and eyes a stunning cerulean blue, looked over at his orange haired companion and then glanced back at the pit.

"Cap'n, I do believe we're outnumbered here," Pike, the man with the hair that stuck up in every which direction and was the color of well-fed flames, announced.

Sure enough, there was practically a small army of men, all armed to the teeth, fingers, toes, and everything in between, standing before them. They were the rough and, frighteningly tough, gang that patrolled the small bank that they'd just robbed right in the middle of Tiblen. It was a small town consisting of little more than a bank, some houses, a neat little tavern, and a very small medical facility. But the fact that it was just outside of Cold Harbor's district made it a prime trade route which, naturally, meant that the bank was often full of shiny cold gold, just waiting to be picked up. Which was where they came in.

Captain Nathaniel Heart chuckled, "Gee Mister Pike, ya think so? I can't imagine what would lead you to that conclusion."

"So, options?"

"We can be eaten by giant lizards."

"Hm. Tempting."

"Ain't it? Course we could always face what? Fifteen brutes with knives and guns bigger than my damned-"

"Keep it appropriate, Cap'n."

"Arm, Mister Pike," Nate finished with a cheeky grin. "Bigger than my arm."

"Yeah yeah," Pike muttered, playing the cynic to the Captain's snark.

"You there!" One of the men cried, brandishing an absurdly large sword in their general direction. "Give back the coin you stole, and we'll give you a quick clean death, eh?"

Nate and Pike exchanged overdramatized glances before looking back at the man. Pike shrugged and said, "I for one, have no idea what you're talking about."

"I'd never steal a bit of coin in my entire life. No matter how conveniently placed it might've been," Nate continued.

"Should've known to expect this brand of shit," the man snarled. A man from the western side of the country, easily noted by his brown eyes, brown hair, and well-tanned skin. "A Sovoyen and a Valen, the lowest of the lows. Disgusting men, from countries built up on gods knows what. Conspiring together to rue us good natured Balstinians, and destroy our country! Can't you Sovoyen shits just stay in your own godsdamned country? Bad enough you started this fuckin' war, now you wanna rob us too?! You fuckers aren't even from here!"

"Hey!" Nate snapped, drawing his cutlass and the pistol at his side, "I'm not just Sovoyen!"

"And I was born here, I'll have you know!" Pike added, flicking both his wrists so the concealed blades up his sleeves fell into his open palms.

The leader allowed a sinister grin slide onto his blocky face and he raised his cudgel in response.

"Like I said, filthy. Fucking. Foreigners."

Nate looked over at Pike and their eyes met. Pike raised his eyebrows. And Nate gave the slightest of nods. A very small, grim smile appeared onto Pike's face and the First Mate's hand flicked and the man next to the leader let out a yowl as one of Pike's small knives found itself lodged in his kneecap. He fell to the ground, unable to hold up his weight and the leader of the group let out a fierce war cry.

Nate and Pike were close, but it wasn't clear how close until they fought. When they fought, the men moved together, as a single unit. They attacked, pushing forward together and, when it became too much, they fell back together. Nate gave Pike enough space to move and Pike did the same but they never strayed too far from each other. They were painfully aware of how quickly the tides could turn.

The lizards below smelt the spilt blood, they could sense the turmoil above them, and they wanted in. Their snarls and hisses grew louder and over the clash of the men fighting, if one listened very carefully one might've ben able to hear the scratching of one very ambitious lizard, desperate for flesh, slowly scaling the wall.

Nate's cutlass collided with the leader's arm as the man swung the cudgel down. With a fearsome yowl, the man stumbled but didn't stop fighting. He swung again just as another man attached, swimming his blade and screaming something about blood and guts.

Nate turned to the new attacker, his cutlass intercepting the man's wild attack. He parried, taking a step back just as the leader lined up his attack. Pike moved swiftly, quicker than anyone might've believed. He jumped at the man, sinking a blade deep into the man's chest. The leader, pain and surprise appearing in his widening eyes, changed the direction of his attack. The cudgel all but screamed through the air at the leader's new attacker.

Pike rolled his shoulder back and the thick weapon just barely collided with his right arm. It was enough to send him off balance though. Pike stumbled back, lost his footing on a slick of blood, and fell. Pain lanced through his arm as he slammed down onto the ground. At the same time, the ambitious lizard from below leaped out of the mouth of the pit, like a devil from the flames of one of the three Hells, and sunk its long fangs into Nate's left shoulder. With a pained shout, Nate spun, stepping backwards.

The lizard, almost the instant its fangs sunk into flesh, released and prepared for battle.

As Nate stumbled back, raising his cutlass to fend off the ravenous reptile, his foot collided with Pike and he toppled backwards. His First Mate let out a gasp as all available air rushed out of his lungs. The lizard leapt just as the leader swung his cudgel at Nate's head.

Pike squirmed beneath his Captain. Then a blade was in his hand, he moved his hand and the blade flicked through the air, catching the leader right between the eyes. The man's arms went limp. His weapon hit the ground, drained of all it's violent energy. The leader was next. Falling to the ground in a useless lump of flesh. Nate's cutlass swung, cleaning beheading his reptilian opponent.

"Gods," Nate grumped, climbing to his feet. With their leader dead, the group of thugs didn't know what do do.

The captain held out a hand to Pike, the man grasped it, and was pulled to his feet. After a moments pause, Nate pulled the packet of money out of his jacket. He tossed to to the man closest to them with a jingle of coins from inside.

"Take it. It ain't worth the trouble."

Pike didn't even raise his eyebrows. He knew it was coming. The man clutched the packet to his chest, bewildered, and turned away from the two men. The thugs, what few remained decided to follow the man, leaving Nate and Pike by the lizard pit with the bodies of who was left.

"They gave up disturbingly easily," Pike said, curiosity entering his voice.

"Know what they say, head of the snake."

"I don't think those men were smart enough to create anything resembling that motto."

"True," Nate said, spotting a new land cruiser headed their way, "maybe, it's cause they were only paid to get the money back.

"That makes much more sense." Pike began collecting his knives, never willing to let a blade go if he could help it.

"Reckon Pen and Bart got what we came for?" Nate said, wincing at the pain in his shoulder as he took a step towards Pike.

"Let's hope so," the First Mate muttered, rolling his shoulders with a soft groan. "Otherwise I just nearly got my arm crushed for nothing."

"Well, savin' my life ain't technically nothing," remarked the Captain.

The two men watched carefully as the land cruiser pulled up and Nate gave a small wave to the driver and passenger.

"What the hell happened to you guys?" grumbled Bartrich Kirt, the dark skinned Cultarian in the passenger seat.

Suddenly there was a loud snarl from behind the Captain. He whirled, just as another massive lizard leapt out of the pit. He hardly had time to raise his cutlass in defense when there was the boom of a blunderbuss and the creature's head exploded. Leaving behind a mass of blood and torn flesh where its head once was. Nate kicked the lizard back into the pit, unceremoniously.

"I hate these lizards," he said grimly, shoving his pistol back into its holster before turning to the driver of the land cruiser and giving her a grateful nod. "Thanks Pen."

"Anytime, Captain." The gorgeous Balstinian woman, with her dirty blonde hair tied behind her in a long shiny braid, put down her blunderbuss and gave him one of her dazzling smiles.

As the two men climbed aboard, Nate asked, "How'd things go on your end?"

"Peachy," Bart replied sharply, eyeing the blood spreading from the bite on the Captain's shoulder. "Looks like your …distraction plan, worked wonders."

"Worked well enough," Nate said cooly, combatting Bart's sarcasm with ease.

Pike looked at the large crate on the floor of the cruiser with a satisfied grin as they made their quick ride back to there they'd stashed their ship.

Nate let out a sigh of relief. They'd pulled through, again. He glanced behind them as a large cloud of dust rose up from the fat wheels of the cruiser on the soft ground. The hired thugs seemed to have chosen to slink back to wherever they'd come from, not bothering to give chase to Nate and his crew. And with The Novice tucked away nearly two miles from Tiblen, he doubted anyone even knew who they were. So, having justified his sigh of relief, Nathaniel leaned back in the seat, resting his feet on top of the crate and allowed himself to relax. After all hadn't he earned it?

The Novice was waiting for them, nestled snugly in the rocky crevice, looking more like a large hunk of scrap metal than the ship that Nate and Pike had lived in for the past twelve years. It was a sleek design, at least, it had been. Tight curves led to sharp fins that jutted out from the side, and not just two, but four powerful thrusters, equipped with the latest in rotational mobility to allow for sharp turns and, more often than not, quick getaways, were tucked towards the back. But even though the massive window at the nose of the somewhat bullet-like shaped ship was without event he faintest scratch, it was hard to ignore the newly replaced panels on her hull. The lighter colored metal stood out against the dark iron hull almost painfully, and the bolts keeping the ship from falling apart were rusted. Written on the side of the ship was: The Novice, but the once maroon paint was chipped from years of abuse and there were deep gouges in her metal from years of near-miss scenarios. But, although she was beat up by time, weather, and dangerous jobs a plenty, she was home and for Nathaniel Heart, there was no where he felt safer.

Nate hopped out of the cruiser as Penelope brought them to a halt. He punched in the combo for the cargo bay and with a low groan, it opened. She drove the cruiser into the belly of the ship, switched it off and began unloading the crate from the back of the cruiser. Nate walked aboard his ship, letting out a sigh as he laid eyes on the crate.

"So, everythin' went according to plan then, huh?" He said, feeling the pain from his shoulder spread down to his elbow for a minute.

"Of course, Captain," Penelope said as her and Bart slid the crate to the corner of the cargo bay, under the series of thick netting that held all sorts of sacks and boxes precariously above their heads. "Would you expect anything less from us?"

"From you," he shook his head, as a small crooked smirk appeared on his face, "from Bart well…" Nate shrugged.

"Humorous, Nate," Bart remarked coldly. "Are you gonna let me take a look at that bite of yours? Or are you going to make me beg this time?"

"Lemme send a 'gram to Grenner first," Nate said, ignoring Bart's icy demeanor.

As the Captain left the cargo bay, leaving his crew behind to take care of everything else. Bart glanced over at Pike and noticed, for the first time, that the First Mate had his right arm tucked close to his body.

"The fuck happened to you?" Bartrich grumbled, as Penelope tied down the crate.

"It's nothing," Pike replied. "I wasn't fast enough."

The engineer's eyes narrowed and he said, "You're always fast enough. He fucked up again?"

"Bart," Penelope said sharply. "That's our Captain."

"Who cares? If he's gonna use his crew like his own personal saviors then-"

"Bartrich," she said again. "That's enough."

The engineer muttered something under his breath before heading off to the engine room. Penelope didn't say anything for a long moment before she looked over at Pike and asked, "What happened? I thought the plan was to distract the guards. Not to end up by the fighting pit with four guys and lizards attacking you."

"It was more than four," Pike admitted. He had a hard time keeping things from her. There was something about her that made lying impossible.

"So what happened?"

He didn't say anything for a moment then, in a soft voice, he said, "He went a little far this time."

They remained quiet. Until the silence between them became unbearable and then Penelope said, "I think the Fog is making him worse."

"Yeah. Me too."

She walked away before he could say anything. He was left standing in the cargo bay with the land cruiser and the crate they'd fought so hard to get. A part of him couldn't wait to get the crate off their ship so they could be done with the damned job.

Bart was patching up Nate's shoulder when Pike stepped onto the bridge. "How're things going in here?"

Bartrich shot him an irritated glance and said sharply, "Well, if the ridiculous man we call a Captain would stop choosing suicidal jobs, everything would be just perfect."

"It wasn't a suicidal job," Nate mumbled as Bart taped down the thick piece of gauze on the lizard bite on Nate's shoulder.

"No? Let's have a recap shall we? First you get a job from Grenner. Grenner! As if that didn't explain how absurd the job would be to begin with!"

"Bart," Nate said with a sigh, "let's do this later, huh?"

The engineer laughed but it was entirely without mirth. "No, no, Nate, we're gonna talk about this now."

"Talk about what?" The female gunner entered the room, standing next to Pike with her hands locked delicately in front of her. Penelope had changed her hair. It was done up in tight dirty blonde curls that stopped just before her shoulders. Her brown eyes were quick to take in the scene and she shook her head at the three men, as if they'd done some form of schoolyard mischief and had gotten caught.

"Nate's suicide wish."

"I am not suicidal," Nate snarled. "We got the job done, didn't we? Let's dump the cargo, get paid and move on."

"You're not getting it! This has been going on for too long! First it was just some job here and there that were a little dangerous except now it's every damn job. Shit, we've been shot at more times then I can count-"

"Oh, I dunno 'bout that Bart. You can count pretty high, can't ya?" Nate chuckled weakly and stood up. He pulled his shirt back on, muttered something about the hole the lizard left in the fabric, and made to leave the bridge.

Bartrich wasn't having any of it though. He stood up as well, winding up just a few inches taller than the Captain. "Can't keep doing jobs like this, Nate. Someone's gonna get killed. Again."

At that, Nate whirled on his engineer. The rage was clear to see by his blazing eyes, by the way he balled up his fists, and the way he clenched his teeth together so hard that it must've made his jaw ache. Pike tensed, waiting for the dam to give way. But the Captain's fury was reserved this time.

"Listen to me," Nate snarled, taking a step towards Bart, "I don't give a good godsdamned how you feel 'bout this. You wanna get paid right? That's what we're all here for. To get paid. So, here's how it goes. I get us a job, we do the job, we get paid. Don't like it? Then get the hell off my ship."

The silence was painful. Bart opened his mouth to snap something back when Penelope grabbed his arm. "Bartrich, I need your help with something. Will you come with me?"

Bart knew exactly what Penelope was doing. He knew she didn't need any help, when did she ever? But bless his soul, he followed her off the bridge anyway. Without a single word in his defense.

"Cap'n," Pike said softly.

"What?" Nate snapped, rounding on his First Mate. "You wanna bitch about how I run this ship too?"

Pike remained quiet for a moment, allowing his Captain to let off a little bit of steam. When Nate turned his back on him, that was when he spoke, "I was merely gonna suggest that we…take a little break."

"You want off the ship?"

"No, no. I meant …like a vacation almost. Give the crew a break from the jobs for a little bit. It'll take their minds off …everything."

There was a sudden clicking coming from the communication board on the Navigator's station to the left of the control panel. Nate, ignoring what Pike had just said, crossed over, pulling the small sheet that was rapidly printing from the machine. Few airships had a telegraph station set up, and even fewer actually worked. They ran on a system of small electronic signals sent through a series of electronic poles that were scattered throughout Balst. But they were horrendously complex, and often times the weather-as turbulent as it could be throughout the main part of the country (excluding the mountain-based capital, Pender)-caused a lot of destruction to the waves between the poles, and destruction to the poles themselves.

The telegraph machine finished spitting out the small ticket-like paper, and Nate ripped it from the machine. It was a long telegraph, and there was more coming apparently as the machine began rapidly clicking again.

"What is it?" Pike asked, his curiosity getting the better of him, as usual.

"We've got a job." There was a pause as Nate pulled out the other slip. "A high payin' job too."

"Who's it from?"


The First Mate bit back an irritated sigh. "What's the job?"

"There's some ship near Hangreach. Not far from us really, just a short flight over. One of the smaller towns uh…Elvangek? I guess." He glanced down at the navigational sphere, their location a small yellow light against the dark blue surface. It showed them close to the bright blue light of Cold Harbor and he glanced over at where Hangreach's light glowed equally bright. It wouldn't be a far flight at all. They'd be able to make it back in time from the first job too, if they didn't get stuck waiting around too long for the ship to arrive.

"It's El Vangek. Hard e sound."

"Oh. Well, anyway, there's some ship there. Well there's gonna be, it's on it's way. Grenner says there's a girl on it. He wants us to pick 'er up and bring 'er to him."

"A girl?" Pike raised his eyebrows when Nate looked over at him. "Cap'n that sounds an awful lot like slave trade that we're doin'."

The Captain was quiet for a moment, he clenched his teeth and then a strange glint came into his cerulean blue eyes, "Nah, not slave trade. Just another job."

"I dunno about that."

Nate scoffed, "The hell's gotten into this crew of mine?"

"We're just worried about ya, Cap'n."

"What's to be worried about?" He gave his Valen friend a cocky grin. "Everything's gonna work out fine. Trust me."