Once they were out in open waters, their speed didn't seem so dangerous. Quinn tried to get Zag to explain how they got the wind to blow like that, since even weather mages needed wind to up to a certain speed before they could manipulate it. The captain avoided her questions skillfully, steering the conversation in random directions, never failing to throw her off track. The way he laughed and shook his head at her questions made her want to knock his jaw off his face, but eventually she gave up the game and went to wandering around the deck and the first lower level.
Ernibus took up resident at the front of the ship, leaning against the railing and letting the wind wash across his face. He turned as Quinn approached, "Feels like we're in a storybook," he said, "On a ship like this, with folk whose likes were already being forgotten when I was a young man. Modern pirates have no sense of honor or adventure."
"Did you want to be a pirate when you were growing up?" she asked.
Ernibus shook his head, "Nah, I enjoyed the stories but I never felt like they were good role models. I'd always wanted to be a marine, and that's what I was for a majority of my adult life."
Quinn looked out over the water, in the distance, she saw a whale breach the surface, "Yeah, that's what I wanted too."
"Ah, right," Ernibus straightened, wincing at a stabbing pain in his lower back, "If you think about it, you're kind of living that dream right now. Marines and pirates are just opposite sides of the same coin. Foils, if you will."
"I suppose so."
"My grandfather's brother was a pirate, just before the purging times," Ernibus said, eyes looking into the distance at something Quinn couldn't see. "Lotta families were torn apart back then, despite it being one of the rare times every nation in the world worked together for the betterment of Atrimus."
Quinn knew a bit about that era in history, thanks to all her studying. Even Greymark contributed to the pirate purge of a hundred and fifty years ago. The outlaws were growing too powerful and earning too much influence among the kingdoms. Shipping lanes were constantly being raided and shut down, entire villages were nearly decimated and entire royal lineages were cut short. But a lot of good came from those times too, the very first prototype steam engines were created to help chase the pirates who could afford to hire the best aeromancers. Muskets and flintlocks were replaced slowly by auto and semi-auto weaponry.
It also brought about something else, something that Quinn suspected eventually lead to the downfall of her homeland. By the end of the purge, monarchies found themselves losing influence because of how long they waited to mobilize their armies to take care of the outlaw problem. Militaries and councils turned on their leaders, and empire after empire fell in bloody civil wars. All except Greymark. Their isolation and grey-iron monopoly afforded them the opportunity to remain completely independent.
It was weird to her to be talking to someone so closely related to those who struggled during those times. "So then…what happened?"
Ernibus sighed, "According to my grandpa, his brother just disappeared. Probably died with his ship, like all the others. It was hard to get him to talk about those times, but he made it back, making sure I'd be here, so I guess that's all that matters."
"And here we are now, being helped by pirates, the scourge of the seas."
"The irony isn't lost on me, young lady," Ernibus said, smiling once again, "I'll admit that Captain Zag isn't exactly what I'd imagined a pirate captain would be, but then again it isn't like we know him and his crew very well. He isn't doing this out of the goodness of his heart, remember, you paid him."
Quinn gazed back towards the helm, where Chappy was dancing at the wheel and Captain Zag was standing next to him, spyglass up against one eye. "He certainly hasn't been behaving like I'd imagined either. None of them have. It makes me wonder how things really used to be."
"If'n you'd seen my grampy's face when we managed to get a story out of him, ya wouldn't be. Never saw so much hatred in a man's face, it was kinda spooky. Then again, grampy was a straight-laced fella. Didn't even like playin' cards because it was too much like gamblin' which he said was mighty evil." He licked his lips, "Never touched a drop o' alcohol, either. Probably had a lot to do with his anger now that I think about it." He laughed, "Don't worry, I'm sure Zag and his crew'll keep straight since you paid 'em and all."
"Not worried really," she said, "At least not about them getting us to Jidian. I keep trying to figure out what I'm going to do when we get there, but that just makes me angrier and I lose focus all over again."
"Goin' in guns blazing against an entire merc company isn't a good idea, aye," Ernibus had taken out his old polished tobacco pipe and was now holding it in the corner of his mouth as he fumbled with the tobacco pouch, "It never was my specialty, but gatherin' information might be your best bet at first. Find out who them folks are exactly. Hell, it's been a long time since you encountered them, aye? Who knows if any of those people are still in charge." He struck his lighter and held it up to the bowl, shielding the flickering flame from the wind as he lit his pipe.
Quinn frowned, "It would make sense, their leader looked older than my father, but at the same time I just…get this feeling that nothing's changed with them."
"Intuition, is it?" Ernibus blew a ring of thick white smoke and shrugged, "I've known stranger things. Whatever it is, Quinn, my girl, you've got my rifle." She looked down and saw the gun resting against the railing near his feet.
More whales came up to the surface where the first had breached, and Quinn could see they were Blue Coral Whales. Their eyes, of which there were four, were rumored to make good aphrodisiac oils, while their bones were high sought after for use in expensive furniture and jewel crafting. But, most importantly, several of their organs could be used to make the most potent of whale oils. Because of these things, they'd been endangered for a very long time, for as long as Quinn could remember, and hunting them was now highly illegal. Her father said seeing one was a sign of good luck, but seeing a whole pod was a guarantee that something good was going to happen. Thinking back on his words brought both happiness and ache into her heart.
"Ain't seen a Blue Coral in decades," Ernibus said quietly, "Always good to know they're still around even after all that huntin' and whatnot." More smoke from his mouth, this time in a single puffy cloud.
They heard Ellowin coming up from behind them far before she called out their names. When they turned to greet her they were surprised to find themselves shoved apart by the girl so she could get to the railing, where she promptly lifted herself up and lost her lunch over the side.
It had never occurred to Quinn that this might be Ellowin's first time out on the ocean. She realized she knew very little about the girl's past, having given up when Ellowin responded to everything with a joke or misdirection. She reached out and patted Ellowin on the back.
"You gonna be okay?" she asked.
Ellowin groaned, falling from the railing down to her knees, clutching her stomach. "I…I," she retched, putting a hand over mouth. In a muffled voice she said, "I…went to visit Butcher, and she had this weird looking broth cooked up. She said it was sagefish and onion soup but…oooh, no." She was up and over the railing again.
Quinn held back a giggle, "Didn't the captain say she wasn't very good at her job?"
Ellowin went limp on the railing, "But she looked so sad, I couldn't help it." She turned her head to look at Quinn, "It didn't even smell bad or anything…and I only had two bites! Now it feels like the fish came alive in my stomach and is flopping around. Grrrk."
"…guess I'll keep my pity in check," Ernibus murmured.
Night came, revealing an ocean of stars overhead. It was a sight Quinn hadn't had the pleasure of seeing since she left home. The light pollution from Polomar blocked out so many constellations that she'd found herself stumbling to remember one of them. The wind grew cold very quickly, forcing her to flee below deck. With nowhere else to go, she retired to her room.
Ellowin was already inside, lying in her hammock and gazing out the hazy window, which was letting in a good amount of moonlight. She turned her head to look at Quinn upside down. "Hi," she said in her typical playful tone, but there were dark circles forming under her eyes.
"Still feeling sick?" Quinn walked over to her bed and sat down on the edge.
"Eh, a bit. Real tired, too. I choked down some bread and water, but it didn't help. Then Cap'n Zag offered me some brandy but…"
"But?" Quinn scooted back on the bed, sitting now with her legs crossed.
Ellowin looked at her like she was an idiot. "But…I'm not old enough to drink?"
Quinn rolled her eyes, "I don't think anyone is going to bust you for underage drinking out in the middle of the ocean. On a pirate ship. Besides, it's only, what, six months until you turn twenty? It isn't like you're missing much anyway."
Ellowin shrugged, "I know, I always made a big deal of things back at the White Dragon, but I was just joking back then." She stretched, arching her back and sighing, "This is…my first time out in the water like this."
Quinn didn't know how to respond to that. Her father had taken her out fishing when she was two, and it was highly abnormal for anyone to not have done at least that much by that age. "So you were born on Polomar, then?"
Ellowin curled up, pulling her blankets up to her chin, "Y-Yeah. It's embarrassing."
"It's just unusual, nothing to feel bad about."
"That's nice of you to say, but it's still weird for me to think about. I'm not even that good at swimming either." She fidgeted, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths. "I tried to teach myself a few times, it's when I stopped almost drowning I figured that was good enough."
"But, still, here you are, helping me out on my admittedly poorly thought out path to revenge."
Ellowin looked at Quinn, pulling the blankets up to just under her eyes, "Of course I came with you, I didn't even have to think about it. We're friends after all, right?"
Quinn slipped off her shoes and laid back, the bed felt nice and soft. "Yeah. Thanks, Ell. But…if things get bad, I don't want you to stick around."
"Does that mean you're planning to fight those weirdos? Like, by yourself?"
"Not necessarily," Quinn stared at the ceiling, "I'll just deal with whatever comes, as it comes."
"And you've called me impulsive how many times?" Ellowin turned in her hammock, "If you're going to fight, I'm going to fight, and so is Ernibus—even if he is about to fall apart at the seams. You've been our friend through a lot of hard times so we aren't going to throw that to the side when you need help too."
"…I appreciate you both," Quinn said, "I really do."
Neither of them spoke for a while after that, letting the sound of the waves hitting the hull fill the air. Fatigue weighed down Quinn's entire body, and anxiety kept her from finding sleep. Telethor sat propped up in the corner, the moonlight reflecting slightly off the silver bands on the sheath. That sword was her history, the only thing she had from the Sky Rocks. It embodied the souls of her people, and their hopes and dreams. She would take Telethor and kill that man with the eyepatch if it was the last thing she ever did.
Sleep found Quinn when she wasn't expecting it. There were no dreams but an instant transmission from dark to light. A ringing bell brought her back. At first, Quinn didn't know where she was and felt a rush of panic. But then she saw her sword and remembered. Slowly she rolled out of bed, got dressed and stuck Telethor in her belt. As she opened the door she was greeted by Butcher, who was holding a wrapped package. It was Quinn's breakfast, she explained, and that her companions had already eaten. Quinn asked how long Butcher had been standing there and Butcher insisted it hadn't been that long, only an hour or so.
On deck, things looked like they did the day before. Ernibus was standing at the bow of the ship, while Zag was up at the helm with Chappy. Ellowin was sitting on the giant padlock working on a puzzle box she had gotten from Dalia. But the peace was not to last.
Up from the Crow's Nest came a wailing call, "Ship off the port bow! Two hundred yards out!" Whoever it was up there sounded louder than any normal person should.
Instantaneously the deck became abuzz with activity. Cannons rose from the floor along the sides as platforms shifted around. Quinn looked up to the helm and saw Zag waving to her frantically. Flanked by Ernibus and Ellowin, she went up.
"Mighta just run into our first bout o' bad luck," Zag said flatly as they arrived, he held out his spyglass for Quinn to take, pointing to where she should look.
It didn't take her long to find the ship, and when she saw it her heart froze. It was a metal ship, painted black with gray borders. It flew a flag adorned with the symbol of a bronze colored dragon with its wings extended and its head was thrown back in a roar. Anger flooded her veins and Zag had to snatch the spyglass from her iron grip before she snapped it in half.
"Looks like a scout ship," Zag said, handing the spyglass to Ernibus next. "They've spotted us and are heading this way."
"Looks like they're tryin' to communicate too," Ernibus said, "They're flashing a deck light at us. Must have tried their radio first. They're usin' the old code, too."
Zag spat on the ground, "Hmph, what do they want."
Ernibus' lips tightened to a small line, "They…uh…want us to submit to a search." He scoffed, "Like they have any authority. Submit to a search or…" he paused, "…prepare to be boarded."
Zag clapped a fist into an open palm, "Oh, they want a fight, do they?" His eyes lit up, "Prepare to respond!" he called and the crew rushed to load the cannons.
A familiar stench appeared in the air, causing Ellowin to place a hand urgently over her own mouth. From below the doc came shambling out, trailing a translucent green ooze behind him. He was wearing glasses now, which only served to magnify his beady black eyes, "Captain!" he called up, "There are some…things in the water around us."
Quinn drew Telethor without thinking, "Zag, they're going to-"
There was a shout from the front of the ship and all eyes turned to see three green scaled sea horrors climbing over the railing, grinning and dripping, with long claws brandished.
Zag drew his saber, "Fire the cannons when ready, all hands on deck!" He leaped over the railing and landed on the deck with a loud slam.
Chappy was screaming happily and somehow began ringing the deck bell, signaling every available hand to the fight. More sea-horrors climbed on to the ship as Risen arrived to meet them, swords and clubs clashing with ivory claws. Ernibus had his rifle up and was kneeling with it propped up on the railing, a second later the muzzle flashed with a bang and one of the sea horrors went down screaming and clutching its eye.
Quinn opted for the easier route down, leaping down the stairs three at a time. At the bottom, she found a sea horror just emerging over the side of the ship to meet her. Up and down came Telethor, cutting right through the creature's scaly head, spraying black ichor into the air.
"Oh-ho-ho, gross!" Ellowin laughed, she had her daggers drawn, using one to cut the squealing horror's hand which still gripped the railing. It dropped into the water just as one of its companions was coming out, sending them both into the sea.
The cannons all along the portside of the ship exploded at once, the sound unlike anything Quinn had ever heard before. She cried out and covered her ears, but that didn't stop the ringing. Pillars of water exploded around the scout ship with two direct hits, one going straight through a pair of mounted guns and the other smashing into the hull, making a deep dent but not quite piercing the metal shell completely. The scout ship rocked violently, sending some of the surprised crew over the sides, others were caught in the explosions caused by the destruction of their mounted guns. Giant holes left by the explosions caught water as the ship bobbed up and down roughly. One side caught too much, and the whole thing began to tip to the side. Quinn heard Zag cackling over the battle, sounding far away from where she stood. Renewed by the sound of the enemy ship exploding, the pirate crew cheered as one and began pushing back against the invading green horde.
Dalia danced around a pair of sea horrors wielding a pair of cutlasses, slashing deep gashes into their hides whenever she got the chance. The grin on her face made her look insane. Quinn charged forward and impaled one of the horrors on her sword, lifting it off the ground and throwing it to the side, where it slid along the deck, leaving a trail of blood behind. The other horror made the mistake of looking over to Quinn and Dalia was on it in a second, slashing a nasty gash along its throat. It fell back with a pained gurgle.
The pirate woman stepped hard on the horror's face with her boot, and with a sickening crunch it went limp, "Nice of you to come along, darling," Dalia said, winking at Quinn and wrenching her heel out of the monster's brain, "But I had things under control." She danced away to find more.
It wasn't her first pitched battle, but Quinn felt more alive in that moment than she had since that fateful night. The sound of clashing blades and dying screams of the sea horrors, who apparently were not expecting the kind of fight they were getting, woke a side of her she didn't know she had. Every muscle in her body vibrated with excited energy, she felt quicker, stronger, and sharper. Telethor felt good in her hand like it was an extension of her body.
A monster suddenly appeared before her, arms raised, but then its face exploded, causing her to have to leap back to avoid getting a blood-shower. She looked up and saw Ernibus, still hunched behind the helm railing with his rifle at his eye, raising his hand and putting two fingers up in a V, she returned it with enthusiasm.
The monsters were falling back now, those who were able dragging their wounded companions back over the railings into the water. Their flight was swift and soon only the dead and dying were left. The Risen crew went about the task of finishing off those who needed finishing. Quinn stood, sword lowered, with a sense of pride swelling in her chest.
"Wow!" Ellowin exclaimed, stumbling up next to Quinn, "I've never been in a brawl like that. That was intense!" Her daggers dripped black blood but she seemed no worse for wear herself.
"Well done, mates!" Zag called from behind them, "Ye handle that thing well," he said as they turned around, motioning to Telethor.
"I practiced a lot as a child," Quinn replied, watching as Xander lifted a dead monster up and tossed it overboard. "Why would they do this, just attack like this?"
Zag shrugged, holding his saber up against his shoulder, "Probably cuz we're Risen," he looked out over the ocean, the smoking scout ship nearly under the waves completely now. "Some of you get on a raft and get out there and see if there're any survivors on that thing," he pointed, "Kill 'em."
"Harsh," Ellowin said, wiping off her blades with a handkerchief.
"But necessary, can't have any of 'em callin' fer help then getting the whole dang fleet on our arses."
"Assuming they didn't already call us in when they first saw us," Quinn sheathed Telethor.
"We'll find out when we get to Jidian, eh? Fer now we get my ship cleaned up. Chappy! Get us movin' again!"
From up at the helm came a "YES SIR!"
Zag put his hands on his hips, "We got outta that easy enough," he said, "No casualties on our side. O' course, Doc is gonna have to stitch some folk back together."
A Risen pirate walked by carrying one of his companions in two pieces, a torso and legs. They were both laughing about something. Quinn noticed that the one doing the carrying also had a big tear in his gut, his rotted insides dangling and bouncing as he walked. She turned her head to avoid losing her breakfast.
"A-yep, he'll be glad to finally get some work in," Zag nodded, gave a tip of his hat, and shuffled off.
Ellowin cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, "Ernie, are you okay?"
They looked up and saw the old man still kneeling by the railing, his rifle down at his side, "Aye, fine…" he looked down at something briefly, "but…I may need some help standing up!"
Quinn and Ellowin went to help.