“The Mirai’s attack on the Empire’s northern coast was the first strike in a chain of events which ended with a new world order.”
I slide the lever back, slowing down the shuttle. On my first attempt as a pilot, I almost crashed the damned thing. But Joyce was right. After a few minutes, I got better. Now, I almost feel safe while flying this thing. The worst problem was the sensitivity of the controls. A tiny touch of the control stick and the whole vehicle bucks like a mad bull.
But it’s just something you have to get used to.
Though, there is a small problem. The sensitivity is okay as long as I fly slowly, but I quickly found out that, while flying at high speeds, course corrections aren't a good idea. Nonetheless, this shuttle is a marvellous thing. It’s surprising that Joyce just gave it to me, together with a lot of other equipment. I admit that I am a little strange when it comes to new artefacts. Just a few hours ago, I thought that the crossbow from the Consortium is the coolest thing I will ever get my hands on. Far from that.
Maybe working for Joyce is one of the best things which ever happened to me.
Leaning forward, I study the little island. Joyce said that I have to look for a ship, but I can't see anything, even though I am exactly at the ordered coordinates. Well, she mentioned that her navigation system isn't perfect since it relies only on the sun and the stars. Exactly like all of this world's maps. She spoke as if there is a more accurate method.
Still, there is no ship and that sucks.
But the ship is the reason why Joyce sent me on this mission. I am the one who is supposed to find it. Sighing, I decide to fly in concentric circles. If I take the island as the centre of my search pattern, I should find the reason for my presence soon enough.
I lean back and prepare myself for a long day. This may sound strange, but waiting, that's exactly the type of work which an assassin has to be good at. People like me need a lot of patience to get a good shot at their victims. Assassins who rush their preparations don't tend to live long. And once you fuck up, you are generally done for.
I grimace. Who am I kidding? That's exactly what happened to me! I didn't think and took a job which I wasn't prepared for.
Cheer up, Willow!
I have to think about positive and interesting things, like this shuttle! Is Joyce aware that a few dozen of these things would turn Illum into an impenetrable fortress? Illum's biggest problem is that it's a big and slow target. A decent fleet of these shuttles could be sent out to engage any approaching fleet before they are able to engage Illum.
My thoughts are interrupted when I spot a dark spot on the ocean. The ship is far away from the island's coast, but it looks like that's my target. I slow down a little more and mash the 'hover' button when I am right above the ship. Then I get up and open the shuttle's door.
Joyce's instructions on this part of the mission weren't very detailed. She said that I have to clean up the dirt, which can be construed in a number of ways. I suppose that she would have said something if I have to expect resistance. Nonetheless, I make sure that my epee is ready and that the other artefacts which I got from her are within easy reach.
Then I jump out of the shuttle and spread my wings. Flying is an unconscious act for me. The soft buzzing of my wings accompanies my descent to the ship.
The ship is broad and sturdy. The designer placed more importance on cargo room than on a streamlined hull. Definitely some sort of merchant vessel. It has four sails and an elevated deck at the back of the ship. That's surely where the helm is.
Soon, I can make out bodies. They are everywhere on deck. It's almost as if they dropped where they stood. Five metres above the deck I have to stop and cover my mouth. The smell of rotting flesh and human waste is overwhelming. Why did all of them have to die? What happened? A pirate attack? No. The ship is in a perfect state and there are no signs of battle.
I lower myself onto the deck and focus my attention on one of the bodies. He is lying face down in the middle of the deck. Carefully, I use a foot to turn the corpse around. The bloated skin of his rotting corpse left a spot on the wooden planks, but otherwise, the corpse is completely fine. There are no signs of a cut or a stab wound which could be the reason for his death.
My thoughts immediately turn to poison and I step away from the corpse. I'll have to throw away my boots once I am done here. People in my line of trade need to have extensive knowledge on all sorts of poisons. I like to use them myself, but only the stuff which can be easily handled. Though, there are some substances which kill off the user just as easily. Just touching the skin is enough.
The rattling of a chain draws my attention. I turn around and draw my epee at the same time.
There is a door which leads into the elevated section of the ship. It's beneath the helm. A man appears out of the shadows behind the door and steps onto the deck. He looks haggard, almost starved. There is a mad determination in his eyes. I don't like it at all.
His only clothes are a captain's hat and trousers. There is also a chain around his ankle, which is attached to a round, iron weight in his hands. His chest is a mass of scarred tissue, but I can clearly recognize runes. Joyce threatened me with carving slave runes into my skin. Is that what happened to him?
He starts giggling upon seeing me. “That's too bad. Oh, that's too bad. I hoped to see her at least one last time. Too bad that she just sent me a minion. Are you also one of the slaves? The documents and contracts are in the captain’s office, should you need them.”
I step back. “No. What happened here?”
“Ah, I killed them. Isn't that obvious?” He shakes his head. “You don't seem to know anything about her plans. That's too bad. But I know. I had a lot of time to think about it. Even though I only got to see a few pieces, I can guess at her intentions.” He continues to gabble as he slowly walks towards the balustrade, struggling with the weight.
“What do you think you are doing?” I ask, still pointing my epee at him.
“I am executing my orders, but they weren't perfect. That's why I managed to delay my own death. You don't have the scars? Don't allow her to scratch your skin, or you will become like me.” He places the iron weight on top of the balustrade and takes his time in climbing to the other side.
“Stop that!” I need him to stop and explain this scene. “What's going on?”
He halts and looks at me, his eyes a little clearer. “You really don't know? Hm. Maybe she fucked up? Or she sent you intentionally to meet me. It would be just like her. Maybe she wants you to see what happens to people who aren't needed in her game. She already has a lot of minions doing her will.”
This guy doesn't sound entirely lucid. “Concentrate. What's going on? Tell me your name.”
He blinks and tries to focus his attention on me, then he smiles. “My name is Gregor, pretty fairy. I am one of the damned and if you don't know what that is, then try your best to stay in her good graces. If you get a chance to escape, don’t hesitate.”
His face distorts in an expression of pain. “Remember: Imperial weapons, Westfall.”
The rune on his chest flares up, shining with red light. He howls and falls, pulling the iron weight with him. There is a splash and his scream cuts off.
I hurry to the balustrade, but a few bubbles in the dark water of the ocean are the only thing that hints at Gregor's demise.
I turn around and run a hand through my hair to get the strands in front of my eyes out of the way. “That's so fucked up!” I have seen a lot of tough shit in my life and this is excursion is quickly making it into the top ten of shitty missions!
A quick look at all the bodies makes me sick. She said to clean up the dirt. Did she mean the bodies? Oh, what a joy. I kill people! I don't clean up the mess! Is she trying to tell me something?
Okay, Willow, pull yourself together. Don't let any of this get to you. You will do a good job and won't end up like this Gregor. I definitely got the better deal when she didn't carve those runes into my skin.
Now, what to do with the bodies? They go overboard, obviously. But how? I don't want to touch the stinky bags of flesh. Right. There must be something on this ship which I can use to clean up. Gloves, a mop...
There is nothing of the sort in sight, so I enter the bow of the ship. I feared that it would be much worse in here, but it's a little better than outside. Seems like most of the crew died on deck.
The design of the ship is very straightforward. A single corridor runs through the bow of the ship. There are generous crew quarters, and the captain's cabin, but what I am searching for is the staff canteen or the kitchen, where it's most likely to find cleaning equipment. On my search for some cleaning tools, I stumble into the cargo bay.
There are lots of crates, so I take a look to find out why Joyce wants me to collect the ship. I can hardly believe that she wants the ship itself, so it must be the cargo. The first crate is empty, but that's not the troublesome thing about it. I check eight more, feeling my stomach turn into a little knot. All of the crates are spacial chests. Looking around, I try to calculate the amount of cargo space inside this ship.
Gregor's last words are still on my mind. Did he mean that this ship smuggled imperial weapons to Westfall? How many trips did they make? Does it matter? One delivery run should be enough to outfit a little army.
The Sociocrathy has the orks safely contained within the borders of the Westfall desert. They don't have the resources to equip themselves with weapons, so they aren't a big danger. What will they do if someone hands them a huge stash of weapons?
More importantly, what will the other nations do when they find out that the weapons are coming from the Empire?