Sitting on top of the box, I look behind to see what had been my home for nine long years go up in flames, embers carried high in the windless sky.
Those mortals took my lair. We live to fight another day but the need to flee leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. My instinct to turn and fight conflicts with the knowledge that there is nothing to be gained and the house being already lost makes a difference in helping me stay put.
I do not dare imagine how Loth must feel. He was quick to agree that fighting the actual army on the field and engaging in a protracted battle is a doomed proposition, and also stupid, but just like me, he is harried by his emotions.
I am angry, deeply angry. Objectively, I know that we are at war and we were simply outmanoeuvred. Vae Victis and all this nonsense. Subjectively, I fully intend to watch the Herald beg for mercy as I pull his witch's insides out and strangle his eyeless head with her intestines. Or some such. I will usher him onto his new age one limb at a time. I will… Pah. I will plan properly and win.
Behind the box are Loth’s main gun and three drawn carriages carrying the supplies of Venet’s men, who themselves trail us on their horses. Escaping was not too difficult. The house had three prepared tunnels and we managed to use the biggest ones. We piled what effects we could in the carriages, gathered the rest in my bedroom which was subsequently sealed. All non-essential items such as cheap raw materials, prototypes etc were consigned to the fire. Our ability to strike back is still intact though our lives are wrecked.
“Did you have the time to feed, Ariane?”
Isaac’s voice comes from inside the box. Venet moved him here, as it remains the most secure place in the entire convoy. My sarcophagus is there also, ready to protect me from the sun and, according to Loth, powder charge or even indirect artillery fire. Not that I would put it to the test.
Their vitality was simply too low. It was not worth the effort.
“I should be fine until tomorrow.”
I do feel a light onset of the Thirst. I drank from a passerby on our way back to Higginsville, though not deeply, and this should allow me to continue until tomorrow.
“Good! Good. We need to keep going for a while.”
My fellow vampire probably worries about my composure, a wise decision. My siblings are not exactly renowned for their self-control. With this said, the conversation dies out. None of us are in a talkative mood.
An hour later we stop at a crossroads. Venet, Isaac, Loth, Dalton and I gather for an improvised war council around a map hastily drawn on their largest table..
“We have two priorities. The first is to get the government off your backs. Fortunately, the consortium has given me full authority to draw on our ample resources and with what Ariane told me of Fillmore’s basement, I have a perfect way to get rid of him.”
“Will he not fight back?”
“A man such as himself has many secret enemies, Ariane, people who are more than willing to withdraw their support for a shot at his position. I can have him retired by the end of the week, even if I have to ask favours from the Charleston enclave. You can count on me. In the meanwhile, I need the two of you…”
Loth clears his throat.
“Request… That the two of you go to the port city of Clarkson’s Cove to the South and talk to a man called Dennis. He will have the information you need.”
“To do what?”
“Why, to find a pirate ship and board it of course.”
Truly, fiction is no match for reality.
Clarkson’s Cove, Georgia, two days later.
I step behind Loth on half-buried planks, over desolate marshland. His broad back is a bit hunched, not under stress but because of deep-seated hatred. I do not need to ask. My companion may act the gentleman now but he used to be a warlord. The veneer of civilization has always been skin-deep on him. Now, it is cracking.
“Would you like to do the talking?”
Loth turns, his eye manic under his thunderous brow, and yet he reasserts his control in a mere moment. I admire his discipline.
“Aye lass, why not.”
Then after a pause.
“Thanks fer asking.”
I do not reply. There is no need for that between us.
We cross an open expanse to find a large one-story wooden house built on an elevated mound in the middle of the swamps. A fire burns brightly near its entrance and two sentinels relax after seeing that there are only two of us. Unwise, though not unexpected. They are armed with muskets, and quite a few blades besides. Their clothes are mostly green-dyed cotton and cured leather and they leave very little skin uncovered even in this early fall. Their bushy beards give them an unkempt, and dangerous look. They trail us as we climb up the path.
“I think you’re lost, friends.” says the first man with a nervous smirk. No one can be completely relaxed in front of Loth, especially now that he exudes barely-contained violence.
“We’re here ta see Quick Wallace.”
“Maybe Quick Wallace don’t wanna see you.”
Loth’s voice has an unmistakable tone of finality in it.
“Stay here, I’ll check.”
The first goon gets in while the second steps back and eyes us nervously. As time passes by, the man becomes increasingly paler under Loth’s pitiless glare.
“He’ll see y’all now. No funny business”
I follow my friend inside to a large open room used both as a meeting place and a kitchen, apparently. The smells of roasted meat and tobacco permeate the air, the first coming from a fireplace upon which roasts a whole piglet. Men sit and lean among derelict furniture centered around a curious trio. The first is a blond man with an eyepatch, sitting lazily in the room’s throne. The second is a huge black man in leather coveralls with an oversized machete standing by his side. He is as tall as Loth, and his face is covered in what seems to be ritual scars. The last one is a surprise. He is the only clean-shaven person of the lot, has a monocle hanging from his city jacket and is currently nervously holding a bowler hat that has apparently been subjected to this cruel treatment for at least a year.
The blond man is clearly the leader. His posture is relaxed, assertive, and his brown coat is of good cut. Jewelled ring adorn his fingers. He leans forward and starts, with a smile and a cautious glance.
“I’m Wallace. This is Moise,” he points at the tall man with a stiletto he is using to clean his nails, “and this here dashing lad is Loustic. Now tell me why the fuck I shouldn’t carve you up like a pig and stick your gal on my mast.”
He smirks. I am wondering, do we really need him? We just need his crew, right? And I have a good way to ensure their loyalty.
Loth who once again proves his unerring self-control simply throws Isaac’s letter to the man. He doesn’t look at it and instead passes the envelope directly to Loustic.
“We’re not some pansy ass city folks here, we have Loustic to read for us. We have our ways. For example Moises here. He don’t part the seas, yeah? He parts people.”
We remain nonplussed.
“It’s from… Savannah, boss.”
Wallace’s face falls.
“You’re one of them?”
Loth slowly shakes his head before adding.
“Nay, she is.”
All eyes turn to me. I grab everyone and roughly push terror at the forefront. The effort required leaves me a tad dizzy and a bit Thirsty. I should not have done that.
“Now that the pishing contest is done, can we go on or do ye wankers need to jack each other off before ye sail.”
You could hear a pin drop. Aaaah Loth, you should have just told me you needed to unwind a bit.
“Bet you wouldn’t be so tough without that monster behind you.”
I take exception to that. Or rather, I would but Loth needs the relief more than I do.
I grab Loustic by the wrist in the frozen room and head for the exit. Before I cross it, I turn and add in a dignified tone.
“Don’t take too long.”
I stand outside with the strange pirate by my side still holding our letter. The two sentinels stare at us, with expressions of bovine surprise.
Inside the house, I hear the rustle of fabric as Loth carefully removes his jacket. Then the heckling start.
“Any of ye cocksuckers want ta put yer fists where yer mouths are?”
There follows the sound of feet rushing forward, of flesh hitting flesh, and that of a body impacting the wall. Then all hell breaks loose. The sound of fighting, the crash of bodies, thrown furniture and broken glass, the grunts of effort and the moans of pain form a disharmonious symphony to match my survey of the land. The composition is not so bad, all in browns and greens with hints of red. I am almost tempted to draw it later.
“So…” starts Loustic with a shaky voice, “come here often?”
A pirate’s body crashes through a window and lands in the mud, stopping after a few rolls.
After half a minute, a roar explodes outwards and scares a few bats into flying away.
“Hah, that’s Moise!” adds a sentinel with a vindictive smile.
Loth bellows. The sound, flat and pure as if it were coming from a longship’s horn makes the remaining windows shake. A duel of titanic proportion announces itself to us through the walls as if they were not here. Fists on flesh, broken wood and shattered pottery, massive bodies crashing around like battering rams. After a few more seconds the fight reaches a climax and the two men smash through the door like freight trains, sending the thing careening in the air.
Loth landed on top and he stands up without trouble. Apart from a thin line of blood coming from his temple, he appears unharmed. Moise looks a bit dazed.
My friend slowly walks to a dead tree by the path and simply uproots it. He breaks the trunk in half and approaches his opponent with his hideous, improvised club. The roots shake ominously as he marches forward.
“Remember what ye asked me two minutes ago?”
“Naw man,” replies the black man while spitting blood, “I’m stumped.”
Loth looks at the thing in his hand, then at Moise smiling bloodily on the ground, then back to the improvised siege equipment. Then he drops it.
Both men roar with hilarity, soon joined by the recovering pirates. Soon, bottles start to appear and the whole group down bottles of rotgut like they’re water.
I don’t understand what is happening. Is this a men thing?
Fifteen minutes later.
Wallace points at a map salvaged from under a broken table.
“This here cross marks Cotton Cove, it should harbour the Sainte Rita, one of the many smuggling ships used by the pirates of Barataria under that accursed Frenchman, Jean Lafitte, until the day after tomorrow. The ship stays anchored long enough for the crew to unload their goods, get drunk off their arses, load some more loot then fuck off. We’ll catch them with their pants down.”
Good, then I will have my fill of blood for the first time in two bloody weeks.
“To avoid detection I’ll take Loustic, Moise and the first shift crew to go by foot and take down their land-bound team. Patterson, you’ll drop us off half a mile up the coast and cut off their retreat. Milady, hm, would you mind staying with us?”
“Not at all captain.”
“Good, hrm, good. Then it’s settled. Let’s go.”
Those mortals are only a little scared of me, and they are all deferent. I could get used to this, of the normal ones knowing what I am and accepting it. I remember the creed of the Eneru vampire faction and their hidden cities, filled with people who know what they are. I can see the attraction of a symbiotic relationship.
Loth and I return to grab some effects and our weapons and board the pirate ship.
The smuggling base at Cotton Cove is very cleverly designed, I will give them that. No road goes to it and as far as I can see, it is hidden from passing ships by judicious use of rocky outcrops and vegetation. Three ramshackle buildings huddle under cover and the telltale plumes of smoke are noticeably absent. I raise a fist and the men behind me stop.
“No signs of them. Stay here, I will scout ahead.”
I move to the compound and stop ten paces away from the main entrance. I smell that lot of blood has been spilt here very recently. I detect no heartbeat.
I silently look through every window and see nothing but crates and personal effects. My summary inspection over, I return to the others and inform them of my findings. The mood turns grim.
“This ain’t good,” mutters Wallace.
“Let’s check the base thoroughly and then proceed with the plan.” I add. Ah, I was really looking forward to a good meal. This setback is… Unfortunate.
For our allies.
No, Ari, hold on. They are under Isaac’s protection and he trusted me with those enticing people. I need to at least try to keep them safe and sound and delicious. I mean, safe and sound. Ignore the Thirst. I have done it before and I can do it again.
We reach the buildings once more and Wallace and a few others remove the cover from lanterns to inspect their surroundings. I lightly tap on the captain’s shoulder. He turns with fury but flinches when he finds himself staring at my mask.
“Two people were killed here.”
He points his light at the ground, where ominous red pools spread an extinguished brasero.”
“Less than three hours.”
The man swears like a sailor, which I guess he is so it should be fine really. I wonder if he would swear less if I made him more pliable. Just a small bite…
“Those torches were lit, they were doused. Milady, can you see anything else?”
I point at the largest building.
“More blood here. No one alive.”
I lead them into what turns out to be the barracks. Two double beds and a few hammocks surround a cooking station as well as an upended table. Stained cards litter the ground. Blood marks in pools and splashes cover almost everything. The stench is unpleasant.
“Still no bodies…” mutters Moise. I do not reply, instead I grab under a bed to reveal a severed hand still holding two cards. Jack of spade and queen of heart. Ominous.
Loustic runs outside to retch. I sigh.
“So they took most of the bodies. Who would do that?!” asks a pirate.
I doubt it was vampires. It is far too messy. Even a rogue one would drink his fill. Out of ideas, I inspect the wound on the limb I found. A blade and overwhelming strength cut it which does not mean much. I believe that at least half of the men present would have the strength to do it.
Are we too late? Did the Brotherhood’s muscle do that?
“We need to get to the ship.”
Loth and Dalton show no fear but the pirate crew is more apprehensive. A few mutter about monsters and one of them stops in the middle of signing himself when he realizes I am watching.
“Yea… Let’s go. Come on lads, time to earn your pay.”
Our group leaves the abandoned buildings and we follow a small trail to a pier hidden in the shadow of an islet. We find an empty rowing boat and traces of blood.
“I ain’t going! Tis some vile sorcery, it is!” mutters one of the crew.
“He’s right cap’n we don’t know what we’re up against!”
A part of me knows I should let Wallace handle the discipline. This part of me is buried by another, much more interested in this development.
“So, you are not going then?” I ask lightly.
Silence is made as eight people hold their breath. For a moment, nothing happens, then the entire squad scrambles aboard.
And also, slightly disappointing.
Men start rowing while Wallace and I stay at the prow. The night is rather dark, and his attempts to spot something on the Sainte Rita’s deck are so far fruitless. I could just tell him that there is nobody there but I do not bother. Rather, we have a small problem.
“If you use any more power to row we’ll soon complete a circle.”
Even with Moise on the other side, the strengths of the teams are not balanced. I would need to row myself and that is not happening while MORTALS ARE HERE TO SERVE.
We make our way across the cove in relative silence. The men smell appetizingly terrified. Perhaps I should… No. I can wait a bit more.
Soon, Wallace expertly aligns the rowing boat with our target and I jump on the deck while the others climb up a netting.
Deserted, except for more blood. This one is slightly older and I deduce that whoever slaughtered the smugglers started with their ship. I open the only door to the lower level and listen.
There is exactly one heartbeat left.
The crew gathers upon the main deck with their backs to each other. The tension is palpable. I signal Dalton who relays what I found to Loth. The pair climbs down, soon followed by an irate Wallace, angry at losing the initiative.
Two men are left behind to guard the rowboat. They exchange a nervous glance and when they turn around, the rest of us have disappeared.
I wait, hidden in the sails. The smell of the sea and the sound of the waves lapping at the hull relax me. This is the waiting part.
After a few seconds, something clicks on the treated wood, I wait.
More things click on the side. Fascinating. They can at least breathe underwater.
Now eight things are crawling up towards the clueless pirates. They are standing back to back with their pistols drawn, sweeping the darkness with their lanterns.
One of the things pops its head above the railing and I am once more surprised, and pleased. The is a man-fish! Or a fish-man. Bah, it matters not what it is called, it is humanoid. A bald head covered in scales and a flat face without a nose sits atop a powerful chest and muscular arms ending in claws. Besides the white face, the creature appears to be coloured a deep cyan.
This will be interesting.
The thing grabs the railing with two hands and repositions in what I recognize to be a prepared jump, then it launches at the two men with a scream, interrupted when I boot its head into the wooden planks.
The other four creatures already on the deck scramble and dodge instead of charging, and the two pirates miss their panicked shot as a result. If the detonations have not alerted the rest of the crew, their girlish screams will.
“What the fuck is that!?”
I shelve my annoyance and grab a thrown trident by the shaft, only to return it to its sender with interest. The strange weapon catches the fish creature in its guarding arms and propels it above the rail.
And then the one under my foot grunts a strange, sibylline cry and they all jump out, leaving me with the leader and two urine-soaked seamen.
The thing is not struggling so I remove my foot to allow it to move up. It slowly does so and I take the opportunity to inspect my captive. The creature is almost as tall as Loth, though its build is lithe and sinuous. Its legs have been replaced by a muscular tail with pointy fins that slither on the ground. The white of its face extends down to its chest and only stops where the belly button would be. Its eyes are a dirty amber colour with no sclera, the black of its pupils fixed on me. It opens its lipless mouth to reveal needle-like fangs but otherwise stays put.
I, however, am quite Thirsty.
“It was a good Hunt,” I whisper with my fangs out.
I freeze in surprise. What?! It speaks?! Its voice is raspy and strange and yet there is no mistaking it. It called my name?!
Against all expectations, the creature bows in a supplicant gesture and offers its throat.
“You speak my language?”
The rest of the pirate crew rushes out. Silence reigns as they take in their terrified comrades and the strange creature kneeling before me.
“It’s that devil thing that killed the Sainte Rita’s crew. Kill it!” screams Wallace.
A collective intake of breath accompanies a collective lowering of guns.
“You would not be trying to interrupt my Mistress? Because that would be a bad idea,” adds a voice from the back. Loth and Dalton emerge from the depth with a portly shivering man between them. At the sight of the creature, the madman soils himself, adding a new and unnecessary layer to the complex cocktail of odors assailing me.
Wallace does not reply. Loustic and Moise both pray, the latter in French. Their inane babbles grate on my nerves.
“Do you understand me?”
An expiatory sacrifice. The creature offers his life to redeem the crime of his tribe.
I approach and bite. Slowly, the sacrificial essence feeds the Thirst.
Exquisite. It has been long since I tasted a blood this rich. A ritual offering made by a willing creature. It tastes of the sea, of blood and conflict, of regret. Of desperation.
I let go as soon as I received my fill. I am merciful tonight. Those creatures are hunters like me, and they submitted before the power of the conquerors, as is fitting. There is little to be gained in annihilating their leader. I would prefer to earn a favour instead.
I lick the wound clean and enjoy the strangeness of the cool scale under my tongue. The released fish-man's eyes widen in surprise when I gesture towards the ocean. It bows deeply and slithers away. A splash announces its departure.
“You let that thing go?”
“Are you insane, woman? It killed the ship’s whole crew!”
I walk towards the pirates. Everyone but their captain and Moise take a step back. With my half-mask I must look alien to them, although obviously not alien enough or they would not take the liberty to question me.
“And? You think to tell me how to deal with my prey? You intend to dictate the terms of our contract?”
“It’s not about that! They are monsters!”
“And so,” I add with a smile, “am I. You are not here to decide who lives or dies, you are here to assist us in getting the information we want. Is that clear?”
Is that insubordination that I see in his eyes? We will see soon. In the meanwhile, I have a sailor to question. I grab the man and drag him to the prow of the ship.
“His mind is fragile Mistress, I do not know if we can keep him sane.”
“I care not, I only need one answer from him.”
I sit the mewling man in front of me. He’s a wreck, tearing up and shaking like a leaf in the wind. His uniform is stained with sauce and I presume that what we found was the ship’s cook.
“Let me guess, you found him in the larder?”
“Aye lass, now hurry up because we have more ta discuss.”
“Is it related to their treachery?” asks Dalton.
“What do you mean? Have they betrayed us?”
“No lass, but they intend to. There are telling signs.”
“Really?! Really… I was going to interrogate one but you seem so sure...”
“Yes, we are. Tell her the signs, Dalton.”
“Well, they are not trying to ingratiate themselves at all which anyone who wants to pursue an alliance would do, their men won’t meet my eyes, and there are always at least two crewmen with their hands on their weapon keeping their eye on either of us. Finally, they are pirates. They are dishonest by profession.”
“I am not objecting, however, this could be caution and nothing more.”
“Easy enough to check lass, if they delay our landing until dawn, they are planning something that needs you to be out. In the meantime, question the lad.”
I forcefully raise the cook’s head to me. He stinks horribly, stubble covers his fat jowls and he has a face a drunk mother could not love. Drool drips down his fat lips. They let this creature prepare their food? At this stage the fish men eating them is just nature correcting itself.
I grab the arm and bite lightly, capturing his attention with my eyes.
“Tell me your name.”
“They... they came from the sea!”
“Look at me. Good. Now give me your name.”
“Good, Allan. How long have you been serving aboard this ship?”
“Three years, as a cook, mam.”
“Captain Strauss mam.”
“And during this time you stopped at Savannah, correct?”
“Yes mam, three times.”
“On the last time you delivered items for an auction, correct?”
“Yes mam, from stuff they found on that accursed wreck, capn Strauss and his dumbass first mate.”
“Where was the wreck?”
“The monsters, they...”
I push harder and the rope between us starts to unravel. I grab it in the iron grip of my will and return his attention to the here and now.
“Where. Was. The. Wreck.”
“Agh! On the beach! By Black Harbor village!”
“And why did you say it’s cursed?”
“Aaaaah my head!”
“They came for him! The first mate! Those crazy strong goons! And then the monsters... Nooo!”
I drop the babbling body at my feet. His mind is gone, snapped like a twig, but I have what I needed. So, some people abducted their first mate. It must be the Brotherhood, they know where the wreck is. I feel like we are always a step behind.
“Our foes know. We need to head back and warn the others.”
I snap the poor sod’s neck and we leave the prow to find the crew hard at work with sails and ropes. Loth first, we climb on the structure behind the biggest mast, called aftcastle according to my companions, to find the captain at the wheel.
“What are you doing?” asks Loth without preamble.
Moise, by him, crosses his arms threateningly as matter of habit, surely. His frown softens when he realizes who he is trying to impress.
“We’re leaving this place, I’m not using the rowing boat with those things around. My ship will escort us back to Clarkson’s Cove and you can be on your way from there.”
He is not asking for hazard pay or about the fish-men. How… Uncharacteristic.
“When do you think we will arrive?” I ask.
I watch patiently from behind my mask as a rivulet of sweat falls from his temple. Nervous, are we? Truly these people do not have the means to match their ambition.
“Probably sometime tonight, huh, that said we’re slower because we don’t have a whole crew.”
“Is that so?”
“I was wondering, was taking the Sainte Rita part of your agreement with the Consortium?
“Huh, sure it was. I’ll settle it with Mr. Isaac. No worries.”
“Is that so?”
Even sweatier silence.
“Well, I will be below deck until we arrive.”
The man nods and when I turn around, I hear two sighs of relief. I should not be picky since those are pirates after all, but those gentlemen of fortune cannot be the sharpest tools in the shed, or in this case the saber rack I suppose? Disappointing.
Annoyed at their mediocrity and quite proud at having used ‘below deck’ in an actual conversation, I open the door leading down, a decision I regret immediately.
“Ugh, this place stinks!”
“Pirates are not known for their pursuit of hygiene, Mistress.”
“Don’t do that Mistress, or you will have to breathe more of this air.”
I hate it when he is right.
A flight of stairs leads to an open surface against the hull. Hammocks still hang from posts stained with congealed blood. Further up, a cooking space and the storage proper occupy the space. On the side are the main attractions.
“Naval guns lass, yes. Four on each side.”
“They look old.”
“They are, but they are the cleanest thing on this sorry floating derelict.”
“Right, well, they shall remain unused. I will neutralize the crew and we can leave using the rowing boat as soon as it is convenient.”
“Right.” answers Loth with a twinkle in his eyes. Dalton looks strangely excited by our adventure, he inspects the interior of the ship looking for the Watcher knows what.
I hope they are not up for some dastardly shenanigans for I am not. We are going to head back to solid land and nothing untoward will happen. Nothing at all.
“I’m heading out, “ I announce and approach the hull. As expected there is some sort of opening, currently shut tight, that allows the guns to be fired upon enemy ships without first blowing a hole through the thin partition separating us from a horde of fish-men, squids, and an entirely unreasonable amount of salty water. I play with the chains to try and open it, first by myself and then with the condescending help of my two companions.
“Just trying to help!”
The very picture of innocence, those two.
I climb out with my talons stuck in the salt-encrusted wood. I am close to the water when something breaks its surface. The head of the fish man I spared earlier.
He is accompanied by his whole party. Their agile bodies slice the surface and they cast unreadable glances at me before diving back under.
I suppose we are in a state of truce for they are content with just watching me. I angle myself up and climb along the wall in complete silence. I detect eight heartbeats, as expected. There are three on the aftcastle and the rest moves around, except for one that stays at the prow. I slowly make my way there until I see him. Loustic is acting strangely, opening and closing his lantern to provide light signals. We are currently moving along the coast and he is making those signals towards the sea...
Ah, of course, he is communicating with Wallace’s ship, the Red Maiden. That is not entirely unexpected and not too worrisome. I shall just wait until the message is sent and then strike.
I climb up ever so slowly as my unfortunate victim leans forward to better read the response. I push myself at the limit of the bannister.
No one is looking.
A blink later, I drag the pirate above the railing by the throat and bite, with one hand stuck to hold me and the other wrapped around his mouth. He is so close to me, intimately so. His heart thunders just below my elbow and my knee is a bit too close to his manhood for respectability. Both of his hands rest on my shoulder with all the grip he can muster. It does not hurt me and I do enjoy the light pressure.
“You have been a very bad boy haven’t you?”
The bite weakened the man’s already fleeting resolve. This is like stealing candy from a sleeping child.
Not that I would.
He nods frightfully.
“You wanted to do something that would anger me, yes?”
“And that’s bad right? You do not want to hurt me.”
He shakes his head frenetically.
“I’m a bit disappointed but I will forgive you, if you tell me what you had planned. Whisper it in my ear.”
His warm breath tickles my skin and makes my hair flow. I think I would enjoy drinking him dry very much, though it would be terribly unwise. I am, after all, well-fed.
“We were not going to hurt you. We were going to seal you in a coffin and ransom you to the rich bastard.”
“And the others?”
“Them as well. We were just going to rough them up if they put up a fight. We were not going to kill you I swear!”
“I believe you,” I whisper back, then break his neck. I lower myself and the body to avoid making a splash. Just as I lower myself enough, the lead fish-man raises up from the ocean and grabs the body before passing it along. It disappears under the black wave.
Now I understand. They must be acquainted with my Master and expect its spawn to leave behind a trail of corpses. Vindicating their beliefs annoys me slightly. I am not like him. They betrayed us first. I am different.
When I reach the railing once more, I take almost a few seconds to study where my foes lie then strike.
I jump from the railing up to the front mast and break the neck of a sailor working on a rope. Before he can react, I slay his companion. I immediately jump and land behind a third man and stab a finger between his eyes. A knife at the back of the head silences a man looking at the coast.
“Did you hear that?”
I jump on the aftcastle and rush the last sailor currently at the tiller, no it’s called a wheel, and slice his throat open in passing before burying a hand in Moise’s chest. Just as expected I need to stab behind the heart instead of the organ itself, then it’s easier to go through the ribs.
I flip on myself and throw a dagger at Wallace.
The ship lurches and my throw misses. This gives the captain enough time to take out a pistol and a cross.
With one hand I snap the pistol away and with the other, I crush his hand around the Christian symbol.
“It only works if you believe it, you imbecile.”
Truly pathetic. I can hardly believe that those idiots exist on the same plane of existence as Synead. The world is vast indeed.
“Do what you will monster, I’ll see you soon in the depth.”
Uncaring, I almost take his entire head away. How is that for a witty retort?
“Mistress, the wheel!”
Dalton erupts from below and sprints to the aftcastle. Ah yes, the corpse of the sailor dragged the wheel to the side and now we are heading towards the ocean.
My Vassal replaces the deceased, what was it called? Ah yes, a helmsman. He rolls the thing right and soon we realign. And not a moment too soon. From the other ship, a whistling sound comes accompanied by bells and the yells of men. We are discovered! Pah, I should have been more careful! If the ship had not changed course, we wouldn’t have... wouldn’t have...
“Dalton, why are you wearing a tricorn?!”
“No time! Mistress, go to the foremast and unfurl the sails!”
“Which one is the foremast?!”
“The front one!”
“And what’s unfurling?”
“Loosen them so they expand and catch the wind.”
I grumble my way and untie overly complicated knots, moving left and right like some accursed monkey. Disgraceful! I am a vampire, not a bloody deckhand!
From the Maiden comes the boom of canons and a terrible whistling noise, a moment later projectiles fly over us and rip into the sea, except one which smashes into our side with a groan of shattering wood.
“Bloody hell! They’re firing on us!”, I exclaim.
“One minute a sailor and you’re already swearing?”
I slap my hand on my mouth. Aaaaa no!
“Unfurl the other one Mistress I think Loth is about ready!”
I jump again and repeat the previous unknotting, silently this time. Just as I free the last one, a gun roars from below deck.
“Was that us?”
He’s enjoying this far too much.
The cannonball curves elegantly and maims the side of our opponent just at the limit of the sea line. Loth timed his shot perfectly, just as we were cresting a wave.
“The wind is picking up Mistress you need to reef the sails!”
“Did I not just unfurl them?! And what does a reef have to do with anything?!”
“Just do what I say!”
I follow his indication, all the while pestering against all those complicated words and Dalton’s suggestions.
“No, Vassal, I do not want to be the bosun!”
“But vampirates! Think about it!”
Loth fires once more, from a different gun this time and his aim is true. Another hole appears, slightly higher. This was too fast for a single man. I understand now, they loaded all four canons while I was cleaning house. Smart. It also means that once we are out it will take an eternity to reload.
The Maiden fires another broadside. This time no less than three cannonballs wrack our flank, one of them clipping a mast. It’s only a matter of time now. Dalton still does his best to keep us more or less facing them but they are faster and it seems that their plan is working. In order to stay aligned, we are turning right. Or was it starboard? Whatever. Soon, we will enter shallow waters and possibly run ourselves into some rocks, or we will have to turn left and let them fire on us without returning it.
Loth’s third shot bounces on the surface of the sea and damages their railings, but nothing more. From the depth, a roar of anger in mixed English and Dvergur complaining about ‘garbage pig iron’, and ‘inbred manufacturers’ shakes the night. I am about to despair in the middle of reefing the other sail when I notice that our foe is starting to lurch.
“Those accursed sea dogs are taking water! Haha!”
Loth’s last shot strikes the front of the hull and adds another leak. It seems to be the tipping point. The Red Maiden slows down and we start to overtake her. Then I hear screams.
It appears that I made new allies. Silhouettes crawl over the tilted deck and slay distracted sailors while the rest ineffectually attempt to stem the tide of water invading their hull. The battle is won.
This fish-man is a fish-woman now that I take the time to look. She distinctly lacks breasts but her form is definitely feminine, especially around the middle. Her face is also thinner and more delicate. She is the one who threw the trident at me, a weapon now lying on the ground as a gesture of peace. She was the first to timidly climb up our side, soon followed by the rest of the raiding party, and now kneels in the position of the supplicant. I want to tell her that if they managed to keep up with a ship for that long they can just take the bodies and go because I am not swimming after them to extract payment. The language barrier is a real obstacle, however.
I sigh and look at my companions.
“What are you two even drinking?”
The men are passing along a bottle of aged glass with blurred contents. Dalton is still wearing the accursed tricorn and refuses categorically to remove it.
“Aged rum from the Guadeloupe. A delicacy. It will put hair on your chest.”
“Don’t you think you should remain sober at least until we reach the land?”
“Let us celebrate this victory lass, also, it’s rude to let a lady wait, ya know? Even if she is half fish. Just as cousin Gromling used ta say, don’t let the wet lady go to waste.”
“Seriously, refusing offered blood is rude, pretty sure. Means you think her unworthy and whatnot.”
Despite the decidedly dubious explanation, he is right. I should honor her offer. It’s just that... Ah no matter, it should be fine. Yes, totally fine. Her blood cannot be that potent.
She tastes less of the Hunt than her packmate. Hers is tradition, direction, and quite likely magic. I lick the wound clean and they are on their way.
“Right! No more idiotic pranks! We head back with huuuuh serious! And decorum!”
“Absolutely lass we’ll do it right proper. And that’s a promise.”
One hour later.
“There were two lofty ships from old England came,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
One was the Prince of Luther, and the other Prince of Wales,
Cruising down along the coast of the High Barbaree.
“Aloft there, aloft!” our jolly Dalton cries,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
“Look ahead, look astern, look aweather and alee,
Look along down the coast of the High Barbaree.”
There’s nought upon the stern, there’s nought upon the lee,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
But there’s a lofty ship to windward, and she’s sailing fast and free,
Sailing down along the coast of the High Barbaree.
“Oh, hail her, Oh, hail her,” our dread vampire cried,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
“Are you a man-o’-war or a privateer,” said she,
“Cruising down along the coast of the High Barbaree.”
“Oh, I am not a man-o’-war nor privateer,” said he,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
“But I’m a salt-sea pirate a-looking for my fee,
“Cruising down the coast of the High Barbaree.”
Oh, ’twas broadside to broadside a long time we lay,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
Until the Prince of Luther shot the pirate’s hull away,
Cruising down along the coast of the High Barbaree.
“Oh, quarter, Oh, quarter,” those pirates then did cry,
Blow high, blow low, and so sailed we;
But the quarter that we gave them – we fed them to the fish-men,
Coming down along the coast of the High Barbareeeeeeeeeeee”
“Dammit lass, I love you dearly but you really, really can’t sing for shit.”