Chapter 1, The Baron's Estate
by Nester Delgado
“Sir, the mercenary is here.”
Claremont held the door open as he peered in on the baron resting comfortably in the drawing room. Despite his admiration for the baron, the majordomo of the Delgado house was still at unease around that oddly swishing tail hanging over the arm of the regal chair. It had been quite some time since that fateful accident, but perhaps he partly blamed himself for what had transpired and the sight of the baron’s deformities only reminded him of how he had failed to protect the only heir of one of Antiford’s few remaining noble houses. That, or perhaps foxes just made him uncomfortable.
The midday sun was lavishly pouring through the long, heavy drapes; rose red and so thick they appeared as though they could pull the entire wall down under their weight. Nester’s hand reached out from the side of that high-backed, brown leather seat and graciously beckoned Claremont to bring the man. His other hand meanwhile reached out and retrieved a rather elaborate leather facemask from a small table at his side.
A soft hiss whispered across the room as the baron securely fastened his breathing mask. He would stand and continue to face the view of the well-manicured gardens that lay just beyond the towering floor to ceiling windows. Memories flowed past his thoughts, both uplifting and torturous. The subject of this upcoming meeting was somewhat of a difficult topic for the baron, but there was more at stake than the state of his heart.
The majordomo pushed open the heavy doors and entered the room, bowed humbly, and then sidestepped to allow the man behind him to follow.
“My lord,” Claremont always spoke with diligence and subtle grace. “Captain Leo Swift of the Caelum Navis.”
He had a soft swagger about him, the walk of a true scrapper, as Swift entered the room. But there was something deeper in the way he moved, a history which had gone long unspoken. Dark as it was, it was what gave him his greatest strength.
“Um, do I bow or…?” Leo asked the butler as he nervously scratched at his tussled hair. Claremont gave the captain an expectant glance followed by a sigh of disappointment.
“Yes captain,” replied Claremont, struggling slightly to stay patient. “I believe we spoke of expectations in the hall prior.”
Leo paused and then blinked in sudden realization.
“That was for this?” Leo asked as his smooth face turned a little red.
The majordomo felt like rolling his eyes, but simply nodded. Leo adjusted himself a bit and cleared his throat.
“I…um…” Leo had begun so confidently, but his memory had failed him. “Ah screw it. I’m Leo Swift,” he said, skipping the formal introduction. “It’s a fine pleasure to meet you Baron Delgado. You had a job for me?”
Leo stepped forward, but then stopped suddenly when he remembered to give a quick bow before proceeding further into the elegant room.
The captain was glancing about the room with varied awe as he approached where the baron was standing. Stuffing his hands into the pockets of that long, thick-leather coat, he gave a brief whistle of amazement at the sight of the portrait above the mantelpiece, capturing some magnificent mansion with great attention to detail. The streets around it looked vaguely familiar to Leo, but he couldn’t tell if he’d seen it before or not.
The baron turned about slowly to reveal himself, the swishing tail, the fox-like features of his mask, his unnatural orange eyes. In truth, the baron was never sure how new guests would respond to the unlikely features of a man of high stature, but he felt their reactions were often a good judge of character.
When Leo drew his sights upon the baron, Nester was simply standing there patiently waiting to see the captain’s response.
Leo smiled politely.
The baron smiled back at the captain.
“So the stories are true, even if they are a bit exaggerated.”
It was then that Jonathan Clay, the hand of the baron and master of the estate, entered the room. His brilliantly blue cape trailed through the wake of his brisk pace as he made his way up to the pair. Claremont then took the opportunity to exit the room, pulling the doors shut behind him.
“The stories are to stay stories,” grumbled Clay. “All manner of discussing the baron’s appearance is strictly prohibited upon setting foot on these grounds.”
“I really like the ears,” Leo said, looking the baron over. Nester smiled graciously behind his mask and gave Leo a bow of his head.
“How does the tail move anyway?” Swift went on. The baron turned and began to demonstrate the mechanical action with great enthusiasm.
“Captain Leo Swift,” grumbled Clay. “We have pressing matters to discuss. I think the baron would agree that comments regarding his presentation can wait.”
The baron reluctantly shrugged and nodded, but it was obvious by the glint in his eyes he’d been enjoying the captain’s flattering remarks. He cleared his throat, which sounded odd behind his mask, and composed himself rather seriously with a quick shift of his shoulders and straightening his back.
“If you’ll follow me,” Clay said with a courteous bow before exiting the room through a pair of tall side doors. The baron gestured with an open hand for Leo to follow first.
The curtains, tightly drawn, in the next room left only the faint glow of the gas lamps to illuminate the space littered with shelves upon shelves of charts and maps.
“Ah, the ‘map room’,” Leo jested.
Clay stood beside a massive table in the center of the room. Upon it were several spread maps, and a few rolled ones, but he seemed most interested in the one in the center depicting a narrow expanse of the Hoganmar Mountains that ran along Antiford’s northern border.
“Many years ago,” Clay began as he pointed out a particularly treacherous pass, “the great ship known as The Manticore was scuttled in this region after suffering a devastating ambush. A short time ago, we confirmed this to be the very spot where she went down.”
Leo carefully studied the map as he listened intently to Clay’s words.
“The Manticore?” asked Leo, somewhat astounded. “You mean to tell me that thing was real?”
“Yes,” responded Clay. He glanced to the baron for approval and with Nester’s nod he continued. “It was a prototype design, a precursor to The Arbiter which I’m sure you’ve no doubt seen. It had no airbag and instead relied on an alternative method of staying aloft. At the time the advantages of the new system were unclear and the developers outfitted the ship based on an ancient technique of turning the entire vessel into a powerful battering ram, likely due to the vast amount of airborne torque the engines provided.”
“I heard it split the biggest Prushian battleships right in half,” said Leo, much like a child reminiscing their greatest hero, “and burned whole crews to ash with its guns too. Didn’t the cannons fire a massive fireball or something?”
“That’s correct,” Clay went on. “The Manticore had few armaments aside from its main guns which were known as Arimek’Keo or ‘Hounds Lash.’ Three great cannons firing in tandem, capable of delivering a sudden burst of flame large enough to engulf a small ship and so hot it could turn reinforced timbers into ash almost instantly. They are indeed quite powerful despite their rather short range. Tell me captain, how well do you know your ancient history?”
“Well, if you’re asking if I’ve heard of how the Eastern Sun Empire built the original Arimek’Keo as a their greatest weapon only to have the cannons destroyed, which left them practically defenseless when invaders came to sack their capital city Anorac, then yes, I might have heard of them.”
The baron smirked.
“Half correct,” Clay acknowledged. “The Hounds Lash were never destroyed, they were stolen by a usurper. Fortunately, for us, he lacked the ability to use the cannons and ended up burying them in hopes they would forever remain lost. Archeologists working for the baron’s family were able to track them down and they were retrofitted for the Manticore.”
“But…why didn’t you just construct your own?” Leo asked somewhat confused.
“That’s where you come in,” Clay nodded. “You see, the Hound’s Lash is something which cannot be reconstructed with modern day techniques and the Gelvin methods of creating the steel and ceramic compounds haven’t been practiced for centuries. We need those guns back, captain. Apart from their immense worth, they are too powerful to let fall into the wrong hands.”
“Didn’t you say you found The Manticore? Why can’t you go get them?” Though Leo was more than happy to accept the job, something about it wasn’t adding up.
“We did find the ship,” nodded Clay, “But the Hound’s Lash was not with it. We have reason to believe the crew deliberately moved the cannons to a safe location after they scuttled the ship, but our men have scoured the region and have turned up no sign. We need you and your crew to investigate and find The Hounds Lash by any means necessary.”
“Why can’t you send you own guys? Can’t the Black Sleeves do this?” Leo questioned further.
“That’s not your concern,” quickly barked a powerful voice as two heavy boots stomped into the room.
Leo practically jumped onto the table in fearful surprise as Tiberius, Captain of the Black Sleeves and one of the most intimidating people in all Antiford, entered the room from behind him. The dim light danced along the many deep scars cascading across Tiberius’ face, sending chills down Leo’s spine.
“Captain Swift,” Clay began, amused by Leo’s response but concealing his grin, “I’m sure you’ve heard of Captain Tiberius.” The stalwart sentinel bowed with pride, one arm across his chest in salute, the other hidden behind a cape strategically draped to conceal it.
“You will be granted the baron’s mark,” spoke Tiberius in a deep, crushing voice, “and you will be given confidential instructions on how to communicate with your contact in the Black Sleeves, should you require aid.”
Leo could barely contain his excitement. He tried his hardest not to smile too much despite his heart still pounding a little from the imposing entrance.
“R-really?” Leo softly stuttered and turned back to baron as if asking for confirmation that he wasn’t dreaming. The baron clasped his hands behind his back and gave Leo a stoic nod.
“You are not to communicate with the Black Sleeves apart from your contact, understood?” said Clay leaving over the table towards Swift. “I have no doubt your ship and crew can complete this task yourselves. Your contact will keep us informed of your progress, but until we can secure those guns we can all assume you’ll be in great danger.”
Leo gave Clay a knowing smirk.
“I think we can handle ourselves,” he replied confidently.
“As I said, I have no doubt,” Clay grumbled, “but we don’t like to take chances with these things.”
“Well, if you put it that way,” Leo shrugged still grinning. He was already dreaming of a few people he wouldn’t mind visiting with the Black Sleeves to back him up: people that owed him money, some small countries…
“Wait a sec,” Leo said suddenly. “If we’re supposedly going to be in great danger, why not have a couple Black Sleeves with us the whole time? Like, for protection?”
Clay uneasily looked toward Tiberius. Leo quickly caught that he’d brought up something Clay had wanted unsaid.
“That’s classified…” Clay began.
“You’ll be operating primarily in Prush,” said Tiberius interrupting. “Officially, there are no Black Sleeves present in their territories. Part of the peace accord. You’ll get your mark, but the Black Sleeves will not be backing you. Consider them, ghosts. They’ll be watching you, but you won’t see them.” The man paused for a moment, giving Swift a cold, hard stare. “Their involvement in your actions is strictly up to our discretion.”
“Now, as for your payment,” Clay began, quickly changing the subject as he turned away from the table and headed back towards the drawing room.
“Right,” Leo began, a wide confident grin growing across his lips and he was already mentally counting up all the money he was bound to make from this venture. “I assume you’ll be paying in gold?”
Clay shook his head with stern denial.
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken. You won’t be paid for this venture.”
Leo’s eyes blinked open wide in a look of astounded disbelief, as if suddenly struck in the face with a wet fish. His hand would have likely moved towards his gun had they not confiscated it earlier.
Clay raised his hand towards the large painting, centering on the small manor.
“The painting?” Leo asked with a doubtful eyebrow raised.
“No,” sighed Clay. “The Swift estate. It’s yours.”
“Estate, yes. The land of course belongs to the baron, but he feels the manor and its contents should return to the Swift lineage. Whether you accept this mission or not, the estate is yours.”
“But….how…,” Leo was at a loss for words as his eyes darted about the image on the mantle.
“Unfortunately it has fallen into a state of disrepair. This painting was completed during better times of course. However, the estate is yours now and the baron has graciously offered to hand over the title to a bit of the land surrounding it as well, enough for an air dock. As a reward for your success on this mission, the baron is offering to restore your family’s manor, whatever the expense. I highly suggest you accept the offer. I’ve been to the Swift estate recently, dreadful place. No offense.”
Leo’s head quickly turned towards the baron for grounding. The baron simply smiled through that mask of his with a polite little nod, his soft tail swishing merrily behind him. Clay followed Leo’s gaping stare and smirked back to the baron.
“Seems he’s pleased with your response,” Clay spoke of the Baron. “The restoration is already well under way. Though complete restoration may take some time, I’m sure your new home will be livable upon your return.”
“Already under way?” Leo said rather confused.
“Oh yes, the baron has already taken the liberty to assume your response to his offer. Was he incorrect?”
“No, I mean, yes, or rather, I’ll do it.”
“Splendid. Oh, the baron took the liberty to have a small hangar and dock erected on the manor’s north lawn. I’m sure you won’t mind.”
The baron reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew three rolled up papers. He handed them over to Leo as Clay explained their purpose.
“This should be everything you’ll need. This one here is the title to the Swift estate, don’t lose that. This one here with the Delgado seal, those are your flying papers. Should you run into any trouble with local authorities, this will show you have the baron’s mark and that you have all traveling privileges he would have.”
Clay reached into the bundle of papers and swiftly snatched back one of them before Leo knew what he was going for. He replaced it with another, less-official looking script.
“That’s from me. It has all the information we were able to uncover about the mission, the Prush area our informants have spotted the guns in, information on the Inami mercs that were said to have shot the Manticore down and are likely were the culprits who stole the guns after, the specs of the cannons, etc.”
“What was that last one,” Leo interjected, half-reaching for the script Clay had snatched away.
“And this one,” Clay began to explain much more coldly, running a finger over the shapeless black seal, “is what you’ll need to make contact with the Black Sleeves, but only to be used as needed. This is for your eyes only. Read it in private and never let anyone know you have it. I would prefer it if you never open it at all, but the baron insisted you have this protection.”
Slowly, Clay handed the script back to Leo.
“Read it only in private, understood?” Clay reiterated.
“Yeah…I got it,” Leo replied. He was still coming down from the shock, but the seriousness of the situation was quickly reeling his mind back in.
“Are you certain you understand?” Tiberius approached Swift once more, a massive gloved hand dropping heavily upon Leo’s shoulder nearly causing his knee to buckle. Leo looked to that hand and couldn’t help wonder how many men those fingers had silenced. “My men would sooner kill you and yours without hesitation should they have reason to believe that script would fall into Prushian hands. They will also be listening closely. Mention them to anyone, even your crew, and none of you will be returning to Antiford. As far as your own men are concerned, any members of the Black Sleeves you encounter are to be considered mercenaries and nothing more.”
Leo then turned to see the baron approaching him. A wave of relief washing over his as the orange-eyed man extended a hand and took Leo’s in a gentle handshake.
“Come,” that baron’s voice came as an exaggerated whisper from beneath his mask. With a gentle hand, he led Captain Swift out of the room, leaving the others behind.
“We’ve met before, you…and I,” continued the baron with a deep breath. “You were a boy the last time you walked these halls.”
“Please,” Leo politely interrupted. “If it’s tough to talk…”
“Nonsense,” the baron smiled behind his mask. “I’ve been eager to talk to you, since I last saw your name in the paper. My my, that was some…awful luck.” The baron recounted some of the details of the failed heist and the resulting fallout. He also mentioned a few details that had failed to make the papers.
“How did you know about all that?” asked Leo.
“I have my sources,” replied the baron, to no great surprise to Leo. It was then Leo realized they’d reached another large set of doors. Claremont was already standing by to open them up as though he’d known the baron would lead them there.
Nester nodded to the majordomo and the doors opened to something of a library. Papers and photos splayed about the room in a chaotic assortment, except for a tidied bundle off to one side. The baron made his way towards the pile and unceremoniously sat on the floor among the portraits. A hand waved for Leo to join him.
As Leo sat, he recognized the faces on the portraits immediately, his parents. Leo gazed astonished by the rich history that was now all around him, photos and portraits of his parents from years ago. Passenger manifests with their names, research notes and official papers all attributed to Arthur and Sophie Swift.
Leo didn’t know where to begin. He started picking up different things, quickly examining and then hastily moving on to something else. It was then he noticed the baron’s staggered breathing. Claremont came up from behind him and the two carefully removed his mask.
Claremont took the mask for a moment and seemed to be replacing something on it, but Leo was more interested in seeing the baron without it. The baron smiled to him briefly and then motioned for the captain to continue to examine the history of his parents. Leo was all too certain to oblige, but he felt captivated by that face which so few had been rumored to see. To Leo’s surprise, there was not a scar upon that smooth noble visage. If not for the orange eyes, the baron would appear not unlike any other handsome, well-bred young nobleman.
Claremont returned the mask, and the baron quickly took a deep, hissing breath.
“The tanks need replacing more frequently if I talk,” the baron explained, excusing himself.
“Then, don’t worry about,” said Leo. “I can look through this on my own. Thank you.” Nester watched Leo quietly. He could tell the captain had so many questions about his parents.
“Better get one more canister,” Nester said to Claremont.
“I already have an extra on me, sir,” Claremont grinned knowingly.
The baron then regaled Leo as best, and as briefly as possible about Arthur and Sophie Swift. He gave Leo his own personal impressions of the pair and their work, how much they loved their son and how they had shared the same grim fate as his own parents when the Wings of Grace went down at the end of the Prush-Antifordian war.
By the time the baron had finished, he was already breathing heavily once more. He and Claremont removed the mask again.
“Thank you,” said Leo. “I…I am eternally grateful, and you didn’t need to say all that. A letter would have been just fine you know?”
The baron gave a silent laugh which suddenly became audible once the mask covered his mouth again. Leo was a bit puzzled at this.
“This was personal,” the baron explained. “We’re practically family, you and I. A letter would not have sufficed.”
“But, your breath and…”
The baron shook his head.
“It was worth it. Consider it the indulgence of a baron. Claremont and I will take these to the Swift estate. Meanwhile, you have a mission to complete. Keep the words of Clay and Tiberius close. That was no exaggeration when they said the Black Sleeves would kill you if you betray their confidence. That’s something even I am powerless to stop.”
Leo nodded coldly.
“You’ll do fine though. I’m sure of it. Good luck,” hissed the baron through his mask. Despite the handicap, his voice was as sweet and melodic as ever through those harsh respirators.
Chapter 2, On Deck and Medical Mischief
by Captain Leo Swift
It was a clear day when the crew had set off into the open sky. Once at full mast, Leo had kicked over a wooden crate at the center of the deck and called everyone over. He quickly told everyone the broad strokes of the meeting he had with the Baron and his mission.
“So in summary, we are going to go down to Prush, find the cannons ‘The Hounds Lash’ and bring them back to the baron! Any questions?” Leo asked, his crew all grouped around him on their ship.
Nigel raised his hand.
“Yes Nigel?” Leo asked.
“Does he really have the head of a fox?”
“Any questions that are not about the man's appearance?” Leo asked the group. This time Octavian raised his hand.
“Dose he got a fox tail on his—”
“Ok ok!” Leo exclaimed. “You lot want to know about the roomers with the baron’s appearance?”
The group instantly shuffled in a little closer.
“First of all, he is 100% human, he just needs a fancy mask to help him breath well, and before you devils ask, yes it is in the shape of a fox’s snout. And yes, he does have a mechanical tail.”
The group had a soft murmur of whispers, after which Nigel raised his hand again.
“Are the Black Sleeves real?”
“I’m afraid not, they are just a myth unfortunately.” Leo lied. This was one of the very rare times Leo felt the need to lie to his friends. Leo might have his various negative leadership quirks, but his honesty was never an issue. It’s a lie to protect them, he told himself and he made a promise to the baron.
“Any other questions?” Leo asked.
No one raised hands nor said anything.
“Capital! Then we fly to strait to Piasek, I have an informant there who has a lead about the Hounds Lash.” Leo said, not mentioning it was actually Clay’s letter directing them there.
The crew dispersed and went to their stations to prepare for the flight. Leo started to move for his captain’s quarters to store the seals the Barron. Before he go to his door Dr.White tapped on his shoulder.
“Leo, do you mind if I show you something?”
“Of course White, can you give me a moment to change first?” Leo asked.
“That’s fine. I have to retrieve something from the medical bay anyway.”
Leo quickly made his way to his captain's quarters. Once there, he took out the four scrolls that were tucked away behind his back. He quickly took off his brown jacket and tossed it on his chair by his desk. He didn't really need to change, or want to for that matter, but he needed to do something with the four documents the baron had given him. The estate document and flying papers he tossed in his top shelf drawer of his desk. The note from Clay on the mission he just tossed on top of the desk. The one that was most concerning, the black seal of the black sleeves. Master Clay had explicitly expressed that this scroll's existence was dangerous and were for Leo’s eyes only. He intended to honor the responsibility bestowed upon him, so Leo took the parchment and locked it in his secret chest. The container was no bigger than a jewellery box but was so solid not even a stack of dynamite could blow it open. The only way to reveal the treasures locked inside was with key that Leo always kept on his belt.
After Leo had locked the box and safely stowed it away in its hiding place, there came a knock on his door. Leo opened the door and Dr.White let himself in. He carried his doctor bag and gave Leo a questionable glance.
“When you said you were going to change I thought you meant into something else, not just your undershirt.”
Leo looked down at his current state of dress. He still had his pants on and his undershirt only exposed his arms and shoulders.
“I can put a shirt on if you like.” Leo offered.
“It’s alright, I’ll need to examine your arms anyway.
“Then why bother mentioning it in the first place?” Leo muttered to himself. “What's the plan then?”
“I believe I’ve made a breakthrough involving your scar from the Well.”
“The Well mark again?” Leo said exhaustively. For the past year Dr.White has been poking and prodding at the strange blue markings along Leo’s left arm. Leo and Dr.White kept the oddity as privately as they could so that they might develop a cure before anyone could identify Leo’s mark as ‘unholy’ or as a medical ‘plague’. They kept the anomaly to themselves, only discussing and doing experiments on it in private. Fortunately, the markings had caused no plague or sickness for Leo or anyone else.
“I found an interesting side effect a few days back while running some tests with the extracted blood cells from your left arm,” Dr.White said as me took out a few villes from his bag and began mixing and shaking a few. “Your blood cells, and overall biological system seem to have been altered.”
“You mean besides from the glowing blue scar?”
“Yes Leo, I’m talking more so about a chemical change in your body, not the physical appearance. You see, I’ve aquired a few biological organisms and components from Well Island.”
“How the hell did you manage that? You’ve been on the ship for months!”
“Connections with the help from father. It was not cheap either,” he said with a grimace. “I was running some experiments on a few insects from Well Island. They have a life expectancy of two weeks before dieing of well sickness. I fed half of the population small amounts of your blood. Those who took the blood died after only two days.”
“Blood is typically not the best diet.” Leo retorted.
“They decayed from the inside out. They died of accelerated well sickness.”
Accelerated well sickness? Leo thought. Well sickness was what prevented anything biological or otherwise from surviving on Orr. Any lifeform to come out of the well has only so long to return to its home before it started to break apart.
“So what does that mean? Am I going to die?”
“Doubtful. It’s been a year since the incident and nothing of the sort has happened to you. I’m guessing your biological system is not affected, or at least not as severely. Only things from the Well would be, but that got me thinking.” Dr.White pulled out a vial of red liquid. “This is a compound I’ve created. It’s made up of Antifordian sesame seeds, Giant Chalk Dudleya and Jessle Bloom, and a tiny bit of Well water.”
“And what do you want me to do with it?” Leo questioned.
“I want you to drink it.”
“That sounds awful.”
“It’s likely to be awful, but I think you’ll like the side effect.
“Leo didn't feel like arguing any further, so he downed the liquid quickly. At first it merely tasted awful, but then he felt a burning sensation.
“Give me your hand,” said White.
Leo immediately did so and Dr. White quickly used a scalpel to create a deep incision in Swift’s forearm.
“What the bloody hell is wrong with you, White!” Leo exclaimed as he clutched at his bleeding arm.
Leo tried to pry it free, but Dr. White took firm hold and observed the open wound. After a few moments, the bleeding stopped and White and Leo could see the lowest layer of skin beginning to form and stop the bleeding. Shortly after, Leo’s cut was completely gone.
“How did you manage that?” Leo asked.
The compound, excluding the Well water, is a mixture alchemists had discovered years ago to increase cellular respiration and regeneration. With an increase in cells, they can mend wounds fast enough to prevent bleeding out or even death, so long as the tissue damage isn't too severe.”
“My god, so why hasn't this been available?” asked Leo, rather stunned. “You’d think this would be everywhere.”
“Well there is one major problem with rapid, cellular reproduction. It causes skin cancer.”
“Skin cancer?” Leo gulped.
“Yes, aggressive skin cancer at that.”
“Then why the hell did you let me drink it? Am I to die of skin cancer now?”
“I don’t think so. That’s why I added the Well water. You see, all the new cells should have traces of the Well element. So if my hypothesis is correct, your body should kill off all those new cells before they develop into skin cancer.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Then, I suspect you’ll develop skin cancer.”
A silent moment passed consisting of Leo glaring at Dr. White.
“If I get skin cancer, I’m tossing you out the window.”
“I think you’ll find my hypothesis to be correct, and that means I can make a few small batches of my cellular tonic for you to take with you into missions, but these are only for emergencies. Do you understand Leo?”
“Yeah, I’m basically invincible,” Leo smirked.
“You’re not invincible Leo. A bullet to the brain, or a knife in the heart is still going to end your life. There’s not much cells can do about that level of damaged tissue.”
Leo started to feel a rapid source of exhaustion coming on. His shoulders felt heavy and his eyelids desperately wanted to close.
“I’m far too tired to continue this, White. Am I aloud to go to bed now?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Dr. White said. He hadn’t anticipated the fatigue, but made a note about Leo’s exhaustion in his logbook.
Dr. White left the cabin and soon after, Leo tossed himself onto his bed and had a good long rest for all the flying he’d been doing for the last few days.
Chapter 3, Piask Problems
It took a while to traverse the Antiford desert and cross the Prodigious Canyon, but half a week latter, on a bright sunny day, they had arrived in Piasek. It was a busy populus and quite large as far as small city’s go, as was common with Prush settlements. Most of the town was enclosed by a large sandstone wall. The walls, while old and beaten up, stood tall and imposing to all that passed. Even from an aerial view the town looked like a fortress. Complementing the walls were five towers around each corner. While the towers appeared broken from wars of the past the confederates most certainly still used them for snipers.
Something out of the ordinary caught Leo’s eyes. There were a few skyships hovering over the city. Skyships were not an unordinary sights in Antiford but here in prush they were scarce. You hardly saw any more than two at a time. But here there were five. Some flew along the mighty walls, others simply hovered above the heart of the city. And a few others sailed out toward the desert.
Leo called for his telescope. Once brought to him he looked out to where the ships that were out of the city’s wall and were progressing into the desert. Telescope in hand, Leo set his sights out toward the west flank of the city.
A far distance away from the city Leo could see a group of Prussian rebels desperately digging trenches in the dry ground. No less than thirty men were quickly digging away. A greater distance behind them were tents stretching across the horizon. A sea of red and blue spread across the land like a blanket. The encampment flew its flag high. The distance was still to great to make out the flag in complete clarity but Leo knew whose army this was, and whose flag was whipping in the wind none other than Diederich Eirck VonKresser the True Prushen Emperor.
One of the rebels noticed the oncoming ships and called out a retreat. They all began to run in a swift panic, but before they made any noticeable distance a bombardment of cannon fire shot rained down on them from the sky ships. Only a few men were staggered from the airstrike but most kept running. That was until the unique ship in the fleet caught up with them.
The ship, despite its large size, was much faster than any of the smaller ships accompanied with it. This ship was of a grand design, its wood looked like it was made from fine, thick, mahogany, reinforced and held together by gold plating. Their balloon was embroidered with the yellow and orange Confederate flag’s design but with a distinctive family crest. A variety of cannons were positioned on each broadsides. Some looked fancy and decorative and some looked positively ancient. One set stood out above all others. Mounted on the bow, right above the ships imposing ram, stood three cannons in a triforce shape. All three chiseled to look like three roring hound heads. Leo didn't even need to look at his reference drawing of the Hounds Lash. These were defitny the guns. There were positively intimidating, even from a distance. The guns looked as if they were forged inside hell itself.
As if to confirm Leo’s hypothesis, the ship let lose its Hounds Lash, blowing intense flames down upon the running rebels. The sight was simply distasteful. The cannons shot heavy flames. The fires spread across the ground, as if someone had poured a bucket of water on concrete. The men running from the ship were washed in the flame. Once second they were blue and red shapes, the next, nothing but black chard specks.
What have we walked into? Leo wondered.
Once the confederate ships got close a small volley of anti artillery from the camp in the far distance. The large ship must have gotten a little too close to the Prussian army. The ship turned itself around suffering no damage from the artillery. But rather than heading back to the city's walls though. It was coming toward the Calum Navis.
“Captain! Three battleships are headed our way!” Yelled Nigel.
Indeed, the two other ships were joining the larger one.
Now would not be the time to attack. They can’t possibly know we’re here for the guns. He told himself.
“Captain, are those the cannons we’re after?” Nigel asked.
“Yes, those are the hounds lash, but nobody attack! We’re definitely out gunned. They haven’t fired on us yet, so hopefully they intend to speak with us.” Leo announced loudly enough for the entire crew to hear him.
Soon the three ships had surrounded the Calum Navis on every side. The biggest ship, pulled right beside Leo’s and knocked down a boring plank. Soon Leo’s small crew of five was greeted to at least ten Prush confederate soldiers armed with rifles, and an Older man.
The soldiers held their guns in a ready position, but not pointed at Leo’s friends so he took that a good sign.
The older man began walking down the plank and boarding Leo’s ship. The man must have been in his late sixties to early seventies. He had trimmed beard that was a hard grey color that stretched below his neck. His face had a variety of battle scars, one of note was a missing eye. Or at least Leo had guessed because over his left eye hung an eyepatch. The man was dressed in a long military coat and topped it off with a sailors hat. His breast was covered in medals. Some prush, but others appeared to bring from a variety of places. He slowly marched his way aboard.
“Very fine ship you have here.” He said monotone. “I haven’t seen this modal in over ten years.”
“Is that so?” Asked Leo.
“Indeed. Last time I encountered these vessels I was firing them down in the war.”
Referring to the Antifordian and Prush war of 1879 Leo concluded. This man was obviously a veteran.
“The wars been long over friend, I hope you still don’t hold bitter grudges.” Leo said.
The Old man’s eyes were on the ship, but his gaze seemed lost in space.
“Of course not,” he said, returning his eyes to Leo. “The confederacy and Antiford have a non aggression pact, as well as a trade pact. I’ve just one question. What is your business here in Piasek captain..?”
“Swift, and we are currently bounty hunting. Not here in Piasek mind you, this was just a stop. We’re off to Golah to capture a criminal.”
“Is that so? I take it you have a wanted poster?”
Leo signaled Dr. White over. He asked White to go to his captain quarters to retrieve the poster. While the story was a lie, Leo did have a stack of wanted posters on hand. Their had to be at least one from Golah.
After a moment Dr.White returned with a poster to Leo’s description.
“Here you are sir, this is the man we’re after.” Leo said as he handed the poster to the old man.
He looked it over for a moment with squinted eyes before handing it back.
“Ludeus Ringh, I’ve heard of this man. He stole a treasured sword from Kwazulite.”
“Do you have an interest in Treasures?” Leo asked.
“Indeed I do. After the war I sailed around the worlds looking for long lost treasures, as you can see on my ship.” He said as he gestured with his hand towards all his cannons and various artifacts on his ship.
“I got very bored in retirement you see.” He added.
“Quite impressive indeed.” Leo remarked.
“Of course it is. And you witnessed the gem of my collection yes? The cannons from the Manticore itself! You would not believe the voyage to find that wreck.”
“And so you took the Hounds Lash for yourself?” Leo asked.
“Of Course! Do you think i’d go through all the trouble of finding the cannons just to return them to a filthy Antifordian?” He said, not holding back his insult. It was obvious his stand on Leo’s countrymen, but he’s been civil thus far. “No, all my findings stay with me.”
“You are free to enter the city Mr.Swift. But don’t stay long. There’s a war going on, sooner or later that damned Von Kresser is bound to attack.”
The old man got back on his ship and took off towards the front of the city, where Diederich's army camped.
Not long after Leo had his ship docked at the Piasek docks.
Chapter 4, The Big Dagger Tavern
The streets of Piasek were rather quiet. Cities under siege usually are, but it appeared Piasek was handling the war rather well and keeping the revolutionaries far out of the city’s walls. Despite the armed soldiers peppering every street corner, everyone went about their business like every day life.
Leo made his way through the city. With the docking papers accepted and the ship in safety, he could finally make his way to the informant. One of the notes the baron gave Leo had the location of the undercover Blacksleave. He would apparently be waiting for Leo at the Big Dagger Tavern.
Leo made his way, looking away from any soldiers that tried to match his eye. Two more blocks down he found the building.
The Big Dagger Tavern was a simple building connected in a row of buildings on its right and left side. The building had only two windows out front and a sturdy, but chipped door. The buildings green paint was flaking after years in the desert heat, and dusty storms past. A sign hung above the buildings door. It depicted a large dagger impaled on a vibbranii ear. Definitely a Prush pub, he thought to himself.
Leo left the bright sunny streets and entered the dim tavern. As it was only noon, the pub was not lively and only a few people sat in the corners nursing their beer or playing cards. Leo stood at the entrance and realized he had no way of identifying the informant. He hoped that the Blacksleave will identify him instead, after all they are the ones supposed to be masters of espionage.
“Might as well get something to drink. Keep things practical,” Leo thought to himself. He made his way to the bar and took a seat on the wobbly barstool.
“What can I get you?” said the bartender.
Leo looked up at the bartender to see a tall man with the thickest black muttonchops he had ever seen. The man had wide cheekbones and a hard brow.
“I’ll just have water,” Leo said.
“Just water? No beer?” the bartender replied.
“I’ve got to work today.”
The bartender leaned in ever so slightly to Leo.
“Take a seat at the back right hand corner over there,” he pointed. There was a small table in the corner of the bar with a small beam that obstructed the view of the table from the entrance.
“This must be the Blacksleeve,” Leo thought. Good disguise for an informant. A pub is a great location to hear little wisps of information as well as keep an eye on a location.
Leo took a seat at that corner table and waited. Only a minute past before the bartender walked over with a glass of water in hand. He set it down in front of Leo and took a seat himself.
“Where you followed?” the bartender asked in a hush.
“I don’t believe so,” Leo said.
“So you’re the mercenary the baron hired?”
“I don’t actually like being referred to as a mercenary,” Leo corrected.
“A rose by any other name.”
“How kind,” Leo sinkered. “How did you know who I was?”
“You have the smell of adventure on you, of someone who lives for glory and riches.”
“No, you dolt, I saw you getting off the Calum Navis,” the bartender shook his head. “Hard to mistake a ship like that. I take it you’re Leo Swift?”
“Indeed, and you my mysterious man?”
“You can call me Marcus.”
“Is that your real name?” asked Leo.
“No. Are you aware of the current situation Piasek is in?”
The Blacksleeve nodded his head. “VonKresser and his band of revolutionaries have been at the gate for around a week now. Their progress has been halted due to the confederacy sending in an old admiral, Leonhard Kuittner. He and his personal fleet had arrived before the revolutionaries started their push for the city.”
“Are they revolutionaries? They’re technically old loyalists of the empire right, doesn't that warrant a title better than revolutionaries?”
“No, and would you please focus. That man, Leonhard Kuittner after his time in the Antiford Prush war started to travel and collect old artifacts lost in war and history. He is known to be merciless, cleaving a way to his goal and prize by force. His men gave him a name from this ruthlessness. The Crimson Count.”
“Sounds like a bad title to a penny dreadful.”
“The Blacksleeve stood up aggravated. Despite his frustration he was still able to keep his voice low.
“I will not waste time on a hireling that won’t listen to the intelligence of the mission!”
“Good news is you don’t have to Mr.Marcus, if that is your real name. I actually already meet with the Crimson Count. Good man, quite the beard. Not only that but I already have a plan on getting the damned cannon from his ship, so I don’t think we have much more to discuss.” So said Leo, getting up and heading for the door.
“Wait you idiot. Just how do you plan on doing that? Stealing the 10,000 pound cannon while they sleep?”
“What are you insane? I’m going to get the True Prussian Emperor’s army here and take the damn thing by force!”
Chapter 5, An Unexpected Suprise
The look on Marcus's face made it all worthwhile. The plan might have been a tad bit on the mad side but Leo figured if he did plan on taking on the leader of the confederate mercenary air-navy, he was going to need the Prush Emperor’s help. Besides, VonKresser owed him one.
Leo walked the streets, making his way back to the airship docks where his ship and crew were waiting. It was mid-day now and the townspeople will still making their way through the day. The markets were open, various tents of food, vegetables, furniture and weapons were on display.
Perhaps a small distraction would be alright, Leo thought to himself. After all he didn't visit Prush too often and their goods were sometimes high quality.
The merchants were a lively sort. Calling out for good prices, quality goods and imports. Their enthusiasm was a harsh contrast to the stone faced soldiers spread across the outer rim of the market.
One merchant with a mustache square as a brick captured Leo’s attention. He had a variety of armor on display. Some were decorative, and some made for battle.
The wares on sale captured Leo's attention and he stood to look over the merchants display. All of the sudden Leo was softly pushed. He looked over to see who had bumped into him. No one was close enough to be the obvious offender but there was someone in a red cloth who appeared to be walking away hurriedly.
“My wallet!” Leo cursed to himself as he felt his back pocket, only to find it empty.“Thief!” He cried and chased after the hooded figure!
The cloaked figure was quick and weaved through the crowed with dextral elegance. Leo on the other hand, ran quickly and pushed his was through the crowed.
Once free of the marketplace the thief made their way to the streets and always quickly darting from corner to corner with Leo right on their heels.
Leo thought he lost them for a second before he spotted them ascending a ladder onto the rooftops. Leo followed, quickly climbing the ladder. The hooded figure proved to be even more agile as they leaped from building to building. Not that they were a great distance apart. Piask was a closely bundled city with buildings built on top of one another, but it was still a bold move and not the easiest to execute. Leo, not to be outdone, nor let his money be taken without a fight, jumped after in pursuit. The first rooftop hop proved to be difficult as expected. Leo made it across but landed on his foot awkwardly and stumbled on landing. Quickly regaining his composure he chased the thief from rooftop to rooftop before they made a quick move and jumped from the roof.
Leo ran to the edge of the building and looked down. The hooded person had landed on a pile of stacked vegetables, and were now running off into an alleyway. Leo tossed himself off from the building, continuing in his pursuit. He found himself running down an alleyway. Once Leo got to the end of the alleyway he was ambushed by the thief! The hooded figured waited for leo behind the corner of the allway, once leo had walked into their trap they grabbed him by the collar and pinned him against the wall!
“Look, you have about three seconds before-!” Leo said before he was cut off by the thief pressing their lips against his. In a fit of of disgust he tried to push the thief off from him. But the thief proved strong and pinned him against the wall tighter and kissed him harder. Once the hooded figure felt satisfied they let go of Leo and pulled thier hood down.
The hooded figure turned out to have short red hair, a round womanish face sprinkled lightly with freckles and two small scars on her jawline. To Leo’s surprise he knew this woman. Rose was her name, and last time they had meet they were on opposite sides of each others swords. That was during the Button job and Leo had only seen her once time after during the aftermath. Now she was out here in Piasek. But why? He wondered.
“Long time no see Swift.” rose said.
“Rose? What on Orr are you doing here in Piasek?” Leo asked.
“Looking for work. Ever since Button’s assassination finding bodyguard work has been difficult. Thanks for that by the way.”
Leo felt a small amount of guilt. It’s because of his “assassination” of Button is why Rose has had difficulties finding work. Your credit as a bodyguard drops quite hard when your employer ends up dead.
“Who in Piask were you planning on working for?” Leo asked.
“Some bigshot by the name of the Crimson Count. But he turned me down, rather rudely too! Accused me of being an Antiford Spy and threatened to toss me off his ship!”
“You know, as luck would have it, I need to relieve him of some cannons off from his ship. Fancy a bit of revenge?”
“You have no idea how badly I crave a little payback Leo.” Rose said, eagerly. “But The Count is no joke. He’s got a fleet at the ready, a ship that’s armed with some of the most elaborate weapons from all over the world. Not to mention the man himself who is a crazy veteran of three wars! How the hell do you plan on taking him down without killing yourself, or more importantly me?”
“Well, I have an old friend that might be able to help with that. We just need to find a way to sneak to his camp.”
“His camp? You can’t possibly mean-”
“Thats right, get yourself ready Rose, because we got a date with the True Emperor himself!”
Chapter 6, The Welcome Party
“VonKresser is a fool,” loudly boasted a familiar voice from around the nearby alley.
Leo slowed his step, but continued on towards the alley.
“Hey! Nobody talks about the True Prussian Emperor like that!” he barked back at the shadowy figure.
“Um, Leo,” Rose started.
“He’ll lose this war, just like all the others,” the shadow spoke coldly. “His head will adorn the city gates.”
“Come on, Rose,” Leo continued towards the alley, reaching down to grip the butt of his pistol. “Let’s teach this guy a lesson.”
Swift turned back to see two thugs. One gripping Rose tightly and the other pressing a pistol barrel against her temple. She tried to squirm free, but the large brute’s calloused grip was so tight that her arms were practically turning purple.
The figure stepped from the shadows, medals on his chest gleaming in the sun.
“The Crimson Count,” Leo grumbled, moving his hand slowly from his pistol’s grip. He knew that the count meant business and he wouldn’t hesitate to end Rose’s life. “What do you want?” Leo asked.
The count stood there looking to the ground in thought. For a moment, Leo wasn’t sure the man had heard his question.
“I want,” the count began, “I want every last enemy of Prush to burn. Their homes to burn, their families, their children. When this minor threat in the desert is finally dispatched, I shall lead the fleet to victory in the north. Nothing can stop the flame.”
“You’re insane,” Leo replied. “They may be a bunch of skuttlekovy dtruvers, but your masters aren’t going to risk another war with Antiford.”
The count’s lips peeled back to reveal a grin so sinister that Leo had to remind himself that this wasn’t a nightmare, but a man. A man whose mind has been lost to the power he wields.
“Masters?” the count scoffed. “I have no masters. I am the master. The master of the flame. You think I do their bidding? I am merely rallying the men behind my banner in this futile spat. We will unite and burn the north, then I will return and take Prush as my own. Those who submit to my will shall be given succor, the rest shall be judged by the fire.”
Leo was at a loss. This man was clearly far too gone for reason. The count stared back at Leo’s disbelief for a moment before waving his hand and turning back towards the alley way.
“Kill them both,” he spoke coldly to his men. The thug cocked his pistol and pressed it to Rose’s head so hard it made her shriek in pain.
“No, wait!” Leo interjected with his arms out towards the count.
The count motioned for his men to stop before turning back towards Leo. Rose muttered something distasteful to the thug as a little bit of blood trickled down the side of her head.
“Who are you?” the count questioned. “Surely you are not Captain Leo Swift. I have heard many things about the captain and the crew of the Caelum Navis, but you, you are not him.” The count slowly approached Leo, hands behind his back as he casually inspected his prey.
“Son of Antifordian nobility, a good friend of VonKresser. Mercenary, assassin for hire. I’ve even heard rumors of a mysterious ailment which requires a doctor to be present on his ship.” The count looked a little closer at Leo’s skin, close enough that Leo reeled back from the old man. “I wonder what his ailment could be.”
“Stories of Swift may be exaggerated, but I have no doubt that if you were Swift, I’d be dead.”
“So that’s why you stopped us? Threatened to kill us? To gloat?” Leo spoke.
“I wanted to see if you’d put up a fight, prove who you really are. In a way, I suppose you have.” The count waved his hand to his men and they released Rose, pushing her roughly into Leo’s side. “You are no threat. Goodbye captain, whoever you are.”
The count’s men moved to his side, guns trained on Leo, and the three of them made their way back down the dark alley.
“Demons!” Rose shouted at the trio. She picked up a stone and hurled it into the shadows.
“That could’ve been worse,” Leo admitted. “But at least we learned one thing. The Crimson Count is completely mad.”
“You know they’ll follow us, right?” Rose asked, her eyes not leaving the alley way.
“Oh yeah, but that’s all part of the plan. Come on.”
Chapter 7, Dinner Date with an Emperor
Getting to the Prussian camp didn't prove too difficult. When the ship left port, the Confederates kept an eye as to what direction they went. The Calum Navis traveled south of town toward Golah like Leo had said, but as soon as they felt they were far enough away from the city’s cannons and mortars they swung east and made for Diederich’s camp. The crew held up the flag of Diederich’s movement, that he had gifted them a few years back, ensuring their safe passage into the army’s camp.
Rose had come aboard the ship and Leo was pleased to have her in their company. Dr. White and Nigel glared at a distance knowing full well that Rose had nearly killed their captain in the past. Her arrival now was quite suspicious, however Rose proved to be quite capable on the ship. Able to aid in the departure from dock and the quick flight to the Emperor's camp.
“If you’re struggling for work, you’d make a good deckhand,” Leo suggested to Rose with a grin.
“Tried it once,” she replied. “The men didn't like my competence for the job. It caused one too many problems so the captain dropped me off at the nearest port and wouldn't let me back on. Like I said Leo, times are tough. Not everyone has it as easy as you.”
“Yeah, real easy. I’ve just a city to overthrow and a revolution to aid,” Leo laughed.
“At least you’re given the opportunity. Still, should be fun working together for once,” said Rose, matching the captain's smile.
“Indeed, I wonder how Diederich is doing these days.”
Once inside the camp, they left the ship in a low hover and tossed down the rope ladder. One by one, the crew descended to the dusty desert where the rebellion held firm. There were about two hundred men at the camp. Some appeared to be average citizens in shirts or vests though about half of them seemed to find some piece of military garb. A few men, who looked like average mill workers, had blue artillery hats while a few others were wearing uniforms from the war 10 years ago. They were armed with swords, rifles and a few wooden clubs, all of which seemed to be in questionable condition.
One man looking distinctively different, with an complete blue and red uniform under thick blue armor walked over. He had light brown hair and a carefully well-groomed and thick mustache.
“The True Emperor saw your ship flying our flag. I am here to escort you to his tent,” the Soldier said.
The man escorted Leo and his friends through the camp all the way to the core. While still scruffy, this part of camp was more organized and clean compared to the others. No artillery or defenses were set on this bit of land. Only Diederich’s personal tank stood at the ready if the need arises.
Diederich’s tent was not that grand of a sight. It was fairly large with blue and red material. Many patches were sown on the tent and there were still lingering bullet holes and slashes in a few places.
The group approached the tent where two extra guards stood at the ready.
“These are the civilians that the Emperor requested,” the thick mustached man said. The guards parted and Leo and his friends were escorted inside.
Diederich, The True Prussian Emperor, was many things. Loud was certainly one of them, but he was also full of life. A proud and hardy man. Many would say he’s gone crazy from his campaign in the desert, but many don’t see that it’s not madness that consumed the man but a burning desire to reclaim his home. His destiny gave him an opportunity and he grabbed it by the suspenders.
The man himself was inside the tent. He was leaning over a large table, writing markings on a map for his battle strategy. He himself wore the red and blue uniform of the previous Prussian empire. While not decorated in his armor, he had his red sash presented and a saber at his side. The man squinted at the map as he took a large inhale of his cigar. As the group approached, Diederich looked up.
“So it is you, Swift. I don’t know whether to be excited or worried that you’re here! Last time we met you brought that damned large death robot with you!”
“What?” whispered Rose into Leo’s ear.
“Later.” He whispered back. “Diederich!” Leo said to the Emperor. “It’s been a while!”
“Two years or so I believe! Did you come to finally join my army in glorious conquest?!” The Emperor said in a boastful tone while shaking his fist in the air.
“Not quite, but we are here on business and I think we could help each other out again.”
The Emperor took another puff of his cigar, the smoke spread through the air like a heavy fog. He put out his cigar by pressing the end of it on the table. He walked over to group of adventurers and inspected them one by one.
“Dr. White. How have the years treated you?” the emperor asked.
“One can hardly complain. Been working on new medical treatments which are proving to be quite enlightening, as well as patch Leo up every couple days. How about you sir? Has your knee healed up since we last met?” said Dr. White.
“Yes it has! Back to working order, healed quite nicely! In fact I used it just the other day to cave in the head a confederate spy! It actually reminded me of the battle two years ago that we fought! What a glorious fight that was!” the emperor said proudly. His eyes were bright with the memories of battle. His whole demeanor felt different once fired up. When Diederich was riled up he had a sort of magic to him, anyone in his presence felt inspired to fight for honor. No doubt this was responsible for enlisting many a proud Prussian for his cause.
“You there Hoffman!” The man pointing to Nigel! “Don’t stand by so shyly! Not a week’s gone past that I don’t remember your bravery in battle and that swordsmanship! I wish you had stayed, you would have been valuable in my campaign!”
Nigel smiled but shyly bowed his head. Nigel always wondered if he made the right decision staying with Leo for his adventures. There were fun and brought many sights and opportunities to Nigel, but he had always felt bad abandoning his country and that of the movement he believed to heavily in. He always figured that Diederich would have no problem finding the support he needed to overthrow the confederates. Unfortunately he was wrong. Here stood the true emperor stuck in his camp by confederate airships. His campaign fell to a stop and possibly dead in the water.
Rose leaned into Leo’s ear. “I want an explanation about all of these stories,” she demanded.
“Later,” he whispered back. “Diederich, tell me how the war is going.”
Diederich grew a scowl on his face and pulled out a new cigar. Its size was comically large, but he lights it nonetheless.
“It was going well for a while. But as we were about to take the city here, the Confederates pulled a few airships right out of their ass! Prush hasn't had a sky navy for the last few years! Turns out a veteran admiral had been asked to come back and help his country. He brought a few other ships with him. Damned man has a reputation about him, fancies himself the Crimson Count! Bah! Bogwash all of it! The man has proved to be a strong adversary though. Every attempt my men have of approaching he just lights them up with those damned flame throwing cannons!” Diederich ranted.
“You have artillery right outside, yes?” Leo pointed out. “Why not just move them slowly closer and take out his ship?”
“See that worked when we first approached the city, but the problem is we’re out of ammunition and those guns are breaking apart. As of the moment, the Crimson count believes we still have them at the ready but it’s all a bluff.”
“Shame,” said Dr. White. “But that's for the better anyway Leo. If we were to shoot down the ship we might damage the Hounds Lash onboard.”
“So the rumors are true!” Diederich said while twirling his mustache. “That damned Confederate has been finding all those lost treasures and weaponry. I would most certainly need to find a way to bring him down without destroying his ship now.”
“Does he have something of yours?” asked Rose.
Diederich looked upon the woman for the first time. He didn't take any notice of her at first but now he eyed her closely.
“Indeed he does,” Diederich said. “He happens to have in his possession one of the five swords of honor.”
Nigel almost lost his balance. He was shocked to hear of any news about the swords.
“It was the sword,” Nigel cursed to himself.
“What exactly are these swords of honor?” asked Rose.
“Five swords from five of the greatest swordsmen of the Prush Empire,” stated Nigel.
“Exactly,” said Diederich, taking another puff of his cigar. “These swords are from five different generations. They were a prized treasure of the Prussian Empire as well as the Ehrenkrieger, the band of brothers Nigel here was a part of.”
Nigel took Leo by the arm.
“Leo, I want to reclaim the swords,” Nigel said with a determined look in his eyes.
“Don’t worry we will, along with all the other treasures aboard his ship.”
Diederich continued to twirl his mustache and grin like a madman.
“Does this mean you’re going to help me take down this damned Crimson Count and annex Piasek?” Diederich asked.
“If you can help us get to the count, we can take care of him. We’ll leave the actual siege of the city to you,” offered Leo.
“As it might be, I have a plan to get you aboard his ship,” The Emperor said with a queer look in his eye.
In another tent Leo and his friends found themselves looking at one of the most absurd uniforms they had ever seen. It appeared to look like a jumpsuit, but it had extra fabric that connected the cuffs of the wrists to the ankles.
“What in the name of Moghus is this?” exclaimed Leo.
“This is my latest idea to fight off those Confederate ships!” boasted Diederich proudly. “The idea is, we get a group of soldiers dressed in these. Send them up in the air in small air balloons, then when they’re above the airship, they jump off and glide right onto it!”
“I’m afraid all this time fighting in the desert has made you mad!” exclaimed Dr. White.
“I see your skepticism Dr. White, but from the tests we’ve conducted we’ve found there is always a forty percent survival rate!”
“Extraordinary,” Dr. White scoffed sarcastically. “You don’t expect to actually use this wingsuit, do you Leo?” Dr. White asked.
“It might be our best bet, White,” said Leo. “Besides, I always wanted to fly without a ship!”
“Wonderful!” shouted Diederich. “I’ll talk to my men and get more of these made! Than we can take the city! The Kirege Fiedermause will bring the fall to that damned Crimson Count and Piask to my empire!”
Chapter 8, Down time
Once the meeting with Diederich was over the crew were given permission to stay in the camp. Nigel explored the camp, talking with his fellow countrymen while Dr. White and Leo made their way back to the ship and the rest of their crew.
Dr. White was adamant about Leo trying a new dose of the formula they’ve been experimenting with. Dr. White picked up from his tray next to Leo's bed a new tonic, which was red in color. It was also in a proper bottle this time, not in a syringe like the previous formula that lay next to the bottle on the tray.
“This one should be stable enough for you to take orally,” Dr. White instructed.
Pulling a scalpel from his tool bag, White made a rather deep cut across Leo’s forearm. Blood quickly started to run out of his arm and the cut was coldly painful. Leo took no time in shooting back the tonic like it was a shot of alcohol. Leo felt an immediate warmth. Like sitting next to a warm fire after walking a mile in a snowstorm. But despite the cozy warmth in his belly, Leo’s arm still continued to bleed profusely!
“Ummm White, when does it start working?!” Leo said in a panic.
“The formula should have started by now!” Dr. White exclaimed as he got up and ruffled through his Doctor’s bag. He pulled out a needle and some medical thread. “Curses!” Dr. White exclaimed to himself. “I’ll have to sew your cut up and cauterize the wound.”
“I might lose all my blood by that point!” Leo scowled. He grabbed the syringe that contained the previous formula and immediately jabbed the tonic into his good arm.
“Leo what are you doing! That could very well be an overdose of formula!”
It sure felt like it, Leo thought to himself. Seconds after having the second tonic in his system he began feeling all sorts of new feelings.
The cut Dr. White had created felt better quickly after, but Leo’s other arm felt as though it was going through a cheese grater. His neck and chest felt like they were bursting on fire and the heat soon spread to his head. Leo’s eyes ached as though they were being roughly handled by a dirtball player. All the while Leo experienced immense body contractions. It was easily the most painful and frightening moment of his life.
Dr. White looked on in horror, unsure what to do. Anything he might try could cause new side effects. Instead, he realized he just had to watch over Leo and see if he became stable.
In the camp, Nigel walked around the army, passing by Prussians cleaning their guns and eating their dinner.
He felt sad for the state the empire found itself in currently. The Technocratic Prussian Confederacy brought no glory to the county, nor any stability or prosperity. Only a declining stance on the world stage. The remnants of the Prussian Empire looked ill fit to fight a war. While Diederich and his generals looked well equipped in military blues and reds, with traditional armor and weapons, the rest of the army looked as if it had just come off the farm, carrying with them any amount of war regalia heirlooms from decades ago. Nigel had wanted the homeland to be strong again, but his confidence wavered upon seeing the revolution is such a state.
“They don’t look it, but each of these men is worth five confederates.”
Nigel turned around to see Diederich standing behind him, cleaning his circular sunglasses.
“They might not wear fancy uniforms or proper arms and armor,” Diederich continued. “They don’t need a breastplate, they wear their bravery on their chest. They don’t need the latest weaponry, each has the ferocity to kill a man with their bare hands. These men give their all to see an ideal brought to life. They want to see the country come back in all its glory. And they are willing to die for it."
“Are you trying to make me feel guilty for not being here on the front lines?” asked Nigel. Years ago when he and Leo had first met the emperor, Nigel had turned down the opportunity to stay and fight with the rebels. Over the years with Leo he had begun to question if it was wrong to do so. Increasingly he felt the duty to fight for the old country he always wanted.
The emperor stood closer and placed his hand on Nigel’s shoulder.
“There is always a place for you here. One way or another we are going to need the Ehrenkrieger. The clan must survive.”
“If you succeed in your war, those in hiding will likely come back.”
“I don’t want the rebirth of the clan to come from cowards who hid rather than fight for their emperor. You, Nigel, have fought. You are the champion to revive the clan.”
After he said, that the Emperor lit another cigar and continued making his way through the camp.
Nigel sat for a while thinking about The Emperor's offer. The sun was setting over the desert landscape. The sky looked as red as blood and the shadows stretched far, like hands reaching as far as they can. Nigel found himself looking at the fading sun and the grasping shadows. He sat down, took out his own sword and began cleaning it, all the while dreaming of the stolen sword from his clan long ago.
Meanwhile on the other side of camp, Rose was walking around the camp. She looked over the scruffy men who looked little like soldiers and more like farmers and peasants. Never had she seen such a scrappy army and it paled in comparison to the confederate army.
She remembered when she was a little girl, her father once took her on a trip through the Prush capital. It was shortly after the revolution and the streets were full of Confederate pride! They marched around the streets in crisp orange uniforms and waved their flags high in the air. That was the only good memory of she had of the Confederate Prush. Soon after, she and her father found that the confederates were no better than the thugs of Gearford.
Despite their foolishness, the men fighting for the Emperor were at least men of honor. They had loyalty. Rose valued loyalty curiously. She always found herself a pinnacle of duty. She had protected Button for three years as his personal bodyguard, and every time there was trouble she protected him with everything she had. She had even received a few scars for her devoted protection, but now she found herself in a curious place. She was not only socializing but aiding the man who had killed her former employer, Button. She wondered, did she still owe him her loyalty? Did she have obligations to seek revenge for his murder? If so, it would be out of duty. Rose felt no emotional grudge against Leo.
Button was scum and evidently high Technocrat scum. He was vile and controlling. His whole business was built of theft and dishonesty. Rose lost no sleep for the man’s passing, but ever since his untimely death, she had been having a hard time finding work.
And now the Crimson Count has blackmailed her into spying for him.
He will be expecting a report on Leo. She thought to herself, did she really want to give into the man’s demands? She’d sooner fly far far away and start anew. But with no money, that plan was looking bleak.
“Best not think about the future,” Rose whispered to herself. “Live in the moment, do what’s in front of me, that’s the only thing that matters now.”
When night came, and the darkness blanketed the desert, the few crew members out in the desert reboarded the Calum Navis.
Upon arrival, the situation with Leo had grown rather intense. Leo was recovering from the tonic, but he was red as a demon and sweating bullets. After another hour or so, his condition recovered and the painful burning sensation subsided.
Dr. White had made a note in his workbook about adjusting the formula after such a dramatic side effect. He also put the last of the remaining vials of tonic into two small bottles that he had given to Leo for emergencies only.
They all had a good night's rest for the day ahead of them.
Chapter 9, The Scarlet Battle
The night had come. Everyone was getting ready for the big assault. The attacking force was going to be broken up into groups, each with their own objective. Leo, Nigel, and Rose were dressed into the Kirege Fiedermause wingsuits. They, accompanied by a dozen Prussian men, were going to fly up in personal air balloons in the dark night and glide onto the Crimson Count’s skyship fleet.
Dr. White and the other crew members would fly the Calum Navis giving supportive fire and Diederich’s main infantry force would be assaulting the town walls on the ground. As soon as the air fleet was crippled, the city would not last long against Diederich's army. It might not have been the most solid plan, but it was the best plan they could come up with.
As they planned, Dr. White flew the Calum Navis out into no man's land between Piask and Diederich’s army. After shooting a few flares at the walls of Piask, the Confederate ships started drawing near.
Little did the count know that Leo and his Kirege Fiedermause unit were already hovering far above them in the air. The small hot air balloons drawing them upwards were painted black to cloak them in the darkness of the night.
The Crimson Count’s ship along with two other smaller ships soon approached the Calum Navis. Once the Crimson Count’s battleship got within range to use the Hounds Lash, Leo signaled the others to drop.
With a sharp breath, he released his small balloon and dropped through the sky. The cold wind whipping at his jumpsuit while he did his best to position his fall in the direction of the Count's battleship. Looking around himself, the others were also free falling behind him like bullets firing at the ground. Once they were close to the ship, they opened their arms and legs and let the winged suits slow down their descent and glide them into position.
A strong gust of wind blew at Leo and caused his arms to twist, making his suit toss him around in the air. He tried to force his body back in position but the readjustment proved difficult. The wind from the fall kept forcing the wingsuit to blow back, inhibiting him from regaining his body's position. He could see himself being pushed out of the direction of the ship. Despite his best efforts, Leo was tumbling through the sky on the way for a hard pounding.
Before he could pray to any god willing to hear his pleas for mercy, Rose flew right into him and grabbed him tight.
“We need you alive for this Leo!” she mocked, doing her best to steady herself with one arm stretched out so Leo could get the chance to fix his alignment. Once secure and gliding through the sky, they had just enough time to fly themselves on the deck of the Crimson count’s ship.
With a hard hit and roll, Leo burst on deck firing three rounds into unexpected soldiers. Just as Diederich predicted, the ships hadn't seen them flying through the night sky.
Rose and the others landed aboard the ship, took out their firearms and knives, and started to pounce on the shocked crew.
Rose dashed behind a barrel to avoid getting hit by a gunshot from a deck hand and then swiftly leaped over the top of the barrel to deliver a sharp cut with her knife across his face. From one enemy to the next she shot, sidestepped and slashed through a dozen men with lethal precision.
Diederich’s men were doing alright as well. Many were tumbling with the Confederates and taking the odd shot, trying to gain the upper hand. Leo himself made his way around the deck shooting those charging at him and tossing overboard those who had lost their balance. A few Confederates had gotten a lucky slash in with their bayonets and swords, but there were merely cuts and did not prevent Leo from unleashing a steam powered round from his firearm.
A loud voice was heard from amidst all the fighting.
“You daft blond haired Antifordian swine!” raged the Crimson Count looking down at fight on the quarter deck. He stood in a dark red Confederate uniform with medals emblazoned across his chest. His old face was scrunched up and his eyes looked as though they were on fire. In his right hand, he held a beautifully beveled cutlass, the blade as wide as a box of chocolates. In his left, he held another beautiful weapon, but this was a firearm in the design of Mont Diamont. Likely another one of his many treasures.
Leo wondered if the Count was speaking to him, but after he fired a shot near Leo’s head he figured he must have been the implied Antifordian swine.
“My dear count!” Leo yelled across deck above the loud fighting. “I’m afraid we will be taking the Hounds Lash with us after all! Along with your entire ship! I hope you don't mind!” Leo said while giving the count a daring smirk.
“Why don’t you come and take it from me then!” Said the count as he charged on deck. He swung his large cutlass around, cutting the Kirege Fiedermause unit nearly in half.
With Leo’s forces being sliced down, he charged at the Count. He fired three steam rounds, all of which ricocheted close to the count, but none hit their mark. The Crimson Count then thrust at Leo while firing rounds at Leo’s Kirege Fiedermause.
Face to face, the two opponents dropped their firearms and fell into a melee.
Leo was quick on his feet to side step out of the way of the Count’s cutlass as it was whipped in his direction. Leo took out his small dagger and attempted a few thrusts and cuts, all of which did not reach his foe. The large cutlass kept Leo at too great of a distance. With a solid kick at Leo’s knees, the Count forced Leo to the ground and held up his cutlass for a final blow to Leo’s head.
Before the Count could end Leo’s life, the cutlass was wrenched from his grip and skidded across the deck. The Count’s expression was a cocktail of confusion and anger. He turned his head and looked back.
A few feet behind him above the quarter deck stood Rose with a smoking gun. Rose took a quick nod at Leo before rejoining the battle with the Confederate shipmen. With the count still, Leo took the opportunity to crawl over to where the cutlass had landed and quickly armed himself.
The Crimson Count looked over to see his opponent armed with his own weapon.
“How dare you touch that relic with your filthy hand's boy!” yelled the count.
“I’d surrender if I were you! We have infiltrated your ships and Diederich VonKresser is taking the city as we speak!” Leo yelled back.
The Count’s eyebrow knitted and he looked overboard down at the city below. True to his word, a sea of Imperialist rebels were overrunning the city’s watch. Hundreds of men were pouring into the city and climbing over its walls.
“God damn it! God damn you and god damn your fool emperor!” yelled The Crimson Count as he whipped back his jacket and revealed another sword at his side. He unsheathed a salverly sword of beautiful design and with a press of a button, the sword was immediately engulfed in flames.
“That’s one of the swords of honor!” yelled Leo.
“Good eye boy! It is Leidenschaft! The Sword of a Warrior's Passion!”
“It looks hot.”
“It is incredibly hot!” said the count as he made a quick slash towards Leo’s chest. The blade and flames connected with him and cut a large gash into Leo’s chest. The nerves might have cried in more pain if they weren’t scored from the flames.
Leo fell to his knees clutching his chest. His hands becoming red with blood within seconds. He was afraid to look. Was his chest cut so deep he’d see his rib cage? Or even his heart? All he knew was the cut hurt like seven hells and that his vision was getting foggy.
“And so ends our fight, dog. I’ve got a city to save,” said the Count as he left Leo to die.
With trembling hands, Leo felt for the pouch that kept Dr. White’s tonic. The excessive bleeding poured from his body, making his legs go numb before losing control and falling to the floorboards.
With his remaining strength, Leo pulled the syringe from his pocket and stuck the needle into his side. He let the tonic enter his body and immediately his chest grew warm. He knew soon his body would burn and ache. He worried he might have a seizure like the time he tested it in Dr. White’s medical room but he had to stop the Crimson Count.
Leo’s vision became shaky and his body was warmer than tar on a hot antifordian day, but he forced himself to his feet. Running his hands over his chest for the cut, he could feel that it already began healing rapidly. He picked up the cutlass and held it at the ready as he yelled to the Count.
“Hey! We’re not done here, you and I!” Leo screamed out to the Crimson Count.
The man was in the middle of cutting down a few more of the Kirege Fiedermause who fought valiantly aboard the ship. When he noticed Leo on his feet again, he wiped his sword around, cutting down a few more men before stomping his way back to Leo.
“You don’t know when to stay down do you lad!” he yelled as he swung his flaming blade at Leo’s head. Fortunately for Leo, he was able to muster the strength to block the hit and pary a small across the Count’s forearm.
Before long, Leo’s strength wavered and his headache and groggy vision made it harder and harder to fight. Noticing the opportunity, the Count delivered several quick slashes with his blade before hitting Leo’s shoulder with the flat side, letting the searing hot metal burn against Leo’s skin. Leo let out a yelp of pain.
A gunshot rang out and the burning blade was removed from Leo’s shoulder. The count grasped his own shoulder in pain as blood trickled out from a fresh bullet hole in his shoulder. Behind him, two dozen feet away was Rose who had shot another round into the count. Her attention was soon taken by another one of the Count’s men who came at her with a club.
“She bought me the chance I need,” Leo thought to himself.
Without delay Leo kicked at the Count’s knees, staggering him back into the post.
Leo took a hard punch to the old man’s face. He took another and another. On Leo's fourth swing, the count ducked his head, grabbed him by the neck and flung him over a set of barrels. While Leo took a moment to regain his footing, the Count was quick to devise his strategy.
The Count took a flintlock off a dead soldier and instantly took a shot at Leo. For a moment, the young adventurer felt lucky that he wasn't hit. The barrel beside him started to pour out a clear liquid onto the deck around his feet.
“Water perhaps?” Leo thought.
By the menacing look on the Count’s face, Leo could tell it wasn't water. Once the trickle of liquid reached the Count, he stabbed at it with his flaming blade, igniting the liquid trailing back to the barrel. A loud explosion rattled the ship as a barrel of alcohol erupted and blew Leo backward. His cutlass flying over the ship and the flames burning his suit in the process.
“I’m really getting sick of all this goddamn fire!” Leo cursed to himself.
Getting on his feet quickly, Leo dashed through the flames like a hellspawn and leapt at the Count.
Leo had no weapon, but that was ok. He was good at fighting, at least in the conventional way. Just like his fight with Rose a while back, he was going to have to get creative.
The leap through the flames had surprised the Count and taken him off guard. Leo was unable to wrestle him to the ground so he did the next best thing. Leo stuck his finger in the Count's fresh bullet hole wound. The Count hollered in pain and tried to swing at Leo, but Leo simply hooked his finger to keep the Count thrasing in pain.
“You know I’m really sick of your goddamn fire and sick of this god damn fight! You are going to stand down right now!” Leo yelled.
“Fuck you! You psychopathic curd!” spat the count as he tried to swing his blade at Leo.
Leo decided the sword had to go, so he pinned the count to the mast and stepped on the Count's arm in a way that forced his bone to snap, and his grip on the sword to release. With the Count’s free hand, he delivered one mighty punch to Leo’s chest and chin.
The young man decided to let go of any dignity in this battle. He started elbowing the Count repeatedly in the face until he was satisfied that the count’s nose resembled that of a goblin.
The old man looked at leo with wide eyes full of tears and blood. He could see his defeat and resented that it looked like some blond haired Antifordian boy.
“Now’s the best time for last words," said Leo.
“Your revolution will not succeed! Kill me if you will, but you and your dog emperor will die in the sand!”
“Oh mate! I’m not here for the revolution! I was here for those cannons you stole!” Leo said.
“Those? All this to steal my treasure?”
“It’s more like repossession. And I’m thinking I’m going to take it all, you won't be needing it.” With that, Leo picked the Count up by the chest and pushed him up against the railing.
“This was fun,” Leo said in a friendly manner. “But we’re gonna have to tie you up for the Emperor. He can decide what to do with you.”
The battle around them seemed to be dying down with Leo’s men as the victors. Leo found some tight rope and started to tie the Count's hands.
The Count stared intensely at Leo. Leo wanted to avert his gaze, he knew he should have. He did not know why, just a gut feeling. As soon as he looked into the fearsome gaze of the Crimson Count the old man spoke.
“Your father would be disgusted with his mercenary bastard.”
“Don’t you dare talk about my father you fucking looter,” Leo said as he raised his hands to smack the Count. But the Count himself was quick with a concealed dagger and slashed towards Leo’s face.
The blade missed its mark, but the fist holding it delivered a solid punch to Leo’s eye. Leo flinched in pain as the Count made a wobbly dash and took the nearby Rose by surprise. He held her with the dagger pressing to her neck and facing them, he yelled to the remaining fighters.
“Back all of you or I will cut the bitch's throat! Right before I kill your smart mouth captain!” he said as he snatched the gun from Rose's holster.
“Hey Crimson Cuck! An eye for an eye right?” asked Leo.
When the count turned back around to face him, Leo fired a round from his gun that pierced The Count's left eye and out the back of his skull. Saving Rose and making the Crimson Count, and his deck, a nice shade of Scarlet.
Shortly after Leo killed the Count, the rest of the Count's crew surrendered. Leo, Rose and the remaining Kirege Fiedermause took control of the ship. The smaller ships in the Crimson Count’s fleet had also been taken by other units of the Kirege Fiedermause and it looked as though Diederich’s army was taking the city below fairly well.
The remaining Kirege Fiedermause on the Count’s flagship flew down to the battlefield to aid the Emperor in the assault, leaving just Rose and Leo aboard.
“Looks like we’ve taken the ship,” Rose said, joining Leo by the railing.
“Indeed we did. Hell of a fight for it too,” Leo said.
“So now what’s the plan?” asked Rose.
“Well, Dr. White will be bringing the Calum Navis over and we will regroup. The Hounds Lash are too heavy for our ship and they are already bolted in place on this one, so I figured we would just bring the ship itself to the baron.”
“And what of the rest of the treasures?” asked Rose.
“I haven’t thought much of it. Perhaps sell it all to whoever will pay for it? Ah! Look over there, the Calum Navis is nearly here!” Leo pointed toward the approaching ship.
Leo was relieved the fight was nearly over. He loved a good battle but his chest still hurt and he was tired and beaten from the fight. He almost bit the bullet a few times in this one, once with the chest wound, and again when the Count was pressing him. Thank god for Rose and those bullets even if that second bullet was pretty close to where his head was at the time.
“Rose, that round that hit the Crimson Count’s shoulder? That round went right through his shoulder and almost hit me in the head too,” Leo said.
“I know,” Rose said flatly. “That was the plan, it would have made this part easier.”
Leo was confused, but when he turned to meet her eyes, he watched in surprise as her stick a knife sunk into his stomach. Leo’s vision was foggy again as he looked at her with sad, muddled eyes.
“Sorry Leo, I’ve got to look after myself,” She said right before she pushed Leo off the ship and out into the open air.
Chapter 10, The Song
Opening his eyes, Leo was not quite sure he was alive or dreaming. He stood alone in a dark gray room. No doors, no windows. Just an empty room. He started to walk forward and after a few moments, the room started to stretch out before him. The small room was suddenly a hallway and at the very end was a light.
“Nowhere to go but forward I suppose,” Leo thought.
Visions and memories flew past of his friends, their adventures, his lovers and then of Rose. The remainder of her betrayal felt like a hot, ashen coal in his chest. Moving closer to the light, he started to hear the growing sound of music. The echo of a piano was playing beautifully. A song of very soft melody one moment, then powerful and loud the next. Leo's curiosity pulled him towards it.
Leo found himself passing through the light into a room of pure white and decorated with pillars and vague paintings. In the center of the room was the piano played by a man dressed in an orange suit and matching top hat, with a robotic tail that swayed to the music.
Leo didn't have to see the man's face to know it was Baron Delgado.
“Hey, Mr.Baron,” Leo casually said as he walked over. Baron Delgado did not look up from the keys but spoke to Leo as he kept his attention on the music.
“Afternoon Leo,” he said. Though the baron wore his trademark breathing mask, Leo could hear his silky voice as clear as day. Even without the mask, Leo had never heard the baron's voice so clean and crisp. At least not that he could remember.
“Take a seat,” Delgado insisted. A stool seemed to appear out of nowhere next to the piano bench and Leo sat down.
“Do you play?” Delgado asked.
“No, I never had the patience for instruments. Odysseus said I had too much chaotic energy to learn anything as peaceful as music.” Leo spoke while reliving the memory of those words with a smile.
“Your mother used to play the piano, as well as the violin,” noted Delgado. “I was still very young when I last heard her play, but she was quite talented.”
“I didn’t know her. Did my father play?” Leo asked.
They sat not speaking for a moment as Delgado continued to play.
“Am I dead?” Leo finally asked.
“Is that what you want?” the baron asked with his eyes still on the black and white keys.
Another brief moment passed before Leo spoke again.
“I think I failed you. The Hounds Lash might be gone forever,” Leo admitted. He was not sure if he was stating a fact, apologizing or both.
“That would truly be a shame,” Delgado said matter-of-factly.
“If I had retrieved it, what would you use it for? Personal gain? The greater good?”
“You didn’t seem so concerned when you accepted the job, or any role as of late for that matter,” Delgado replied.
“You mean Button? The Red Menace? The Emperor's revolution?” Leo asked.
“Perhaps. They do appear to be on your mind.”
Echoes of the events played through the air around them. The memories were right there, yet in some way, they seemed impossible to reach.
“Well, that’s because I just got a knife in the belly by someone I thought was a friend.”
“She’s been in trouble since the Button incident, hasn’t she,” Delgado asked in a solemn voice.
“I suppose so. I didn't really notice.”
“Didn’t notice, or didn’t care?”
“You’re a lot like your father, did you know that? The king relied on his services quite often. It didn't matter the odds, your father always accomplished his task. Dedicated and noble in his choices. A good man.”
Leo thought hard.
“He never did it for the money, didn’t have to," Delgado continued. "He did it to secure your future and the future of Orr. Wisely he understood the inevitable outcome of his actions and acted upon them with selfless regard.”
“I’d like to get out of here now,” Leo said with regret in his voice, clearly affected by the baron's words.
“The way out is there,” Delgado said, throwing a quick finger at a door which suddenly appeared on the other side of the piano. “Leo, your father strived to do what he felt was right and believed in a better world where men like him weren’t needed."
"It’s worth thinking about," Delgado added, finally turning to look Leo in the eyes. "Those cannons are dangerous Leo, please bring them back to me.”
Leo gave Delgado a nod and made way for the door. He took a deep breath, opened it and stepped through. The sweet voice of the baron seemed to hang in the air all around him.
“He’s a bandit and a heartbreaker, oh, but Jesus was a cross maker….”
Darkness flooded the vision like a sea of oil.
Chapter 11, One Last Shot
Leo awoke with a sharp gasp of breath and the sight of his friends looking down at him with a unanimous sense of worry, Dr. White, Nigel, Octavian and the others looking down at him. With the night sky above, Leo looked at his surroundings. He seemed to be on the Calum Navis, and in the distance was Piasek.
Dr. White tried to talk Leo into lying down, but Leo kept pushing him away as he sat up.
“How long has it been? What happened?!” Leo demanded.
“We saw you fall, Leo. You fell out of eye view but just when we’d given up hope, this figure in all black with glowing red eyes swung onto the ship, dropped you off and then took off!” Nigel said, eyes still wide with shock.
“You had a damn knife in your belly lad! Luck Dr. White was here to save your arse!” Octavian said while taking a drink from his flask.
“Leo, look at me,” Dr. White said as he shown a lantern’s light into Leo's eyes. “Stay still and tell me what happened.”
“Rose stuck me with a dagger and tossed me off the ship,” Leo said while doing his best to take steady breaths. Leo looked into White's eyes as he spoke with all seriousness. “The Hounds Lash is still on that ship. We can’t let her take it. Where is she?”
“You almost died Leo! Even if we could catch up to her, you’re in no shape do anything about it!” Dr. White scolded.
Leo disregarded him and got to his feet. He tumbled over to the side of the ship where he got a better view of the city. There was Rose, sailing away with the ship, but she hadn't gotten too far.
“The guy who saved me, did he say anything?”
“Yeah, he said something about causing a distraction," White replied, "and that we should keep on tail of the Count’s ship”
Leo staggered over towards the bow and looked out at the fleeing vessel, already well out of range in a hurried effort towards the desert. As nimble as the Calum Navis was, there seemed to be no way of catching them now.
In the distance Leo caught a brief glimpse of a bright red light, glistening in the night sky along the rooftops and seemingly looking right at him. He tried to get a better look but was soon distracted by the cannon fire coming from beyond the walls of Piasek. The True Emperor’s cannons had released a powerful volley against the city.
At the same time as the cannon's artillery erupted about the city, a massive blast from a tall, imposing church steeple erupted blanketing the city below in debris. The sound of the brick giving way rumbled throughout the streets and though some distance out, the crew of the Calum Navis shuddered at the epic sight of destruction.
All on deck held their breath as the steeple shifted forwards further and further before toppling over, tearing a hole across the ballast of the count's passing airship.
The crew of the Calum Navis cheered as the count’s vessel was struck such a blow. Airbag torn and deflating quickly, Rose’s new ship was forced to slow and climb to avoid plummeting to the ground. Leo now had ample time to catch up to her. Rose’s ship was going nowhere.
“Well, that was lucky,” said Octavian, taking a swig from his flask.
“Nigel, get my equipment," said Leo. "We’re going down there before she fixes that balloon.”
“You’re not going anywhere, you’re barely conscious as it is!” Dr. White protested.
“I need to get to her, and I need those cannons,” Leo commanded in reply.
“I’ll not see you die here just because you think fighting and revenge is fun," White yelled back. "That city is a battleground and those cannons are not worth dying for, Leo. I will not watch you carry your bleeding body over there for your, crazy intentions.” White spoke in a fit of anger that no one on the crew had seen before. Leo walked over to his friend and put his arms around his shoulders.
“I’ll not watch you kill her,” Dr. White said through his clenched jaw. Nearly tears in his eyes.
“I’m not going to kill her, William," Leo said gently. "I’m going to save her from herself.”
Dr. White looked at Leo with eyebrows raised. He was unsure how to react to those words. Leo had never seemed so steady and sure of what he wanted to do.
“I’m going to save her and I'm going to get the Hounds Lash," spoke Leo. If either the confederates or Diederich get their hands on either of them, people are going to get hurt and die. I want to do the right thing, White.”
The Calum Navis began to sail over to the flagship's wreck, the ship scuttled as the repairs took precedent.
"Alright Leo," sighed White. "Do what you must, but I have no idea how this will turn out." He watched as Leo took his brand of tonic even though the side effects were still apparent all over his body. Another dose was likely to kill him, and Leo was in no shape for a fight if things turned violent.
Leo grabbed his belt with his gun and a few gadgets. Once the Calum Naivs drew close to the downed ship, Leo was lowered towards it while hanging to a rope ladder.
The large ship’s balloon had deflated to a point where it barely kept itself aloft, but the ship itself had come down onto of a few buildings. Luckily for Leo, the elevation would keep the two armies away from Rose.
As Leo stepped off the ladder and onto the deck, he was immediately greeted from behind by Rose who held a gun to his head.
“Afternoon dear, lovely revolution we’re having,” Leo jested.
“You survived that fall just to come here just to make jokes?” asked Rose.
“Come now, we need to get you up on the Calum Navis and get the flagship out of here.”
“Are you mad? This ship and all of its loot are my tickets off of this damned continent. This is the break I deserve!” Rose yelled back into Leo's face.
“Sell it all to the highest bidder then?” asked Leo with a disappointed frown.
“I’m sure I’ll keep a few toys for myself.”
“There’s not going to be anything left once the soldiers find their way up here.”
“I can fight them off,” Rose tossed her head back confidently as she kept her pistol trained on Leo's head.
Leo took a bold move and limped closer to Rose.
“You’ll sell all this dangerous weaponry to whomever?" Leo asked. "But it’s not likely you’ll get the chance."
"Do you see that down there?” Leo pointed down towards the crowd below the building. Diederich’s army was huddled tight in the streets opening waves of musket fire at the town guard. A small squad from a nearby alleyway crashed into the Diederich’s flank and started hitting the invaders with swords, knives and blunt instruments. The VonKresser army fought back with their own melee weapons. Leo even swore he saw Diedrich in the mass of his army, biting a Confederate. It was a bloody and claustrophobic mash.
Outside of the melee, both the VonKresser army and the Confederates were climbing buildings and rubble. Their fingers bruised from gripping the cracked obstacles. They’d scale and take a few aimed shots before being taken out themselves by another elevated gunner. A few confederates and rebels alike pointed towards the crashed ship as if to declare their new target or advantage point.
“Do you want to get caught up in all of that?” Leo asked solemnly a tinge of pity in his words.
Rose glared with spite at Leo before looking back down at the mob.
Leo thought he'd found his moment, but Rose did the unexpected. She turned back to him and raised her gun, about to take a shot. In a half a breath, Leo quickly retrieved a small derringer from his bracer and fired at her hand. Her pistol fell to the deck.
“You bloody knob licker!” Rose cursed as she cradled her hand. It was bleeding, but not badly.
Leo stepped closer and grabbed hold of Rose by the shoulders.
“I get it, shit’s crazy and I’ve not done many career favors for you. I don’t think how my actions hurt others, but I don’t want you to die here in this crumbling shithole over a bunch of blood-stained treasure. Let me actually help you this time,” pleaded Leo, showing a side of himself which left Rose nearly speechless.
“I…” Rose stumbled. “I don’t need your help.”
“Then help me get this ship airborne and you can come along for the ride.”
Rose sighed and nodded, succumbing to surrender and assist in repairing the balloon. Leo radioed down two other crew members.
With the varied soldiers trying to find a way up the building and onto the ship, they worked at a hurried pace and were able to patch up the balloon and inflate it enough to separate themselves from the army’s reach.
Once airborne, the ship made its way up further into the night sky, beyond the wall and out of the city. Upon leaving the city’s view, Leo could see the VonKresser army was bringing a rather large weapon to the front line.
The Confederates brought in reinforcements to hold the line. Soon after the only view Leo and Rose had of the city were a few buildings and towers crumbling within and the bright flash of yellow from numerous rifle fire. They heard, even more, gunfire as they made their way towards the awaiting Calum Navis and on to Diederich’s camp.
It wouldn't be long before Piasek was taken by Diederich's army. The only real threat had been the air force and with that taken out of the battle, Diederich and his foot soldiers were able to take the city with ease.
By the morning's light, Leo’s crew had been patched up Doctor White. Once the crew was rested and ready, Leo brought some of them to visit the camp’s medical tent where they assisted the surgeons and medics in taking care of the many wounded.
Octavian had been fixing the count's ship for what would be a long flight to Argenstrath. He replaced the patched up balloon with a fresh white one so the crew would not be flying the colors of the Confederates. He figured they’d have an easier time getting into Argenstrath by doing that.
Nigel had left the ship to assist the VonKresser army by passing out blankets and rations to civilians of Piasek who left the city during the fight.
Lastly, there was Rose. After surrendering to the crew of the Calum Navis, they had put her on temporary watch. Leo told them to not be too hard on her, his crew watched her with narrow, untrusting eyes. Despite disliking the passive aggressive attitude of the crew, Rose accepted the behavior as fair. She did try to kill Leo twice after all, even if he had yet to mention the second attempt on his life to the crew.
She figured he meant to keep his word and to actually help her. Rose was unsure what lay ahead of her, but she had the entire flight back to Argenstrath to think about it. She spent her time logging and counting all the found and stolen relics aboard the Crimson Count's ship. Leo mentioned returning them to where they belonged. Clearly, there would not be the payday she had hoped for, but perhaps the good karma would open some doors for her.
Leo gave Nigel the Leidenschaft sword he'd retrieved from the count to which he was most grateful, though disappointed the Crimson Count did not have the other four swords in his possession.
The Master of Arms for Diederich’s army had requested that Leo report to Diederich before taking off. Leo had agreed.
The battle had been over for hours, and Diederich was at the Piasek city center where Confederates and town guard had made their last stand. Leo walked through the war-torn streets along with two of Dietrich's men who carried the Crimson Count’s body on a stretcher. Proof of Leo’s victory.
Once they had arrived at the town square, they could see the aftermath of the battle to its fullest extent. Bodies of the dead were being brought into the open and laid in their respective groups. One for Confederates, rebels, townsfolk, town guard and sadly a group for children that was unusually large. Diederich stood by the unfortunate children, smoking a cigar.
Leo softly approached him as he looked upon the young bodies, nearly two hundred in all. All dressed in rags bloodied with gun wounds.
“Those bastards,” Diederich cursed through gritted teeth.
Leo looked at the man, confused and put off.
“We nearly forced them into a corner,” Diederich recalled. “Almost had them fleeing the city. We brought out the Gatling gun to end the fight, but then….” The anger in Diederich's eyes flared. His fists clenched and his teeth ground so hard that he bit his cigar in two.
“They brought out an army of children!” Diederich said as he violently tossed his gloves to the ground. “Not just children Leo, orphans. Fuck’n bastards think they're disposable.” Diederich turned and grabbed Leo by the shoulders. “Those children are the lifeblood of our country's future, and those Confederate rats are tossing them out like pig's wallow.” He pulled back and regained his composure, lit a pipe this time and began smoking.
“Did you accomplish your task?” Diederich asked.
Leo and the men presented the dead body of the Crimson Count. Diederich looked down at the deceased foe with squinty eyes and a knitted brow.
“I like the bullet in the socket,” Diederich said of the corpse. “It saves me the time of disfiguring the body before I send it back to the Confederates.”
“Don’t bring that kind of dishonor to your cause, or to your army,” Leo replied.
“That man is one of much responsible for the orphan division,” Diederich said coldly. “I intend to find them all and see they are all punished for their actions. Even if it be after I take this country.”
“I hope you do Diederich," Leo said with a nod to the upcoming Emperor. "This war, these Confederates, are truly evil.” He was about to make his exit before Diederich spoke to him one last time.
“Swift. You’re by no means indebted to me, but if you care to help me end this nonsense, bring me back a fleet. We took out the last the Confederates have, and if we could muster an air force this war will end before we know it,” Diederich offered. “Oh, and one last, last thing. Deliver this letter will you?”
A soldier walked up to Leo and handed him a sealed letter. The address was for Astam Junction and the receiver was the one and only Lucas Bufford.
“Until we meet again Swift,” Diederich said with a wave of his hand.
Leo would soon regroup his crew and, along with the Count's ship, they sailed for Argenstrath.
Chapter 12, The Welcome Back Party
The Calum Navis with the count’s ship in tow was still miles outside the country of Antiford when a voice, familiar to Leo, called out over the radio.
“Welcome home, Calum Navis,” said Clay. “I see you’ve brought a friend. Please adjust course according to the following instructions. We’ve made a nice warm fire for you.”
Octavian recorded the instructions, consulted his chart, and made a puzzling discovery.
“Leo, that’s the middle of nowhere," noticed Octavian. "Somewhere between Sorditudo and White Haven. There’s nothing out there.”
But Leo kept his focus on the horizon, not bothering with the map. “Something’s there," Leo smiled. "Don’t worry about that.” He was seeing himself, and his crew, closing in on the ending of another chapter of the book that was his life.
After some time above the prodigious canyon separating the Prush Confederacy from Antiford, a trail of smoke was spotted dancing upon the breeze.
“There,” Leo grinned nodding towards the gray snake in the sky.
Each second seemed like an eternity to Leo as they approached the mysterious pyre. When they were practically over the fire below them, the crew eagerly leaned over the rails to view the scene below. A deserted, barren, patch of earth.
"They're there," Leo said. "Take us down."
"But, there's nothing there," replied Octavian reluctantly.
"I know," Leo smirked back to him.
The two ships slowly descended towards the wasteland without a soul in sight.
The crew scanned the horizon for signs of life.
"I got a bad feeling about..." Rose began only to jump with surprise as a dozen grappling hooks suddenly swung over the rails of each ship and began pulling them towards the sand.
Leo and crew hastily drew their weapons before they heard a voice from below.
"Welcome home!" cried Clay through a megaphone. "We're just going to lighten your load real quick. Shouldn't take more than a few minutes."
Leo's crew looked to him for an answer, but the captain was clearly just as puzzled as they were.
"Toss down a ladder, I'll join you," added Clay.
As the ships dropped closer and closer to the earth, it became apparent that what they had mistaken for the ground from above, was actually a strategically placed series of tents and canvases to hide the numerous soldiers now pulling down both ships.
Once it was low enough, several crewmen boarded the count's ship and Clay climbed aboard as well.
"Ah, so this is the infamous Calum Navis," he smiled briefly admiring the vessel. "Smaller than I expected, and in quite the rough state but I know it gets the job done."
"What's going on?" White asked with a look of suspicion. Clay cleared his throat and his enthusiastic smile vanished.
"That ship back there cannot be seen in Antiford. My men are taking it elsewhere while I guide you back to Argenstrath."
“Hey! Where are they going with our loot!” cried out Rose as the second ship began lifting off towards the skies again.
“That “loot” is the property of the great families of Orr,” explained Clay to the gathered crew. “Aside from the Hound’s Lash, the bulk of that ship is to be repatriated to its rightful owners or otherwise donated to whichever museum is entrusted to their estate.”
"You can't be serious!"
"After all we've done!?"
"I am prepared to have my men blast this ship out of the sky," Clay explained without bothering to acknowledge their protests. "Believe me, captain," he added, turning to Leo, "Following my orders are your only choice should you wish to see your crew safely home."
Octavian immediately lunged with his knife towards Clay's throat, but Leo was quick to grab him by the shoulder and hold him back.
"Cut that out, we’re not pirates.” He said sternly to octavian. Turning his attention to Clay, “I wish to speak to the baron," He said coldly.
"You will," nodded Clay. "Navigator, take us to these coordinates."
Octavian sneered at the baron's admiral with defiance, but Leo curtly pulled him back.
"It'll be alright," Leo told him and the crew began to reluctantly return to their posts.
Clay's eyes watched them, especially Rose, as he stood there speaking to Leo.
"I'm surprised," Clay began, brushing a little dust from the arm of his coat.
"Of what?" Leo scoffed. "My crew? My ship? What sort of smug remark are you about to make now?"
"I'm surprised you didn't recognize your ancestral home from that painting above the baron's mantle. You've probably flown over it dozens of times and never gave it a second thought."
The curiosity swelled in Leo's breast as the Calum Navis rose up into the air once more.
"Full speed to Argenstrath!" he shouted.
"There," Clay pointed out towards the district of Argestrath known as the Villa. "Do you see it?"
Tucked away between a series of disheveled, abandoned and forgotten mansions was a large, open field, cleared of trees and large enough for the airship to land with an air dock perfectly suited for the Calum Navis.
At the far edge of the grass was a small mansion Leo previously thought only existed in memories and dreams.
It was the scene from the painting above the Baron’s mantle, almost. Trees and tall grass had overgrown much of the landscape and the house itself appeared in dire need of repair.
Several of the Baron’s crewmen ran out from the stuttered structure and onto the field to guide the ship down and moor it to the clearing. Once settled, the crew of the Calum Navis disembarked and had their first look at what would be their new home.
The collapsed roofs, the damaged walls, the front door busted in. Vines seemingly reaching up from the forest floor and attempting to drag the entire structure into the ground to gobble it up.
The crew was less than enthusiastic.
“We’re home!” called out Leo. A smile beaming so proudly that the crew dared not take away this moment from him. A few mild cheers and the crew began to inspect the grounds.
“Welcome to the Swift Estate,” said Clay, stepping off the air dock and onto the lawn. “I apologize on behalf of the baron for the state of it, but you must understand that no one has been here since the revolution.”
“It’s perfect,” was Leo’s reply, his eyes still fixated on the house as vague memories glimmered and shined in his mind. Each column, every window another reminder of his childhood and the family he hardly had time to know.
“We did what we could to get it ready to house you and your crew. Repairs began about a week before you left and we completed them yesterday,” explained Clay as they approached the house.
“You call that completed?” scoffed Octavius.
“I thought you might be confused,” Clay said. “This is already more than significant compensation for your task. This land has some worth and the structure of the manor is very sound. My men have assured me that all necessary repairs have been made to make the building safe and secure.”
“Yes, far more than significant compensation for overthrowing a warlord and overthrowing a small city.” scoffed Dr.White so quietly only he could hear it.
As Leo slowly stepped over the remains of what was once the front door, a grim reminder of the last night he was inside those walls, he glanced at the once magnificent landing and imagined what that night must have been like.
In that moment, a slender orange figure appeared through a doorway down the hall. He seemed to be at ease as he casually made his way through the torn wallpaper and broken floorboards. Rarely alone, with him were two members of The Black Sleeves, masked and armed, stepping just behind him.
In the baron’s hands was an ornate wooden box with the Swift crest carved into the lid.
Leo immediately moved up to the baron who stopped and bowed graciously to the captain. The Black Sleeve attendants stopping as well in formation behind Delgado like statues.
“Baron, why?” begged Leo, gesturing to Clay and then to the bodyguards. “You asked for the cannons and we got them. The rest of the treasure was never part of the deal. There’s no way you even knew about those relics.”
The baron gently raised a gloved hand to calm the captain.
“They must go home as well,” he rasped behind his mask. “And you will take them.”
“But,” Leo began, searching for words, “I went above and beyond for you. I even died! You were there, remember?”
Clay raised an eyebrow in doubt at Leo’s words, but the baron simply bowed his head graciously.
“And for that, I am most appreciative.”
Nester placed the box upon what remained of a side table and gave the lid a little tap as if playing piano keys.
“Don’t open this today. Wait until the right time. You’ll know.” After speaking, the baron turned back to one of the attending guards who promptly withdrew an air canister. The baron took a moment to himself, turning his back to Swift, and adjusted his mask.
Clay slowly approached Leo from behind and placed a cold hand upon his shoulder.
“May I see the Leidenschaft?”
Leo looked back to see the crew waving their arms about and mouthing “No,” in silent protest. He hesitated to withdraw the fabled weapon, a treasure nearly as great as the legacy he had reclaimed.
“The sword, please,” said Clay slightly colder.
The captain looked down at the weapon and sighed before regrettably handing it over.
“It’s a fine blade,” said Clay as he examined it in detail. “Should be right at home in the hands of a noble crew, don’t you think? It’d be a shame if it were to end up in a museum someplace.”
He gave Leo a knowing glance though Leo was sulking under the weight of giving up such a prize.
“Too bad the Leidenschaft was lost,” Clay added and then handed the blade back to Leo. “Probably in the hands of some dirty pirate by now," he smirked.
A sharp hiss came from the baron’s mask and he turned back to Leo with a smile.
“We have much work for you,” he rasped. “Should be enough to restore the estate. Welcome home, captain.” With that, the baron smiled to Leo and gave him a brief hug before making his way out of the manor and onto the grounds. One Black Sleeve escorted him to an awaiting carriage while the other remained by Clay’s side.
“What just happened?” Leo asked himself.
“There are several bedrooms upstairs,” said Clay. “We’ve done what we could to make them comfortable until your crew has had time to make additional repairs.”
“But wait a minute,” blurted Leo. “You said the baron was going to pay for all of it for bringing back the guns.”
“I did not,” Clay retorted. “I said the baron is offering to restore your family’s manor. I never specified to what degree. However, he is willing to cover additional expenses should you agree to a few more jobs.”
“What kind of jobs?” Leo squinted.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Clay smirked back at him. “Someone needs to return those relics to their rightful owners and the baron’s men certainly can’t be seen with them. We’ll be in touch.”
Leo laughed a little to himself and shook his head with some disbelief.
“I wouldn’t be too happy,” said Clay over his shoulder as he headed out the doorway. “Oh, and we’re taking the girl. She’ll be working for us too.”
Before Swift could open his mouth, the Black Sleeve shifted between him and Clay, hand on his weapon. Leo knew better than to argue with those dread-inducing red eyes and threw his hands up in disbelief.
“Oh,” Clay said turning back to Leo once more. “You may want to check out the study when you have a moment. A pleasure doing business with you, Captain Swift. We’ll speak again soon.”
Somewhat confused and slightly overwhelmed by all that had transpired, Leo could only think of seeing what awaited him the study. He snatched up the baron's wooden box and made his way deeper into the house.
While the crew of the Calum Navis was distracted by their own inquisitive nature, Clay’s hand tightly gripped upon Rose’s arm.
“You’ll be coming with me,” he said softly. “Hesitate and my men will kill you. I would prefer you come willingly, the baron seems to have some work for you.”
He guided her towards the baron's carriage and Nester himself leaned out to assist her getting in. Clay would give the estate one more look before he followed her up.
After a few attempts to find it, and discovering a number of rooms in poor states and several animal inhabitants, Leo found a door with a fine gloss upon the recently coated wood. An ornate handle freshly cleaned glistened and beckoned him to enter.
The door opened to a scene pulled from the past lit by a glow coming from the fireplace. The study had been carefully rebuilt from the Kuu rugs to the art upon the walls. Leo remembered this place. He could almost see his father still sitting there upon the desk chair made of wood from Clarusia. Above the mantle rested the Swift family crest.
From our first breath to our last, do we ever truly leave a place? We fill a home with laughter and love as the walls take in our joy and tears, lasting long beyond us as a gift for future inhabitants. An energy that persists, whispering its history and reminding that life was here, and always will be. - The Baron Delgado
The crew stayed at the Swift manor for a few days more. For most, it was a refreshing change of pace from the constant flying around on the Calum Navis. The building was hot and in disrepair, dust and sand in nearly every crack and crevice along with a host of small rodents and spider webs.
Over the course of the first two days, the crew mostly focused on straightening the main rooms and claiming and cleaning their own bedrooms. Though relatively small for a noble estate, the house had enough rooms for the five crew members with two left to spare.
Dr. White claimed one room for himself as well as one of the guestrooms as a temporary medical station. Leo and Nigel do most of the remodeling. The moldy carpet had proved to be too much for White's soft gentlemen nostrils.
While Leo and Nigel were pulling out carpets and cracking wall paper, Octavian had begun to move some selective furniture and objects from the ship down and into the house.
Possibly the most important move was the Calum Navis’ treasure chest. The crew had kept the chest hidden behind one of the Calum Navis’ cells, but now it had a proper place within the study of the manor.
Nigel had little desire to work in his own room, he was more interested in the courtyard. He brought out and set up some dummies and had created a training field. Dr. White protested in that they should save the courtyard for a garden, but Leo had pointed out that they did not have the money to sustain a garden and that such luxuries would come after the house was restored.
Nigel spent his down time sparing with the dummies with his Leidenschaft
Aletheia had tried her best at organizing what moved into the house and where it was placed. The house was in an unattractive state and the group lacked the proper furniture for it.
On the second day of their stay, Alethia had noticed a package at the front of the door. A large wooden crate with a letter attached.
Thought you could use something to start with.
Your friend, The Baron Delgado
The care package contained the materials for a few chairs and tables along with a nice sofa for the mansion's loft. The delivery was appreciated and the furniture, once put together, helped the empty house look a little more livable. By the end of the second day, the house was cleaned and furnished to the best of their capabilities.
The morning of the third day, Leo started to feel antsy. He loved the house but he was never one to stay in one place for too long. He still had that letter to deliver to Lucas as well. He prepped the Calum Navis for flight and waved the house goodbye for the time being.
Once Leo was aboard his ship, he noticed a small chest on the deck of the ship with a small notebook on top. The notebook had a list of names and addresses and their associated object, jewelry, or trinket. Inside the chest was just a small fraction of the Crimson Counts’ over all treasure. Leo knew what this meant. It was time to begin returning the lost relics to their homes.
With the balloon full, the anchor up, and stations ready, Leo and his crew sailed off to their next adventure.