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Wade

Whisper of the Wyrm

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The first minute or so went well enough. More than a few pirates received a faceful of venom. Toppling over, they clawed at their faces, muscles twitching uncontrollably and succumbing to paralysis seconds after contact. One, two, three, four...

"Elias!"

Elias whirled around. With a push, the tendons and ligaments woven into his trousers came alive. With a contraction, the tubes of poison around his fingers hardened into fangs. In a sharp motion, Elias slammed into the sword-wielding pirate, fingers sinking into his face.

He drew back, and cast a mildly annoyed glance at the butterfly-girl. He was about to deliver a reprimand when a bullet whizzed past.

"Later." Elias muttered. He grabbed Hesperid's wrist.

With a sigh of resignation, Elias darted off to find cover, the pseudo-fangs peeling back from his fingers. Though his skin-coat had an outer later of bulletproof spidersilk, it was best to avoid getting hit. They found cover near a stack of crates; Elias dragged the butterfly-girl down into a crouch. He started fishing around inside his coat, looking around to try and get a head count of those on his side.

There was that albino boy there, the one who'd first gotten shot. He was alive, as far as the heat vision his mask afforded him could tell.

There, behind him - or rather, in front of him, since at the moment Elias' back was at the pirates with a nice thick stack of crates in between - was a handful of sailors and a man who clearly was not a sailor. All were alternating between attempting to shoot the pirates and not getting shot. What a mood. Elias gave the blokes a casual wave, finally pulled a black object from his cloak, and tossed it over his shoulder.

Said object exploded into a mass of tentacles as soon as it hit the deck. Each tentacle was pitch-black, dripping with ink, and flailed madly, hopefully slapping a at least few pirates in the face.

It was clear that they were losing, though.

Also, that one girl with a chainsaw had fallen overboard.

Pinching the bridge of his nose - who the hell hired kids as mercenaries? - Elias produced another black, gelatinous sphere from inside his coat. He pressed his palm to it for a moment, waited for a lull in the gunfire, then leapt to his feet. He lobbed the creature overboard in the general direction of the fallen girl. Hopefully it would haul her back on deck. And not eat her. Had he been clear on that?

He'd stood for a moment too late. A dull explosion of pain sent him reeling backwards.

Elias winced, clutching his chest. The bullet was still hot where it'd struck the cloak, but there was going to be a nasty bruise there later- both on him, and on the cloak.

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They lost.

They lost.

The thought echoed in McGillis’ head. He repeated it to himself every second, every minute, until it hurt. It actually hurt. And no matter how much he tried to focus, to work himself into a state of calm, the sting was there. Always there. Like a cleverly-placed splinter he couldn’t quite reach, sinking deeper with every try.

They lost.

They lost.

God damn it, how did they lose?

He watched as the pirates rounded up the rest of his crew, not realizing he’d been clenching his teeth up until now. Most of them had been killed. The deck was littered with corpses. He knew that if he looked over the railing, he’d find more bodies floating facedown in the water. Those of them that survived weren’t much better off, either. He could hear the pistols being cocked, see the rapiers pointed in their direction, and he couldn’t imagine anything but death - or worse - waiting for them at the very end. 

What do they want? 

Ah, there it was. Finally. A clear and rational thought. 

Mcgillis would’ve considered it a victory aside from the fact that he was still pissed.

Still, maybe not. Maybe this was a step in the right direction. His wrists were tied, his pistol had been taken away, and so he only had his wits to rely on at this point. Tilting his head, he searched the deck with a quick sweep of his eyes until they landed on a smear of uniquely red hair. The woman, who he’d assumed to be the captain of the enemy vessel, was giving out orders and occasionally smirking away like it was just another day at the office. 

“What are you thinking?”

The voice took McGillis by surprise. He’d forgotten he wasn’t alone, standing there waiting for the end. 

“Not a whole lot,” he said honestly. It was too soon for last-minute plans. “What about you? Got any bright ideas?”

His favourite sailor, whose name happened to be Tim, just Tim, scratched his chin against his shoulder. “Nope,” he said. “Blowing up all that gunpowder was my last one.” And then, in a whiny afterthought, “Can’t believe that didn’t work.”

McGillis, again, couldn’t help but chuckle. He was grateful for the break in tension. “Yeah, me neither,” he sighed, stretching his neck all the way around. “I guess it comes down to negotiations now.”

Tim glanced at him. “You much of a talker?” he asked.

McGillis thought about it for a moment. “I’d like to think so,” he said eventually.

“You get laid a lot?”

“Not as much as I’d like.” He frowned as he said it. “How is that relevant?”

Tim shrugged. There was no judgement in the motion. “Oh y’know, skills of persuasion and all that. Thought if you could woo a lady, maybe you could convince her to not murder us.”

“Mmm.” McGillis nodded, still frowning a little. “I’ll make sure to, ah, turn on the charm then.”

And so, unsurely, he waited for his chance.

Edited by Wade

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"How many survivors?" 

Aldren passively surveyed the deck, littered with fresh bodies and gore. One, whom she thought might have been a middle aged man, lay facedown by her feet. She kicked at him with the toe of her boot, as though he might come alive despite the entrails spilling from his side.

"Enough," Scylla replied leisurely, scraping the dried blood from beneath her nails with a small knife. She glanced at Aldren from the corner of her eye. "Though it's rude to strike the dead."

"Yeah, well they can take it up with me in hell," she flashed a wicked grin, "but its going to be one long fucking wait."

Scylla raised an eyebrow, pocketing her knife. "Because you don't plan to die? or because the line for 'undying vengeance on Aldren' is that substantial?"

"Both," she conceded, "and it's Captain Aldren."

The shorter woman snorted, "I think the dead would be disinclined to agree. They'd rather call you something more colorful and profane. As would I."

"Oh?" Aldren crooned, "and what sort of names would you call me, my sweet?"

A new voice cut into the conversation, "As much as I hate to break up your little love affair, might I remind the two of you we just slaughtered an entire ship." Casisth had emerged from below decks, having finished taking stock of supplies. "Your face is covered in blood," he deadpanned, "and you're literally standing over a dead body."

"You're hardly qualified to play preacher." Aldren's braid had mostly come undone. The tail was a fringed mess, decently matted with crimson, and large strands of it hung loose around her face. She undid what remained, attempting to comb through it with her fingers. She wasn't sure if this made things better or only served to coat her hair further. "What all did you find?"

"Lots. Their cargo hold is fully stocked. Looks like they were planning an inland excursion."

"Good, then i'm going to assume we have the right ship."

"I hope you knew that before we boarded."

Aldren shrugged. "I had a hunch. I received information about the trip, its benefactor, and from where it was departing. Unfortunately, the name of the vessel was not included."

"You endangered our lives over a hunch?"

"It was a very strong hunch."

Casisth shook his head. "I think you're overpaying your spy."

"Probably. But all the more incentive to keep their mouth shut." She turned her attention back to Scylla, the three of them having formed a small huddle. "How many of ours did we loose?"

"Some newcomers. Navas is already tending the rest of the wounded."

Sure enough, Navas, their surgeon, was stitching up a few crew members in one corner of the deck. Scylla had recruited him personally about two years ago, as he was an old friend of hers. That was an investment which had payed off particularly well.

"Good," Aldren replied, the safety of her own freed from her mind, "Now to get what we came here for." The surviving victims of Aldren's raid had been swiftly disarmed, restrained, and moved to the center of the deck, where they were being closely monitored at sword point. They looked frightened, in her opinion, and frightened people were easily persuaded. She issued a command to one of her Boatswains, "Line em up."

With a nod, the Boatswain communicated the order to the others and pretty soon the pirates had hauled their new found prisoners into a row.

Breaking the huddle, Aldren closed the distance in a provoking saunter, the kind that dared them to try to fight back. Casisth and Scylla followed closely behind, relaxed, but carefully monitoring the situation all the same.

"So," Aldren began after a brief intermission. She commenced strolling down the line, smiling her shark smile, looking over each of them as if determining her next meal. "Which one of you sorry lot is the captain?" Her eyes glanced over the girl from earlier, the one who told such beautiful stories. "Not you," Aldren determined in passing. She drifted by a man whose eyes appeared luminescent. "Nor you." Suddenly, she stopped, turning on her heel as she found what she what she was looking for. She stared wickedly at the man before her.

"You."

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Trying not to visibly shake is turning out to be an impossible task.

The events of the prior battle weigh heavily on Hesperid’s mind, and she has to resort to digging her nails into the soft flesh of her palms to distract her from the situation now at hand. She leans closer to Doctor Elias, from where she stands in line beside him, and grits her teeth at the sudden wave of stinging laughter rattling through her mind.

Oh, you sweet girl. I didn’t think you’d cower so prettily as you do now.

She resists the urge to vomit right then and there when the red-haired woman strides forward along the length of the prisoner queue, flanked by her subordinates. She walks with the air of a triumphant conqueror, and in numerous ways, she truly is one.

"So, which one of you sorry lot is the captain?"

Hesperid’s eyes flicker towards the individual in question for the briefest of seconds before she forces her gaze back down to the deck beneath her feet. Her wings droop further down towards the ground the closer the captain moves forward, and when booted feet pause for a moment in front of her, she has to hold her breath.

"Not you."

The voice snorts at this. Well, what do you know? The other captain isn’t a fool.

Hesperid subtly shakes her head, squeezing her eyes closed as if it could help against the grating assault of the voice against her mental walls, and awaits whatever comes next after the red-haired woman determines whoever she thinks is the captain among them.

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Ares woke up to the sensation of cold blood. It was like pressing the side of your face against a spilled slush against an even colder floor, except it was a floorboard washed with water dark enough to be called shitjuice, and the slush was the blood pooling from the pirate laying face-down beside him and the other literally on top of him.

It was no wonder why his ribs felt like they were going to snap.

He pushed up his body with a desperate gasp; shaking, because his elbows were slipping against more blood. Unfortunately, because Ares seemed to be bathing in it. Normally, anyone would feel that their ribs would fold, but, in Ares's case, they felt like they were going to rip through his chest because of the abnormal amount of iron in his bones. Slipping away, he could hear a conversation with voices a little too unfamiliar, a little too alarming—but the bullet in his head pumped raw pain with every heartbeat, eventually turning him deaf from the one voice that clearly spelled danger.

When the limp-dead body of a drooling pirate laid at his boots, he fluttered his eyes wide enough to shoo the stars away.

Fuck.

There she was, in the flesh, silky red hair biting back at the wind. If his skull was chimed harder, he could've seen his aunt in the garments of a pirate captain cosplay, but this was a different woman. His crew, her crew, they were all in a situation a distance away from the kid pretending to look dead, and stay dead. Hell, he wasn't wanting any part of their little line-up question and answer, he'd rather lay down next to the guts and heads and meat and ripped torsos and oh—oh godi'm going to

Tommy entered the scene with a crash, having been hauled back onboard by one of the most freakiest things she'd ever seen in her life, and swerved against the shitjuiced floorboards like a gracefully falling ice skater. Her body skids to a halt, and so she must feel the need to throw up the seawater built up in her lungs. But she hits the floor again, receives a kick to the gut and the tip of a sword spilling a thin river of blood from her neck. "Son of a bitch," She watches from the corner of her eye and grasped hold of the situation. "You're fucking kidding" The half-elf kid gets pushed down, restrained, stripped away from her guns, but the keychain stays.

Elusive pink eyes watch everything behind a flesh shield, gaze as cold as the visceral sight painted around them. He was starting to think if he should just stay asleep.

 

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As with many other situations he'd found himself in, Elias opted to stand perfectly still and let the universe decide his faith.

The Flesh-Shaper looked more bored than anything, heavy-lidded eyes fixed at something in the middle distance. When the tide of the battle turned, he was the first to release an exasperated sigh. The dark-haired man offered no resistance to the restraints, everything from the thin line of his mouth, to the impatience in his steps screaming the same thought: just get it over with.

It had been a bit of a relief when his pet had dragged the girl back up into the ship.

It had been less of a relief when the tentacled inkblot promptly dove back into the ocean.

At least the boy with the bone-bleached skin was alive, his body heat glowing through the blanket of corpses. That much he was aware of (the pirates, idiots as they were, hadn't bothered to rid him of his mask). This scrap of information wasn't any help of at the moment, not when there was no chance of escape.

Elias avoided the red-haired woman's gaze as she approached. He did, however, risk a glance at Hesperid. The butterfly-girl was shaking, fists clenched tightly. Elias watched her tremble for a few moments, his gaze impassive.

Then, he edged nearer, brushing his hand over hers. A brief exertion of his power, and the crescent-shaped cuts on her palms began knitting themselves together.

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“Actually, the Captain’s right over there.”

McGillis pointed his chin at something on the floor. It wore a tricorn hat and a bloodied frock coat, and there was length of chain wrapped around its neck. 

“But if you’re looking for the leader of this expedition,” he continued, matching the woman’s gaze. “Then you are correct. That would be me.”

McGillis straightened a little at the declaration. The cuts along his back flared in response, but he wasn’t about to be cowed when there was so much riding on him, even if that only amounted to a handful of lives at this point. He studied the pirate captain, wondering what it was she wanted - what she wanted to hear, and how he could twist that information to suit his favour. He’d never been a good liar, so he’d have to feed her the truth, small increments at a time until he discovered a point of leverage.  

“We’re a mercenary force headed to Kuratel,” he said. “One of the cities that was lost during Whispernight. Our employer hired us to track down a lich and hunt it for….”

McGillis swallowed. What was he supposed to say here?

“…its bones,” he decided, before remembering something. “An airship known as the Heaven’s Mercy is also rumoured to be located there. That was another point of interest related to our excursion.”

More words worked their way up this throat. He didn’t know how wise it would be to share them just yet. There needed to be some give and take here, a balance between questions and answers. If there was something the pirates wanted from them - they couldn’t have possibly known about the riddle, could they? - then they’d have to reveal it sooner or later. 

“Otherwise, we have nothing left to offer you. At least, nothing that you haven’t already taken.” McGillis briefly clenched his teeth, burying a sigh. “If I turn out to be mistaken, however, I’d be willing to negotiate with you in exchange for our lives.”

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Lich bones.

The thought bounced its way around Aldren's head in a harsh echo. What could they possibly need with lich bones?

Somehow, this had to do with the Vault. The threads were all there, crossing over one another to make a larger web, she just had to find the right one to follow. Stendhal was a powerful necromancer, and liches were born from necromantic magic, so there was that. Silently, Aldren cursed herself for not studying necromancy more in depth. She'd only ever skimmed over the base ideas or the occasional spell book, having been drawn to other areas of magic, and she'd been too busy hauling ass to intercept the ship they'd just taken to pick up a tome on the subject.

She ran a thumb passively over one of the rubies in the hilt of her cutlass, never taking her gaze off the expedition leader. There was more he wasn't telling her, and whatever it was he felt it important enough to be a bargaining chip.

"Come now," she began, her timbre almost playful, "I know that councilman bastard entrusted you with a bit more than that. He and I have been at each other's throats for years."

Blaine Moreton, Coastal Grande's very own Councilor of War. Aldren was sure he more than despised her, with the amount of times she'd endeavored to derail his plans and inconvenience his day. Sometimes it was because they had opposing interests, other times Aldren did it just to fuck with the man. She took great pleasure from it. One time, she posed as a servant just so she could slip a particularly potent draught of distilled narcissus plant into one of his drinks. She knew it wouldn't kill him, but it made him exceptionally sick for a few days, and at the end of it all she left the bottle and a note for him to find.

She liked to take credit for her work.

Aldren drew her sword in one fluid motion, placing the point beneath the leader's chin as if to emphasize her words. "I'm also aware that you've been informed of the more sensitive details surrounding this excursion." Really, she didn't, but it wasn't a far leap to assume that if her spy had been able to gather some of the trip's particulars that Moreton must have confided in someone. Servants talk, but they also listen. "So let's strike a bargain, shall we? The prize is i'll allow you and your..." Aldren's eyes briefly glanced down the lineup, "remaining, crew to live. In return, you'll tell me what he divulged to you. All of it." She applied pressure to the sword point, and a drop of blood bloomed where it met his skin. Her voice suddenly took a much lower, predatory tone. "Should you lie to me, and I will know if you lie, I'll ship every damn one of you back to Moreton in pieces."

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Hesperid’s shatterglass breath stutters in her throat as calloused fingers brush against her hand, and she almost lets loose tears of sheer relief at the healing ache that Elias’ power brings, quietly stitching the pits of torn skin her nails have dug into her palms.

There is still, however, the matter of their impending imprisonment, or whatever horrible things her mind has seen fit to conjure for her to forcibly ponder on.

We are not safe yet, Intruder, the voice hisses, a hateful dark thing curled in the shadowy depths of her mind. Do not let your guard down, lest we die due to your carelessness.

Hesperid grits her teeth, blinks her eyes a few times as she turns her gaze to the bodies scattered along the deck of the ship. She recognizes a handful of faces, now slack and calm in the stillness of death, who had once gathered around her as she had spun tales for the enjoyment of the crew, just a few hours prior.

Perhaps—perhaps it had been her fault that they had not been on their guard well enough to catch the attack beforehand?

The thought sends a stabbing chill down the length of her spine. Let go of your sentimentality, the voice lectures, and Hesperid has to splay her fingers wide to keep from clenching them tight and hurting herself once more.

She watches, and waits, and watches the scene before her unfold without blinking. It is the very least she can do, after that.

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Of all the ships she'd had to sneak on, why did this one have to get raided?

Curses!

Was it even common for ships to be raided? Here? Pah!

Perhaps an hour ago she'd been lulled to sleep by a dreamy voice—funny, she thought—and, perhaps a few minutes later, she'd shot her eyes open at the heart-piercing sound of the beginning of gunfire. So, for an hour, she'd been dreading every minute she had; having been forced to listen to the sound of bullets, blades, carnage, blood and gore spraying unto the deck in every way possible. It was a miracle, she added, that her ears weren't bleeding after what seemed to be an endless exchange of deafening blood-curdling screams and gunfire.

Eyes brighter than the moonlight peeked out sheepishly from beyond the tears in the fabric that'd shielded her from the crimson battlefield. And, as expected, she was greeted by exactly what she'd predicted.

Something revolting, maybe?

She placed her hand on her mouth and gagged. The longer she looked at what she assumed to be a former human, the more it prompted the acid from her stomach to jump onto her tongue. She cursed herself for having the curiosity to even look. It was as if a great gathering of insects all kindly agreed to splatter and paint the entire deck in a revolting, chunky red.

Her breath stayed silent. Her heartbeat quickened at the pulse of panic. Was she going to end up like that, too?

Ugh! She pouted and pressed her lips into a stubborn line, No! and ran her fingers through her hair, blue like moonlight. She scowled at the fear bubbling inside her chest, attempting to build up something as close to courage.

Then she flinched.

"I'm also aware that you've been informed of the more sensitive details surrounding this excursion."

She made out the voice of a woman, tinged with devilish desire, a voice that belonged to someone who had great pride in spilling blood. The thought of devil nearly crossed her mind. Something was clearly off about this one. 

Faint and small, she could hear voices and stuttered breaths, once again a miracle regarding the ringing piercing her ears. The hole in the blanket was too small to see, so she hadn't the slightest clue of what was really happening. She wouldn't dare stick her head out unless she wanted to die. Like the rest. 

This wasn't a very good situation. How did she even manage to place herself in this mess? Sneaking on and out of a ship was supposed to be easy—but not when there were pirates hungering for throats to be slit and loot to be plundered. Now she had to ask the old dragon to do her a favor. Curses, again! She promised she'd let him get some shut-eye tonight, but she shouldn't waste so much of her magic riding on a silly broomstick all the way to.. there. Biting her nail, she shut her eyes. It cannot be helped. I only hope he does not bite my hand. 

She opened her eyes. Heavy and weary, as she forced her magic.

She placed her fingertips onto her lips and blew a kiss. A blue orb flung from her fingers and shot through the hole in the blanket. It flew across the ship's deck in a zig-zag motion, illuminating the bodies and the dark. When it began to fly itself towards the crew—the orb spun into a butterfly. A specter of magic that had perfectly imitated life. The winged insect dropped particles of dust that disappeared when they fell. But finally, it fell on the red-haired woman and perched atop the hilt of her sword.

The pendant on her chest glowed. 

Er.. you do not mind, do you?

I do not. 

A serpent dragon busted out from the draped cargo and knocked over the barrels. It was humongous in size and bestial in beauty. It bared it's fangs and snarled in animalistic pride.

It flew up into the air, looking down at the humans as it positioned itself before the night sky. The beast fumed hot air from his nostrils, awfully snide and quite taunting as it drifted up there, almost as if floating underwater. Atop the beast was a witch, clutching on her familiar's mane and feet against it's coral horns. Everything lasted for perhaps, four or five seconds as they finally took off so suddenly that the gust of wind left behind the dragon's tail tilted the ship's flag and caused it to swerve.

She admit that she made quite the dramatic first impression. 

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