Finn prepared the crates of cargo on Cedric’s orders. A ship was coming in soon that would take the cargo. Finn had a plan to be on that ship. Their previous ride had dumped them unceremoniously in this backwater outpost. Finn looked over to Nessa who hoisted the large boxes of cargo onto the top of their piles with grace and relative ease, never once letting her face be revealed under her overly large hood. He, meanwhile, was rather clumsy but made a concentrated effort to make sure the cargo was packed neatly. Cedric came around to see their progress and inform them that his contact was approaching. With this, Finn collected his cargo and began moving it towards the dock. Nessa followed suit.
There was a third worker with them. A large orc fellow by the name of Durk. Durk was about six and a half feet tall, nearly a foot taller than Finn. Durk may have looked like a beefy bruiser but he was a decent bloke. When he wasn’t working Durk had a deep fascination with music. He once described to Finn this band, Deep Within, which was mostly made up of dwarves. These dwarves had harnessed the power of the core’s magic to create lutes that made unnatural sounds. He explained that the strings of the lute were thin metal and that the magic made the instruments have this deeper resonance to them.
Durk was trying to get across the border to the Dwarven Empire, but travelling across borders was difficult for an orc. Durk had tattoos that ran up his arms, religious symbols. Humans were deeply suspicious of his tattoos, suspecting some dark magic. Durk explained that the idea came from some old Elven propaganda. Back when the empires had all been fighting over their newly divined borders, due to the planet breaking, the Elves needed a justification to fight the various enclaves of orc settlements. Elves propagated the lie that the first orcs were corrupted elves, thus attacking them was ok. Durk explained that no-one really knew where orcs came from. In his faith, orcs were moulded from clay by the god, Ouruk. Whether that was true or not, Finn couldn’t say.
Durk, Finn, and Nessa awaited the arrival of the ship that Cedric spoke of. They could see an approaching ship that was about half the size of a block of land in this small backwater. The cargo door opened and out stepped a dwarf. About four and a half feet high, she wore a sharpened battle axe on her back. She had red hair that was twisted and unruly as frayed rope. It was braided into two ponytails that curved from the back of the head and sat evenly over her shoulders. The dwarf found Cedric’s eye and began discussing things. After a brief chat, they began to walk inside the cargo hold of the ship. Cedric indicated for them to follow, carrying their cargo behind them. As they walked up the dock, a nervous elf emerged from the cargo hold and walked past them into the city beyond.
While Finn, Nessa and Durk began to load the cargo onto the ship, three other workers who they’d never seen before were lowering cargo into a hidden compartment. After that was done, one of the workers joined Cedric on the deck. The other two went into town, presumably to chase after the elf. All three workers were six-foot-tall humans. They towered over everyone except Durk. Durk was about a head taller than all of them. Once all the cargo was on the ship they sought out Cedric to clock off for the day.
Cedric was standing on the deck looking across at the city. Finn approached him.
“Cedric, we’re done loading the cargo, so we’re going to head off,” Finn told Cedric.
The three of them turned to leave.
“If you leave this boat, I won’t be paying you anymore,” Cedric yelled after them.
They turned around.
“I’m finally getting out of this backwater. Leaving it all behind,” he said, looking to the dock below.
Finn noticed an orange glow was shining off Cedric’s face. Looking over the edge, Finn could see the warehouse on fire. Approaching them fast were the two other workers, with the elf in tow. They were headed for the open cargo bay. Cedric turned to the three of them.
“There aren’t many opportunities for a guy like me. You got to make do with what you got. And now, what I’ve got is this boat,” Cedric explained.
Soon, sure enough, the boat was moving and departing from the dock. Soon after that, they were on the open sky, sailing further and further from their little port town.
Finn wasn’t too happy with their current circumstances, to be honest. While his plan had been to leave Cedric when this current job was finished, Cedric’s sudden ambitions altered that course a little bit. Finn was down in the cargo hold, he was walking between boxes of cargo. At the end of the cargo hold, he saw Nessa and approached her. Nessa spoke with a thick accent. The sound of it was like a song with a melodic pattern to the speech.
“I want to get rid of Cedric,” she told him.
Nessa and Finn had been travelling together for some time. Her ruthlessness was unsurprising, considering who her mother was, but it caught him off-guard nonetheless.
“Sure, but how?” he asked.
“There are two prisoners in the smuggler’s hatch. A dwarf and an elf. I sense that they are still alive. The elf is beaten up, but has magic to heal,” she told him.
Finn pieced together a mystery that he didn’t realise needed solving.
“The elf must be the mechanic. Cedric can’t work out the engine. If it runs on magic that explains it,” Finn rationalised.
Nessa and Finn headed to the smuggler’s hatch and lifted the wooden flooring off to reveal the illicit cargo and former crew below.
“We’re really sorry about this. We had no idea that Cedric was planning this,” Finn told the captured crew. “We’ll get you out of this, and help you get your ship back. We need something in exchange though.”
“It looks like I’m not in much of a strong position to barter. What do you want?” the dwarf responded.
“We want a place on your crew,” Finn bartered.
Now was as good a time as any to escape their temporary stay on the island. The dwarf seemed to ponder this suggestion.
“Fine, but the pay’s not great,” Varda confessed.
It would do no good to free the captured just yet. Nessa threw down a meal for the two and told them to wait for nightfall. A time they would be unaware of in the hole. Perhaps a better, but more frustrating, instruction would have been to just wait.
Finn and Nessa returned at nightfall to rescue the original crew. They opened the hatch and freed them. Some introductions were made.
“Captain Varda Dundugan at your service, and this,” she said, indicating to her elf colleague “is Malron Malavalthor”
Malron bowed a little.
“Just call me Mal,” he told them.
“What’s with the hood?” Varda asked.
“It’s a cultural thing,” Nessa answered.
It wasn’t a lie, Finn thought to himself. The four of them assessed their weapons and capabilities.
“I have an axe that I’m going to ram down Cecil’s—” Varda began.
“Cedric” Finn corrected.
She looked at him pointedly.
“—Cedric’s throat,” she finished.
“I have my magic,” Mal added.
“Cedric’s men have swords and we have nothing” Finn noted.
“Not entirely true,” Nessa added, revealing two intricate daggers from the pouches of her cloak.
“In closing, I have no weapons. Also, I’d prefer if we didn’t kill Durk” Finn noted.
“Yeah, I’d like that too,” said a voice, foreign to the conversation.
The four turned to see Durk, standing in the hallway.
“Join us, Durk. There are four of us and four of them. You could help push the odds in our favour.” Nessa pleaded.
“Yeah, of course I’m going to mutiny. I was just worried about doing it alone,” he told her.
Finn felt a little guilty for not trying to recruit Durk for their coup. With that settled, they split into groups. Varda would go it alone. Durk would go with Malron, and Finn would go with Nessa. Durk and Malron went first. Malron hiding behind the hulking frame of Durk, hoping as a tactic to take the lackeys by surprise. Varda followed, and Finn and Nessa brought up the rear.
On their way out of the cargo bay, Finn and Nessa passed an unconscious lackey. They assumed that it was the handiwork of Durk and Mal. Finn and Nessa found that, apparently, he had been the only one patrolling, because when they made it to the deck of the ship they hadn’t encountered anyone. Durk and Mal reported that the crew’s quarters and the galley were clear of any lackeys. They had also not encountered Cedric. Varda drew her own conclusions.
“He’s in my bloody cabin,” she determined.
Varda approached the cabin and knocked on the door.
“Cecil, I know you’re in there. Come out and fight me, you worm” Varda barked.
The door swung inwards and out barged Cedric’s lackeys, tackling Varda to the ground. Then the fighting began.
At this point, Finn was the only one without a weapon so he was content to watch the action unfold. Varda was curled up on the deck, seemingly conscious, but screaming with every movement. Finn guessed broken bones. Varda was reaching for her axe. One of the lackeys, armed with sword and shield was attacking Durk. Durk was barely proficient with a blade and was merely blocking the swipes of the sword with his own sword, which had been stolen from the unconscious lackey. The other lackey fought with two swords against Nessa. Nessa was unnaturally quick but swords against daggers was no easy match up. The swords had the superior reach and thus the lackey was able to repel any attacks. Nessa’s daggers were more built for surprise attacks. Meanwhile, Cedric had an axe, that appeared to be quite dull. He swung it with wanton abandon at Malron who ducked and weaved while throwing fireballs at Cedric. Through the ring of metal Finn heard Varda shout something.
“Gods below Cecil, stop wrecking my ship!” she shouted.
Varda’s bellows drew Finn’s attention to something. Varda was down and out, but her weapon wasn’t. He made a run for it. His mad dash across the deck led to the brief distraction of the dual sword lackey. Nessa took her chance and stabbed the lackey in the stomach. Upon realising this he brought his sword up to attack. Nessa ducked in time, but not quickly enough for her hood to be saved. The sword cut apart the hood, revealing her face underneath. This rather disarmed the sword lackey, as Nessa had been hiding the most beautiful face he had ever seen. It was sharp and angular, cheekbones raised high and sharp. Eyes that sparkled like valuable gems. Nessa took this opportunity to remove her dagger and quickly stab the lackey in the chest seventeen times.
Meanwhile, Finn grabbed Varda’s axe and ran with it.
“I’ll return this later,” he yelled at Varda.
“Saints and scholars!” she swore.
Finn ran with the axe tightly grasped in both hands. He ran up and lodged the axe securely into the lackey’s shield. The lackey’s body jerked towards his shield, exposing his body to Durk. Durk used all his strength into one final blow, lodging the borrowed sword into the skull of the lackey. Finn removed the axe from the shield and ran back to Varda. He threw the axe to the ground and helped her up. Her right arm was broken, and potentially a couple of ribs as well. She screamed in pain as she rose. Durk grabbed her axe and handed it to Varda, who took it into her left hand. It was clear that that wasn’t her dominant hand. Finn held Varda up.
Malron was on the ropes against Cedric. He was using up his magic fast and it showed on his face, with sweat and the welts of his beating reappearing. At the edge of his mind, Mal was aware of a final option, but there was no coming back from that. Just as he saw the axe swing down and prepared to latch onto that hidden power, the axe was stopped. Mal hardly recognised his saviour. He did recognise the daggers though. Mal realised that Nessa’s hood must have been torn in the fight and now her visage was revealed. A Fae. Varda would not be happy. Nessa used the daggers to wrench the double-sided axe out of Cedric’s hands. After that, the others approached Cedric. He was defeated.
Cedric sat in his cell, eating the meagre bread he was given.
“Could be worse,” Finn remarked, leaning against the far wall of the ship, mocking Cedric from outside the cell. “You could be thrown down the smuggler’s hatch”
Cedric looked back at his former employees. Nessa was now unmasked for the world to see. He could hardly believe that he had employed a Fae. Fae were far more valuable than a crummy ship. He swallowed the bread ravenously, knowing it was his last meal. He heard the sound of feet slowly descending the creaky stairs from the deck into the first level of the ship. The feet carried with them the sound of wood hitting wood. Varda was coming. Sure enough, Varda emerged. Her right arm was in a sling, her left carried a cane. Following shortly after her, was Durk.
“I must say, you did me quite a boon, Cecil,” Varda told him happily.
“Cedric” he corrected.
“Whatever,” she said pointedly. “I am going to kill you, Cecil. I considered swinging an axe at your head like my ancestors did when the world was whole. I liked the personal touch. Malron suggested a much better idea though. It’s an old idea, from the very early days of sky piloting. It’s called walking the plank. Let the fall kill you instead,”
Cedric was lead up to the deck above. What he understood to be the current crew of the ship had gathered to greet him on the deck. Varda poked Cedric in his lower back with her axe. The message was clear. Durk, carrying a stolen sword, and Nessa, with her twin daggers, blockaded him on either side preventing any form of even mild escape. Malron and Finn watched on from the sides, both carrying a stolen sword each. Varda led Cedric to the edge of the ship.
“Where’s the plank?” he asked.
He was pushed unceremoniously by Varda off the boat and into the open air below. He fell and fell, and whenever he thought he saw something that wasn’t sky, he kept falling. Then, slowly but surely, a glowing green dot appeared on the horizon. It slowly got bigger and brighter, until it was difficult to look at. He closed his eyes to spare them. Then he was gone. Cedric landed in the core with a soft splash.
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