Introductions

The captain stood with one hand on the wheel of the Daring and the other tucked in his belt behind his back holding aside his long coat and revealing the elaborate basket hilt of his main gauche.

The crew was busy with usual day-to-day activities and routine maintenance of the twin main-gears while Arthus’ keen eyes narrowed on the horizon. It was out there, that was for sure, but could they get to it before the Storm Runners or the Imperial Merchants Guild got to them.

The Daring glided smoothly over the light swells of the ocean. The rhythmic whirring of the clockwork engines offered a soothing cadence that seemed to fuel the captain’s strategic fire. He knew the Runners would be lying in wait for them, the question was where and when. It was hard enough to make a decent living these days with the Guild imposing crippling regulations on all trade done by unsanctioned ships, but the Runners made them look like allies in comparison.

Lieutenant Gauge climbed the stairs to the bridge and rolled out a map on the table behind Arthus.

“The charts you requested, sir.” He announced.

“Very good.” Arthus answered, spinning on one heel to look over the charts. Gauge slid aside and took the wheel.

“Right… They’ll try to force us out to deep water so they can engage their galleons. That means they will have their advanced forces… here.” He pinpointed the coordinates on the map. “If we try to run the shallows they’ll try to drive us into this cove, barricade us in and pick us apart, and if we go out wider… heavy cannons.”

Lt. Gauge looked back over his shoulder at the captain. “You’re certain, sir?”

“Aye. I can already see their gun ports.”

“Right, sir.” Replied the lieutenant. “So we turn back?” He quipped as the corner of his mouth curled up just a hair.

“You’ll have to flog yourself for that lieutenant.” Arthus shot back.

“Aye, sir.”

The sun started to set and Arthus set about planning how to defeat the Runners’ ambush. They stayed on the bridge until the early morning hours as the night shift crewed the ship. It was always a challenge to deal with the Runners. They always seemed to have some new trick at their disposal. Of course it was one thing to happen upon them on the open sea, and quite another to know they were prepared to get the drop on you.

Unpredictability was their best asset, along with the Daring. She was a fine ship, built in the style of the old brigantines. What the Daring lacked in cargo space she made up for in agility and versatility, giving Arthus more speed and maneuverability than other ships of its size, while boasting superior firepower and durability. He was lucky, gearwork ships were a rare commodity, even for the IMG. The problem was that if the Storm Runners were set for an ambush, they would certainly have their best ships leading the attack, and that would mean gears.

Arthus instructed Gauge to stow the charts and handed over the bridge to the helmsman. He walked below to his cabin and locked the ornate wooden and glass doors behind him.

Velenia sat there, still in her dressing gown, pouring over an ancient and musty tome.

“Any luck?” Arthus asked hopefully.

She looked up with her face twisted in frustration. “No. If this thing exists, we’re definitely not supposed to find it!”

Arthus smiled. “True, but imagine what the church will pay for it! More than that, we need to remind people why they should contract with us.”

“And why is that again?” Velenia poked.

“Because nobody else can find the really good stuff!” He shot back throwing his hat across the room at her. “The IMG chase their tails trying to appease and impress the local governors, and the Runners are too busy trying to pick up the scraps. Neither one has the skills or the nerve to go for the big scores.”

Arthus hung his longcoat and weapons belts as Velenia walked over and placed the hat in its usual place atop Arthus’ coat. They embraced moved over to a small table by the side windows. She poured two glasses of brandy and they toasted the dawn. They joked and planned and teased each other, and soon Arthus had forgotten that he hadn’t been to sleep in the two days since outrunning the Aragonian Armada.

A few hours passed until the sun was up when the couple was disturbed by knocking on the door.

“Captain, lookouts have spotted a ship to starboard.”

“What colors do they fly?” Arthus shouted back as he moved toward his dressing stand.

“No colors sir, and she’s belching steam.”

“Right, battle stations!” Arthus called back as he buckled on his blades and guns. Velenia followed suit taking just a moment longer to concentrate as Arthus rushed out the door and bounded up to the fore deck.

The Officer of the Watch held out a spyglass as he heard Arthus’ hard heeled boots on the stairs. The captain snapped open the spyglass and stood with one foot on the deck rail.

Arthus caught sight of the ship, and didn’t immediately take it for a warship. It looked to be a small schooner, but he had a hard time gauging its armaments since it was coming at them head on. Still, no colors worried him.

“Give me cannons and deck guns!”

“Aye!” Yelled the Officer of the Watch who immediately began barking orders which were in turn repeated by the crew. The smooth metal clink of portals being cranked open and cannons being rolled into position made the scene very real all of the sudden.

“What have you gotten us into now?” Velenia asked with a smirk on her face.

“Nothing unusual, dearest. Can’t tell what they’ve got on that thing, but I do see steel on the deck.” Arthus answered.

“Bad guys?” Velenia asked trying to sound coy.

“Aren’t they always bad guys?” Arthus snorted. “Keep our guns on them, we’ll need about five more minutes to make them out.”

The helmsman acknowledged with an enthusiastic “Aye!” As he adjusted course to keep the guns trained on the approaching ship.

Long moments passed as the two ships slowly closed on each other. Arthus focused the spyglass on the deck and slowly lowered it away from his eye. “Shit.”

“What is it, love?” Asked Velenia as she drew out her blades.

“Templars.” Arthus replied. “They’re going to want to come aboard and see if we found it… or anything that will lead to it.” He gave Velenia a telling look.

“Of course, I’ll take care of it.” Velenia moved quickly and gracefully back across the ship to their cabin and began hiding any number of items that the Templars might find interesting or objectionable.

Arthus handed the spyglass back to the Officer of the Watch and fixed his long black hair back under his hat. He straightened and buttoned his coat and stepped purposefully down to the main deck.

The two ships ran side by side and the crewmen of the Templar ship began readying a gangplank.

“Be advised…” a harsh and commanding voice bellowed. “We are coming aboard!”

Arthus looked across at the seven heavily armored church knights preparing to board his ship and called back “Permission granted!”

One of the knights on the leaders’ flank snapped his head up in disbelief. Arthus turned and instructed two crewmen to secure their end of the plank. He stepped back to the middle of the deck just a step or two in front of the starboard main-gear.

The Templars clamored aboard, obviously uneasy on the water. Once they were all present the commander, who boarded last, stepped forward.

“You are Arthus?” He asked pointedly.

“I am Captain Arthus, yes. And you are Knight Commander…?” Arthus trailed the last syllable waiting for a response.

“Koren.”

“Knight Commander Koren, of course. Welcome aboard the Daring, can I offer you and your men a…”

“You can hand over the relic!” Koren demanded.

“If you’re talking about Smitty,” Arthus said nodding in the direction of an aging crewman “You can have him! He gets more useless by the day!” Smitty gave Arthus the finger and a few of the other crewmen let a short laugh escape their lips.

Koren steamed and the other knights drew their swords.

In an instant Arthus had two beautiful gearwork pistols trained on the commander. Each had a central cog that bore several runes.

“Easy with those boys, I get awfully nervous around swords, I would hate for you to have to explain why you brought Commander Koren here back to the church with so many holes in him.” Arthus joked, never taking his eyes off the slit in Koren’s visor.

“Is that any way to treat our guests, Captain?” Velenia’s melodic voice carried from just behind the group of knights. Three of them spun to find her sitting on a barrel with her arms crossed on her lap.

“I heard you travel with a… woman.” Said Koren. “How brave of you to let her fight your battles for you!”
“I wouldn’t say ‘woman’ like that sir knight, she might turn you into a chicken!” Arthus said this loud enough for anyone on deck to hear, and many started laughing.

“Remember that poor chap in Hammerfell? Tsk… tsk…” the laughter continued until Arthus took a bold step forward. “Or I might cut you out of that shinny suit and put you over my knee.” He said with no note of humor in his voice.

“How dare you!” Called one of the knights. “Of all the…”

“That’s enough!” Ordered Koren.

Arthus studied him carefully. “So what will it be? Do we have a civilized meeting or do we see how well you and your men can swim?”

Koren put up a hand and the knights sheathed their swords. “We have come to retrieve the relic, we know you were trying to steal it.”

“See there you go again insulting me! To be fair, how could I possibly steal something that, according to your own church, doesn’t even exist?” Arthus answered.

“You know full well that it is no mere legend!” Koren barked, clearly insulted.

“Alright, I’ll give you that. I want it to be real as much as you do. Still, how can I steal something that at best has been lost for centuries?” Arthus continued to antagonize. “I mean who’s to say who the rightful owner is?”

“The church is the rightful owner! You would do well to mind your attitude… Captain.” Koren scolded.

“So you say, but where in the legends does it say anything about a church?” Arthus pushed. “Perhaps, if the relic is what the legends say, it is waiting for the right person to unearth it and take it to the people.”

Koren laughed derisively. “Any YOU are the right person? A pirate and a thief? A man who has no moral grounding at all? You seek the relic so you can sell it to the highest bidder!”

“And you seek the relic so you can sell your version of salvation. We are not so different Koren. I’m just better looking!” Arthus smiled and gave a mock bow.

“Mind your place pirate!” Koren barked.

“Arthus looked back and forth, letting his eyes settle back on Koren a few moments later. “My place? Don’t forget you are on MY ship. And just to clarify, I am not a pirate, I’m a privateer.”

Before Koren could respond Arthus continued “Take this back to your superiors. I will be in contact with them if and when I discover the relic. When that happens we can discuss our terms. I’m sure we will be able to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.”

Koren was obviously enraged. Even the full visor of his massive helm couldn’t hide his anger.

“You misunderstand Captain. We have been sent by the church to obtain the relic. If you do not have it then you will surrender whatever information you have. We know you have the only original manuscript with the legend, and we will require your maps as well.”

Arthus raised his eyebrow and opened his mouth to argue, but in the end he felt he had taken quite enough of the Templar’s bullying.

“You know Koren… oh fuck it.” BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!

Arthus’ pistols were at the ready in an angel’s breath, and two shots roared from each of them. The knights on either side of Koren collapsed to the deck with the resounding crash of metal.

The remaining five Templars drew steel and rushed to engage the crew. Koren shouted as he pointed toward Arthus “That one is mine!”

Arthus thought about just putting a few holes in the knight commander, but decided to holster his pistols and draw his cutlass and main gauche. He meant to teach him a lesson for his disrespect of Velenia. He waved Koren on with the tip of the cutlass and took a crouched stance.

Koren spun his claymore overhead and was bathed in a pale yellowish light. “Now you will die for your insolence!” Koren charged at Arthus and lashed out in a sweeping arc. Arthus leapt up and over the heavy blade and landed on Koren’s flank. A flurry of blows connected before Koren could react, but Arthus’ blades were easily turned aside by the Templar’s massive plate armor. Every strike produced a discharge of magical energy that caused Arthus to groan in frustration.

"Insolence? Who talks like that?!?" Arthus taunted as he narrowly avoided another devastating strike.

Meanwhile, Velenia entertained herself toying with two of the knights. Disarming them, spinning them in circles as they tried to keep her in front of them, and knocking them off balance with a diverse attack of swordsmanship and arcane magic. Her voice lilted on the wind with an Elven love song.

The remaining two knights were sitting ducks sprinting across the deck to get within a sword’s reach of another crewmember. Crossbow bolts rained down from the lookout towers and the fore deck. One of the knights managed to climb the stairs to the bridge, but found himself facing the Daring’s helmsman, officer of the watch, navigator, bosun. The Templar stood stock still at the top of the stairs and raised his sword to the sky. Three crossbow bolts and the officer’s shot all landed home on the knight’s breastplate dropping him backwards down the stairs.

Velenia grew bored after a time and unceremoniously cut down the two Templars easily finding the gaps in their impressive armor. She sat back on the barrel and observed Arthus’ duel with the commander. “Everything alright, maela?”

“Fine dear!” Arthus yelled ducking under another viscious swipe of Koren’s claymore. Arthus spun and took Koren’s leg out dropping him down on one knee. More glancing blows landed from Arhus’ blades, but Koren regained his footing a moment later.

“Want some help, love?” Velenia taunted.

“I wouldn’t want you to break a nail, dear!” Arthus quipped as he jumped onto a tooth of the massive main-gear. Soon he was ten feet above a cursing Koren. Arthus dove over Koren’s head, spreading his arms in a swan dive. He had measured the leap to arc just over the reach of Koren’s blade.

Arthus spun in midair and landed gracefully behind Koren then rolled under the sweep of the Templar’s sword. Arthus focused his will and struck out with both blades at Koren’s back knocking the knight off balance. A dull crack of energy burst from around Koren as Arthus’ strike disabled his divine protections.

Koren’s rage exploded as he spun and swept his blade wide trying to catch Arthus off guard. Koren let go of the blade with one hand to try and extend his reach, but Arthus had the blow measured and trapped the Templar’s wrist with his blades.

Arthus spun his hips upward and kicked Koren in the back of the head while pulling his sword arm outward. Koren stumbled forward and found his arm caught in the intricate gearwork of the Daring’s engine.

Koren screamed, but it was too late as his cries were drowned out by the screech of twisting metal. It took only a few seconds for Koren’s arm to be severed at the elbow. He dropped to the deck writhing in agony and pulling his helmet off with his good hand.

Arthus looked down at what was a surprisingly young knight for his rank.

“All stop!” Arthus called.

“Aye!” answered the helmsman.

“Now, you can bleed to death or we can treat your wounds.” Arthus said crouching next to Koren.

The Templar was losing consciousness, but steeled himself for a moment. He almost spoke, but then his face softened and he just nodded.

Arthus nodded and shouted “Medic!”

It took several of the crew to carry Koren down to sickbay, and Arthus began shouting orders for repairs. The crew got to work on repairing the engine and cleaning the deck, as well as policing the bodies.

Arthus ordered a few scouts to board the Templar ship and see what they could find. They also brought the bodies back to their ship rather than just dump them overboard.

Once everything was in motion Arthus leaned against the railing next to Velenia.

“Was it really necessary to take his arm?” She asked.

“He started it! He shouldn’t have insulted you!” Arthus protested. “Besides, now we can send him back as a message to the church, and when they decide to send more knights to kill us they’ll have one less sword. I mean by the stars, did you see the size of that thing? i think he really wanted to hurt me!” They each laughed heartilly at Arthus' near death experience.

“Sometimes I forget how sweet you can be!” Velenia beamed at him. Next time they will send worse you know, the message is that we should not be underestimated.”

“I know, this was just an introduction. Still, I doubt they’ll be stupid enough to come at us at sea again. I mean, their crew didn’t even try to fire a shot. If they were coming for blood they should have hired a hardened crew.” Arthus spoke looking over his shoulder at the deck of the Templar ship where the crew was cowering as Arthus’ scouts searched the hold.

“We won’t be back on land for three to four months, so hopefully the only thing we have to look out for are Runners. Assuming everything goes smoothly, we could be back in Tortuga paying for our drinks with church gold!” Arthus daydreamed aloud.

“How much do you figure they’ll be willing to pay?” She asked leaning in close.

“If it’s the real deal, two, maybe three.” Arthus whispered with an unusually serious look in his eyes.

“Whoa! Are you serious?” Velenia challenged.

Arthus nodded slowly. “Hell, even if it’s a sham, I bet we can get twenty five just for the rock.”

“Well then, I’ll be expecting a necklace!” Velenia teased.

“Deal. But you have to wear it by itself!” Arthus played. She punched him and stormed off, turning to look over her shoulder and wink as she went into their cabin.

Arthus sat alone staring at the sky. The scouts were returning with several crates and some charts, maps, and other papers. Arthus nodded to each of them as they came aboard and noticed the official church seal on several of the items in tow.

“I trust you left everything as you found it?” He asked one of the scouts.

“Of course, Captain. You’d never know we were there.” He answered.

“Good.”

Arthus hopped over the rail and landed gingerly on the deck of the Templar ship. The crew was already nervous, and now they were starting to panic.

“Settle down!” Arthus addressed them as a group. “I’m not going to hurt you. In fact, I’m going to reward you!”

The six crewmen looked around nervously at each other. Arthus produced a small pouch and tossed it up and down. “Six of you… sixty sovereigns ought to cover it.” Arthus looked at one of the crew.

“Cover… what…” He asked.

“Your escape.” Arthus said flatly. “Once you get back the church is going to want to know how six of their Templars ended up stone dead, and when you tell them that they picked this fight, the church will have you put to death for blasphemy… or something equally ridiculous.”

“Well what if we just say that you left them no choice?” Said another crewman.

“If that’s your plan than I’ll keep my sixty sovereigns and kill you myself.” Arthus said with a smile. “I can’t have you giving the church any more excuses to hunt me down, and you can’t afford to tell them the truth. So, I can eliminate the problem here and now, or I can trust that your better judgment will prevail.”

“And you’ll just trust us to do what you want?” The crewman asked.

“Stop it, you’re embarrassing yourself! This isn’t my first dance. Once you accept these coins, let’s just say you will be compelled to honor your bargain here.” Arthus answered opening the pouch and pouring out a few gold coins into his other hand. He concentrated for a moment and the coins glowed with a blue-green aura revealing the fact that they had been ensorcelled.

“Once you accept them the magic will be expended. You will keep your promise and you may do with the coins what you wish. I would suggest sailing far from church jurisdiction.”

“Foul magic! You want to enslave us!” Yelled one of the crew.

“No, I don’t deal in the slave trade, and I don’t kill innocent sailors if I can help it. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.” Arthus said compassionately.

The sailors looked at each other and mumbled back and forth.

“Going once…” Arthus called out.

The mumbling took on a more fevered pitch.

“Going twice…” Arthus dropped his hand down to his sword.

One of the sailors saw this and scolded the others to shut their mouths. “We accept!” He yelled nervously.

“Sold!” Arthus yelled enthusiastically.

“Well, come on, form a line!” Arthus waved them over one by one and handed each ten gold sovereigns. As each man took hold of the coins a subtle wave of arcane energy washed over them, and Arthus knew that they would not turn on him.

It took a while for the medic to deal with Koren’s wound. Once everything was taken care of he was escorted back to the main deck.

“So I suppose this is farewell?” Arthus asked.

“For now.” Koren growled through his teeth. He would no longer make eye contact with Arthus.

Arthus saw Koren off the ship and tipped his hat to the crew below. He knew this wasn’t the last time he would see Knight Commander Koren. He shook his head and walked about the deck overseeing things. The crew was quite good at their jobs, so Arthus rarely had to supervise them. He knew the Daring would be in top form by the time they met with the Runners’ ambush, so his mind turned back to the church.

If the church wasn’t their enemy this morning, they certainly were this afternoon. One thing was sure, there was no such thing as a quiet day at sea.

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