The sun was almost blazing overhead; it was summer, and like Icarus may tell you, getting closer to a hot sun does nothing to keep you cool. A silhouette washed over the cloud barrier below, like a huge, oddly-shaped bird hovering over the white blanket of vapours, straight and narrow in its course and fast in its movements. A pair of mechanical wings beat down every few seconds, although that just helped to stabilise the vessel from where the weight of the ship countered the lift of the intense helium in the airbag inside the hull. This was the Great Beater, the airship of the most nefarious and well-known sky-brigands this side of the cloud bank.
The sound of the crew members shouting to each other, either barking orders or cracking jokes, coursed over the sound of the wings and the whistle of the wind. The sails above bolstered and ruffled with each tiny change in the wind, but the capable-yet-inebriated crew were very wily about keeping them in check. It was almost a rule for at least three of them to be completely drunk at any one time; if there were any less than that, then they weren't just doing their job right.
One such person, who apparently had at least a cup of alcohol in her system at any given time, was their very own figurehead, their figure of admiration and undying respect: the captain of the Beater pirates, Rain. While many other crews questioned a woman's ability to captain a crew, this one definitely ticked all the boxes of what made a good pirate captain. Even at that time in the day, she was nowhere to be found unless you knew where to look. That was, of course, in her quarters, almost half-naked, sat down in her armchair with one leg draped over the arm, and a bottle of rum in her fingers almost ready to fall to the floor while she slept.
The door to her chamber knocked three times, stirring her from her sleep with a grunt. "Captain?" a voice called to her. Even in her half-asleep daze, she could recognise that tone as that of the first mate, Ashwell. "Captain? You awake in there?"
"Well, I am now!" Rain yelled back. The door opened, allowing Ashwell to step inside and close it behind him. he was dressed in his usual garb, tight, slightly dirtied clothing covered in leather straps, and a belt that carried his cutlass and brass pistols. A jade watch hung from his neck, the gem acting a s a symbol of authority as well as a trophy from a previous voyage. "What have I told you about waking me before dawn, Ash?" she demanded, rubbing her eyes with the back of her thumb.
"Not to do it," Ashwell replied, calmly.
"So why have you woken me up?" Rain pressed, ready to throw the bottle at him.
"Because it's been morning for over an hour."
Rain sniffed, looking to the door. Ashwell kicked it open again, and Rain grunted as the rays of the morning sun hit her full in the face. "Alright, alright, ya made your point already!" She groaned in relief as the first mate closed the door, returning her to darkness. "What's that situation?"
"Frig's got us on a new course, Cord's made a mess of parchments on his desk again, and the pig's something that smells like smokey heaven."
Rain smiled and stood out of her chair, putting the open bottle of rum down on the table. If the tactician and the cartographer were on the job, that meant one thing: new target. Plus, Snozzy's food was the best way to wake up after a long night of drinking and crooning with the crew. She waved her hands at Ashwell, signalling for him to leave. "Well? What are you standing there for? I have to dress!"
Ashwell smiled and opened the door again. "Captain, all due respect, every single one of the crew has seen you naked. You've got nothing else to hide."
"I've got plenty. Rally the rest of them; it's time we put on our game faces!"
"Aye aye, cap!" With that, the first mate left her quarters, giving the captain the privacy to dress herself up all nice and fancy. A half-cut, diagonal dress that came to above/below her knees, tight cloth clothing with a strap of leather and brass here and there, with big, long leather boots, and finally, a big bicorne hat with a skull and crossed pistols symbol emblazoned on the front, adorned with a pair of bloody red feathers. A true captain if you ever saw one, armed with two pistols and two cutlasses. She kicked the door of her quarters open and climbed up to the helm, nodding to the black-and-blue scaled dragon at the helm with a congratulatory grin.
"What have you spied this morning, eagle eye?" she japed, standing next to him at the helm and staring off into the clouds.
"Not I, captain," Frigida corrected her. "It was your boy Alexi who spotted it nigh on fifteen minutes ago." Rain smiled, cocking her head up to the crow's nest and resting her eyes on the tiger that sat above, his eye stuffed into a telescope while he barked orders to those manning the sails and the huge rudder. "A trader ship, he's said."
"Traders, you say?" Rain echoed, smiling wider and stroking her chin. "Looks like the rum's on me tonight."
"I'll be there for my cup," Frigida promised. Rain smirked, looking down to the deck and washing her eyes over the faces hard at work. She could see the honey-hued pig, Snozzy, passing around pickles, eggs and meat strips to the crew members with a jolly holler under the Jolly Roger, as well as Velli, Aura and Apollo at their respective posts, either prepping the guns or hoisting ropes or just binging on the food.
"Looks like we've got a full house," Rain stated. "But where's Paul? He can't be down with the bilge rats again, can he?"
"He's a sneak," Frigida stated. "It's only natural that he do a little sneaking around with the hull whores." Rain laughed again.
"Right you are, Frig," she said, clapping him on the back a few times and stepping to the rail. Even above the sound of the wings and the calls of her crewmates, Rain's powerful voice could be heard as she called out: "BEATERS! LET THE GAMES BEGIN!" The various members of the crew all started cheering and floundering their weapons around, firing off one or two shots in raucous celebration of the imminent attack on the unsuspecting traders. The bells were rung, echoing throughout the ship, while, following the standard of attack, the otter known as Apollo fired off two guns, the shots of which echoed across the cloud bank to wherever the trader ship would be, a warning that the Great Beater was coming.
Meanwhile, at a much swifter and quieter pace than the iconic pirates' vessel, down much lower to the clouds, the traders were hard at work amongst their posts. People still barked orders, but with much more class and sobriety. Jack and Drago and Leon had been tasked with deck-swabbing, which while normally not a very tasking matter in itself, was very tasking today due to the sheer level of cleanliness that the first mate had commanded. Orin had been very much in charge that day, while the captain was busy with other matters.
"Hurry it up!" Orin called, standing beside Jack as he swept and mopped at the wooden floor of the H.M.S. Falcon. "This deck has to be spotless!"
"We're trying!" Jack complained. "It's almost done; give it a rest!"
Orin sighed and rubbed her temples with both hands, her rapier, standard trader issue, tapping the heel of her polished boot with a dull thud. The brass buttons on her uniform, tightened cloth with little leather at all, shined in the morning glint. This was a very special day for their crew; today, they would play host to an envoy from the Great Royal Navy. Who they had been assigned, Gods only knew. All she knew was, their real helm's master was not present, having gone to receive the admiral a while ago.
"Orin!" someone called. The first mate turned her head, her long hair and fiery tails glinting as the sun hit them. She looked to the bridge of the ship, catching the eyes of the cartographer, Ike. "We have to switch to propellors! The downdraft is wreaking havoc on the sails!"
Orin cast her eye to the masts; Ike was very much correct. The wind on the lower part of the sky was much more powerful than up above, and the sails would surely tear soon. "Raise the sails! Start the motors!" she called out, clapping her hands and stomping on the floor so her message reached everyone. Now that the deck had been thoroughly washed, the guards and cannoneer ran to the rigging and started pulling ropes and yanking switches. "Faster! Faster!" Orin called, rushing to the central mast herself and hefting down the huge lever to engage the motor. She grunted as it sank down, the rods of the sails rolling together up the mast like rolls of parchment into thick, heavy propellors, which began to spin and slice through the air. Already, orin could feel the turbulence die down.
"Good work!" she called out with a smile. "Now, back to your positions! Captain Tsuyoi and the Admiral should be here any minute." The crew members of the traders returned to their posts, with a few other members of the crew heading downstairs to guard their stock of spices, tobacco, rope, and a few precious items of gold. This vessel carried more than its member's worth in goods, headed for Her Majesty's docks themselves. The boys returned to their posts either side of the cartographer, their muskets in hand and ready to fire.
"I can see them!" the lookout called. Orin looked up to the crow's nest above the central mast, spotting the spotted face of the young Collin poking out over the edge of his railing. "Half a furlong off starboard! It's the captain!"
Orin cupped her hands to her mouth. "And what about the naval officers?" she called back, over the thrum of the propellor sails.
Collin took up his telescope again, holding it to his eye and shuddering. "It's O'Keeffe! We're playing host to Admiral O'Keeffe!" Orin grunted and clenched her fists; Samuel O'Keeffe was a very well-known officer of the Great Royal Navy. He was a sea dog by nature, although a horse by species, but his loathing of airships and sky travel was almost unparalleled.
"You heard the boy!" the first mate shouted. "Take up positions! Prepare to welcome the admiral!"
The various members of the crew moved around into their formal positions, while she stood against the rope ladder off the edge of the ship and looked out. She could see them already; aboard a miniature sky dingy, three figures sat down and approached the ship. She saw two brightly-dressed naval officers, including the admiral, and another officer, perhaps assigned to watch over him. However, in his own brown, leathery clothing and coat, adorned with two rapiers and two pistols, was her captain, Hiro Tsuyoi.
Hiro, unlike her, had just spent the last half an hour from the naval vessel with Samuel O'Keeffe, and his personal watchdog, Lunaria Dragomere. Her white fur, soft and supple, very much betrayed her dangerousness. When on the job defending the admiral, no matter what kind of personality she had at any other time, she was all business. They had spend the journey in the depth of conversation, during which time Hiro had found out a lot about Admiral O'Keeffe. First and foremost was that his loathing of airships was much less spoken off that in actuality; it was, in fact, much more intense. Even being in the dingy seemed to put him at unease. The second thing that he found out was that he was, like some of his crew members, one who preferred the company of men than women. That was probably one of the reasons why Luna had been given the role of his protector.
"…and so, with the ship almost completely destroyed by cannon fire," O'Keeffe continued, "I kept it moving on oars alone, and landed it on Dover beach, moments before the mast collapsed and fell into the water!"
The pair of them laughed aloud, although Hiro's was about ten percent arse-kissing. "Oh, sir, that really is a story you could go home to the wife with." Samuel's smile was almost punched off of his face, leaving a stern and informative glare that left Hiro was a blush. "Oh, yes… Of course… My apologies."
They tapped the side of the Falcon with the dingy, and once they arrived by the rope ladder, Hiro remained the gracious one and allowed the naval officers to go up first. He climbed up after Luna, getting an eyeful of her posterior as they climbed, though he made sure to keep his eyes to himself. Orin helped him back onto his feet when they climbed onto the deck of the ship. "Welcome back, Captain," she said with a smile.
"Thank you, Orin," Hiro replied, smiling. The naval officers were already on the centre of the deck, with Samuel inspecting the propellors from below. As Hiro approached them, he noticed a few members of his crew staring at Lunaria from behind, which she apparently seemed to notice as well.
She shot them a look over her shoulder, and when she returned her eyes forwards, Hiro heard her mutter: "Oh, please."
Hiro gulped, but stood beside Samuel at the mast. "I suppose it's much different to what you're used to, Admiral," he said, graciously.
"Very much so," O'Keeffe said. "I still don't understand how you can stand being on one of these. Boats and ships were meant for the waters. I don't know about you, but I much prefer to spend my days surrounded by seamen." 'Don'tlaughdon'tlaughdon'tlaugh!' Hiro repeated in his thoughts, reminded of his faux pas on the dingy.
"Well, hopefully, you won't get sky sick on your stay here," Hiro stated with a smile. "You'll be staying in my quarters tonight. I'm afraid your companion may have to share the quarters with you, since we hadn't anticipated, a companion would be… out of place amongst our mainly male crew."
"Don't you have female quarters?" Samuel asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"Actually, our women crew members have made it pretty clear that they can handle being in amongst the lads." Hiro smirked, reminded of the pained faces of several guys who'd had their nuts twisted if they got too close. "But, your quarters will be much more luxurious."
Before either of them could respond, the sound of two echoing gunshots rang across the cloud banks, making the vapours ripple and sputter with the vibrations. "What the Hell…?" Orin muttered. "Collin! What was that?!"
The dalmatian looked over the edge. "We have an airship on the upper banks!" he called back. "A winged model!" The young member of the crew looked closer through the telescope and gasped. "Oh, no… They fly the Jolly Roger! It's sky pirates!"
"The Great Beater," Samuel muttered. Hiro looked his way, a frown on his face.
"You've dealt with these brigands before?" Hiro asked.
"Not personally," Samuel told him.
"I have," Lunaria cut across. "I speak of it to the Admiral a lot. They are drunkards and perverts, yes, but very dangerous and serious when it comes to their chosen vocations."
Hiro grunted and cursed in anger; this could not have happened on a worse day. "So you know what to do about them, then?" he asked.
Lunaria huffed and bit her lip, while still maintaining her calm and serious demeanour. "The only thing you can do is fend them off. Once you're in their sights, you can't escape; you have to blind them first."
"So what exactly should we do?" Orin asked.
Samuel smirked. "Consider this part of your assessment; show us what you can come up with about how to deal with them, and we'll just sit back and watch." He caught a glimpse of the captain's slightly worried expression, and added: "But, if it gets too intense, we'll step in."
"Thank you," Hiro told him, before his gaze snapped to the crew. "Jack! Drago! Rally the rest of the crew and man your posts! Protect the cargo at all costs!"
"Yes, sir!" the guards called back, saluting their captain and starting to rush into the hull of the ship to go about their demands.
"Leon! Fire off a warning shot their way! I want to see one of those wings splintered or otherwise!"
"Sir, yes sir!" Leon responded, before he rushed to the nearest gun, loading a shot into the barrel and aiming it. He muttered to himself, reminding himself of the procedure and debating the wind and angle with himself, before he finally seemed satisfied with the cannon's aim, and struck the fuse.
"Cannonfire!" Orin started to shout. "Man your positions for return shots!"
The cannon blazed as the shot boomed across the clouds, the cannonball barely visible while it flew across the sky towards the wing of the Beater. "Collin!" Hiro called. "I want an update! Did we hit it?"
"We have a solid blow to the arm, sir!" the dalmatian informed him. "It hasn't broken, but there was definitely a shockwave from the impact!"
Hiro grinned. "Hopefully, that'll be enough of a warning to keep them off our tail."
Meanwhile, the two naval officers leaned against the wall of the ship, watching with tentative and gleeful smiles. "Is that going to be enough?" Samuel asked his companion.
"Fuck, no," Lunaria replied.
Rain smiled as the end of the cannon fire died down. "Think they got the message?" she said, leaning over to Frigida.
"It'd be hard for them not to," he replied. "Now, you have a crew to rally, and I doubt you'd do well to do that on an empty stomach. I'm sure Snozzy has some put aside for his favourite captain."
Rain chuckled, stepping away from the helm. "Right you are, Frig. Keep us steady, mate."
"Will do, sir."
Rain smiled and moved off of the bridge, stepping down and whistling to the pig carrying the trays of food. "Snozzy! Hit me up, mate!"
"Right-o, sir!" the pig replied with a smile, shoving two trays of food her way. The left held the bacon, while the right held eggs and pickles. Without even thinking, Rain stuck her hands out and grabbed hefty handfuls of each. "I hope it's up to scratch this morning."
"As long as the bilge whores haven't been doing their business over them again, you know I'm easy," Rain smiled.
Snozzy snorted in laughter. "That was a bad day for the kitchen. I'm still smelling it down there." He smirked and started to walk away. "Good luck in the assault, sir!" he called back, as Rain started to sink her fangs into the food she had grabbed, egg and pickle juices running down her chin to be mopped up by rashers of bacon. She smiled and nodded towards the other crew members while they went about their various duties in preparation for their assault on the trader ship.
"Captain!" she heard. She looked up and caught Alexi's eye. "Captain! You may wanna hear about this!"
"What is it, tiger?" Rain called back, flicking the rim of her hat up a little so she could see better.
"We've got a pair of naval officers on board! It's Admiral O'Keeffe!"
Rain's grin only widened further; an admiral on board? The ransom money could be limitless! "And who's the other one?" she called back up.
"I can't recognise her. It's a white wolfess!"
Rain's grin faded a little. 'Her…' she thought, reminded of the naval officer wolf who she had come to cross blades with once before. "Interesting. Keep an eye on the skies, Alexi! Keep me informed on those officers!"
"You got it, sir!" he called back, taking up his telescope again.
Rain looked to the door of the hull. "Now where the Hell is Paul? We need him and the labourers across…" She looked up to the stern of the airship. "Velli!" she called. The wolf turned and smiled at her. "We need a hook going! Load the grappler, and be quick about it!"
"Yes, cap'n!" Velli called back, running up to the bow and up the stairs while loading the grappling hook launcher and starting to aim it towards the trader ship. "We should be ready to fire any minute, sir!" he called back with a grin.
"Excellent! Don't hesitate to fire! Just--" The sound of cannon fire rang across the clouds again, and Rain could only silence herself for a moment before the loaded shot struck the left wing of the Beater. "No, no, no!" she shouted. "Corday! CORDAY!"
A few shouts later, after the ship had been stabilised, the black labrador answered her call, appearing out of the lower decks of the ship through the gate in the floor and standing in front of her. "Captain!"
"Go and check the port wing. I want to make sure we're not about to go below the clouds."
"Right!" the labrador agreed, rushing to the edge of the rigging and grabbing his short-range telescope that fit inside his pocket watch. He held it to his eye and scanned towards the damaged part of the wing. "It's just dinged, captain! Completely operational; we're still sky bound for the foreseeable future." Music to Rain's ears.
"Good news there, then," she said, a smile reappearing on her face. "Apollo! Return fire! Keep 'em on their toes until we can launch the hook! Frigida! Keep up with 'em and get within a furlong's distance of their keister! I want a perfect grapple this time!" The wings beat even faster, and the low vibrations under her feet from the engines propelling them forwards intensified. The sound of cannons blazing from both boats resounded across the sky. "Now, Corday. What's the plan?"
"Captain," Corday bowed. "I have the idea of using all our offensive crew to keep the forward men on their ship occupied. In that time, we can have Paul and the labourers sneak on round the other side and unload their hull. Knowing Paul, he can even open a hole in the side of their vessel and take the quick route."
"Good plan," Rain told him. "Spread it around the shipmates and arm yourself, in case any of them try to get onboard the Beater."
"Yes, sir!" he said, dashing off and starting to call his tactics to the other members. "Sir!" Velli called. "The hook's ready!"
Rain grinned, flashing him a look while her hands resting on the hilts of her swords. "Then fire at will!"
"What's our status, Collin?" Hiro called up.
"They're still on our tail and stabilising, sir!" the dalmatian shouted back. He pulled and tugged on a few switches on his telescope, extending it, even if the picture lost focus a little. "Oh, no… Returning fire! Their cannoneer's loading the guns again! They're loading the grappling hook!"
"Damnit!" Hiro yelled, punching the mast. "Leon! Jack! Orin! I want you loading guns and firing like it's Guy Fawkes Day!" The three all exchanged their approval and consent, before rushing off to the guns and barking commands at each other to aid each other in their return assault. "Drago! Get down below and alert Vincent! Get him to send a message to the company and tell them to send an envoy. If we can't throw them off our tail, we'll get them out of the sky!"
"Yes, sir!" Drago replied, rushing down the door and into the hull of the ship. If Vincent could send a message off to the trading company, then they would be able to bring enough firepower to either submerse or bury the Beater, depending on where they landed.
O'Keeffe and Lunaria seemed content to stay beside the door to the hull, smiles on their faces. "At least he's cool in a crisis," Samuel muttered.
"He punched the mast," Lunaria reminded him.
"You punched a senior officer last time," Samuel returned.
Lunaria smiled and shook her head. "They say 'Don't shoot the messenger'; doesn't say you can't punch them." Samuel snorted in laughter, almost keeling over with the hilarity. "Shouldn't we lend them a hand, though?"
"Nah, leave them too it for now. It's not like we're about to go below the cloud barrier."
"Ike! Take us under the cloud barrier!"
Samuel sighed. "Spoke too soon." He stood away from the wall of the ship, as the vessel began to dip lower and the cannons started to fire once again, from both ships this time. "What are you doing, Hiro?"
"They're accelerating!" Collin called down, making both of them cringe a little.
"They're preparing an offensive, sir," Hiro explained. "We can't let them send a grappling hook on us. Pulling the Falcon down below the clouds will provide us with a cover until the trading company can send reinforcements."
"We're over the sea of Bermuda," O'Keeffe reminded him. "It'll take hours for the reinforcements to arrive. Even--" A cannon struck the side of the ship, and Samuel almost lost his footing. Lunaria called his name and charged closer, hoisting him back onto his feet. "Damn it. Another shot like that and we won't have a choice about going down."
"What do you suggest we do, sir?" Hiro asked.
"Sometimes the best way to take a sword away from a swordsman," Samuel told him, "is to wait until it's out of the scabbard."
"You mean…" Hiro furrowed his brow. "We slow down, and let them hook on the grappler?"
"Then you can cut through the cord," Lunaria told him. "The last time I saw Rain's crew, it wasn't very efforted. It was rope soaked in heavy oil; it took three strokes for me to cut through it."
"And then what?" Hiro said. "What after we cut the rope?"
"If they're smart, they'll turn away," Lunaria said. "Unless they send in their sneak; they have a winged member of the crew to carry across the labourers. We managed to fend him off after the ship got out of range, but if they're still close enough, there's no telling what sort of trouble a nether dragon could cause."
Hiro looked down a little and bit his cheek in thought. "Fine. I'll do it your way. Ike! Keep us in plain sight and slow us down! We're going to take off their hands before they can pull us in!"
"Captain, are you sure that's wise?" Orin called out.
"We have to face these menaces head on!" Hiro told her. "It's the only way to get rid of them."
The crew members seemed doubtful, but after a moment, they started to enact his orders, while still firing off the cannons. A couple struck the Beater, but none drove it away.
"You two had better be right about this," Hiro said. "I'm taking a very big risk by doing this."
"It's a surefire plan," Lunaria told him. "It will work."
The sound of a grappling gun bing fired rang across the air, silencing the cannon fire. "This is it!" Hiro said. "Man your positions! Slice through the rope as soon as it hits!" He, Orin, and Jack all drew their swords, reading themselves for the attack. The black dot that was the grappling claw cast a shadow over the deck, and a few seconds later, the four-armed mass of metal struck the ground, breaking the boards in several places and hooking onto the wood. The sound of mechanical plates opening whirred, making sure the floor wouldn't give way. "Now!" Hiro called.
All at once, the four of them sliced down on the rope caught onto the claw… and all four blades snapped in two.
"What is this?!"
"It didn't work!"
Hiro looked at the handle of his sword, useless, before tossing it to the floor. He took a look at the rope, and observed its shininess. "Steel," he said. "They changed the rope. Fuck!"
All of them stumbled as the boat was pulled back, a few of them falling onto their stomachs, including Admiral O'Keeffe. They all cried out, standing back on their feet and trying to think, while the boat was pulled towards the Great Beater. "They've got us!" Jack called.
"I knew we shouldn't have done this!" Orin yelled at Hiro. "Now they have us in chains!"
"We can drive them off!" Hiro said. "Jack, I want you to try and get the hook off. Try and break through the mechanisms or something; get it unlocked! And quickly! The rest of you, take up defensive positions. Cannons won't help now; if that ship goes down, it takes us with it."
"We have a successful tether on them, sir," Corday told her.
"Shall we ready ourselves for the frontal assault?" Aura asked. "We have prepare ourselves for a counterattack."
"Yes, go," Rain said, waving her hand at them. "Corday, find Paul and get him to grab the labourers. Make sure he isn't about to busy himself with the bilge whores."
"Yes, sir," Corday said, walking away from the captain and rushing to the door leading down into the bilge. "Paul!" he called out. "Paul, where are you?"
The netherdragon poked his head past the corner of the wall, a disgruntled look on his face. "What? What is it?"
"We have a situation upstairs. Prepare the labourers; they have their work cut out for them."
Paul smiled. "What is it today? Naval officers? A cruise liner, perhaps?"
"Traders, with an admiral and his insubordinate onboard. They've been tethered."
The dragon grinned wider. Corday stepped closer, and could only see that he was mingling with the bilge whores, Pink and Nef. Oddly enough, his hands were on the latter, a male. He sighed. "That's where you've been the last hour?"
Paul shook his head. "No, I just woke up."
"With all the cannons going off?"
"These two kept me up all night," Paul told him with a slight wink. Corday sighed again. "I'll get the labourers ready." Corday nodded, stepping back while Paul turned to the whores. "I'll see you two later," he said, while the three of them all wrapped arms around each other. The lab turned away to let them have their moment, rapping his fingers on the opposite arm. As soon as he turned away from them, he strode past the tactician and up the stairs, Corday following soon after.
Meanwhile, Pink and Nef stood by and watched him there, just waiting for the two of them to leave. When they were both safely out of earshot, Pink grinned at Nef. "Hey, Nef," she said, holding up a little bag of coins. "Look what I snagged out of his right pocket."
Nef grinned. "Good catch," he said, both hands behind his back. "But, I've spent enough time with him to know he keeps his larger cache in the left." He took out his right hand, holding a wallet stuffed with coins. The shape-shifter scowled at him. "And that you keep your gold on your belt." He held up the left hand, showing Pink's bag of coins hanging from the string. She gasped and threw herself upon him, grabbing for the wallet and almost scratching his eyes out to get it.
"Give it back, you bastard, or I'll rip your nuts off!"
"Maybe that's what I want you to do!" Nef laughed, kicking the whore off and hanging both bags above his open jaws.
"No, no!" Pink said, a look of horror on her face. She leapt for him, but too slowly to prevent him from swallowing both the bags of gold. When he swallowed, he caught her in his arms and held her at arms length, grinning.
"Mmmm, tasty!" he said. The pair of them resumed squabbling, while a small, meek shape slipped past and up the stairs, her red fur shivering in the wind. Red wandered around above the deck and sought out her master, looking awkwardly and moving with fear around the other Beaters.
"Red!" Paul called out to her, standing by the other labourer, some nameless boy who she barely ever saw. "Glad you're here." Red held her head up and wagged her fluffy tail some, while she smiled and noted the three knives on Paul's body. "We're flying in after the others begin the assault. Remember, gold first, then drinks, then spices…"
"And then tobacco and smoke!" Red smiled.
"That's right! Come on, this way. I'll harness you two up and then we'll be ready to go." Red smiled and followed him, with the nameless boy, as Paul stepped into the harness, with two larger loops on it to hold them over his chest. That's why they only used children; smaller and less weight for him to worry about. She was strapped into the harness and lifted off her feet, her tail stroking his side while she smiled in excitement at the prospect of pleasing the crew.
"Paul!" Rain shouted. "You ready?"
"Ready when you are!"
"Good!" The captain drew her swords. "Everyone, wait for my signal!" Bullets rained upwards, not striking any of them but chipping away at the wood. A few seconds later, and the ship was directly above the traders', and they were ready. "Charge!"
With that, every single one of the Great Beaters save the labourers and the cartographer leapt off the railing and down onto the H.M.S. Falcon.
"Fire!" Hiro called, drawing his sword, while the rest of the crew let their bullets fly. The tether held firm while the pirates readied themselves to descend upon them, but the bullets did nothing to stop them; the nervousness threw their aims off. As the pirates all started shouting and cheering, they leapt down, onto the decks. The otter, Apollo, already took on Jack and another guard, the group of them tussling while Aura and Drago danced with their swords. Leon kept on trying to pick the mechanisms on the grappling hook, even though it was useless. However, when Ashwell descended upon him, he let up and raised his rapier to deflect the cutlass. Pistols and knifes and swords all flew every which way. Samuel and Lunaria even threw themselves into the fray, their military swords flashing while they cut through clothing and made sparks against the metal.
"You must be the captain!" someone said. Hiro looked to the side, his eyes falling on Rain. She raised her cutlasses, while he lifted his rapier. "Tut-tut, one sword?" she said, teasingly throwing one of hers aside. "I don't want too much of an advantage."
Hiro smiled, readying himself. "Oh, I'm sure you've bitten off more than you can chew."
He stood with his legs together, the rapier blade vertical to his face, with one hand behind his back. Rain sliced at him, and he easily blocked it, the cutlass sliding off the trader sword with sparks flying. Hiro sent his shoulder into Rain's chest and sent her sprawling, even though she stood back up and fired one pistol at him. He stepped to the side and pirouetted the obvious stab with her cutlass, lifting his blade and slicing a scrap of leather off her coat. She gasped and growled at him, both of the wolves exchanging stabs and slices, while the rest of the crews fired and stabbed and hacked at each other.
"Admiral!" Lunaria called, deflecting one of Snozzy's shots while trying to ignore the hunger pangs that came from his honey-scented musk. "Get yourself into the hull! You'll be safe there!"
"A good officer never strays from the fray!" Samuel repeated, firing his musket at Ashwell and catching him in the shoulder. The first mate pirate cried out, but ignored the pain and stabbed at the admiral. Samuel stepped back and deflected the blade with the side of his musket, shooting a bullet at the wood by the pirate's foot in the meanwhile. The pirate sent a fist into his cheek, and he stumbled back with a grunt.
"An eye for an eye, sir," Ashwell stated, while the blade cut at the naval officer's shoulder. He cried out in pain, before he span on his ankle and hit Ashwell over the head with the butt of his gun. The pirate grunted, and fell to the floor, either stunned or unconscious. Samuel spared no haste in firing again, sending a cap towards Alexi, who caught it in the edge of his side while trying to break through Collin's defences. The tiger turned his attention to the officer, providing the dalmatian with the opportunity to bring his boot down hard on his foot. Alexi swore and stumbled, while Collin swept the ground out from under his foot and brought him to the floor.
"That's good hustle, kid," Samuel said with a smile. Collin beamed and chuckled, before Alexi's boot left a print on his cheek.
"You little brat!" Alexi shouted, bringing his sword up above Collin's head while he fell to the floor. He sliced down, and Collin almost shaved his ear moving out of the way, embedding the blade in the wood. While he tried to pry it out, a red-furred hand grabbed him by the back of the shirt, pulling him back far enough to drive a fist into his nose, sending him sprawling.
Collin looked up at Orin, with a thankful smile. "Y-you saved my life, Orin," he stammered.
"Think nothing of it, boy," Orin said, grabbing Alexi's cutlass and wrenching it free. Collin noted that she seemed to have lost her own. "Just get back out there and help the others." Collin nodded and stood, rushing off and throwing a punch into Apollo's side. Apollo, in turn, swiped downwards with his tail and brought his leg out from under him, before sending his heel into the back of Collin's head, leaving him limp and unconscious.
"Hey!" Drago called, his sword bent in two places. "Finish one fight before you start playing with kids!" Somewhere, one of Corday's smoke bombs blew, even though the vapours were cleansed within moments by the wind.
"Relax," the otter smiled, his hefty arms hoisting his larger than most cutlass up and stabbing at the guard. "Now you have my full attention." He parried Drago's swipe and grabbed downwards with his hand, yanking Drago's tail hard, making him howl in pain. Apollo sent a fist into his cheek, sending him sprawling, before he felt a blade cut at his lower arm, causing him to drop his weapon.
He turned, eyes falling onto Jack again. "Remember me?" he said, with a worn grin. The bruise on his face that Apollo left on his left eye shone black. He stabbed again, but Apollo ducked down, grabbing his sword and using the flat of the blade to push Jack's blade down to the floor, embedding it in the wood. Jack didn't hesitate to let go, instead grabbing his pistol and firing at Apollo, while taking some cautious steps back. The otter, took all the bullets on his sword, not even noticing when a plank of wood fell down on his head. He grunted, and fell to the floor, clutching his skull, quite stunned.
"Keep yourself alert!" Lunaria told Jack, dropping the plank and grabbing Apollo's sword, while wiping away a spot of blood from her chin. Jack saw Aura to the side, tending a wound while trying to fend off Leon's sword strikes as well as another nameless trader. He brought the butt of his blade down on the nameless one's skull, and he was sent to the floor, before rejoining the fight with Leon. Jack cringed, wishing he could help. "Where are the captains?"
Jack looked around, before his eyes fell on Hiro and Rain battling on the bridge, with Ike caught in the middle of it. "They're over there!" he said, pointing at them. Lunaria picked Drago's musket up from the ground, leaving his unconscious body on the ground. Jack noted that Lunaria had extra blood on her fur, but the smell of it reminded him of honey. he looked to the side, and spied the honey-coloured Snozzy fighting off a pair of traders that he couldn't make out, with a cut on his cheek.
"Lock and load!" she shouted, aiming the gun and firing at Rain. She called out as the bullet sank through the edge of her right arm. Without hesitation, the captain drew her own pistol and fired back at her, anger flaring in both sets of eyes. This was another confrontation for them, and they weren't about to risk letting the other get away. Hiro grabbed Rain by the shoulder and spun her around, throwing her aside and away from Ike. If he went down, then so did the ships, and that meant that they were all dead.
"Thanks for the assist, Captain!" Ike called out to him. Hiro waved a hand to him, while dropping himself to move out of the path of Rain's bullet. The pirate pulled the trigger, but the gun was empty, so she reluctantly tossed it aside, leaving her with only one cutlass to fight with. The pair of them locked blades again.
"You'd be wise to call your men off," Rain said, with a smile. "I don't want bloodshed, but I'm more than happy to let it end that way."
"Never," Hiro said. "We're still on our feet!" He swept her ankles out from under her with his boot, and brought her to the ground. She held onto the handle of her sword, slashing while on her back, and spotting the silhouette of a certain dragon up above. She smiled, while no one else seemed to notice, as Paul flew around and down the back end of the trader ship.
The dragon latched onto the wood and clawed out a hole, big enough for him to climb through. He let go of the harnesses and let Red and the other labourer free, watching them run through the contents of the hull and collecting the goods in their back sacks. Red went straight for the gold, trays and forks and jewellery, while the boy went for the bottles of rum and wine that the ship was carrying. Of course, they couldn't carry them all, so he left the big barrels alone. Whatever happened to the traders, they would stay with them.
"Grab everything you can, and be quick about it!" Paul called, rummaging through the supplies himself and stuffing a bunch into his own sack. H picked up much larger objects, given his larger size, and made sure he could still fly with the load.
"Sir, look out!" Red called. Paul moved aside, while a kitchen knife buried itself in the wall where his head had been. The dragon looked to the doorway, spotting two figures: Vincent and Karter, the wire operator and the cook of the Falcon.
"A sneak!" Karter shouted, throwing another cooking tool, a cleaver. Paul held his arm up to block it, while the blade cut through a small layer of his skin, leaving him bleeding and grunting. Vincent drew a pistol and fired at Paul, but he preemptively covered himself in his wings, hardened by years of flying. The scales made the bullet bounce off and fly into the wood of the wall. Karter stepped closer and fired his own pistol, before turning his attention to the child. Red gasped and ducked her head, running over to Paul's safety while being fired at by the cook.
"Do you pirates use children to do your dirty work now?" Vincent asked, firing at Paul again, even though this shot did nothing, too. The second labourer snuck around the side of the wall, just missing getting shot by Karter, as he hid behind Paul's wings.
"And do the Falcon traders shoot at children to keep their riches?" Paul said, hiding his body behind his wings, while his hands moved to the knives on his legs, small and throwable.
"You're pirates," Karter replied, maliciously. "You only wish to steal from us. The fact that they are children holds no significance."
"Wrong answer," Paul said, before he let slip the two knives from the wall. Karter managed to step aside and miss the blade, but Vincent was not so lucky, the blade of Paul's knife striking his shoulder and skimming to the ceiling. Vincent clutched at his shoulder and dropped his gun, grunting.
Karter fired at Paul, while he charged at the cook, drawing his larger knife from his back and slicing at Karter. The cook drew out another kitchen knife and listen it up against Paul's, but didn't even notice Paul's tail pulling him down. He hit his head on the wall as he fell, stunning him. Paul didn't hesitate to grab one of the rope circles from the pile and use it to tie the pair of them up against the wall. Red and the other labourer resumed their picking of the hull's goods, until their sacks could carry no more.
"Full, sir," Red said with a smile, sparing a scared glance at Karter and Vincent.
"Good," Paul replied, standing back near the hole. "Come on, let's get you hooked back into the harness." Red and the other labourer ran back to their master, and he strapped them in, their sacks adding a substantial amount of weight. He dropped out of the hull and flew back up, his wings a-spread as he rode on the gales. He flew back under the Falcon and upwards, landing on the deck of the Beater. "Frigida! Ready to disengage the grappler?"
"The switch is primed and ready," the other dragon called out, while Paul dropped Red and the other labourer from their harness. They placed their heavy, large sacks on the ground, spilling all the gold and picking out the rum. In total, they had fifteen bottles of rum, twenty wines, two lengths of rope, fifty bars of tobacco, two small boxes of spices, and a fuckton of gold.
Paul moved to the cannons and lit two of them, even though they were both empty. The sound of their loud bangs made the signal; the raid was complete, and the pirates could return. "Get us down a little lower so they can climb up," Paul ordered the cartographer. "We need a smooth getaway." Frigida nodded at him, moving the ship so low that the woods were almost touching.
Back on the Falcon, the pirates all noted the two cannon blows. "Retreat!" most of them all shouted, leaving the traders and the naval officers dumbfounded as to why the fearsome pirates were suddenly leaving the ship. Rain smiled, her purple face almost broken with cunningness while she kicked Hiro off of her, grabbing her swords and running for the bow. Apollo grabbed the unconscious members of his crew and threw them over his shoulders, jumping onto the deck of the Beater and dropping them to the floor, while helping the rest of his shipmates back on, too, especially the heavy cook.
Rain smiled over her shoulder and gave Hiro a very sarcastic wave. "Oh, no you don't," Lunaria said, grabbing the musket she had dropped a moment before and aiming one more shot, a hit at Rain's right calf. The pirate screamed and stumbled, clutching her leg and trying to stop the blood floor.
"Nice shot," Samuel said.
"Thank you sir," Lunaria replied, aiming again, at Rain's head, "Should I try for another?"
The horse admiral placed a hand on the barrel of the gun and pushed it down. "Not today. We don't fight to kill; we fight to protect." Lunaria looked up at O'Keeffe and sighed, dropping the musket, just as the large drake, Paul, landed on their deck again. Jack raised his gun and fired at him, but he spread his wings and blocked the bullets, while scooping his captain up in his arms and soaring back onto the falcon.
"Now!" he called out, and Velli threw the switch on the grappling gun. The tether fell loose from the gun, falling limply to the deck and being dragged down by gravity. The pirates all stood aside while it fell away from the ship, the weight on the end of it, pulling the Falcon downwards gently. Too much weight for them to stay above the cloud barrier.
Paul laid Rain down on the floor, snapping his fingers for Snozzy to grab the medical kit. He ran back to retrieve it, while Rain clutched at her leg. "That white-furred bitch…" Rain muttered, grunting again. "I'll get her one day…"
"You should heal up alright," Velli told her. "A few days and you'll be back on your feet, right as rain." He smiled at the joke, as did the captain, while the pig started to clean and dress her wound.
"Did we lose anyone?"
"Not a soul," Aura told him. "And we got a massive haul."
"Rum?" Rain quirked an eyebrow.
"More than you can handle," Paul laughed. "Tonight, the bilge rats are on me!" The pirates all cheered, even the wounded captain. Another successful raid; they left their enemy with enough to keep their name, with enough to celebrate their victory, without a single soul lost. No wonder they were the most renowned pirates ever.
Hiro stood tall against the Admiral and Lunaria, with a cut on the back of his leg and his nose. He was prepared for his castration; the enemy had gotten away with more gold than he cared to mention, leaving them with just enough to scrape by, assuming they could give their own supply of food to the merchants.
"This wasn't the best of visits," Samuel told him. "But, I want you to know, it wasn't your fault; you couldn't expect that to happen."
"I could have stopped it," Hiro said. "I had a clear shot at her, but I didn't take it."
"Lunaria took it, and she still got away," Samuel reminded him. "You survived, no one died, and you have enough to clear your name should this ever get out."
Hiro looked at the floor, biting his lip. "I understand, sir." He paused. "If I ever see her again, though… I won't hesitate another time."
Samuel smiled. "You have a lot to learn, Tsuyoi, and a great crew to learn with."
Hiro smiled and looked to is shipmates, some wounded but all very much alive. They were all smiling in victory, the victory of surviving. "We got away safe, Captain," Orin stated. "That's a win in my book."
Hiro chuckled, nodding to his first mate before looking back to the officers, as they stepped down the ladder. "Until next time, Tsuyoi," Samuel said. "Oh, and you may want to check out your hull; there was a pretty bad draft down there earlier."
Hiro laughed. "I'll take care of it, sir." With that, the officers were gone, back towards their own vessel with their bodies intact, for the most part. He turned to his crew. "Well? Let's get this place cleaned up. After that, we feast." He held out an invisible cup to them, raising it above his head. "To life!" The others all raised their make-believe goblets.
A mass user story I wrote about two years ago. Since I really can't be asked with copying over and linking the entire bitchingly long cast list for this, check the characters and their owners from the FA submission here.