CHAPTER 18

Captain Drake’s ship, the Defiant, flies over the ocean on a sunny, clear day. Ophelia stands on the quarterdeck, looking out at the crew. Eva walks up next to her.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Examining our new traveling companions.”

“Anything noteworthy?”

“Captain Drake seems capable. The crew respects her, I haven’t seen anything untoward out of her, although I think she’s flirting with Oliver right now?”

AirshipCrew01

“Thorton is talking up the tall guy. Tall guy does not seem particularly impressed.”

AirshipCrew02

“That mechanic girl just bumped into Toby and became horribly flustered. Her awkwardness has fed his awkwardness and I can’t tell if it’s endearing or painful.”

AirshipCrew05

“That short guy seems unassuming. Hard worker. But he’s watching us whenever he gets a chance.”

AirshipCrew04

“Well, we are fairly suspicious.”, replies Eva.

“We’re not the only ones. Nervous guy over there is doing a terrible job at hiding how scared he is of people finding out whatever it is that he’s doing a terrible job at hiding.”

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“And that cat is even more distrustful of everyone than I am.”

AirshipCrew06

MEANWHILE

Thorton stands next to the tall guy, a monster hunter named Goran. Goran takes a handful of money, lights it on fire, and tosses it off deck as it burns away into the sky and sea. He stares off in quiet focus.

Thorton looks at him in confusion, and asks, “What’s all that about?”

“I’m making an offering to Hercalmus.”

“Herwhowhats?”

Goran glares down at Thorton. “Hercalmus. He Who Watches Voyagers with a Kind Eye and a Wicked Eye. The god of roads, the sea, and all places without paths.”

Thorton looks incredulous. “So…? You’re throwing money away so he’ll bless us with a safe trip? Has that worked?”

Goran’s expression is flat but unpleasant. “This is your first trip outside of the Great Republic, isn’t it?”

“I was born in the Ironian Wastes, but we moved to Clorencia when I was a boy, so not technically. But yes.”

“Well then listen. The gods of the old ways are temperamental, deadly, and not to be disrespected. Out here on the high seas, it’s just pragmatic not to offend them. There’s enough out here to kill you besides worrying about the wrath of the gods. So yeah, I make an offering and say a prayer to Hercalmus at the start of every voyage.”

Goran picks up his things and walks away. Thorton stares out to sea, and after a moment takes several bills out of an interior coat pocket, closes his eyes, tears them up and lets the pieces fly out of his hands into the ocean.

He speaks his prayer out loud. “Um… hello Hercalmus, if you are a being that exists. Please take that money in exchange for a safe trip. And um, watch us with your good eye and not the bad one?”

MEANWHILE

Oliver stands near to Captain Drake at the helm of the ship. His hat stowed away somewhere, but his face is still buried beneath his collar, and the long bandana covering his hair flaps behind him. Drake looks him over.

“So what is your deal?”, she asks.

“Pardon?”

“The coat, the skulking, the whole man of mystery vibe. What’s your deal, are you a vampire?”

“Why does everyone ask that? I’m not a vampire! Because there’s no such thing as vampires.”

“That’s exactly what a vampire would say.” She turns and looks him in the eye, “Well keep it up, Not A Vampire, it’s working for you.”

 

Eva walks up to Captain Drake and Oliver. Oliver slinks away, but lingers nearby in the background.

“So, what exactly is it we’re doing? Besides hunting monsters of some sort?”

Drake points to Goran, “I’m just getting you there, and then if you don’t all die on to New Miralles. He’s the one leading all the hunting.” She catches Goran’s eye and flags him over.

 

 

MOMENTS LATER

We cut to Goran explaining the current hunt. Julius, Ophelia, Thorton, and Toby have all joined Eva and Oliver.

“The Xelu bird is a rare, gigantic nightbird that lives only in the broken island ruins of old Melas. Legends say the original Xelu bird created the night, and is a creature of pure shadow. I can verify that it’s descendants have some sort of mystical control of shadows and darkness.”

“Normally, I’d leave such a beast alone. The hunt mostly the giant fish of the Blood Sea, and aren’t a danger to anyone as their home islands are now almost entirely abandoned. Unfortunately, the pineal gland fluid of the Xelu bird is one of the few known cures for the Rot.”

“The Rot?”, asks Ophelia.

“A local disease native to the Vori jungles. The natives have long been immune to it, but it’s ravaged the settlers and could doom the Free Islands.”

“So, some bigwigs are paying us to retrieve a Xelu bird, dead but intact. They need it to try to create an artificial cure, since there’s a limited supply of ancient monstrous shadow birds out there.”

Toby raises a hand, “What happens if they fail to duplicate the cure?”

Goran shrugs. “I guess they’ll have to pay me to go get another bird.”

THE NEXT DAY

Goran and Thorton are training above deck on the ship. This involves Toby attacking Thorton with a large stick while Thorton is blindfolded, with Goran yelling for Thorton to focus and Toby apologizes.

While Oliver amusedly watches this from across the ship, Julius walks up to him and begins speaking awkwardly.

“I, um, have a request. Or, I’m asking for a favor. Yes, sorry, I am asking, not requesting.”

“Pardon?”, replies Oliver.

“This journey of ours. It will lead to a confrontation with Brigitte, yes?”

“I would assume so.”

“I was… thoroughly humiliated in our last encounter. If we cross paths again, I would like to be not quite so useless.”

Oliver gives him a look, and just points to Goran, Thorton, and Toby. “Ask the old guy.”

Julius frowns. “I don’t think rugged beast hunter is in my skill set. But, I think with your help I could learn to be a successful dashing rogue.”

“You want me to teach you to sneak and shoot and stab?”

“I would be further in your debt, and eternally grateful.”

Oliver stares ahead for a moment. “Sure. First thing’s first, you gotta ditch that stupid puffy sleeved coat.”

“What!? This is a Wellington and Farule original! This coat is the height of Paravian fashion! Do you have any idea how much this cost or how long I had to wait to get one tailored for me!?”

Oliver is unphased. “Lesson One: that coat makes you look like a target, not a thief.”

Julius slumps down, disappointed. “Oh.”

A MONTAGE OF MONTAGES

Goran teaches Thorton how to hunt monsters, which involves a lot of Thorton chasing Toby around or Thorton running away from Toby. It also involves a fair amount of bestial anatomy and lore, and a great deal of Goran attempting to instill Thorton with a hunter’s patience and calm.

Meanwhile, Oliver teaches Julius how to sneak, shoot, and stab, as well as how to climb the rigging and balance on precarious places. Julius takes to it all immediately.

As Toby flees from Thorton, he turns a corner and not looking where he’s going crashes straight into Minerva. The tools and bucket of bolts she was carrying go flying everywhere as she crashes into the ground. Toby is mortified, and profusely apologizes while he helps her pick everything up. Their hands touch, and Minerva looks up at him in awkward panic, before hastily gathering her things and fleeing below deck.

The Defiant has landed on a tropical island in the middle of a blood red sea. The island is built of unnatural, jagged mountains and covered in patches of dense jungle. As the hunters prepare to disembark, Julius emerges. He’s wearing a less foppish coat, carrying a saber, with a pistol on one hip and a shortened shotgun on the other. He looks rather like a dashing rogue.

“Shall we?”