Mission: Chapter 8: Pirates and Cowboys
"What's orange, lumpy, and red all over?" asked Colton as he stepped into the captain's quarters.
"Huh?" Daenelia said as she turned around. She'd just been roused by Chago and wasn't feeling awake yet.
"This is!" the Cowboy explained, and tossed a battered and bruised kitling onto the floor. He curled into a ball and trembled.
"Awww," Daenelia looked at the kitling with a mix of worry and tenderness. It meowed pitifully and rolled up into an even tighter ball. The captain reached out to pet its head.
"Goddammit, 'Nelia, he isn't a pet!" Colton kicked the kitling. "I got the scratches to prove it. Him and another kit mobbed me when I grabbed my gear for the long ride. And I just scared off a couple of farm boys firing off rounds near the wagons. There's more of 'em to - local men and women from the Pass and they've all been watching us. Call themselves the People's Watch. A whole bunch of vigilantes, an' they're holed up under the Iron Buffalo."
"A gang? Watching us? For what?" Daenelia tried some quick thinking. "Are they robbing us?" After all, little things had gone missing at least since they got to Harling Pass.
"No, more like kidnapping. Make enough of us disappear, an' the rest should get scared off. Then there's no-one left to make trouble in their little town." He laughed dryly. "Guess they don't know who they're dealin' with."
Daenelia suddenly realised a lot of her crew had been disappearing lately. The sky reader, the engineer, her favourite war dog... "My god, Colton!" she exclaimed, "it all falls into place now." She adjusted her belt and stepped closer to the kitling. "You really don't know who you're dealing with. Leave town? I don't leave anyone behind."
Colton glared at his captain, swallowing his throbbing murdering urges after hearing her say that. He blinked away the flashbacks of Daenelia disappearing into the distance all those years ago. "What's the plan, 'Nelia?" he asked in the present.
"Lock and load. Let's figure out the rest as we go along." She was checking her antique pistol.
"Too dangerous to go in alone" Colton stated. He wouldn't let someone else kill her.
"And we'd be stupid to take the whole gang along. Let's find a couple of war dogs."
An hour or so later a group of pirates were standing across from the Iron Bufallo. Daenelia, arms folded while squinting at the windows. Colton, his right hand loosely on his hip holster, staring nervousely at Ivan, the 'rotmouth soldier' 'Nelia insisted should come alone. And Dottie, a slight grin on her face as she imagined this task to be the perfect way to get initiated into the war dogs. Ivan was as impassive on the outside as always, giving nothing away about his misgivings and mistrust of the frightened kitling's intel. Blazingtail had a collar on his neck, with a lead being held by Colton.
"The cellar entrance is in the back!" he squeaked as silently as he could. The group made their way around the building, Colton dragging the kitling along the dusty floor and Ivan getting out of breath just from walking across the street. "You gonna keel over, rotmouth?" Colton asked. "One day... certainly... but not today." The sound of the tainted's voice sent shivers down the cowboy's spine.
"This must be it" declared Daenelia, holding an arm out to stop the others. There were plenty of footprints around the cellar door, clear signs that it had been used a lot recently.
"Before we go in, let's be clear. We are here to get our mates, not to kill anyone. We don't want no trouble," the captain said as she looked at each one in turn.
"Right," Colton said dryly. "We'll just ask them nicely and then we can all have tea before we walk out."
Daenelia stared at him. "What?" he said. "They started trouble, look what they did to my coat!" And he pulled his coat around to show the scratches from the kitling attack.
"Nevertheless," Daenelia said. "Let's try not to make things worse." She nodded at Dottie who took a few steps back and with a short running jump kicked in the slanted cellar doors. She fell through with a yelp.
Downstairs, a dozen of the locals had been crowded around a table when Dottie crashed in. A large man with a bushy grey moustache was at the head of the table, and while the rest of the Watch were trying to figure out what was going on, the man was staring intently at Dottie and one of the fresh wanted posters that were on the table in front of him. He lifted it up, looking at the picture of the drunken and dazed pirate girl holding her head in confusion, and then looked up at Dottie as she swung to her feet, holding her head in confusion.
"It's one of the troublemakers!" the man exclaimed, waving the poster around. Before she knew it, Dottie had all sorts of guns, knives, and improvised weapons pointed at her. Ivan had climbed in after her, in his slow and deliberate way. Daenelia and Colton sprang down with their guns in their hands, and dragging a mewling kitling behind them. The two groups stood facing each other with weapons in hands.
"So much for 'no trouble'," Colton muttered under his breath.
"What do you want?" the man with the moustache shouted.
"I believe you have some things that belong to me," Daenelia said grandiosely. "Where are my crew?"
"I don't know, but if they know what is good for them, they will be far away from Harling Pass by now," the man said. "And you should follow them, or face the consequences!" Weapons were trained, pistols were cocked and tension in the room rose.
Daenelia looked sideways at Ivan and Colton, while Dottie looked anxiously from one Watch member to another. "This one of yours?" asked Colton, raising Blazingtail by the lead. Before anyone could reply, the cowboy swung the kitling above his head like a lasso and tossed him into the crowd.
As the kitling fell onto one of the armed men, another got nervous and fired a shot at Colton. Colton heard the bullet fly past, and he pulled his second gun out, while jumping sideways in the air, rapidly firing both guns one after the other, as he fell in slow motion to the ground. Daenelia followed his example a split second later, but with her pistols being antiques they could only fired off one bullet each. Dottie in the meantime went from holding her head to whisking two knives from her boots and sending them flying to the elderly gentleman who was aiming at Ivan.
Ivan stood there motionless, as the two farm boys rushed at him with their fist shaking. They were punching Ivan's stomach and sides, until the former soldier grabbed their collars and pulled them up to fling them, in a weirdly gentle way, into a stack of blankets.
Colton stood up and was punching a large woman who had the physique of a labourer, as Daenelia was throwing a slender girl to the floor, whose gun pointed at the ceiling as it went off.
"Wait!" The man behind the table was pointing his gun in the general direction of the fighting. In his other hand he held up a Wanted poster with Daenelia's picture on it. It unfurled like a scroll in front of him, the list of crimes so long and varied. "I knew I recognised your face somewhere. 'Captain Daenelia Bradley'" he began to read. "'Wanted in five of the seven skies for crimes innumerable. Murder, theft, arson, war crimes, kidnapping, regicide...'" His eyes panned down the list while Daenelia smirked and sauntered towards him.
"'Bradley is dangerous alone and is known for attracting the most murderous sea dogs to her side'". The man scratched his head and looked at Daenelia's crewmates, dumbfounded. Colton was frozen in place, holding the (now unconscious) woman by her shirt. Ivan was holding one of the farm boys at arm's length, the youngsters fists twirling around. And Dottie was pointing a knife threateningly at anyone who came close.
"I just don't believe it" the man exclaimed, tossing the poster to one side. "What a bunch of unrealistic outlaws!"
Daenelia flashed with fury and punched the man hard in the jaw. He spun around and crashed over a chair, knocking his inkwells off the table and into the air. He kissed the ground hard and stains of blue went everywhere.
The captain wasted no time in kicking the man's gun into the air, catching it, and firing it into the ceiling. "Okay, listen up. Yes, I'm Captain Daenelia Bradley and my crew and I are visiting your little town. We didn't mean to make such a grand entrance, but that's in the past now. We'll be leaving again before you know it, and we won't harm a single hair on your ugly little heads. That is... unless you keep threatening my crew. Do I make myself clear?"
There was silence in the room. One after another the members of the Watch lowered their weapons and backed away, most of them nodding or looking down at the ground.
"Good. Now where are my missing crew members?"
"We... we didn't take anyone!" spluttered a thin old man with an oversized shotgun. "Those damn kits tried to do it by themselves!"
Blazingtail was crouched in the corner of the basement, covering his eyes with his hands. Colton spotted the other one in the crowd. Her hairs at the base of her tail had been burned off, and she looked both angry and annoyed.
"He might be telling the truth captain, there's nobody else here." Dottie had been checking the back of the room. "No sign of Sahka or O'Leary."
"John O'Leary? And the Toughzen Sky Reader?" it was a young man with a face covered in dirt. "They're working on Gramps' farm!"
"Of... course they are" said Daenelia, cocking her head. "I knew that! That's what I meant, don't you dare lay a finger on them! They've put their past behind them, found better lives for themselves." She wasn't surprised that they'd found life in the Pass more attractive than following her around and facing death at every turn.
"How about a trade! Your two for ours!" sneered the thin old man, and kicked Blazingtail in Daenelia's direction. He mewled and hid behind her legs. Catscratch was forced forwards at gunpoint and hissed at her former fellow Watchmen.
"Let's get out of here." Daenelia backed off, pointing the moustached man's gun into the room until her crewmates had left the Buffalo. The captain was the last to leave.
Five had entered the basement and six had left, but Daenelia was still missing Mei-Xiu. She didn't know if she would ever see the girl again.