Acts of Kindness
Chapter 3: Mypos or Bust
Location: The Steamhawke
Timeline: Day 2, Evening
Smoke filled the air, a thin fog that smelled faintly of something wooden. It reminded Nicholai of a campfire, something better than the stink of hot coal or burning manure, both of which he had despised since leaving the West. He bought paper and tobacco to roll his own, staining his fingers with the same scent, and went so far as to get a case for them as well, once he'd rolled a few. It was ornate, as Elladian traders liked to make so as to draw in the buyers. It worked on him, if only because he didn't plan on spending his pay on anything else.
The stuff was strong, he thought as he stirred herbs into the pot of tomato sauce. A smaller pot than usual; there were fewer mouths to feed. He tossed the last of the sausages into the pot as well and hit it with a swig of wine, letting that steep while he took chipped dishes down from cabinets and clinked metal utensils onto the counter top. There was ale aplenty, too. Nick had himself a whole bottle and was halfway through.
Slowly, crew came down and took their fill. He crept away as they filed in, having filled a tray with a bowl of sauce and sausage and he took the half-full bottle of drink with him.
The handyman's door was closed, as usual, and there were sounds from within, as usual. Though it was devoid of the usual banging and scraping that had made Ed so infamous on the ship since they had lifted from port the first time. Nicholai knocked on the door with the back of one hand, balancing the tray on one hand to drag with the other, breathing the luscious smoke to one side.
Apparently Ed was proficient at blowing things up, but since the previous night he had been confined to his little closet and had come out for naught. Nick heard about the altercation at some local institution and from the description of the victim could think of only one man who matched it well enough.
The knock on the door caused Edward to jump sharply, banging his head on the worktable he was currently cowering underneath. He briefly considered ignoring the knock and staying quiet, but his flinch and the subsequent smash had fairly effectively given his presence away. Ed began to consider his other options.
Ed didn't think it wasn't particularly likely his assailants had infiltrated the Steamhawke, but at the moment he wasn't much in the mood for taking chances. One might even consider him paranoid. However knowing what he knew about the people after him one might be inclined to forgive him for being so.
He ultimately came to the conclusion that he couldn't be too careful, and decided to make a bluff. He figured that if it was someone he knew they'd call him on it on it or run off; either way he wouldn't have to deal with it. If it was something worse, then at least he'd know. Perhaps he could squeeze out the hole in the wall he'd continued to neglect patching.
Summoning up all the courage he had, which at the moment was preciously little, Ed gave a shout. "I knew you'd be coming, 'Liz! Don't think I'm not prepared!" His voice was quaking, and shouting or not it was obvious he was scared. Considering Ed's usual manner of speaking the sound of genuine emotion in his voice was more bizarre then anything else.
"Take a step inside and it will be your last!"
Liz? Nicholai mouthed silently. He frowned and leaned against the wall, "That's a terrible bluff. I think I can hear your hands shakin' from here."
Thinking none too long on it, he turned the doorknob and eased the door open slowly. It creaked in long annoying agony and Nick shoved the tray of food out in front of the doorway before he dared put himself in its place. Ed might have been scared close to shitting but he was still a maniac of explosive instruments and guns. Under pressure, a man could do any number of rash things. "Thought you might be hungry," Nick ventured from the hall, cigarette perched between his lips.
Ed had nearly made good on his thought of climbing through the wall hole when the door opened, but midway through his brain had caught up with the fact that the voice that had responded from outside was the cook from a few nights ago. He removed his foot from the wall just as Nicholai stepped inside.
He rushed across the room as soon as the man was inside and promptly slammed the door without so much as a glance outside. It was too dangerous, he felt like he would have his head removed if he so much as peeked.
Pressing his back against the door and completely ignoring Nicholai's concerns on his food situation, Ed began to give a panicked interrogation of the man in his room. "Is she here? You must have seen her. She's hanging around the docks, right?"
Nick opened his mouth but Ed rode right over him.
Ed began pacing around the room, seemingly working himself further into a panic with each word and step. "I don't know why she hasn't just charged the ship. I'm sure she could take everyone here. Maybe she's worried about the port authorities? Perhaps she just doesn't want to start a ruckus?"
He stopped walking around the room suddenly. "That must be it. If she starts a scene it would probably inconvenience..." his voice trailed off suddenly as Ed sunk to the floor, his back sliding against the wall. He almost took the form of a rag doll as his legs splayed out across the floor and his arms laid powerless at his sides. His head tilted down low, as if he suddenly had lost the strength to hold it up.
"Oh... Why did it have to come to this? I was perfectly content to forget him. Why couldn't he have done the same?" Ed questioned to himself. His voice had returned abruptly to its dispassionate monotone, although this time it contained a hint of sadness as well.
Nicholai looked down at the pitiful display of man before him, and took a seat at the one small desk in the room. He set the tray down on the table, avoiding the mounds of papers and notes stacked haphazardly everywhere. The closet was like a bird's nest, forged from papers and books and bits of mechanics. Obviously lived-in, it resembled the hovels that homeless people made for themselves from second-hand furniture and bits of this and that.
Taking a drink from the bottle, Nick glanced at Ed. The silence hung awkwardly as he placed the bottle on the ground and pressed it over to Ed with the side of one boot. "I don't think the captain's heard yet," he said, guessing. The Captain was busy herself with no need to stress about the strange past of one crew member. They all had questionable pasts.
"Who is she?" He asked. "This little woman, who may'r may not be hangin' round the docks. You should eat that by the way." He pointed to the tray. Ed sat without moving a for quite a while after his question, almost as if he hadn't been asked at all. At almost the exact point one would have given up on talking to him he began to respond, at least to some of what Nicholai had said.
As he spoke, it was clear his voice had become even more monotonous then usual. Almost corpse-like in how little emotion it held. "Elizabeth. She's going to kill me. I just don't know how much longer I have left." One might be inclined to think he was already dead, considering his tone.
"Why don't you kill her first?" He suggested. "She can't kill ya if you kill'er first."
He didn't bother to ask what Ed could have possibly done to aggravate someone to the point of murder; he could guess it had something to do with his startling lack of grace in social situations but that was hardly serious. So he didn't press the question. Ed was overwhelmed already and probing wouldn't diffuse the present situation.
Once again there was a long pause, with Ed continuing to just lay there. Unlike before, however, one got a sense that the gears inside his head were turning, his eyes fluttering back and forth as if he was reading some unseen text. As odd as it seemed for one such as Ed to consider outright fighting given his near total lack of experience doing so he seemed to be earnestly considering. Perhaps he wasn't even considering it for himself. Even he realized he wasn't alone on the Steamhawke, and if push came to shove he wouldn't necessarily be the one pointing the gun.
It took him a moment as he considered his words carefully, but finally he gave an exasperated sigh. "She can't die." Ed started, though just as quickly he began an addendum. "Or rather... she can't be killed."
He paused slightly again, thinking before continuing. "I know why, but I don't know how. Or maybe I know how, but I don't know why." He was clearly stumbling over his words as if he wasn't sure how to put it. "Perhaps it's a little of both."
Probably realizing he wasn't making much sense at all he began to clarify his statement on his nemesis' apparent invulnerability. "I don't mean that figuratively. Bullets will curve in mid-air to avoid her. A sword would sooner break itself than get within a foot of her. Even a raging fire will extinguish on her approach. Whether you believe it or not is irrelevant, I've seen it happen with my own eyes."
Ed finally moved, rubbing his forehead to calm the headache that had started deep inside his mind. "She's truly a terrifying woman..."
She certainly sounded that way, Nick thought as he looked at the man. He glanced at the tray of food he'd brought up and gave up on trying to feed the poor bastard. "Why does she want to kill you?" He asked in harmless tones. As though they were discussing the weather. "This... invincible woman."
He almost said witch, as a jest. Nick thought better of it though, with Ed so distraught. Regardless, Ed hung his head once more and went silent as he further gathered his thoughts. As was swiftly becoming a running theme in the conversation a long silence grew once more.
The silence this time was different, though. The moment Nicholai's question had been uttered a palpable sense of unease had begun to emit from the pathetic handyman. It gave the sense that instead of attempting to come up with an answer Ed was actively resisting answering.
"Elizabeth isn't the one who wants me dead. She only works for money." he finally began, stating the simplest thing he could. Once again it seemed like he was avoiding an elephant in the room. He went quiet for a brief moment before curling his legs into his chest and sinking his head into his knees.
"The person who wants me dead is her employer... my father."