A Lion aboard the Tiger
Posted on Tue Jun 19th, 2012 @ 7:13pm by Snot Rag Chops McGinty & Lieutenant Iride Coriolix Mr & Sailor Edward Marketh 2nd & Sailor Mei-Xiu & Mister Ciprian Cendrars & Master Caroline Summers & Sailor Julian Robinson
Chapter 5: Into the Fire
Location: Sky Tiger
Whisps of pallid cloud like witches hair streamed upon the air, mingled now with the scent of metallic gun smokes and the blood of the fighting forces; the air was rent with cries of rage, urgency and despair; and overall the eardrum rending straining of engines. Steamhawke's boarding party was trapped below the deck of the Sky Tiger. The dogged party that remained in fighting fitness were streaming with sweat and the dark smears of the rope-tar and of the gun powders, blood, and other substances of battle that were better ignored. Carol, Nate Winters, Ciprian, and Mei-Xiu pressed on without the need or possession of hope; steeling themselves to the bitter fact that the Steamhawkes boarding party had been divided too early on: while swinging over to the Sky Tiger, reducing what might have been an assault into massacre above decks.
Beneath-deck it was dark and cramped. Sky Tiger banked and listed in the savagery of her maneuvers. Steamhawke's party was goaded by the sound of the hatch rattling above their heads. It would only be a matter of time before Sky Tiger's crew broke open the trapdoor and spilled down to engage them.
Mei's eyes darted back and forth, her every muscle attuned to each shock of axe against the hatch, her expression a haggard mask of concentration and grim preparation. Her face, in the smoky gloom, spoke her thoughts: there had to be something she could do, in the dark she could make out a few boxes. The way she even moved caught the attention of her mates, expressing her idea more surely than any length of words. A bulwark! There were crates that could be stacked beneath the hatch that would block the way. The automaton placed one below the trapdoor, she was joined by the free hands in her endeavor with wordless urgency and grim smiles.
"Good thinking, girl" nodded Nate Winters, no mirth in his smile, but a kind of elation in the pale lights caught by his eyes. It occurred to the deckhand that he still didn't know the war-dog's name, he wondered now what thoughts went through the heart of an automaton when it seemed hope was ebbing away. But such philosophy must wait. They had to move on.
As the others worked to block the hatch from the pirates above, Ciprian's mind began to work, literally, in another direction. Turning to face the wall, he adjusted his spectacles and worked his fingers along the walls of the entrapping compartment. As his fingers explored, Ciprian began speaking aloud, to himself as much as to anyone else. "I know little of pirates and their ways." He mused, as if more to himself, his tongue quickened to action by the strain of muscles and fingers. "If I was a wily captain who had years to customize my ship as I wished, would I have a room that led nowhere?" He strained, ignoring the bite of the panel into his flesh. "A room in which I could be trapped? I would not." Moments after finishing his commentary, a panel depressed slightly at his touch, popping open to reveal the tiniest of corridors, leading away. Ciprian's lips pressed together in contemplation of a mere moment. To another compartment? To the main cargo hold perhaps? The shudder and groan of the Sky Tiger's timbers and the yawing banks had made any sense of direction all but impossible.
Mei gave Nate a quick grin, happy to be complimented, before giving her attention to the bespectacled man working at the wall pannels. She threw her rapid powers of assessment in this new direction; the man might not be the best fighter or the most experienced crew member but he seemed smart had definitely made a valid point: it would be logical for Jack Stallion to take the time to ensure he couldn't be trapped in his own ship. "Especially..." She remarked to herself, "If you are a captain who was all but paranoid about mutiny." She heard the telltale creak from the panel, seeing that Ciprian was proven right, and that a means of escape was open to them. Her expression shifted suddenly from relief to suspicion with the fear that perhaps they were exactly where the crew of the Tiger wanted them to be. "Wait,what if this is a trap?" Mei-Xiu expressed urgently. "We better come up with a plan. Might be best if we send our..." she gave the secret passage a look "Smallest fighters."
"I regret nominating myself" Ciprian mumbled two minutes later, his face pressed against the wooden wall as he squeezed himself further into the gap. Mei-Xiu was behind him, urging him on with words and also quite physically. Behind them were two of the others. But everyone stopped suddenly at the sound of voices through the walls.
"I expect." Stallion's mouth smiled, but there was no humour in his eyes. "That you are ready to repay me for keeping you alive so far."
Iride could not restrain the frown. "You expect me to fight for you?"
Stallion nodded his head, handing one of his own sabres into Iride's possession. "I have released you from your shackles because I am about to need more capable fighters alongside me. Take a moment to stretch your legs. You'll know when I need you. Don't get yourself too scratched, you're still valuable to me, Mister Coriolix, and I still believe that our fates are bound."
Mei and Ciprian stole through the passage with as much stealth as possible, realising their chance to attack Jack Stallion himself. But as if he had known the moments it would take them, Stallion went moving above decks before they could make good an attack. "What's going on over there?" came the urgent call from Nate Winters, through the gap. Ciprian, Mei, and the prisoner Coriolix were all stunned to silence at the sight of each other.
With automatic efficiency Mei's shock lasted little more than an instant. "Jack is gone. I don't see any enemy fighters but there is a man here." She looked at the man, taking in his long red hair and odd garb. The important question she shared unspoken with Ciprian was could he be trusted.
Taking the initiative she tried to broker a parley, remembering how Shou talked to her. He had been gentle and kind, which had made all the difference to her when she had been cornered and scared. Quietly, she walked approached him, trusting to the lack of aggression his stature, regardless of the sabre held naturally in his grasp. "Hey there", she began softly "Could you tell us who you are?"
Ciprian mused aloud, "This may be the Great Cabin, but this man is in a prison cell. It would be most clever to leave a trusted ally locked in the ... dittes vous ..." He struggled for the word, "Brig -for your enemies to stumble upon, even with the risk of depriving your side of a competent fighter in the midst of gran melee. An agent. Possible but not probable." The Gaul's eyes flickered to the prisoner's sabres. For a moment, the blades made him reconsider his conclusion -- but, instead, they reinforced it. He didn't know how the rouge-headed stranger had come by them, but they would be a dead giveaway if the Sky Tiger was playing a ruse. "I don't know if he is for us," Ciprian said to the rest of the boarding party, "But it seems likely he is against the Sky Tiger." He then turned to Mei, "Pardon moi, I interrupted Madame and her question."
Iride knew his own body language and deportment was vital now: knew that Jack Stallion's speech had unsettled him, and may have been intended for no other purpose than to sew the hesitation and uncertainty within him. He tried to perceive himself as he must appear to the boarding war-dogs. Clearly an officer and a gentleman; in the Great Cabin, and armed. It was an almost perfect set up: to have one of the finest sword masters kenneled and cornered. Though Jack Stallion had no guard or ally to fight to protect his back; the boarders had no reason not to see Iride as an enemy. "What is your ship, and who is your master? I am a prisoner aboard, and your Captain may vouch for me, I hope. I will go ahead of you, your blades at my back, if you will give me parley with your master." Ciprian and Mei looked at each other.
The arrival of the boarding-party leader was not announced. Carol's assassin-stealth was such that moments later, Iride had been controted to the ground and the rapier skillfully wrenched from his grasp. "Who's this?" the pack leader asked.
"A prisoner, mon guerrier, once Captain Stallion's but perhaps now ours" spoke Ciprian, his arms folded.
Iride exploded, his voice ripping across the space with the cutting edge of an experienced commander. "I am an officer and a gentleman! This treatment is inexcusable! I have offered no assault upon any of you people, and extended the flag of parley!" His eyes seared as if casting lines of fire. He locked on to Carol. "I take it you are not an Officer?" Iride demanded.
Carol laughed a little too loudly for the present situation they were in. "Not on your life, mate. But I'm leadin' this sorry excuse for an attack. And now we're stuck down here."
'Wait', Mei thought, 'Prisoner? He didn't even do anything yet!' Mei might not have been the most trusting of souls but as a former assassin she often thought it best not to leap to conclusions about people who had yet to do something to her.
Looking down at Iride, she briefly wondered if this was the last situation to be overly emotional in.The mechanical woman looked at Carol, "Locking him up would be illogical, I have a proposal. We are lacking in able fighters as it is and Captain Phal- er, Stallion thought he was good enough to keep alive to defend him, why not have him fight for us?" She looked at the redhead, "If you're willing, that is, I don't think this will work if you aren't."
While there was a battle going on and all, Ciprian felt the conversation had proceeded with an unnecessary lack of etiquette. Removing his top hat, he gave the red-headed stranger a bow, "Monsieur Ciprian Cendrars at your service." The Gaul paused, visibly regarding the environs of the encounter and the demeanor of their new acquaintance, "I cannot help but think we can offer you a more enjoyable time than Monsieur has apparently been experiencing of late. For whatever it may be worth, I give you my word that I, too, was recently recused by this crew when they found me under questionable circumstances and I have been treated most finely. " Ciprian also briefly regarded the now empty rotgut bottle stuffed absent-mindedly into a pocket of his greatcoat. "You would not, perchance, have anything to drink, would you?"
Iride stood slowly, careful to show his hands. "I have absolutely no trust for you people. For heaven's sake! I have not even been asked for my name! Iride Coriolix! Do you even realize what it means that I am prisoner aboard? Do you realize whose sabre you have taken from me! Something is going on, something important, and I need to speak to the Master! But it seems you are beneath diplomacy, so kill me now if it pleases you, but I refuse to treat with anyone until I have been brought to an Officer!"
Replacing the top hat on his head, Cirpian's expression grew diffident, "If I may take the liberty to contradict Monseiur's version of events, the moment after we stumbled into these quarters, Mademoiselle (Ciprian nodding towards Mei) inquired as to who you were. Furthermore, not only have I just given you my name, I did so in the context of a formal introduction. In most cultures with which I am familiar this would be an invitation, indeed a solicitation, to provide one's own name and introduction. Regarding your request to be brought to an officer forthwith, it is not my place to contradict Madam Summers, but it seems to me that a warrior such as yourself would recognize that for a boarding party in the midst of gran melee such a request may be ... comment dites vous ... complicated."
Any tension of the moment was short lived. It seemed Iride had integrity enough to see that he was indeed acting in error.
Indeed his new captors were in fact in the middle of a melee at sea, and had extended all the grace and time imaginable.
Perhaps if the affray was completely concluded his short-lived indignation might have been well-founded. "You're absolutely right." He conceded with a haggardly regretful expression. "I've been a buffoon. Gods! Jack Stallion was here a moment before your arrival, it was he that gave me the sabre, and... well, I can't help but feel I've fallen completely into his machinations: if it weren't for me, my appalling behavior just now, you might indeed have captured him! But the quality of a gentleman will have out, as the promise goes. If I have not marred your regard beyond redemption, I will seek to make amends. Lend me the sabre again, I will fight for you."
The automaton was glad to see Coriolix come to his senses,she grabbed Stallion's sabre and handed it to the red haired man,"Glad to hear that,by the way,which way did Stallion go?" Her clockwork heart pounded as she heard the enemy beating the trapdoor and wondered how many of the enemy there were.Mei turned to her leader,"What's the plan?" She feared they'd be outnumbered and wanted someone to hold her hand and tell her everything would be fine but was afraid to ask.
A high-pitched whine penetrated the pleasantries, the brass-piped communication system relaying a message from elsewhere on the ship. The whine gave way to a gruff and gravelly voice. "The cap'n needs his new friend on deck."
The group were staring pointlessly at the now-silent brass pipe. Coriolix broke the silence between them. "This is our chance. If you will follow me up there, we can beat Jack Stallion at his own game!"