Captain Hunter and Moira ran, or limped in the captain’s case, along the village paths. Angela, still in her werewolf form, bounded up and along a wall, then run off ahead. She would sniff the air, listen close, then return to report what she found.
The young girl stopped just ahead of Captain Hunter and Moira. “They ‘ad laid a trap. I could ‘ear several of ’em complainin’ we ‘adn’t come along.”
“Just like the man in thinking we’d bore straight after him. He has no tactical sense.” Hunter growled, a hint of self-satisfaction in his tone. He then raised an eyebrow towards Angela, “Take deep breaths and mind your diction young lady. It’s unbecoming.”
“Yes, Sirrah.” Angela’s blush showed just slightly around her eyes from beneath her fur.
“Unbecomin’? Ah’d love ta be knowin’ how?” Moira asked with a smirk.
Captain Hunter raised an eyebrow at her. “Not a word from you. You were harmed by too much time in the Americas.”
Moira winked at Angela, then returned her attention to the matter at hand. “So Cap’n, how’d ya be knowin’ about the trap? Ya never be sayin’ ya met him afore.” Moira asked.
“Correct, I have not. When you fight someone, you tend to learn a bit of their habits. Through that, a bit of themselves. He has no finesse. He’s a rough brute at best. He may be a nobleman by birth, but by nature he’s a base cad and a poor example of one at that.” Hunter approached the corner of a building, glancing quickly around for any sign of ambush. Satisfied there was none, he motioned for the other two to follow. “This way is clear.” Hunter paused with a sigh and turned. “Oh, pray tell, what is it Angela?”
Angela, who was quite literally, ever so slightly bouncing up and down on her hind paws, had a slight grin on her lupine features and a bright glint of excitement in her eyes. It was the look of any ten year old who had just discovered something important that no one else had yet learned. For a ten year old girl, the motion was distracting. In a ten year old werewolf girl, it was just short of disturbing.
“I think I’m knowin’ … pardon … I know … where Miles is! Right now! Right, right now!”
Both Moira and Hunter stopped dead in their tracks. “What? Where? Are we headed in the right direction?”
“Almost! A building more to the right and we’ll be headed right for them! I can hear him yellin’ in the trees.”
Hunter had already changed his course to head in the direction Angela pointed. He called over his shoulder. “What else do you hear? Spare nothing, girl!”
The trio turned and raced along the cold, dirt path between mud-brick buildings, now scarred by bullets and blood stains. Angela maintained a running account of what sounds she heard.
“Clicking sounds. It’s like a wheel. Now Miles is yelling again. Someone just yelled in pain.” Her voice dropped an octave, an ugly feral snarl crept into her voice. “They’re yelling at him again. Sayin’ they’re likely to hit him.”
She took two deep breaths. Slowly she regained her composure, though her anger still bubbled just beneath the surface of her thin calm. “Yes, Sirrah. I hear water and a whistle.”
Moira cast a quick glance over at Angela while they ran. “A whistle? Like a shrill thing? Or be it a teakettle?”
Angela jumped over a forgotten bundle of ram fur with a single leap, then listened carefully again. “Teakettle.”
“Cor blimey! They be at the longskiffs!”
“Steady, we’ll get there.”
Drawn to the noise of conversation, two mercenaries appeared with pistols drawn. One was dressed in gray trousers with a ragged cuff, a worn leather belt around his waist, a white shirt and an old brown vest. A day’s worth of iron-gray stubble that matched his hair, adorned his face and chin. The other was dressed in a similar fashion: brown trousers instead of gray, no vest and and a malnourished, thin, reddish mustache instead of stubble. Both wore old black leather sailor’s shoes that had seen better days. Their attitudes and swagger made it obvious they did not consider the badly wounded Captain Hunter, crouching Angela, or Moira a threat.
“Well ‘ere now. ‘ello me dear poppets.” Said the one on the right.
“We have no time for this, gentlemen. Stand aside.” Captain Hunter warned the duo.
The one to Hunter’s left giggled, very much like a young girl at play. A normal sound for a child. For an adult, it was very unsettling to hear. “Oh ‘e sounds so purty. Me mate ‘ere think ye more than enough time fer us, dearest!”
Hunter did not blink. He set his jaw, straightened his spine, and raised his hands slightly. All of this was merely a distraction that drew the sailors attention. Immediately, Moira sidestepped and aimed from her hip at the mercenary to Hunter’s right. Angela burst from her crouch, jumped over to Captain Hunter’s left side, then jumped again. Claws out, she slammed into the sailor on Hunter’s left. The mustached sailor screamed in terror the moment Angela’s blur resolved into an angry mass of fur and claws.
A few moments later, a smirk crossed Hunter’s weary face while he limped by. He nodded to the wounded mercenaries, who now both rolled on the ground yelling in pain, clutching one or more shot or clawed appendages. “Word of advice gentlemen. When asked to stand aside for two fine ladies, one does so. Otherwise, said ladies, as you have noticed, take that rather … poorly.”
“It’s Miles! He’s yellin’ again!” Angela exclaimed.
“Then we’d best hurry.” Hunter replied.
Despite Hunter’s wounds, they raced at best speed out of the village. Downslope in their direction, fingers of a dark tree line reached toward the village but did not quite touch it. Further down, the strands of trees joined together into a thick wash of greenery covered in the mountain snows.
No sooner than they had reached the first few thick stands of the snow-covered trees, a dull roar shook the air. Trees shivered from a blast of steam that rolled like a white wave through the branches. The wave of steam covered the trunks of the trees, fast turned to fog and engulfed Moira, Captain Hunter and Angela. Overhead, a longskiff rose quickly above the trees, its gas bag tight and main aft propeller already turning.
“No!” Angela screamed at the vessel, tears poured from her eyes and down along her snout.
Moira grabbed the girl by the shoulder to get her attention. “We’re not done by half. There be another longskiff. We just need ta ‘borrow’ it a mite.”
Captain Hunter limped quickly into the forest. “You can say ‘take’, I will not be offended.”
“Usually ya be.”
Deeper within the forest, beyond the thick stretch of trees that reached out toward the village, the second longskiff sat quietly in the snow. Two sailors were left aboard as sentries. At that moment, one was checking the boiler, while the other looked over the snow toward the trees.
“Are ye sure o’ what the Cap’n said?”
The sailor at the boiler put down his wrench on a wooden bench in front of him. “Aye, ah’m sure. Three figures, says he. One woman, one girl and a man who’s had the lovin’ snot kicked outta him.”
The sailor on watch shifted his sitting position. His face screwed up in thought. “That don’ sound all bad.”
A rush of wind blowing from the wrong direction and the faint scuffle of feet caught the lookout’s attention. “Oi, Boyd, ye be hearin’ that?”
There was no reply. The lookout frowned. He scanned the forest one more time, then turned around. “Boyd, be ye deef? Pay attention …”
His words trailed off to a squeak when he saw his companion, Boyd, plastered against the railing of the longskiff. Atop his chest, Angela was perched with her claws pointed menacingly at a softer, more sensitive part of Boyd’s anatomy. Namely, his throat. She growled at the lookout. “We need your boat!”
The sailor suddenly snapped out of his shock, struggling to jump up and bring his rifle to bear. He only made it off his seat when he heard the click of a gun being cocked not far behind him.
“I most certainly wouldn’t try that if I were you, Sirrah.” Captain Hunter advised while pointing his pistol at the sailor on lookout. “Now, Angela, manners young lady. Remember your manners.”
Angela bared her teeth in a horrific mockery of a smile, and said in her most convincing ten year old little girl voice, “Please?” The lookout swallowed nervously and tried to smile in return. Slowly, he stepped from the boat.
Hunter limped toward the longskiff. “Ah, good man. The rifle, toss it away. Moira? Be a dear and check the boiler would you? It seems they had some trouble with it.”
Moira grinned and holstered her pistol. “Aye, Cap’n. Gladly.”
“Angela? I think the young man would like to join his friend.”
Slowly, Angela climbed off her captive. The moment she was two steps away from him, he scrambled to his feet in a panic and nearly threw himself from the longskiff into the snow. Meanwhile, the lookout had fingered his rifle nervously, but had not thrown it aside.
Hunter limped closer. “I may have had the ‘snot kicked out of me’ but from this distance, Sirrah, I shan’t miss any part of you I wish to put a large hole through before you raise that rifle. How dearly do you wish to suffer pain today? I’m in a right royal mood to assist.”
With a sigh, the lookout tossed the rifle a good six feet from him into the snow. Captain Hunter smiled to the man.
“That’s much better. Now, if you two gentlemen will excuse us, we’ll be on our way.”
Once aboard, Captain Hunter limped behind the wheel and throttle controls for the boiler. Moira looked over the steam engine, turbine, boiler and all the fittings.
“Lines be lookin’ fair and fit. We can be castin’ off. Just let me at the wheel and ah’ll take her up.”
“I’ve the wheel. See if this thing has an opti-telegraphic or something close aboard.”
Moira hesitated a moment. Hunter raised an eyebrow.
“Problem, Ms Wycliffe?”
Moira stepped back and shook her head. “None at’all Cap’n. Checkin’ for that Opti now.”
She turned to look while the longskiff lifted abruptly from the ground. Angela joined Moira in searching.
“Isn’t he too hurt to do that?” Angela asked in a whisper.
Moira nodded slightly. “Quite likely so. But he’s got that look in his eye.”
Moira looked cautiously at Captain Hunter, who did not notice, then shook her head just slightly. “Oh sweet peach, it be a look o’ fire and brimstone in his eye. He set himself ta guardin’ the two o’ you and that RiBeld went and spit all over his honor by takin’ ya brother among whatever else he said. Now he’d be chasin’ RiBeld across Purgatory with a wet stick and a bucket o’ sand till he be gettin’ yer brother back.” She gave Angela a reassuring smile. “Ah’ve seen him take four bullets and keep goin’ till his job be done. If’n anyone can be gettin’ yer brother back, it’d be him. Now, lets be findin’ that Opti.”
The pair searched what few components and controls that surrounded the boiler and steam engine itself. Finally, Moira pointed at an inset panel on a box that seemed out of place next to the boiler steam gauge. “Here, turn that knob.”
Angela did so and suddenly the air was filled with Miles’ panic-stricken voice.
“Hello? Hello? I know this works. I made it work. Someone’s gotta hear me.”
“Miles!” Angela screamed at the wooden and brass box.
“Angela? Angela!” Was the immediate sobbing reply.
Suddenly, both siblings were talking, sobbing and shouting over each other. Neither one was calm enough to wait for the other to speak. Finally, Moira interrupted.
“That’ll be enough from both of ya. Miles, where’d they’d put you?”
“I dunno. They tossed me aboard a small boat. Then I tried to run after I kicked the man in the long coat in the shins.” Miles repressed a nervous sniffle.
“Stout lad.” Hunter commented tersely from behind the wheel.
Moira ignored Hunter. “Then what?”
“They grabbed me again and threw me in a box. I’m on the little boat. Kinda. Maybe. I dunno.” His voice cracked, as if he was on the edge of sobbing again.
Moira leaned toward the opti-telegraphic mounted on the longskiff. “Ah, now, none o’ that. Anyone who’d be able to get that wreck o’ an Opti workin’ with barely anything at all save what he be havin’ on him shouldn’t be sobbin’. Now did they say where they be headed?”
“The big ship. I heard ’em say it.”
“Right then, you stay put as best as ya can. We’re comin’ for ya now.”
“Ok. I gotta go. I didn’t wind this up that much.”
Moira nodded, even though there was no way Miles could see her. “All right, we’ll be there soon.”
There was no response however, save static.
Moira looked at Captain Hunter. He spared a glance over at Moira, then back to the skies where the bloody, explosive battle between the airships was taking place.
“They had ta know what he had with him.” Moira commented.
“Of that I’ve no doubt.” Hunter replied flatly.
“So they wanted us to talk to Miles?” Angela asked, a touch of confusion in her voice.
Hunter nodded. “That they did, my dear.”
Moira answered her question before she spoke it. “A trap. They’re plannin’ on a trap o’ some kind. Lettin’ Miles natter his head off at us be the bait.”
Angela looked between Moira and Captain Hunter. “So what do we do?”
The hint of a dark, mischievous nature touched Captain Hunter’s face. “We spring it. And then burn it down around his noble ears.”
Hunter spun the wheel sharply. The longskiff banked hard to starboard until its bow pointed directly for the mercenaries’ burning airship.