With every move Archibald RiBeld made, the knife worked its way deeper into his shoulder. Blood welled around the blade and stained the man’s coat a wet, dark color. Captain Hunter looked around; he needed a doctor. Unfortunately, he seemed to be fresh out of one at the moment. Instead, the captain settled for cloth napkins from the table next to him that he could use as a makeshift bandage. He snatched a handful and dropped them on the floor next to him. The captain carefully pulled open RiBeld’s torn coat to get a better look at the wound itself.
RiBeld, pale and laying on his side, jerked with pain. “What the devil are you doing to me?”
“Be quiet, I’m looking at your wound,” Hunter snapped at RiBeld. “Has anyone called for a doctor?”
“Yes, sir! One’s already on the way!” a nearby passenger replied.
“Do you even know what you’re doing?” RiBeld snarled.
The captain looked down at RiBeld. “As much as you do about being a captain. No, wait, more so. I don’t carelessly lose my own airship!” Hunter retorted. “Now keep silent and let me work, before I forget I was going to save you!”
RiBeld glared back in silence. Hunter ignored the glare and focused on helping his disgruntled patient. The mercenary captain’s dark wool coat had absorbed enough of the blood that it was hard to determine if the wound was freely bleeding or not. “About your coat, Archibald, it looks well-tailored.”
RiBeld blinked in confusion at the odd question. “It was until your assassin’s knife was plunged through it! Not that a dullard like you would know, but I had it made by Dirsh and Ravensmeade in London.”
Captain Hunter pulled a pocket knife from his trousers, then deftly popped the largest blade open. “Pity that.”
“How do you mean?” RiBeld asked.
Another of the guests, a thin man with a hawk-like nose and the shadow of a tiny mustache on his upper lip sat back on his heels, looking aghast as Hunter opened the small weapon. “Sir! What are you doing with that knife?”
RiBeld’s eyes widened in alarm as he struggled to turn over. “Wait, what? He has another knife? What is that cretin doing?”
Stone-faced, Hunter put a firm hand on the mercenary captain and held him still. Quickly, the captain slipped the blade in and tugged away from the assassin’s knife, widening the tear and exposing the knife wound in the meat of RiBeld’s shoulder. “Giving your tailor more business,” he replied with a grim expression.
RiBeld yelled in pain from being slightly jostled, and from anger over his wardrobe. From among the crowd, an older woman dripping with jewelry fainted from the ghoulish, bloody sight of the wound. Senhorita Salgado turned immediately to attend the overcome guest. Next to Captain Hunter, Duchess Von Ferrin sat, tense as a bowstring from both concern and a barely veiled excitement. Hunter ignored her.
Two nearby guests knelt to help Adonia with the fainted woman. Just then, the senhorita saw something move out of the corner of her eye. She quickly turned. At that moment, she saw Anthony’s coat vanish from the chair and into the hands of a Britannia deckhand!
“Anthony! Your coat!” Adonia lunged forward, missing both sailor and coat by inches. She shoved the chair aside, bolting after the man as quickly as her dress allowed.
Anthony Hunter glanced up, then glared angrily at where his coat had been a second ago. “Blood and sand!” he swore aloud.
Von Ferrin clutched at Hunter’s arm, her hands latched onto him like claws. On the floor, RiBeld grimaced in intense pain. “Anthony! Help him! The bleeding is worse!”
“See to his knife wound!” Adonia called over her shoulder to Anthony. “I will get the thief!”
Captain Hunter gave the Duchess a brief, irritated look. He wiped his bloody hands on his shirt, then politely extracted his arm from her grip. She sat back with a furiously concerned look.
“Madam Duchess, do not do that again!” he ordered. “If you cause me to slip, the knife in him might cut a vital vein and surely kill him.” Hunter then returned to his bloody work on the wound.
Meanwhile, the senhorita darted between groups of startled guests, racing madly across the dining room. Just ahead of her, not quite within reach, the deckhand ran headlong towards an open hatch leading out of the room.
“Stop that sailor!” Adonia called out, gesturing to the running sailor. “That one! Stop him, por favor!”
One of the guests, a large, square-built man with a neatly trimmed mustache and thin beard stepped in the sailor’s path. He looked like a wall dressed in a dark blue suit.
“Hold up there, hoss,” the man said with a recognizable American drawl. He stuck a hand out as if to either say ‘stop’, or try and restrain the man.
The small sailor stepped to one side, and in the blink of an eye, flicked his wrist. Metal gleamed dully in the half-light. A spring-blade flipped open in the man’s hand! He slashed at the big American.
Adonia snatched a porcelain plate from a nearby table. She quickly stopped, grabbed the dinnerware by the edge and hurled it like a discus. The plate shattered against the thief’s hand before his blade moved more than a few inches! He howled in pain and dropped the knife, which fell among the shards of dinnerware. Immediately, the American lunged, but missed as the thief sidestepped again. The sailor snatched up a chair and bashed it into the side of the big man’s head! With a groan, the American collapsed into a heap.
Adonia grasped for the sailor, but the swarthy little man ducked out of reach at the last moment. He swatted at her hands with a broken chair leg, batting her fingers roughly aside. The senhorita yelped in pain, then stumbled sideways, narrowly avoiding the wounded American. Her opponent, the Britannia deckhand, sneered at her before dashing out into the hallway.
“Estúpido!” the senhorita spat at yet another missed chance. Hair tendrils coiled around each other like angry snakes as she frowned angrily and chased after her prey.
In the hallway, the sailor darted between startled passengers. He glanced over his shoulder. Once he saw Adonia, he doubled his pace. Not to be outdone, the senhorita doubled hers.
The sailor turned and vanished down a hallway to his right, then slammed a hatch door shut behind him. Adonia, unable to make the turn as quickly in the weight of her dress, stumbled into the wall and directly into the path of First Lieutenant Greg Mason.
“What the devil?” the officer declared, instinctively reaching out to catch the Senhorita before she tumbled to the floor.
Senhorita Salgado steadied herself. “Obrigado, Mr. Mason. There is no time to explain! A man dressed as a Britannia sailor has taken both Captain Hunter’s coat and something related to ‘our cargo’! He must not escape!”
“What?” Mr. Mason exclaimed. “A thief? In a Britannia uniform! The impertinence! Where?” he asked with a deep frown.
“This way,” Adonia replied, reaching for the door. The first officer stopped her.
“That leads to passenger cabins and is likely crowded, there’s a better way. Follow me!” the First Lieutenant turned towards a small door a few steps away from the hallway the senhorita had indicated.
Mr. Mason took Senhorita Salgado down a side passage, obviously intended for the maintenance crew to use during an emergency. The officer flipped a knife switch closed, and a sparse collection of arc lanterns crackled to life. Dim, white light chased back the darkness. While the lights just started to glow, he ran down the hallway with the Senhorita a few steps behind him.
At the far end, he hesitated at a bare metal door. Mr. Mason put his hand on the latch. “We should be ahead of the thief. Ready?”
The senhorita nodded, jaw set firmly. “Sim, ready.”
Mr. Mason threw open the door and leaped out into the hallway. It was a junction between two long corridors of passenger cabins. The few passengers there stopped what they were doing to look at Mr. Mason in surprise.
“He should be right here?” The officer said, looking at each passenger warily.
Suddenly, from around the corner a deckhand carrying Captain Hunter’s coat barreled into the first officer! The two men crashed to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Adonia stepped back in surprise. Quickly, she searched that section of the maintenance tunnel for anything to use as a weapon. She located a tool locker someone had mistakenly left unlatched. She smiled as she pulled the small door open.
In the hallway as the deckhand struggled to get free of the first officer’s grip and leave with the coat, Mr. Mason fought to keep a tight hold on the thief. It was the officer that won the contest.
Pinning the deckhand flat to the floor on his chest, Mr. Mason twisted the thief’s left arm behind him. “I have him!”
Abruptly a charcoal cloud filled the hallway around both the deckhand and Mr. Mason! From within the smoke, a black-cloaked member of the Brotherhood slammed a fist across Greg Mason’s jaw, knocking him backwards in a daze. Wide-eyed, the thief tried to rise, but met a similar fate as well. The dark figure snatched the coat from where it fell on the ground.
“Sì, Signore, and I have this!” the dark-garbed man said with a triumphant grin. He turned to leave, then immediately, doubled over as a large wrench slammed into his lower ribs! Adonia stepped out of hiding, then swung again. The wrench collided with her target’s stomach. With a sharp grunt, the Brotherhood attacker doubled over, then collapsed to the floor and lay still. He moaned in pain, curled into a ball.
“I, Senhor, have a pipe wrench,” Adonia replied sternly then tossed the tool to the floor. “Therefore, I win.” She snatched up Anthony Hunter’s coat. “That was also for being part of this problem, and helping to ruin a lovely dinner with my Captain!” She shook the jacket angrily at the moaning man on the floor. “Do you have any idea what it takes to get him into a coat like this? Oh, the trouble your ‘Brotherhood’ has caused!” She looked for the thief, intent on unleashing a fair share of rage on him. The deckhand had already vanished among the small crowd of startled passengers. She bit back a very impolite string of vulgar curses.
Greg Mason slowly came to his senses. He rubbed his sore jaw while a bruise started to blossom. Adonia fixed Mason with a hard-eyed glare. “Mr. Mason, please have this,” she stabbed a finger at the black cloaked man laying on the floor, “stripped of his trickery and locked tight away! I think it is time we have answers, sim? He will be giving them!”