"Wescott! What's the situation out there?" 

Malik had entered Amalia's office to find her calmly strapping on an empty sheathe. Thea on the other hand nervously flitted about the cabin, alternating between hovering by the window and pacing behind the desk. She said nothing however, and Malik could tell the girl was doing her best to keep under control. He respected her for it, even if it wasn't quite working. 

"Two boarding vessels, Captain. Headed for opposite ends of the ship. My second is deploying  our men to meet them. I came to escort you to safety."

"We may not be a military ship Wescott, but I'm not some damned rookie." Vega punctuated the sentence by ramming the accompanying sword into it's scabbard. 

"I meant no disrespect, Captain. Keeping you safe is my highest priority though. I only ask that you let me do my job."

Amalia nodded, but none of the steeliness left her face. Pulling Thea away from the window, she gestured to Malik who led the way out. 

"Any idea who we're dealing with, Wescott? Should I be concerned?"

Malik stopped short and spun to look Amalia full in the face. His own features had taken on the same hardened quality Vega's displayed. 

"I know the man," he said, answering both of the Captain's questions for her. 

They were moving again, but no sooner had they turned a corner when Malik nearly ran into the barrel of an extended pistol.


The pirate flashed a grin, though his weapon never strayed from Malik's chest. 

"Well, well, whatever do we have here? Fortune seems to have smiled on us, eh?" he said, flicking a quick glance at the small party behind him. Two men, and one woman, fanned out behind the pirate, weapons trained on Malik, and Vega beside him. 

He stepped in front Vega and Thea, one arm outstretched to keep them back, the other drawing his sword.  

"Heard about your antics during the war. A lot of families lost good men to you." A grim smile stretched itself across Malik's face. "Never thought I'd have the pleasure to take you in myself."

"My reputation continues to proceed me," Grave replied, flourishing with his empty hand. "I know of you as well, Mr.Wescott." 

Malik didn't allow himself to be baited into asking the obvious question, choosing instead to make his own jab.

"When I was briefed they told me you had no honor," he said evenly, casting a deliberate eye on the pirate's escort. "Were they correct?"

"Why, I am ashamed! To think someone in a position such as yours would believe in honor!" Grave cocked his gun. "There is but one thing I believe in, Mr Wescott, and that is what can and cannot make me money."

"Then perhaps I can put it in terms you'll understand, pirate," Malik said, outstretched hand falling slowly, coming to rest on the bulky pistol at his hip.

"Will it be cheaper for your crew to replace one captain? Or one captain and three officers?"

"Someone thinks they hold the right cards," Grave responded. "But, it is not in my interest to let harm befall anyone, I assure you." In a flash, Grave aimed the pistol at Thea, who inhaled sharply. "You pull that pistol, and mine might... accidentally go off."

"Then let your words and actions agree with each other," Malik challenged. "Settle this. With me."

Grave's eyes flashed with interest. "I like the way you think."

He dropped his pistol and sheathed it in his coat, pulling a cane out in its place. Its base hit the ground, and the knob shot up, revealing itself to be the hilt of a hidden blade. Grave caught the weapon and moved to a ready stance.

"How about a duel, then, Mr. Wescott. If you win, I'll withdraw. If I win, however..." Grave gave a low laugh. "I want you to hand over everything I desire on a silver platter. Understand?"

Malik shifted into position as well. "Agreed. And because I'd hate to send you away empty handed, I'll give you a consolation prize if you lose." Malik flashed his teeth in an eager grin,

"Your head. On that silver platter."

"Good luck, Mr. Wescott." Grave smiled, and nodded to his two men, who, with guns pointed, guided Amalia and Thea to the side of the room. The woman whispered something to Grave, then ran past Malik, too preoccupied to pay her much attention.

"Now we can begin."

Grave was quick, quicker than Malik had anticipated, lashing out as soon as the fight began. Malik ducked and, too close to maneuver his sword, brought a knee up into his opponent's abdomen. Grave, still holding the rest of the cane,  slammed it down before Malik could connect, and darted away.

The first clash over, both men circled each other, replaying the tussle and searching for weaknesses. 

The pirate came in again, swinging both sword and staff. Swinging one-handed, Wescott knocked the sword aside, then turned, hand outstretched, to catch the staff mid-swing. Grave released the cane, and caught Malik with an uppercut that sent him stumbling back. 

He heard the rush of footsteps, and struck out with his sword, giving the pirate no choice but to turn aside, or impale himself. Even with his fast reaction, Grave couldn't spin quickly enough, and Malik felt his blade cut through the paltry resistance offered by the pirate's coat. 

Malik tossed the cane aside, moving to strike first this time. His opponent was marked, there would be no relenting now. 

The men traded a flurry of blows. Strike and counterstrike. Malik ducked under another swing and stepped forward, leg out. Throwing an elbow behind him, he struck Grave's back, forcing the man over his outstretched foot, and down to the floor. 

Malik stood over the pirate, kicking his sword across the floor. His own sword came up, poised to strike the finishing blow, when something shot between his legs. 

Snatching up the cane as it slid by, Grave swung at Malik's leg, connecting with a loud crack. It buckled, and Malik fell to a knee, grunting in pain as Grave swung again, this time at his face. The second blow finished what the first had started, with Malik now laying on the deck.

He felt tugging at his belt, and blinked his eye to see Grave pointing both his, and Malik's own pistol at him. 

"Quite a big gun you got here," Grave crowed, turning the bulky weapon over in his hand. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were compensating for something!"

The gun, taken as a prize long ago, was large, for a pistol. An attachment allowed it to fire specialized canisters; flares, explosives, and such. The very same canisters that still hung on Malik's bet. 

He ripped one off and smashed it into the floor, rolling away as it erupted next to him. Smoke poured out, and Malik kept rolling as the pirate fired both weapons wildly. The advantage once again belonged to Malik, for while Grave was pulling triggers like a mad man, he was doing so blind. No human eye could pierce the fog that had appeared. 

No human eye. 

Malik's implant adjusted immediately and he waited for Grave to run out of shots. It didn't take long. The second he did, Malik charged, barreling into the man and knocking him to the ground once again. 

He rained blow after blow on Grave's face and torso, easily avoiding the man's own frantic punches. It might have gone on that way til Malik killed him, but he heard steps, and was knocked flat as someone fell over him. 

"We have what we need" came a voice.

woman's voice.

The smoke was clearing, and Malik saw Grave fumbling for his weapons. The two locked eyes and Grave winked, before turning and running for the stairs to the main deck. 

Malik tried to chase after him, but like the smoke, his adrenaline too, was wearing thin. Exhaustion from three sleepless nights, and throbbing pain in his extremities hit Malik all at once, and he collapsed. 





The End

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