Chapter 17Mature

For the next few days Rayna gave Simon a wide berth but kept a watchful eye on him. In her free time she marveled at the magnificence of the runes carved throughout the planks and furnishings of the vessel. 

From sun up to sun down  She trained vigorously with heavy armour and broad weapons. she repeated her routine until awkward movements became a graceful dance. She went through the motions with her arm hugged to her chest until her body became accustomed to the likes of Simon's injury.  From what they could deduce, his bullet wound was scattered, and deep. She begun work on a lightweight, yet protective sling of chainmail that wouldn't offset his balance too much during a duel.  

At night, they fell into an oddly peaceful routine. The swordsman would tinker with various metals he found on the ship, while Rayna  studied blueprints of the Asterius, until her eyes watered. Once, alone in her chambers she would rub her eyes, and take a seat in her father's desk chair. she counted her money, tallied up inventory for the day, and made a list of essential supplies.  

There were things she needed to invest in no matter how much it pained her. She needed a good boatswain, and an air navigator who, with any luck, could figure out the propellers and other configurations on the ship's impressive dashboard. Of course after all that, a master gunner would be needed to help manage the cannons...

One restless night in particular, the absence of starlight, and night breeze became more promininet inside the musty dwellings of the catacomb. Rayna's mood grew tense with impatience. She found herself stowing away in the galley with a new file, the light of a hanging lantern, and a barrel to serve as a desk. She laid the leather bound folder on top of the barrel and pulled out several pages. Freya took up residency by Rayna's feet. Within minutes the dog was moving all four paws, and whimpering. The corners of Rayna's mouth twitched in amusement. Perhaps she was dreaming of chasing rabbits in her sleep. Rayna redirected her attention towards the file. Who she to judge Freya when she was just as blood thirsty as the wolf?

The first page she pulled out of the stack was a magnificent sketch: the exterior of an enormous steam and air vessel. The Fenris. Rush Orkson's ship. 
Appropriately, a wrought iron hellhound sprung from the bow of the ship. Its teeth were barred and claws poised to attack. The ship's planks were black, dark enough to match the large balloon that loomed over the entirety of the ship like an angry storm cloud. Though the make and style was much more traditional than the balloon less Asterius, the Fenris was the embodiment of war. Where the Asterius had oars, the Fenris had sharp, and wide spikes jutting out from its broadside. An abundance of cannons were depicted with the muzzles poking through small square windows. The scale on drawing showed the ship to be twice as large as the Asterius. 

Rayna mulled it over. Why would Orkson covet the Asterius while he had a vessel as powerful as the Fenris? Sure, the Asterius's technology was more up to date, and it was a structurally sound ship, but even with that information Rayna felt as if she were missing something; sitting atop a secret. 

The following morning Rayna dressed hastily in a capped sleeve blouse, adorned with a coper colored corset that was attuned to the latest fashion. It buckled just under her bust, giving way to the ruffled cotton of her blouse. Over her pants she wore knee high copper colored boots. She glanced in her mirror. She looked like a harmless civilian. However, sheathed in between the buckles of her corset was a well concealed knife, and two more were stowed away in her boots.

She rushed to the door of her chambers, but as an after thought ran over to her mother's dresser instead. She opened the top drawer. Her mother had a collection of the most beautiful hand painted fans. Some adorned in gauzy lace, others done up in feathers. They were fashioned out of thick canvas, and framed with bamboo strong  enough to tolerate obscure switch blades between the folds of the fan.

Rayna  picked up a folded peacock feather fan. She flicked her wrist in a swift motion, unfolding the canvas upon impact. She observed sharp blades shrouded by the brilliance of the peacock feathers. She had only ever used one in her training, with a sack of flour serving as her target. She folded the fan, and tucked it away in her satchel bag. She then left to seek out Simon.

Together, they made their way into town. Simon eyed a list that Rayna had given him."Busy work? To keep me from the ship."

Rayna lowered her eyes, before meeting his gaze. There was no sense in confirming, what he already knew to be true. Simon seemed like a decent man, worthy of her trust, but he'd have to wait longer to receive it.

He tucked the list away into the pocket of his overcoat with his good arm. "Its a good thing I am a patient man Captain."

Rayna shrugged. "Just find yourself a damn doctor, bring him to the ship, lest you want to be an infected, dying man."

Simon grinned. "I suppose, I could do that. Do you have any recommendations?"

Rayna shook her head. "I 'll be at the ship around seven. Don't return before then." With that she left the man to go about her own business.

She made her way through the herds of vendors and masses of people wandering the market. She laced her fingers through the designated holes in the fan, and fanned herself softly, She itched for an excuse to test out her new weapon on human flesh.

Once on the brick walk way, she glanced around, searching for an oddity shop she rececalled from her childhood. It wasn't first on her priority list, but she was anxious to see that it was still there. She took the less traveled alleyways, hoping to save time. In her haste she nearly fell over a hunched man. She cursed, but turned to offer an apology. The man's expression was blank. Had he not noticed her? "Sorry. You really ought to find better lodgings," she muttered. 

The old man said nothing but mocked her with a half hearted salute. He stared passed her in a drunken stupor. Only then did she notice the blue navy jacket he wore. She hardened her glance.  "You're Navy... I see they've  hung you out to dry."

A bitter laugh escaped the man's mouth. 

She eyed him with suspicion."Just how high up were you?"

His head rolled back against the brick wall of the building he was sitting against. His spectacles  were knocked sideways, so they sat unevenly on the bridge of his nose."Pretty high. Sometimes even stern deck."

Rayna blinked at his sarcastic attitude. " I have a job, if you can sober up. I need hands aboard my airship-"

The man held his hand up to quiet her. "I want nothing to do with piracy of any sorts."

Rayna knelt down besides the man, so they were eye level. "Not all pirates have airships. I'm a bounty hunter. Rayna... Erikdotter."She extended her hand to him.

Cautiously he shook her hand. "I suppose we can talk semantics."

Rayna nodded. "Good. What are you doing tonight?"

He took another swig from his flask. "Staring at that wall over there, cat nap, followed by more staring."

He dusted off his jacket, and stood with surprisingly nice posture. "I'm Acrebus -"
His words were cut short by the sound of approaching footsteps. Two heavily cloaked men walked purposefully towards them. "Can we help you?" Acrebus asked as one of the men zeroed in on him. The man tilted his head to the side, it came with a drawn out squeak.

"Mutant men!" Rayna screamed as a mechanical arm reached for Acrebus.

A throaty cry disengaged from Acrebus's throat as he was slammed into the brick exterior. A red light flashed in the mutant  man's eyes. His metal fingers tightened with brute force as Acrebus's feet dangled free in the air. 

Rayna rolled out of the way of the second mutant man. She disengaged the knife from her corset and aimed it at the robot's back. The knife hit her target, but was immediately met with similar metal properties. Metals scraped against each other so hard it hurt her teeth.

The mutant dropped Acrebus and slumped at its waist until the knife handle stood erect in its back. Just when Rayna thought she had defeated it, a grinding noise erupted from the mutant's metal organs. The handle fell to the ground. She watched,transfixed, as steel fingers grew instantaneously from the spot where the blade struck the mutant.

"What the hell is happening?" Acrebus demanded. They backed into the wall opposite the mutant. "The claw on its back, it grew, from the knife I threw at it!" 

Acrebus cursed.

The first Mutant righted itself, and the second one joined it, as they stalked towards Rayna and Acrebus. "What now then?"

Rayna  unsheathed the knife  in her boot and handed it to him. "Fight!"She flicked her wrist. The fan expanded and she wasted no time using it.

She dug her fingers in the tiny holes in the canvas, between flats of the blades. She turned her wrist so the fan was splayed, and the switches were pointing directly outwards. With a sudden movement of her arm she slashed the mutant's chest. The only thing that occurred were sparks. She swore and tried again, this time she swiped the fleshy part of its face. It stumbled backwards as if registering the pain.

She glanced at Acrebus, struggling against the other mutant. "Get the flesh!" She ordered. They attacked with a fierce intensity; striking flesh where and when possible. All it seemed to do was distract the mutants, and tire themselves out. The robots were relentless, they never gave up in their pursuits.

"They don't quit do they?" Acrebus voiced.

Rayna struck  out against her mutant again, this time she got its eyes. That set off the red light again. The robot dropped to the floor on its knees. It grasped blindly at the floor. and struggled to stand. A small beeping noise went off. Slowly at first, and then louder and more persistent. "Get the eyes!" She shouted.

Acrebus slashed his mutant's eyes. It too began to power down. The first mutant combusted into flames. Rayna ducked in the knick of time, and grabbed Acrebus's arm, urging him forward. They glanced back from a safe distance as they second mutant died in the same fashion as the first.

"Kamikaze robots. Explode before we can dissect their mechanics. Brilliant," Acrebus said, appraisingly.

Rayna huffed and turned on him. "Why were the mutant men after you?"

Acrebus shook his head. "I have no idea, but if its okay with you I'd like for us to leave town before we find out."

Rayna nodded. "I'll see you at seven sharp." She said before walking away. 

The End

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