Chapter 20Mature

  Rayna turned to leave, as if business had been concluded. Arcebus groaned and stood, head starting to clear as the fog of his drink was subdued by his rational, coherent military side.

“Mayhaps you explain what the fuck those things were?”

She stopped and looked back, the shadow of the alleyway hiding any telltale signs of an expression.

“They're hunting you down and you don't know what they are?”

The navigator blinked a few times and scowled, “I've seen many magics and machines in my spin, but never the two fused. I have not a single clue why I'm in their sights.”

“I have work to do. Meet me aboard the ship and I'll tell you what I know.” She replied, shifting her hands to remove a piece of canvas with scribbled instructions to the current housing of her vessel. Arcebus guessed that it really did mean she was hunting down crew.

He made a face, blowing air through his nostrils hard enough to ruffle his dress shirt, “I think you'd better first hear my price before we talk any further.”

“A man on the streets trying to make demands?” She smirked, crossing her arms.

“I've little interest in peddling my abilities to someone incapable of delivering, especially when their job offer is punctuated with the arrival of indestructible metal monsters.”

She rolled her eyes and pushed the paper into his chest.

“Just be there, and leave your drinks at whatever you now call home.”

Arcebus grumbled and snatched the paper. He knew that it wasn't worth trying to get anything more out of the woman. Rayna continued her walk towards the marketplace without another word.  The Navigator simply laid back against the wall with his hand on his forehead. He instinctively reached for the flask, but realized propagating his stupor would be a dumb move. Especially with assassins on his tail.

“I could use a shave.” He sighed upon sighting his portrait in the canisters reflection.

Miraculously he was out of whatever the hell he'd managed to poison himself with. He hadn't been this pissed in a long time, which was an accomplishment considering that activities back on duty had included drinking, reading, singing off key in the loudest possible voice, and repetition. He wasn't proud of his current state, but then again, he hadn't expected an interview with an employer on the side of the street.

A crackle of litter made the Navigator jump. Something swept around the corner, and he didn't wait to find out what it was. He ran back out into the more populated urban district, his gun-sword handle clutched for security as he made for the boundary marking city limits.

                                                                                                                                      

Before he made his way out into the slums, he decided to tally the little cash that remained in his pocket, and find some cheap snack for the road.  He managed to get a few kabobs of questionable sea-food from an old vendor he had come across.  He downed them faster than he'd wanted, but at least they had been mildly good.

One last task before he left; sever the disgusting matted mess from his chin.  Now, how does one do such a thing with no money for a barber?  Quite simple, as Arcebus demonstrated in the mirror of a puddle.  He had his blade up to his face, trimming his sideburns and goatee with the perilous utensil.  The lack of greasy facial hair was well worth the extra few cuts.

An hour, maybe less, was all it took after getting through the destitute section of town.  The small, dense forest hadn't been easy to navigate, but eventually he found the rock face and the hidden entrance described. Lucky for him, the fluid he was drinking seemed to kick him hard, then subside with only a slight headache for a parting gift. He still looked awful though, purple bruises forming where the abomination had clutched his throat, and the putrid scent of untreated body odor lingered around him.

Tunnels greeted him almost immediately, and he gave himself a few moments to consider how stupid it was to be going into this so blind.  But, ultimately being prey seemed a much less appealing option.  Besides, work was work, even if this was not what he had neither expected nor wanted.

She had thankfully included instructions on how to get through these...caves? He was actually quite curious; what exactly were these? A natural cavern perhaps? Everything looked almost as old as Vahalla itself. The walls were covered in fragments of skeletons like an ancient tribal burial site. His glasses, coupled with an ever growing darkness, made it difficult to discern anything further.

Eventually, the whole thing tapered off into a slight hallway, leading into another darker chamber. He couldn't see much, save for something big suspended in the murky black. He removed the spectecales and wiped them furiously against his undershirt. Upon re-applying them, he was greeted with a sight he had not anticipated.

“Valkyrie's Bust!”

Lanterns dangled from her rigging, and a dragon roared in halted animation from the tip of the bow. Arcane designs, but with obviously new twists. Like four broad outer engines in back, complemented with oars below for some reason. Portholes graced the upper most level of the hull, some glowing with faint candlelight.

What was this thing doing in a cave? More so, how in the hell had someone gotten this behemoth in here! It wasn't the biggest ship he'd seen by a longshot, but the bloody thing nearly took up the entire cave it rested in.

Curious, he went about to observe the exterior. Scaffolding around the bottom suggested someone had been repairing some of the aged components in the rudders and engines. A gangplank led up to the deck, and he couldn't resist ascending. Topside was interesting, definitely newer designs. Not up to date, but with a little work it could contend with modern vessels.

The control panels indicated another interesting fact; this vessel didn't need a large crew. Just ten could man all it's controls and armaments with relative ease. In fact, this ship was more than decent for it's time, this was quality construction.  Some parts were so custom and unrecognizable that he had to pause for a few minutes just to ascertain their function.

It was making sense, this was why she'd wanted him. He fumbled with the badge on his collar, smiling slightly as the pieces came together. Either she recognized the mark of a Navigator, or lacked experience flying and assumed his training could help manage a vessel.  Maybe both.

He laughed a bit, slightly overwhelmed by the after effects of drinking, and nostalgia of being at work.  So giddy, that he collapsed against the control wheel and snickered like a little boy until his bruises began to throb.

The End

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