Chapter 42Mature

  Arcebus leaned forward into the railing, his feet slipping in the slush of the snow. The blizzard buffeted against the bow, and a deep whistling filled his ears as wind funneled through maze of wood on the deck. Hatches opened and slammed back, cracking like gunshots. The wind was probably fifty knots at least, and visibility was practically nil. The ship wasn't getting back up until it began to subside.

His sword was fastened to his waist, tight as his thick winter garment would permit. It still bounced around uncontrollably and continued to smack his leg with stinging force. The cloak he wore was heavy, laden with fur and a heavy wool composition. The ship shuddered like a great beast, vibrations forcing Arcebus to lose his handhold. Without anything to ground the sail of fabric on his back, a gust sent him staggering back to the control room door. He held onto the door's handle, as the last surge pummeled him.

He waited, minutes passing before the violent storm wavered and he could again stand under his own power. As soon as he got a foothold, he made for the ridge and leaned out, checking for damage to the dirigible. Nothing substantial had hit the fabric, a few small marks from the tree branches that broke free from the surrounding forest.

He backed down to mid deck and looked around, wiping his goggles and shifting the focus to account for his nearsightedness.

“Hey Navi! We've got some grub downstairs!” The voice of Lee echoed from the hold.

It was then he realized how famished he actually was. He had been running off of heavily salted rations and a hidden flask in his breast pocket. Both were running out.

“Aye, I'll be down in a moment!”

He made one last look over the controls, contenting himself that they were firm in location. He then turned to the hatch and pushed it open against the wind, and climbed into the warmer interior. Two levels down and there they were, Sparrow, Lee, and the tired slump of Davrou. All three were sitting at a table.

“You alright mate?” Arcebus asked as he passed the doctor.

He waited for a moment, as if the words he heard had to be played back in his head, then suddenly mumbled; “fine.”

Lee was making flirtatious small talk with Sparrrow, who wasn't quite catching onto his intentions. They broke away as Arcebus sat down.

“With the cap'n out and about, we should have ourselves a drink!” The gunslinger announced, smiling wildly.

“As nice as that sounds, I must abstain. Last thing we need is a half-assed takeoff ruining the repairs.”

Lee shrugged, proceeding to lower a mid-sized wine casket onto the table.

“Well, good to know that the main course is taken care of. Is there any actual food for a side dish?”

His answer came as a steaming bowl of.....leftovers? The white and red concoction sloshed over the edge as it slid before him. He could make out chunks of potato and small meaty bits floating in the broth. Those were from last night's turkey, which he had missed while dealing with unexpected headwinds. Thankfully, this was a navy man, and a poor one at that. Take every bite as a blessing.

He took hold of the wooden spoon, buried within, and hastily began shoveling everything down. The bowl would hardly need cleaning upon his finish. He tossed it back into the middle of the table, and closed his eyes to savor the warm tingling the soup had left on his throat. He might have even made it to sleep, should the opportunity not have been interrupted.

There were a series of noises from above as something threw itself on board with a mighty thud, and paced loudly. Arcebus bolted up, grabbing his sword instinctively. Lee also stood up, his mouth ajar as he listened for footsteps above.

“That wasn't a person.” He said, withdrawing both of his firearms.

“It most certainly was not. Shall we see what guests have arrived?”

He nodded, waving for the Navigator to go first. Arcebus took one look over the others, Davrou suddenly looked on edge, and Sparrow looked concerned.

“I think between the four of us is the killing force of a small army. Relax.” Lee said with a grin.

Sparrow's brow unfurled, but Davrou was still plainly not at ease. Arcebus sighed, scaling the ladder with sword in hand. He quietly pushed the hatch to the deck open, just enough to look around the deck. Nothing, just the wind blowing the rigging about. The navigator wasn't content, he climbed out and aimed the small-sword's sideways barrel around him. Lee popped up behind, his ironsights tracing over the deck.

“We aren't going to chuck this up to the wind, right?”

Arcebus stared intently down the midship. A tarp buckled in a direction opposite of the gale's force.

“Hell no.” He whipped the gunsword back around, and discharged a round into the floor.

The noise certainly stirred 'it' up. A black shape was before them, moving like a vengeful ghost, closing the distance in a untraceable beeline. Lee flipped his guns to their melee forms and ran to meet the canine beast. The wolf lunged, it's feet ending not in paws, but four humanoid fingers, each with a crimson talon to bare.

Lee flipped over beneath the airborne monster and thrust with his blade. It raked the creature's underside, a flash of dark blood spilling into the snow. The beast landed, and skidded back to a halt. It wasn't some rabid dog. It's thick black hair was jagged and feral. It's eyes were obscured, that is, if there really were eyes within. It's maw stretched almost to it's neck, like some predatory sea creature. It was then he realized it, no animal became like this one it's own. The fangs wore steel caps, and were fashioned to pierce hide and armor alike.

It was then he noticed the thing that lay in the snow beside him. A chain, a long chain, bound to a shackle on it's back legs. He followed the taught metal bindings off the edge of the ship, but suddenly caught them again, going back up. It was hard to see it the shadow of the blimp, but something was hiding in the rigging, holding it's leash and watching.

Lee followed as well, and his eyes broke wide open. It was definitely female, the armor it wore was shapely and not very thick for such an environment. Her silvery hair was past her waist, and it blew about in the winds. Her face was half hidden in a white and black mask over her eyes. But her mouth was in a tight scowl.

She fell from above, rolling back gracefully and landing before her pet. It seemed to bow in her presence, lowering it's head to the snow with a light whistle. The more Arcebus stared, the more he became enthralled by her ethereal beauty. But that was just it, something otherworldly radiated from her movements, and the deep blue in her gaze wasn't just hypnotic, it held him in an alien fear.

“What are you?” Arcebus asked, bringing the barrel of his sword parallel to her head.

She turned to face him, taking her time to regard him.

“Old soldier.” She named him. She reached to her hips, and in her hands was a great ulfbert sword. It's point matching his, “you harbor a thief aboard this vessel. A grave robber. Relinquish him and his plunder, and leave this sacred land.”

“Thief? Our crew?”

He turned to Lee. The gunslinger shook his head, then tacked on; “and Sparrow hadn't left the clearing when I found her. Which leaves.....”

“I will return to you what is yours, but you've no claim on any of our lives.” Arcebus finished for him.

“Wrong. I take the dead to rest, I guide those true from the carrion of the battlefield."

Arcebus froze. His tight frown turned into a grimace. He lowered his weapon to the ground.  The huntress did the same, which was exactly what he'd hoped for.  His sword snapped through the air, slashing through the space the huntress once occupied.  The attack had been calculated, the strike should have landed.  But for a moment, it was as if she had been nothing more than a projection.

Impossible!  I saw the blade connect!

She reappeared slightly to the left of his blade, as if she had simply side stepped the attack.

"You are sure of this path?  You will surely be marked, Old Soldier."

Her great sword came forward with unnatural speed.  Arcebus was about to move, but the blade didn't come for him.  The sword stopped against the deck of the ship, the huntress crouched beside him, all her strength in a single brutal strike.  A moment later was the twang of his broken blade embedding itself in the wood beside the wolf's feet.  The color drained from his face, as he relied on what little remained of his focus to drag him away from the stronger warrior.

It really was a Daughter of Odin.  A Valkyrie, out for revenge.

 

The End

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