This week has a new author added to the list. Charles Siefken joins us at the beginning of this chapter. His wok is in red mine in blue. Wendy stepped aside so that her son could participate and threw his own wrenches into the story.
(If you happen to notice that my contributions are a bit long compared to the others, I have a condition. It's called Itchy Writers Finger. The symptoms include dazed expressions, wandering thoughts, and most severely, the uncontrollable writing sessions characterized by manic typing and unstoppable verbiage. Basically, once I get started it is really really hard to stop. The only known medication for this condition is even more writing, so I am fully medicated. But this, in no way, makes my work any better than the others, just....longer.)
The wind howled and the sand stung and bit into everything it touched. Through the howling wind Steffen thought he heard a rumble and the muffled thumps of boarding lines being thrown up on deck. Soon he felt the ship lurch and knew that they had been caught by the one thing he had hoped to avoid. The black sand pirates had found his ship. He knew of them and had always tried to avoid them. The black sand pirates were a group that was considered the lowest of the low. Pirates wouldn’t even take on this bedraggled band of looters and thieves. Rose was in charge of this crew of misfits and outcasts from all over the planet. She was a mouseling who no one thought could ever rule let alone control the rogues and also figure out how to control a sand dragon. During sand storms they would roam the desert looking for ships to pilfer and sometimes let the dragon eat for a snack if they fought back to much. At the wreckage’s black sand was always found. There was nothing Steffan or Amara could do now but wait out the storm or at least wait until Rose and her band of thieves took them inside somewhere to see what their fate was.
The Griffon lurched to one side and then the other. Both occupants were tossed around like a pair of dice in a cup. After the rocking and tumbling settled down Steffen helped Amara to her feet. The winds of the sandstorm were becoming more distant and the creaking sounds of the hull being lifted were all around them. The Griffon was at the tender mercy of grapple lines, a typical method of pirates who enjoy plundering the smaller, weaker ships.
Amara's ears twitched and a snarl began to form on her face. “Did you hear that?” she asked.
Steffen nodded and was slowly pulling out his blade, “Out of the fire and into the frying pan. I don't know what would be worse, getting caught by the Sapphire or Blacksand.”
“It might not be them. What if the Sapphire has us?” Amara was leaping to conclusions.
Steffen held his balance as the ship lurched hard when the anchor swayed in the winds. “If Jonathan was stupid enough to drag that behemoth of a ship into a category three sandstorm then he is a bigger fool than I already know he is. No, there are few living things who would even dare get near a sandstorm like this.”
Amara was about to give another conjecture when Steffen put his hand up to her mouth. He gave her a “shush” look and they both listened. The Griffon was pulled against something, docking arms got her and held her in place. Then, the voices of whoever was inside this ship could be heard talking, though not clear enough to be understood.
“They are about to come in.” Amara announced in an extremely small voice. She had better hearing that Steffen and knew what was coming.
Steffen readied his weapon and waited while the latch on his door was opened. The lock was picked in about five seconds and then the handle lifted. In came three Scarvians, the Lizard folk of Marshpool, all grinning across their thin serpentine lips. They only wore a vest to signify their position in this crew, otherwise the Scarvians do not wear clothing. Each pointed a sword at the cabins occupants. “OUT!” They commanded, their thread thin tongues dancing out as they tasted the air to get every scent around them.
Amara was about to launch into an attack when Steffen stopped her. He did so without even looking at her, just holding a hand back against her chest. He carefully put his sword in his sash, watching the reaction of the Scarvians the whole time he did. Then he slowly looked back at Amara, “Put your weapon away. They won't harm us.”
Amara was confounded and angry, “But..” she didn't get her argument in with the look at Steffen gave her. She realized he was deadly serious and so she stowed her weapon.
“Please, lead the way.” Steffen held out a hand to the lizards.
They squinted at him for a second and then two went back out of the cabin to lead them, one waited to walk behind, so to keep a close eye on them.
Steffen and Amara were led into the belly of an odd ship. Everything was metal with welded rivets holding the walls, ceilings, and floors in place. Large cross beams were making the whole ship structurally sound. The heavy beating of the steam engine in the back echoed lightly throughout the ship, not deafening, but always present. The walls were curved outward, like being inside the belly of a egg shaped blimp, only these walls had large glass windows in them. From the windows they could see that they had lifted high above the sand storm and were floating in the sky heading for the mountains.
Amara's eyes were as wide as they had ever been, the look in them like that of a child who has seen the sky for the first time in her life. “Steffen, what kind of ship is this? I have never seen a metal air ship.”
Steffen quietly answered, “They are rare. This is probably the only metal airship left flying over Aldaria. This is why the Blacksand are so good at navigating sandstorms, this ship is impervious to the storms wrath.”
They continued walking, heading toward a large staircase that headed for what was likely the bridge. Amara asked, “How did they make it? It would take the engineering station of the palace to build a ship this amazing.”
“They didn't build it. They found it.” Steffen answered.
“Found it! Who would have lost a ship like this?”
A woman answered, “The Ancients.”
Amara and Steffen had been led up to the bridge of this ship. It was a wide bridge with a lot of windows and control stations. Each was manned by a member of this motley crew. Amongst the crew members were Rats, Elves, many Scarvians, a few humans, and one Mouseling.
Rose was a beautiful woman with a reputation for getting exactly what she wants. A thick white fur covered her body, though she did decorate her face with make up all the same. The round tall ears on her head were pierced all over with many gold ear rings, some sporting rubies and diamonds, others just gold. She had on tight leather pants and a short shirt that was purposefully giving a little more of her cleavage than was socially acceptable in most circles. Her long thin tail was ringed by gold rings, sparsely placed starting at the middle and going nearly to the top. She liked the world to see the treasures she has horded from her many adventures. If anything could be said about Rose's appearance it was that she was sexy, if not a little extravagant.
Though, through all that sexiness and glitter, she was a deadly vixen to catch. Outside of her ornamentation’s and alluring eyes, she always had a blade on each hip. She was a true master of fighting that no one has bested yet....well, almost no one. She has never beaten Steffen in a fight, but that was partly due to her attraction to the man of her dreams.
“Well, well, well, Steffen. What brings you out here?” Rose asked as though she had just casually walked by, instead of forcibly towing him and his ship into her hanger.
Steffen gave her a smile that he knew perfectly well she would swoon at, “Just happen to come across that blasted sand storm. I see the generous Blacksands are at it still, rescuing the poor souls who get lost in bad conditions.”
Rose, crossing one furry leg over the other, shrugged. “I guess it's just in my nature to be helpful. I just LOVE helping myself to other peoples treasure. HA!” Rose was also a bit nutty, but that came with the territory when being the captain of a crew like this.
Steffen strolled over to her and then leaned on her captains chair, still giving her that look that he was so famous for. “I can't say that I am unhappy to see you. We were in a bit of a bind back there. But, I can't help but wonder what you have planned for us?”
“Us?.....Well, she can go and catch some rats down in the galley. You...” Rose turned in her seat so that her little red nose was right up to his nose. Reaching out with her fingers she started playing with his pecks, “You and I can....” The look in her eyes said it all.
Steffen, who has never and will never even dare being alone with this woman, gently took her hand off of his body and held it. “Well, I am a bit busy for playtime.” He was actually enjoying this, not the overt flirting of Rose, but the way that Amara was actually growling right now. Any man enjoys having a pair of women fighting over him.
Rose pouted while batting her eyes. “Pity, and I had some Ginger Spice Wine I wanted to open for just such an occasion.”
Steffen let go of her hand and backed off a little. “Actually, I am still curious as to what you want from me. I don't have any cargo for you to pilfer and right now I am sort of in a bind.”
Rose gave him one last lusty look and then straightened up in her seat. “A bind...what sort?” Her tone said that she knew more than she was letting on.
Steffen played along, “It seems that the Empire has become a little too interested in my tattoo than I like. They have put a bounty on me and I think that Jonathan is after us right now.”
Rose got up and walked toward the front windows. “I know. We saw the Sapphire heading this way. In fact....HELM!” she snapped her fingers and the boy at the helm wheel turned it hard. The whole ship groaned as it shifted position so that they could be looking back toward the direction of Far Reach.
“Oh no.” Amara immediately stated when she saw it.
The Sapphire was sitting still on the other side of the sand storm, waiting.
Rose leaned over let out a sigh, “Well, it looks like you have fan club. Want me to shoot them down?” This was offered like she was passing the rolls at dinner.
Steffen cleared his throat and laughed, “Uh...no. The Blacksand is a good ship, but I am afraid in a fire fight, the Sapphire might be a bit much for you to handle. But, thanks for the offer.”
Rose pouted again, “Pity, I hate that Jonathan.”
“I'm no big fan either.” Steffen agreed.
Amara, who held enormous distrust of this Rose, approached. “Again, why did you come to our rescue. I hardly believe your being there at that time was just a massive coincidence.”
Rose rolled her eyes and picked up a piece of paper as she turned. She literally slapped it onto Steffens chest, forcing him to grab it before it fell. “We picked that up in Greyton a week ago.”
Amara looked over Steffens shoulder as he examined the wanted poster. It was him and a poorly drawn picture of his tattoo. “Oh. I see.” Was Steffens response.
Amara got mad and pulled out her blade, which caused the guards that escorted them to react. Fortunately Rose stopped them before they got into a fight. “My my, aren't we the feisty little cat.”
“Shut it! If you think you are going to hand us over for a reward, you have another thing coming!” Amara was ready to cut this mouse into pieces.
Rose passively disregarded the threatening stare, sword, and growl from the feline attacker. “If I wanted to turn you over I would be heading for the Sapphire as we speak. As I am sure that Jonathan would love to get his hands on you for a pretty price. But, I'm not selling anyone to that man today.”
Steffen asked, “How can you be certain that this is from the Empire? This says nothing about them. This was sent from the wizard consortium.”
Rose got back to her seat and sat down, “Take a good look at that printing. It is a woven flax paper with pristine delpin ink. It is cleverly made to look like something a bandit would scribble, but it wasn't written, it was printed. The only presses that use flax paper or delpin ink are...” she led him on.
Steffen was wise enough to know this, “Imperial.”
“Right. When I realized the Empire was after MY man, I had to do something.” She was the insistent girl.
Steffen asked, “So, where are you taking us?”
“A friend paid me to find you. When I showed him this wanted paper and told him that I was going to find you anyway, he said that if I caught you to bring you back to him.”
“Who?” Amara asked, nervously.
Rose grinned and shook her head, “That shall be my little secret. Helm, full speed ahead, and do not drop the cloaking shield until we enter the mountain.”
“Aye ma'am!” The boy called out and then spun the wheel back around to get them headed for the Ridge Mountains once again.
Amara got near Steffen and both looked at the wanted poster one more time. Amara used the intimate moment to quietly ask, “Do you trust her?”
“No, but what else can we do?”