Musings of a Mercenary. Part 3 – The Fear.

Anyone who has sailed in or out of Five Fingers has heard the stories about the various ghost ships that prowl the Meredius. As bad as the ghost stories that soldiers tell around fires are, they can’t match the sheer pomp and theatrics of a pirate telling the tale of the Atrementous.

Stefan had been in bad shape since he lost his leg. Elise had been keeping her eye on him, and had to take all of his weapons from him. In his brief moments of sobriety he would ask for his pistol. He said he only needed one bullet. I had Clara extinguish Lugnut’s furnace just in case he tried to do something stupid with the jack.

The thing about Stefan that not many people know is that he was a shitty pirate. He doesn’t like being on boats. Having an angry and scared warcaster with a taste for drink and a sick stomach, and his warjack, roaming around your boat is not, apparently, high on Phinneus Shae’s list of priorities. When I found him he was broke, humiliated, abandoned, and too drunk to stand. And about to have his head stomped into the cobbles of some narrow street just off Haggler’s Square, and his body dumped into a canal. After the fight, after the men who had been attacking him were dealt with and when we had both caught our breath, I offered him a job.

When we got to Port Vladovar it still hadn’t occurred to Stefan we’d be getting on a ship to get to the Fingers. He and I go through this little dance every time we have to travel by sea. He pretends I led him to believe we would be travelling exclusively by land, and then gets in a foul humour when I inform him, yet again, that we would be getting on a ship. But the thing is, he can’t show how uncomfortable he truly is, because he still thinks everyone believes his ’I’m the finest Pirate in all of Immoren’ nonsense.

This time Sergei made sure he was already black out drunk before he got on deck.

The steamship was a huge ironclad cargo hauler. The kind with furnaces fore and aft, and big stacks pumping thick black smoke into the sky. Aksana had made all the arrangements with the captain, and as much as I’m not used to simply being a passenger on a boat, I had my crew to take care of. Clara and Sergei set to work on building Stefan’s new leg. Elise and Bert were watching Stefan. Fysan was being unusually ‘quiet’ since leaving Port Vladovar.

I let Stefan sober up a bit before I visited his cabin. I sat down next to him and told him a story I had been told by a grizzled old pirate in a tavern in Ceryl one time. It’s probably nonsense, but I remember it clearly because this pirate had the deepest voice I’d ever heard. He told me how the souls of men who have died at sea crowd the decks of the Atrementous, bound in eternal servitude, screaming and crying and hunting for another ship so they can add its crew to their own in an attempt to break the dreadful, spiteful tedium of eternity.

Like I said, nothing can match the theatrics of a pirate telling ghost stories.

I added my own supplement to the tale. The deck is manned by the souls of those who are killed, yes, but the furnaces are fired and fed by the souls of those who kill themselves. An eternity in blazing, searing heat in the bowels of an evil ghost ship with not even the promise of an occasional fight. Never to step on, or even see, dry land again. After the story I gave him the handcannon I had bought him in Port Vladovar. I needed everyone to be ready and armed if we had any trouble on the water

We were on the water just over a week when things started to go wrong. The engines died, and then fired back into life turning the wheels in opposite directions. We were spinning in a slow circle, and the crew started to panic. It became quickly apparent that the doors to our cabins had all been locked with us inside. After getting out I gathered my people and got them up on deck, and while I initially suspected the captain had turned on us, it quickly became clear that the problem was far more serious than that.

The panic in the lookout’s voice was obvious. We turned as one in the direction he was indicating and saw it. A ghostly green light. Off in the fog. Far enough away that we couldn’t see the boat itself, but almost certainly moving towards us.

The captain got his crew moving while I took Clara down into the hold. If we couldn’t get the ship moving we’d need the ‘jacks on deck for the fight. When we got down there we found the engine crew, dead.

I’d never seen a ghost before, and the stories can’t prepare you for the sheer sense of dread you feel when you do see your first one. Your spine becomes, for one brief moment, a rod of pure ice. You feel a flicker of empty sadness. This was a living, breathing person once.

Of course, that’s all shattered when the floating skull grins at you as it aims a pistol right at your face.

Clara, Morrow bless her, took care of the ghost. I know she felt the fear, but she handled it well. She did me proud. It became clear, however, that the problem was not yet solved. An inky black shape, all metal tubes and shadow, came hurtling out of the engines and into the cargo elevator, freezing it in place before we could get the ‘jacks up on deck.

They were in the machines. I had Clara pull some plugs out of the jacks and we ran.

I left Clara back up on deck and ran down to the cabins again. I needed to get to Aksana. As much of an issue as we might have had with our own ‘jacks, hers was going to be a far greater problem. And if there was one thing I did know for certain about ghosts, it was that we would need magic. She was still locked inside her cabin, pounding on the heavy steel door.

After I got her out we made our way straight back down towards the engines. Along the way I took a bullet in the shoulder from another of those ghostly marksmen. It felt like I’d been plunged into a freezing cold pool, but we kept running.

We got down there around the same time as the others. Just in time to hear the first uncertain, unwilling steps of a Juggernaut chassis warjack not moving under its own, or its warcaster’s, control.

It was a near bloodbath. We did everything we could. The whole team were willing to do whatever was necessary to stop the lumbering machine. Even Stefan, despite the pain, fought with bravery and determination. Like he always does. Aksana got cut near in half with one heavy blow from the warjack. Bert ripped it’s arm almost completely off in return and before it could retaliate Aksana managed to expel the spectre from the machine by sheer force of will, and it fled.

We got the engines running again and made full steam ahead. I stopped looking behind us for the green light before long. I just wanted to look forward to the relative safety of Five Fingers.

You can’t match the pomp and theatrics of a pirate telling the tale of The Atrementous, but even the deepest voice in the world will never do that kind of fear justice.

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