The airship rocked so violently, I thought I was going to lose my lunch right over the side. I imagined all the tiny Fencer dragons gliding through the sky with vomit on their backs. The thought made me even sicker. The lone cannon on Sol del Sol boomed only feet from my ears. I plugged my ears and saved my powdered wig from almost falling down amongst the gloomy clouds.
“Hey, Pedro.” Callisto hefted another cannon ball and slid it into the barrel, the veins on the sides of his neck bulging. “You going to just look green or blue or whatever color you are at the moment? Or you going to do something?”
“We only have one cannon,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
The Sol del Sol lilted to the right, Callisto’s stubby legs working extra hard to stay firm. I, on the other hand, completely lost my grip on the rail and flew backward into a dozen crates. Ones our gang had smuggled from Valencio Morganna, the Prince of the Ratfinks and duelist extraordinaire. My illness increased two-fold just thinking what Valencio would do to us once the crew of the Sol del Sol became grounded. Which they most definitely would be. The rat-headed prince had been known to chew the face off the men he defeated in duels. He’d also been the number one spreader of the Castellan Plague that wiped out thousands of people on the Orange Coast. Who knew someone so debonaire could be an angel of death and master of contagion. The face of giant rat certainly didn’t help his demeanor.
“Pedro, will you help me, dammit?” Romero called from inside the smoking cabin. “We got a fire in here. A damn big one.” Romero tried to use a variation of the word “damn” as often as he could. Something that got damn annoying.
“But Callisto wants me to–“
“Damn Callisto!” Romero wiped soot from his stubbly face. “This is fir de luna. Do you understand?”
My Magellan proved too rusty to remember. “Tree fire? Sorry, I don’t–“
“No, you idiot. ‘Fire of the Moon.’ That cannon they have on Valencio’s airship? It’s a Robinhatch.”
I descending into further states of progressive illness. I imagined my face to be an indescribable color, one perhaps not even on the greatest artist’s palette. “A Robinhatch? I didn’t know Valencio had the backing of them.”
“Well, they must have sold him one for testing. Testing to blow us the damn hell up.” Even Romero cocked his head after the awkward “damn.”
If the alchemy and witchflame manufacturer Robinhatch had decided to sell Prince Valencio one of their weapons, we were done for. I’d seen the effects of their rifles in the Battle of El Turisto. Flesh blasted white, dripping like melted marshmallows, tongues hanging out of ruined skulls. It was horrifying, the memories stained into my mind. Both Magellan and Calypsian men and women died by the scores. Luckily, I found a centaur corpse to hide under. I always procured the most perfect hiding spaces.
“You gonna stand there and daydream all damn day? Get in here and help me!” Romero bellowed, his red nose the only thing not black on his body from all the soot.
I snapped out of my daze and rushed into the cabin. The cannon boomed again, quaking the deck. Half a dozen of our crew ran around like cockatrices with their heads cut off. The smoke in the cabin smelled acrid, burned my nose. I saw the white flames dancing about playfully, no matter how much they were doused or pummeled with thick blankets, they burned on. I belched up the garlic pork sautee’ I’d picked at that morning. Romero only continued “damning” me all while desperately trying to extinguish the ghostly flames.
“This is a good product,” I finally said. “This Robinhatch cannon. Glorious, I’d say. It definitely is going to take our ship down. No doubt about that.”
Romero snatched off my powdered wig and beat the flames with it. It did no good. It was actually quite spiteful and hurt my feelings, truth be told.
“We have to abandon ship. We have to use the Long Cannon.”
The Long Cannon. Oh, how I loathed to hear that name. “Truly?”
“Yes, dammit. You want us all to die? You have to launch over to the Santa Maria and steer it over to us so we can get on board.”
I looked around. “Me? You want me to do this?”
“You’re not doing anything else!” Romero roared, tossing me back my singed wig.
“I’m going to splat against the side. I just know it.”
Romero’s mouth because a hard, straight line. “We need you to do this. That’s all there is to it. If not, we’ll all die.”
Way to lay on the guilt, Romero. I gulped hard, tucked my wig under my arm, and rushed back to the deck.
Callisto grunted and cursed when he saw me again, most likely wishing he could throw me overboard. He didn’t know he was about to get the chance.
“I’m going up to the Long Cannon,” I said, as bravely and stiffly as possible.
Callisto growled and continued tinkering with the canon. “I don’t have time for your stupidity, Pedro.”
“I’m serious. I have to steer the Santa Maria to us or we’re going to all die. Romero said so.”
The grizzled old veteran patted me on the shoulder, although he had to stand on his tip-toes to do so. “You’re really going to do it? You’ve got a bit of Wild Dreamer in you after all, eh?”
I didn’t care for the Cloud Gods much, but Wild Dreamer was a good one to be compared to. Daring, brave, stupid. I had all the qualities. For a brief moment anyway. Before I knew it, I was crammed in the end of the Long Cannon, sucking in air in the dark tube, awaiting Callisto’s muffled count.
I didn’t answer.
“Are you ready, Pedro?”
“It’s either shoot me out or I suffocate in here.”
“OK, I’m going to take it that means you’re ready.”
I sneezed in response.
“On the count of three.”
I held my breath.
A felt ill.
And I sailed, spreading my sickness across the sky like a rainbow of lost lunch.
Temporarily losing my lunch and my consciousness brought me to the realization that I was tangled up in the sails of the Santa Maria. Why in the world an airship had sails, I had no idea, but the design choice saved my life. I slashed at the sails with my dagger, trying to do that cool “slide down” trick. It didn’t work. Instead, I sliced into the sail, got caught in it, and tumbled to the deck. As luck had it once again, I landed on someone soft and squishy. Sadly, this soft and squishy person was a Brigandlander with blue-dyed skin, a shock of green hair, and enough piercings in his face to tip a scale. He did not like me violating his squishiness.
“We got us a stowaway, now then,” The Brigandlander jerked me up by my vest, the smell of old cheeses wafting out of his cavernous mouth. “Be I need to breakin’ your bones?”
“Sorry, I can’t quite understand what you’re saying. Do I need my bones broken? Most certainly not.”
“You got yourself a forked-tongue, do ye?”
I stuck out my tongue. “No, sir. Not at all. Regular tongue here. See? Perfectly normal.”
He socked me in the face and threw me across the deck. I slid like a shuffleboard puck and hit a barrel full of salted fish. Again, why with the salted fish? This was an airship. It could have airship food like pretzels or shrimp cocktail if it wanted. I especially considered this issue when the contents dumped on my head. I snorted, brushed myself off, and checked my nose. Yes, most definitely broken. I cracked it back and silently gaped as the Brigandlander stalked back toward me. Other crewmen on the Santa Maria had caught on to what was happening and began to circle around, even as cannon fire from Sol del Sol boomed.
One of the people I’d attracted the attention of was the Ratfink prince himself, Valencio Morganna. He was dressed to the nines, a floppy velvet hat perched on his shrunken rat head. Gold teeth glimmered as he walked toward me, pushing the Brigandlander aside. He rested his gloved hand on his pistol and tapped his spurred boot.
“We have a visitor,” Valencio said, sucking on his teeth.
“A stowaway, my prince,” the Brigandlander snorted.
Valencio pushed his hat back and swaggered over to where I sat. “You ruined my fish barrels. I like to shoot them sometimes.”
“Sorry.” I hastily tried to knock all the salted fish off of myself. “I can put them back.”
“He’s a right stowaway,” the Brigandlander said again, louder, as if Valencio didn’t hear him the first time.
“I know what he is. I just wonder what he’s doing here.” The rat prince cocked his head to the side and stroked his whiskers. “What are you doing here, young chap?”
“It was an accident. I was aiming for another ship. Apologies. I’ll be on my way.” I tried to walk off the side of the airship, but the other sneering crew blocked my path with sabres and clubs. “Well, fine then, I suppose I can stay for a bit.”
“You’re out of your element,” Valencio said. “Did you come to challenge me, perchance? Do a duel, perchance?”
Why did he keep saying that? “Perchance? No.”
“I’m afraid that is the incorrect answer,” the Ratfink prince said. “Anyone who is not authorized to be on the Santa Maria must face me in one on one combat. Those are the laws of the Air.”
“I didn’t study those in school.”
Valencio snatched a sabre out of the belt of one of his men, inadvertently slicing him in leg in doing so. The man howled, but slapped his hands over his mouth immediately when Valencio glared at him. He tossed the sabre to me. “Here. We shall do battle. It is your only way of escape.”
The cannon boomed again. No one seemed to paying attention to the Sol del Sol still shooting. The shots went wide, but everyone found more interest in seeing me gutted and tossed overboard for the Fencer dragons to eat midair. That would be a sight to see. Too bad I didn’t want to see it.
“I’m not very good with a sword.”
“Pistols then?” Valencio asked. “We could just as well do pistols. It’s really up to you. You’re our guest after all.”
Everyone snickered, all save me who peed a little in my pantaloons.
“Pistols are no good either. I shot my little toe off when I was a boy. Swore to never use one again.” I lied. I had both of my little toes. I wiggled them to make sure it was a confirmed lie. Sometimes I even fooled myself. Hell, the only way I ever got onto the Sol del Sol was by lying about my credentials. A man does strange things when running from bounty hunters, witches, and ex-girlfriend bounty hunter witches. I chose my relationships poorly, I had to admit.
Again, I was doing a bit of inopportune day dreaming.
Valencio removed his jacket, handing it to the Brigandlander. He unbuttoned the sleeves of his white shirt and rolled them up. “Well? What will it be? We don’t have all day. We have to finish destroying your little ship after all.”
The cannon boomed again. They’d quit bothering with their own Robinhatch cannon. The Sol del Sol became a rather spectacular display of flaming ship after all.
“Well, I suppose I’ll go with the pistol,” I said. “Better luck with that, right?”
No one laughed.
“Prince Valencio ain’t never lost to no one,” the Brigandlander said, handing me his own pistol. “You are good as Fencer bait, mate.”
“So they do eat people mid-air then? Fascinating.” The thought kept me from continuing to soil myself. Little tidbits of information like that always brightened my day, even if I faced certain death and dismemberment. Which, truth be told, I faced more often than I liked.
“Well then, prepare to die, I suppose.” Prince Valencio took his pistol and put his back to me. I awkwardly stood in my spot after the Brigandlander nearly shook the brain out of my head trying to get me in the perfect position. I always was all arms and legs.
Once I was squared, the Prince called out the rules. The cannon booming from over the Sol del Sol ill-afforded me to listen. Everyone else seemed to think this was acceptable. I, on the other hand, had no intention of continuing a duel without knowing the proper rules.
I raised my free hand. “Sorry, I didn’t quite hear over the–“
I felt Prince Valencio move away from me. His boots clicking. Damn, it started and I didn’t know what to do. I spun around, held up the pistol with both hands and fired right into the Prince’s back. He went down with a thud and a clatter.
A dead silence fell on the airship. Everyone just stood there with their mouths opened as Valencio twitched. He started to push himself up to his feet. Apparently even though I had a free shot, I’d managed to hit the one place in his back that wouldn’t instantly kill him.
“You dishonorable–” Valencio’s hand quivered as he raised up the pistol to blast, nearly point blank. I imagined my brains exiting out the back of my head and quite ruining the clothing of the men behind me. I supposed they wouldn’t have minded.
But the cannon boomed again. A sharp crack split the air followed by an explosion of splinters. Smoke drifted everywhere and crew members ran in all directions. Where Prince Valencio stood only moments before, there was a gaping red hole. One of his boots lie sideways on the deck, smoking.
“Oh, well that was quite lucky, I have to say.”
In the chaos, I ran to the ship’s wheel. A stocky fellow squared off with me, wide-eyed and chomping his teeth. I threw a salted fish that managed to lodge itself into my vest and its tail slapped across his face. Good enough. I kicked him aside and took control of the wheel, spinning it so wildly that it lurched and dumped some of the men overboard. Fencer dragon food, for sure. If I had a chance, I most definitely wanted to see what their feeding frenzy looked like.
We got closer and closer to the Sol del Sol until the two ships collided. More men fell overboard on both ships and I hit the deck hard. I got up, swiping away blood from my broken nose. “Broke it another place? Well, damn.”
I saw Callisto and Romero rush on board the Santa Maria swinging their swords and doing their best bit of swashbuckling. I watched in admiration as they overtook the remainder of the crew and even tossed the Brigandlander overboard. I peeked over the rail and watched as the circling Fencer dragons gobbled him up, some taking his legs and some his arms. It was as fascinating as I imagined.
When all was done, the men managed to abandon the Sol del Sol. I observed its graceful, violent descent down to the earth, a pale fiery wreck most likely about to ruin some poor chap’s brunch.
“Shit on a stick, but you did it, Pedro,” Romero said, clapping me on the shoulder. “Truth be told, I expected you to splatter right on the deck here. Thought it might be a good enough distraction for us to get closer and get on board. But here you are, whole and most assuredly unsplattered.”
“I am quite thankful to be unsplattered. And not being eaten, mind you.”
“What do you say about becoming a full time member of our crew? We could use a brave soul like you. Daring, adventurous, can fly through the air and not become a red stain across the wood.”
I considered it for a moment and said, “Perhaps I’m better off dealing with my ex-girlfriends.”
“Oh, the bounty hunter witches, right.” Romero folded his arms. “Exactly how did you end up in that situation, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Perhaps that’s a tale for another time,” I said. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to find a fresh pair of pantaloons.”