“Lionguard.” Coalpaw growled, rising to his feet. “I-” Tatianna raised a hand, and the charr fell dutifully silent.
“What can I do for you, Deputy Fiegrsonn?” She asked. “Last I checked you can’t come barging into a home – and this ship is my home – without a valid reason. Why not share it before threatening me and my friends?” The norn’s dirty matted braids of black hair waved about his squat, scarred face as he laughed.
“Captain Aurcattio.” He cleared his throat. “You’re under arrest for the trafficking of illicit goods, theft, but mostly just for being a filthy scumsucking pirate whore.” Fiegrsonn seemed entirely focused on Tatianna, and Baen’s eyes were moving quickly back and forth, studying the three norn while searching for another exit. She looked to me, and I gave a small, almost imperceptible, shake of my head.
Above us there were at least three other lionguard, close enough to let me see through their eyes, and from what I could tell they were all heavily armoured and armed to the teeth. Fighting our way out of this was not an option, not without not only exposing myself but blowing our cover completely. But being arrested didn’t strike me as a valid option either. We had just gotten here, just begun our work, and I wasn’t about to give that up easily. My determination, however, wasn’t going to find us a way out of this. Still, if it came down to it I’d kill Fiegrsonn first and Baen and I could test our chances with the rest. Already, I was considering just how quickly I could draw my pistol and kill the deputy before the other two were on us.
“That’s quite a list, deputy.” Tatianna asked, her jaw set in a hard line. “Care to prove any of it?”
“Oh, I’ve got all the proof I need. Credible witnesses go a long way, and now I’ve got you.” He said, his smile infuriatingly smug. “So, are you going to come quietly or are you and your friends going to give me and mine the excuse we’re hoping for?”
“I make an honest living selling baubles and trinkets.” She said. “I provide a home to my old crew who work as best they can to make a living here. I’ve done nothing wrong, and I demand to see some evidence before you arrest me.”
“Don’t think he’s interested in evidence, captain.” Coalpaw muttered, edging closer to Tatianna.
“I wouldn’t have pegged the charr as the smart one.” Fiegrsonn said. “Boys?” There was a rattle as the two norn on either side, both as swarthy and scarred as their leader, stepped forward. Neither of them drew weapons, but a look at the massive, steel-clad bodies would have intimidated anyone and single punch or slap from one of those armoured gauntlets would be enough to end any fight Baen or I could put up. “Last chance, Aurcattio.” Fiegrsonn looked over the rest of us. “You lot too. Put your hands behind your heads or we get to have a little fun with you.” He looked first at Baen, then me, up and down. “A lot of fun, I think.” Grapple growled, coming forward, but Baen put a hand on her neck and the mutt fell back, eyeing the grinning giant balefully.
“Fine.” Tatianna’s eyes narrowed, and her voice grew hard. “If that’s the way of it.” She nodded to Coalpaw, who seemed to sag a little, his arms lowering to hang loose at his waist.
“Smart move.” Fiegrsonn turned back to her. “But a pity.”
“Not that smart.”
Coalpaw moved then, faster than I could have imagined, hurling something small and dark from his belt at the lionguard. It struck Fiergsonn’s breastplate with the sound like a glass the size of a mansion being shattered, so loud it felt like a physical blow, and a flash of brilliant light seared Baen’s vision white.
I cried out and almost fell, dazed and deafened by the blast, barely registering that there were at least two sets of eyes that could still see. I felt a furred forearm wrap around my waist, bodily lift me off the ground, and squeeze me tightly as the nauseating jostling of Coalpaw’s running began.
I couldn’t hear much of anything beyond the ringing in my ears, but the confusion was starting to fade as I realised that Coalpaw was carrying me under one arm and racing across The Covenant‘s deck. Bursts of light I recognised as muzzle flares flashed here and there in the dark, and Coalpaw ducked into cover behind the pilot’s cabin. I saw Tatianna through his eyes, saw her mouth move as she shouted something and noted, to my relief, that her arm was wrapped around a dazed and clearly still blinded Baen. Her eyes were starting to clear up, but in my own confusion it was hard to tell who was who now and who was seeing what.
Similarly, there was no way to make out what Tatianna and Coalpaw were saying, but a moment later Baen was haphazardly slung over the charr’s shoulder as he gripped me tighter, and the running began again. He vaulted over the edge of the ship, leaping across to a piece of scaffolding and somehow not crashing straight through it, splinters erupting into the air as bullets whizzed dangerously close to us.
My hearing was just starting to return when Coalpaw reached the edge of the drydock, and wheeled sharply into an alley between two workshops. I had a moment to realise he was fleeing into an district of warehouses when my head struck something, hard. Pain exploded in my skull and neck, and I’m fairly certain I managed to cry out before merciful blackness closed in.
I was lying on my back on a hard floor, something passably soft propped under my head as a makeshift pillow when I suddenly became aware that I was awake.
Nausea washed over me, and I immediately rolled over onto my hands and knees to retch violently, bile and whatever forgotten thing I had eaten rising and splattering against the floor. Voices buzzed, though I couldn’t make sense of what they were saying. Baen, I thought, maybe, looking down at me in the dark as I vomited besides a stack of large crates. But why was Baen here? Where was here? This wasn’t my bedroom. Should I call for Maei? The question faded into grey as my head swam, my sense of balance rolling back and forth and terrible pain roared through my skull. I barely managed to roll onto my back again before sinking back into unconsciousness.
When I came to again I recognised Baen’s hand wiping a wet cloth across my mouth, wiping away the flecks of vomit. I reached up, tried to stop her, but my arm just spasmed wildly instead of obeying me. I looked at myself, noting my spectacles were only slightly bent out of shape but that still-drying blood was starting to cake on my forehead. A moment of panic surged through me as stories of paralysed soldiers came to mind. I tried to move my arm again, but Baen’s hand closed on my wrist.
“Easy.” Her voice was no longer an incoherent buzz, though the sound did send ripples of pain through my head. “You took a pretty hard knock to your pretty skull.”
“I… what happened?” I managed, and fighting through the nausea and the throbbing pain tried to remember how we had gotten here. “And what hit me?”
“I did. In a way.” Coalpaw said quietly, crouching beside me. It was a testament to just how dazed I still was that I hadn’t really registered a second set of eyes. “There was a spar or something, your head must have slammed into it.” He gave a shrug of his massive shoulders. “Sorry about that.”
“Coalpaw carried us both out to get away from the lionguard.” Baen explained. “He had you slung under his arm, your head must have hit something while he was running.”
“Why… why carry us?” My head physically hurt with the effort of trying to remember. “Wait… I remember the lionguard. What was his name? Fiegrsonn?”
“Deputy Fiegrsonn.” Coalpaw confirmed. “I hit him and his friends with what I like to call a stun grenade. A little something of my own design; a loud bang, a bright flash and none of the fatal side effects you normally get with those things.” There was more than a hint of pride in his tone. “Doesn’t kill, but will leave anyone not ready for it dazed for a minute or two. Captain Aurcattio and I have used them to get out of a few tight scrapes in the past, so she knew it was coming, but there was no time to warn either of you. That’s why I had to carry you.”
“Without him we’d be arrested.” Baen said, shrugging. “Or dead.”
“I… yes. Thank you.” I lifted a hand to my temple, trying to process what I’d just been told. “I’m grateful, but I have to ask: why save us?” Coalpaw grunted.
“You might not have exchanged coins with the captain and I, but we’re in business.” He said. “That means we have a contract of sorts. An agreement that we don’t turn on one another and we don’t leave one another behind.”
“And where’s Tatianna?”
“She lead the lionguard off in a different direction then circled back here. At the moment she’s keeping watch from the loft.” He pointed upwards.
“Right.” I said, taking a few deep breaths.
The pain wasn’t fading, but at least the nausea was subsiding somewhat. I only hoped my memory would return completely before too long. I’d been knocked out before, and these moments of fog could last for hours or, as had once occurred to me, weeks of going in and out of grey patches. “On that note, where are we and how long have I been out for?”
“A warehouse.” He said.
“I can see that.”
“And you’ve been out for a little less than an hour.” He went on, apparently ignoring my sarcasm. “The lionguard have been searching the area for us, but they’re not out in force. Apparently Fiegrsonn could only muster about a dozen men.”
“I assume you have a plan then?”
“There’s a boat coming.” Baen said. “This warehouse has a loading hatch over the water. We’ll drop into it and quietly paddle away.”
“Captain Aurcattio made sure every one of us knew our escape plan if the law came knocking.” Coalpaw rumbled. “She signalled Fotti, so she should be along soon.”
“Right then.” I braced myself on my elbow and pushed myself up, gritting my teeth against the pain. “I-”
“No no, none of that.” A great paw landed on my collar bone and pushed me gently but firmly back to the ground. “You stay. Rest, and try not to vomit on your colleague here. No sense in trying to move till the boat gets here.”
“Kaede.” Baen’s voice cut in, hard. “He’s right, you know it, so just stay put. There’s nothing to do but wait anyway.”
“I… ” I started, but my head started to swim again and I sagged back. “Fine. Fine, I’ll wait.”
“Good.” Coalpaw said, removing his paw. “Now try and stay awake. I’m going to check on the captain.” He rose to his feet and padded noiselessly away.
I waited until he was out of sight, then let out a long breath. “You still have the satchel?”
“Right here.” Baen replied. “You didn’t miss anything, apart from how we’re now wanted by the lionguard and have officially fallen in with criminals.”
“Not a bad start.” I muttered, and Baen gave a soft laugh. “Where’s Grapple?”
“I’m not sure.” Baen’s laughter died. “She was in the cabin with us when the charr’s grenade went off. Tatianna dragged me out, by the time I could see again he had me slung over his shoulder like a sack of meal.”
“I’m sure she’s fine.” I offered, uncomfortable with the sentiment. I didn’t like the fernhound, but I scarcely wanted her killed. “The beast’s gotten out of worse scrapes.”
“True.” Baen sighed, and though I couldn’t read her expression I could imagine the small smile she forced onto her face. “I suppose she-” There was a sharp rap on the floor and Baen was on her feet, hatchet in hand. “Stay put.” She hissed, scanning the darkness.
A muffled voice sounded, vaguely familiar, and a moment later there was a heavy thud as Coalpaw descended from the loft. “Stand down, Baen.” He said. “It’s Fotti with our exit out of this mess.”