I landed in the mud, almost falling on my backside as my feet slipped and only barely catching myself on the line. Baen was beside me, blinking rapidly to force her eyes to adjust to the darkness more quickly.
The Covenant, supported on diagonal wooden beams, loomed above us like a tear in the night. A black bulk that seemed less sleek and more monstrous this close. I tried not to remind myself that all it would take was a single loose support for the thing to roll in its bay and crush the two of us to a pulp. I didn’t like the thought of dying, but if I had to go being crushed was one of the worst ways I could imagine.
We moved as quickly as we dared. Most of the torchlight didn’t reach us here, and though Baen’s eyes were good we couldn’t move too swiftly through the murk. Tatianna and Coalpaw had told us exactly where the hole in the hull was, but against the blackness of the ship it took us nearly ten minutes of searching to find it, and a further five to find a way to clamber inside without disturbing the beams too much. For all Coalpaw’s assurances about its stability, neither Baen nor I wanted to test just how sturdy the supports were.
Tatianna’s directions had been very clear. The breach would take us to the cargo hold, about twenty paces from the entrance Coalpaw had led us down yesterday, which was the only way in and out besides the large opening in the deck -now covered- for loading cargo via crane. Tatianna’s description had included many technical terms regarding a ship’s anatomy that I had mostly ignored in favour of their description. By ship standards I might have found The Covenant attractive, but I did not have much interest in sailing as anything more than a method of transportation.
The hold was dark, nearly pitch black and the tar-sealed boards muffled the sounds of excitement above. The only light was a faint, flickering glow that filtered through the bead curtain that I remembered lead to the captain’s cabin up ahead. Baen and I crept quickly along, making our way past the crates, noting that each one had been violently broken open. Looted, no doubt, by Fiegrsonn and his men, but the worst of the damage became apparent when we passed through the bead curtain and stepped into Tatianna’s cabin.
The room had been utterly trashed. Tatianna’s books lay scattered about the floor, two of the bookshelves had been toppled. Her trinkets and baubles were spread throughout the room, many of them broken. Clearly everything valuable had been taken and the rest discarded. I was sure Tatianna would be enraged at the violation of her home, her property, and justifiably so. Had anything like this happened to my home I would have been beyond livid.
Fortunately for us whomever had been here was now gone, leaving only a flickering candle on Tatianna’s desk. Baen went to the far left corner, and with a grunt pushed one of the few standing bookshelves out of the way. I winced as it ground against the floorboards, the quiet noise seeming abnormally loud in the darkness.
We crouched, our fingers roving across the floor, searching for the hidden panel Tatianna had told us would be there. I heard her hiss in triumph, and a moment later her long knife slipped out of her boot, and with a little coaxing she pried the small square cut of wood free. I reached into the hole, my fingers touching cold metal. I found a small ring, hooked my finger through it and lifted the small strongbox out. Baen had swung her pack around and I deposited the box inside.
I realised there were at least two people on the deck above us. The Lionguard were returning. I touched Baen’s shoulder and held up two fingers before pointing skywards. She nodded, her vision bobbing up and down.
Then suddenly she was rising, leaving the pack – and me – behind. I nearly swore in surprise and confusion as I realised she was making her way to the entrance. “Where are you going!?” I hissed as loudly as I dared, but she gave no answer, darting silently out of the room.
I couldn’t see myself, could only operate on feel, and had to fight back the rising swell of panic as I reached blindly around me. “Baen!” I hissed again, trying to keep the quaver from my voice. She had left me. I could still see through her eyes, so I knew she was close, but why had she left me? My mind went back to our argument on the roof. Something glimmered in her vision, something wet and glistening, and a moment later I realised she was coming back towards the light, back towards me.
“By the Six, what was that!?” I demanded quietly as she returned, trying to keep the relief I was feeling buried beneath the anger in my voice. In response she only looked down, and I was looking at Grapple’s canine face. My anger faded, somewhat. “You could have said something.”
“Thought I heard her.” She whispered. “Wasn’t sure if I was right.”
“I… fine.” I sighed. “Let’s get out of here.”
“We can’t.” She said, her tone hard. “She’s hurt.” Looking more closely, I noted Grapple had one of her front legs up, paw hanging. Her breathing seemed somewhat more ragged than usual as well, and I detected a slight whining in it.
My mind raced. Baen couldn’t climb the rope with Grapple in hand, and the fern hound couldn’t make a dash for safety in her state, even if we conjured a distraction. The pack was clearly too small for the beast, and there was no time to fashion a harness to carry her as we climbed, which left us with only one real option; slipping out through the breach and taking the service stairs used by workmen to leave The Covenant‘s bay. It was risky, practically suicidal, but it was all we had. There were at least two guards directly above us, and from their eyes I could tell others were not far off. The dry dock was far from empty.
“Alright.” I whispered, mostly to myself. “Alright.” I knew that there were mesmers who could make not only themselves but nearby comrades invisible for short periods of time, but it was the one field of study I had real difficulty with. If I were invisible, I couldn’t see myself through the eyes of others and had to operate entirely by feel, leaving me slow and all but robbing me of any advantage I might have gained from it. Elsif had insisted I at least learn the basics, but what little had worked for me would likely do me no good now.
An idea came, and I felt a grimace creep onto my face. “Back to the breach.” I whispered. Baen looked at me for a moment, then nodded and led the way in a half-crouch, Grapple limping along behind.
We slipped out of the ship, back into the mud, and Baen lifted Grapple into her arms as we approached the stairs. “Walk normally. Don’t run, don’t draw any attention to us, keep your eyes on the path ahead and don’t talk to me.” I whispered, gathering myself. “I’m not sure how long I can maintain this and I’ll have to concentrate. Look at me for a second.” She obeyed, and in the faint light I removed my glasses and carefully pocketed them. Some quick work with a string of lace borrowed from my collar and some pins from my braid turned my hair into short bob, which I tucked under my workman’s cap. I took a deep breath.
I had never tried disguising myself this way before. Most of the illusionary faces I had crafted for myself had been simple changes – a glamour to mask my blind eyes, for example. A simple change. Those illusions were tricky enough as it was, since they had to move with me down to the very movement of my facial muscles.
This was different, more complex, in a way. My face could stay the same, save for a quick adjustment to my eyes, but my clothing started to change. My breeches became plate mail, my blouse a tarnished breastplate and my cap and hair shimmered till they resembled a simple helm.
“Grapple.” I hissed, and Baen dutifully looked down at the creature in her arms. The hound’s image flickered, and a moment later she was a roughly-hound shaped burlap sack. I was grateful that Baen had already stolen a coat for herself, breaking up her silhouette enough that it would fool most at the distance. I quickly formed the image of a tricorn hat, popular amongst the Lionguard, on her head.
“Walk.” I hissed through gritted teeth, my head already starting to ache with the effort as we made our way up the stairs and into the light. Just two more Lionguard.