The firelight danced across the floorboards as Baen and I made our way slowly down the walkway of the dry dock. It was only a few dozen metres, but it seemed to be taking us forever to make even the slightest bit of progress, and I felt a thin runnel of blood trickle down my lip as my nose began to bleed with the exertion of maintaining the illusion. With a struggle, I forced my glamour to hide that too.
There were Lionguard everywhere, no more than a dozen in total, but spread out and wary, searching for signs of intruders. Tatianna’s distraction had apparently worked, possibly too well, and now it was only a matter of hoping that none of the Lionguard would come too near us or ask what we were doing. Baen and Grapple both remained dutifully silent, and in so far as I could tell the wounded fernhound didn’t so much as twitch as she was carried. I was grateful for the beast’s intelligence now that it wasn’t tormenting me.
A shout behind us nearly stopped my heart, but a quick glance from Baen showed it was nothing either of us had to worry about and we pressed on. Ahead lay the workshop that we had stashed the unconscious Lionguard in and with it the promise of safety. If we could make it that far, we could slip into the warehouses and workshops that surrounded the dry docks and disappear.
Step by agonizingly slow step the workshop drew closer, and along with the aching in my skull I tried to ignore the ice forming in my gut, telling me that something was going to go terribly wrong long before we reached it. I concentrated, trying to focus on nothing but moving with the glamours, and then we were there, passing the darkened workshop that still shrouded our victims’ passed out forms.
“Almost clear.” Baen said quietly, and nudged me around a corner. “Just take us a little further. Around that corner.” I didn’t have the energy to answer, and when we slipped around the next corner I dropped the illusions and sagged back against the wall. “You alright?”
“I’ll be fine.” My head was throbbing, and as I wiped at my mouth my hand came back smeared dark red. “That’s the first time I’ve done something that complicated.”
“My fault.” Baen said. “I should have considered the possibility that she’d be on board. Eh, girl?” Grapple licked her mistress’s chin, and I let out a long breath of relief. “Don’t get too relaxed.” She warned. “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
“How far is the warehouse from here?”
“Not far.” She said, pointing. “Maybe ten minutes at a walk.” Coalpaw and Tatianna had promised to rendezvous with us in the same warehouse we had hidden in before. “Can you make it? We can’t afford to stay here.”
“I’ll be fine.” I said. “My head hurts, but I’m fine.”
“Let’s just go.”
“Found your pet too, huh?” Coalpaw was waiting alone at the warehouse and had led us up to the loft. We hid in the darkness, watching over a large, empty square through the overlooking loading window, waiting for Tatianna and keeping an eye out for any Lionguard. The Covenant’s captain had led her pursuers on a long chase, according to Coalpaw, and would circle back once she’d lost them in a more populated region of the city. “I was worried about the little guy.”
“She was hiding on the ship.” I said, pretending to keep watch while using Coalpaw’s eyes and adjusting my spectacles as I did.
“Clever girl.” Coalpaw grunted. “How’s she doing?”
“She’ll be fine.” Baen said, an edge of steel to her voice. “Which is more than what I can say for Fiegrsonn when I get my hands on him.” She was knelt beside Grapple, gingerly going over the hound’s body, looking for further injuries.
“Careful going after that one.” Coalpaw warned. “He’s about as friendly as he looks.”
“He’s going to look a lot worse.” She promised darkly, and I couldn’t help but smile. The charr barked a short laugh.
“Well I’m not going to be the one who discourages you.” He said, then his tone grew more sober. “How’d the ship look?”
“Not well.” I said. “Inside was gutted. They broke open every crate and ransacked Tatianna’s cabin.” He issued a low growl at that.
“She is not going to be happy about that.” He said. “Neither am I.”
“What happened to her? The ship, I mean. Why’s she not in the water?” Coalpaw didn’t answer for a long moment, and I was about repeat myself when he sighed deeply.
“There was an accident.” He said, his tone oddly diminished. “A little more than a year ago now. We were celebrating the anniversary of our independence when something went wrong.”
“Independence?” Baen echoed, looking up at the charr’s face.
“Aye. I suppose it’s only right that you know since you’re sitting here with me.” He answered, then cleared his throat. “For years we – that is the captain, me, Fotti and couple others- worked for Mishael Levaunt. I was bosun on The Cloven Maiden, the flagship of his three-strong little fleet. Captain Aurcattio, back then, was his second mate, just below Sahir, who you’ve met. She was one of Levaunt’s favourites, and he liked her so much and was so impressed by her that he allowed her to design and build her own ship and sail under him as a captain in her own right. That’s where The Covenant was born, and she picked me as her First Mate.” His lips curled into what I assumed passed for a charr smile. “Thing is, The Covenant turned out to be a better ship than the Maiden and the other two ships in Levaunt’s little fleet, or at least it was captained and crewed better. We realised we were doing more than half of the work and still giving Levaunt more than half of what we earned. So one day the captain takes some of us aside and we decide, as a crew, to start saving our share of the money in order to buy not only the ship but our independence from him.”
“That explains what happened in the Undermarket.” I said, and Coalpaw nodded.
“Levaunt likes to be thought of as someone who plays by the rules and let us buy our way out, but the man hates losing and he knows he was soundly beaten.” He said. “Worse than that, he knows he’s the one that made it happen by giving the captain the ship. Stings for a man like him.”
“I’ll bet.” I had to admit I took certain pleasure in the thought of a man like Mishael Levaunt’s unhappiness. “Why did he favour her so much though? Were they lovers?”
“Not in the slightest.” Coalpaw chuckled. “That captain isn’t interested in… men like him.” Baen looked at me, both of us clearly wondering what that meant but I decided it wasn’t worth the asking. Maybe I didn’t want to know. “He wanted her, that was obvious, but Levaunt thinks of himself as a civilized man and wouldn’t try to force himself on her. So, he tried to woo her with gifts and trinkets, praise and all that. The gifts included that little bauble you retrieved for us. Apparently it was something important to him and he hoped it’s significance wouldn’t be lost on the captain. It would have been funny to watch if it hadn’t been so pathetic.”
“I can imagine.” The thought brought a smile to my face.
“But then things started getting hard.” He said. “It costs money to keep a ship running, and what started out as a small loan to cover our expeditions turned into larger and larger debt. A few people blamed the captain, but most of us were as broke as she was so it wasn’t difficult to realise she was caught in the same trap as we were. Then the… accident happened.” He tried to mask it by clearing his throat again, but the brief pause was obvious. “A little more than a year ago, like I said. We managed to limp back to Lion’s Arch and The Covenant’s been on stilts ever since. We’ve been trying to save enough money to get her repaired and back afloat, but with our debts climbing higher and fee we pay the dock for keeping her at all it’s not been easy to make any headway. We find work and money where we can and try to look out for those of the crew that are having more difficulty than we are.”
“How many of you are left?”
“Nine. The rest are dead or found work elsewhere, and I don’t blame them.” He said. “The captain and I share what money we can make to keep them fed when they can’t work themselves, but we don’t have much to go around. We’ve tried selling what we own, but Levaunt’s bitterness makes that difficult.”
“Like The Winterbird?”
“I was repairing the engine for the Bird’s late captain – one of the little jobs I’d managed to pick up.” He answered. “Then the captain turns up dead and I haven’t been paid. Next thing I know the first mate approaches me and tells me the ship is mine. He’s dead the next morning, and half the crew vanish or wind up dead themselves. So I have a ship I can’t afford to crew or repair that no-one wants to buy because either they don’t have the money, don’t want a broken ship or are in Levaunt’s pocket. On top of that I have to pay not only the dock’s tax for mooring there, but we all have to pay Levaunt – or some other bastard – whenever we want to use one of their contacts or fences. As a result when we’re not in debt to The Mis we’re in debt to someone else who’s probably in debt to the bastard.”
“Then where does this Misericorde fit into all this?” I asked. “What’s the deal with him and Mishael?”
“Levaunt’s probably scared of him because he’s just as much in debt as the rest of us and he knows the noose is closing in around him too. Or he’s just too blind to see it.” He shook his head again, then his expression grew more thoughtful. “Though there’s third option.”
“A lot of people flocked to the Levaunt side of things when the debts started getting worse, wanting to side with power and all that.” He said. “His organisation has almost doubled in size in the last six months.”
“So the person who might have benefited the most from The Misericorde’s rise to power might be Levaunt himself?”
“That’s the third, and fourth, possibility.” Coalpaw agreed. “Either he’s working with The Mis or he is The Mis.”