Fresh ships had come in during the day, and with the promise of rain on the horizon the docks were crowded with hurrying sailors and busy dock hands, urged on by their bellowing masters. I had needed to take a moment to prepare myself for the mass of eyes, but it had been easier than I had expected. Being forced to expose my talents to crowds like the ones I had been since coming to Lion’s Arch had apparently been good for me.
The members of The Covenant’s crew that we found on the docks were a pair of humans named Wilhar and Syman, and a young female charr named Laissa Silverclaw. The three skulked about at an alley corner like villains from a childhood story, just out of the sight of the docks. They greeted Coalpaw and Fotti with obvious respect, but eyed us suspiciously until we were introduced, and even then seemed reluctant to speak openly.
“I didn’t see anything.” Wilhar admitted after a growl from an impatient Coalpaw. “But Laissa here heard something.” He shrugged, and the younger charr grunted as she turned to us.
“Someone said they saw the captain, sir.” She said. “Not by name, but a woman that matched her description getting into one of the boats.”
“Where did she go?” Coalpaw pressed, looming over the smaller Silverclaw. “To The Maiden? Did Levaunt’s people take her? What happened?”
“Calm down.” Baen stepped forward, moving between The Covenant’s first mate and the other charr. “Laissa, are you sure it was the captain?”
“Fairly sure.” She said after a moment’s hesitation, giving Baen a long look first. “The description fit, down to her clothing. She was wearing that old coat of hers, according to the sailors I talked to.”
“Alright. Tell us what happened – where did they see her?”
“On the docks, boarding a long boat with a group of men, apparently armed. Maybe two hours ago.” Laissa said. “I didn’t have much more to go on, so I was trying to find out more, but everyone’d told us to lay low so I didn’t want to get noisy.”
“Levaunt. It has to be him I knew it!” Coalpaw snarled, his fist slamming into a wall, and the three visibly quailed in the face of his rage. “I knew it! That slime! That Krait sucking, gutter born, piece of filth! He’s got her!”
“We don’t know know if it’s Levaunt.” Baen began, but Coalpaw cut her off with another snarl.
“Where else would she be going!?” He demanded, thrusting a paw out towards the open water. “Levaunt’s got her! She’s-”
“Even if it is him, we had a plan.” Baen snapped, cutting him off sharply. “We do this with cool heads.”
“We need to find a way to get aboard The Maiden and we need to do it now.”
“Sir, hold on a minute.” Fotti said, cutting him off, and he rounded on her, eyes flashing with rage.
“What!? Fotti, we…” He trailed off as he realised that the asura was staring through the now-detached scope of her rifle. I could see it as well, but in the rain it was hard to tell what she was seeing. A hazy, faintly glowing shape out on the horizon, the details obscured in what I suspected was an oncoming storm.
“What are you looking at?” I asked, only partially feigning ignorance.
“The Maiden.” The asura said. “And it appears to be on fire.” Coalpaw stared for a moment, then I saw his massive jaw set. He rolled his shoulders and a low, feral growl slipped from his maw. He shared a quick look with Baen, who nodded in silent agreement.
“We’re going. Now.” His tone invited no dispute, and no-one voiced one. Instead, we followed behind him, hurrying to keep up as he broke into a loping jog, aiming for a rickety boat and a gawking old sailor who stood beside it. “We need your boat.” The charr growled, bowling the man aside without slowing his stride.
The old man shouted at us, but Baen grabbed a few coins from her belt and tossed it at the man with an apology and a promise to return the craft. The amount of silver was exorbitant for what could only charitably be called a dinghy, and it shut the swarthy sailor up as he scrambled for the glinting coins. We heard no further complaint from him as the seven of us piled into the boat, cast off, and began rowing hard for The Cloven Maiden.
“The ship’s clearly in disarray.” Fotti was saying, still studying The Cloven Maiden as we drew ever closer to it. “There is a large conflagration on the fore upper deck, the mainsail is also on fire with smaller blazes all along the rest of the ship. The crew clearly does not have it under control. Also, it is difficult to tell but I believe I am seeing muzzle flares. Either that or powder detonations from the the flames.”
“That’s gunfire.” Laissa confirmed. “I can hear it.”
“We go in weapons ready.” Coalpaw growled. “If it’s not the captain, get it out of the way or make it dead. If there’s chaos on deck it’s probably ’cause she’s trying to escape, so keep an eye on the water in case she’s trying to swim. Otherwise, we head for the brig and work our way out from there.”
“We stick together.” Baen said, her voice level, calm. “No matter what. We move together, as a team.” There was muttered acknowledgment. “Coalpaw, you’re the biggest so you’ve got point.” He growled in agreement. “You three, can you fight?” She turned to look at Wilhar, Syman, and Laissa. The charr grunted and patted the cutlass at her waist, and the other two nodded.
“They can fight.” Fotti said. “Everyone in our crew is at least passably capable of that.”
“Good.” Baen said, nodding. “Laissa, you’re right behind Coalpaw then. Kaede, Wilhar, Syman, you’re in the middle. Cover the charr. I’m the rear guard, anything that comes at us from behind leave it to me unless I call for help. Fotti, how are you in close quarters?”
“Not as good as I am at a distance.” The sniper admitted. “But I can certainly hold my own.” To accentuate her point she drew a small but brutish looking pistol. “I’ll take up position on deck and make sure our boat isn’t pilfered by any of the crew as they try to flee.” She glared at Baen, as if daring her to challenge her decision, but my partner just shrugged and nodded.
“You all heard her.” I said. “Stick to the plan, stay together, and we’ll be fine.”
“When we find the captain, we get back to the boat as quickly as we can.” Baen went on. “No heroics, no vendettas, no hunting for Levaunt or anyone else. We get her, we get back onto the boat and hope to the Six that everyone’s too confused to notice us.”
“The most important thing to do is stay calm.” I said, noting that the Wilhar and Syman in particular seemed nervous. “Listen to what we say, and don’t think too much. If everything goes according to plan none of us will have to do any actual fighting.”
We were getting closer by the moment, Coalpaw’s hard rowing propelling us towards the now clearly burning Maiden, and the closer we got the more obvious it was becoming that there was a substantial battle occurring on the ship. Gunfire was clearly audible over the blaze, as was the sound of men and women shouting. Perhaps Tatianna had somehow divided the crew, manipulated them into fighting amongst themselves, or perhaps The Misericorde had decided to make a move on Levaunt now that he was isolated. Maybe Tatianna wasn’t even aboard at all. Maybe she had nothing to do with this.
Something cold twisted in my gut, like there was something vitally important that I was on the verge of understanding, something that kept itself just out of reach.
I was going against my own own advice and thinking too much. The mission was simple; board the ship, discover if Tatianna was there, save her if she was, then get her out with everyone back alive. There was no point in worrying about anything else till that was done. The resolution didn’t help much, but it got my breathing calm and regular again, and I felt myself hoping that something did go wrong with the plan. A fight would help clear my mind.
I moved my hand across the pommel of my gun, finger tips dancing over the smooth surface, breathing steadily in and out as the burning ship drew closer and and closer. I noted Baen gave me a long look, as she did every time we had the chance to prepare for battle, and I responded with a small nod.
The Maiden, burning, spitting fire and screams, gunfire and chaos, loomed before us.