I climbed the rope, hand over hand, going steadily upwards as I surveyed the scene through Coalpaw’s eyes. He’d already made it over The Maiden’s railing and now crouched warily on the deck. The air was thick with smoke, and the angry light from the flickering fires coloured the billowing clouds, reducing visibility to almost nothing. Lights and shadows played back and forth, dancing, further illuminated by the occasional flash of gunfire.
Coalpaw looked over the edge of the railing, saw me, and reached down. I took his paw, and allowed him to haul me up the rest of the way. “Stay low.” He ordered. “We’re in a blind spot here, but stray bullets…” He trailed off.
“Right.” I said, drawing my gun and my sword as he proceeded to help the rest of our band onto the ship.
“Stick together. Stay focused.” Baen said when all of us had gathered. “Coalpaw, let’s go.”
“Let’s.” The charr growled.
We moved as a group, and I was happily surprised to find that the three newcomers had little difficulty keeping up. Coalpaw, like all charr, I knew to have some military training and I had understood that most of The Covenant’s crew probably had some experience with combat but I had to admit I was impressed by the way they moved. It wasn’t anything up to the standards of precision demanded from the professional soldiers I had encountered in my time or the training that the Order of Whispers had give Baen and I, but it was more than I had dared to hope for.
Fotti, who’s training I didn’t dare to guess at, had more than proven her abilities so far and to be honest I did feel safer with her holding the fort. Even with the smoke, the sheer presence of a sniper of her talent covering what I suspected would be a hasty retreat made me feel marginally better about what was essentially a terribly haphazard plan. In truth, I knew none of us could be certain that Tatianna was even aboard.
We made our way into the depths of the ship, on our way to the brig, all the while still hearing the occasional sound of gunfire along with muffled screams and shouts. Over the sound of crackling fire and the groans of the dying ship, however, it was impossible to tell just where the sounds were coming from.
As we drew closer to the brig, something else became apparent, something familiar. It was Coalpaw who noticed it first, and at the visible wrinkling of his nose I noticed it as well. The same stench that had filled the basement where we had interrogated Sahir, the same rank miasma that had heralded the necromantic shamblers. Coalpaw grunted wordlessly when we pointed it out to him, warning the ad hoc rescue party of the new danger.
“Don’t try and kill them if you see them.” Baen said. “Go for the legs, knock them down and move on.”
“They’re stronger than they look.” I added. “Don’t let them get a hold of you.”
“Do you think the necromancer is here?” Wilhar asked, nervously scratching at his dirty blond beard.
“Probably.” Baen said. “A necro strong enough could control their minions from shore, I suppose. But chances are they’re on this boat.”
“Gods… what’re we going to do?”
“It doesn’t matter.” Coalpaw growled. “We’re here to get the captain, that’s all. Don’t get distracted – the necromancer isn’t important.” We rounded a corner together, and I saw his eyes sweep the darkened interior of the brig. “What happened here?”
A cursory glance revealed six bodies – norn and charr among them – scattered around the darkened room. The cells were empty, though all yawned open and what little furniture there was had been broken or lay strewn about. Obvious signs of a struggle, as if the bodies weren’t enough of a clue.
“She’s not here.” Coalpaw growled as we studied the fallen.
“Maybe she escaped?” Laissa offered.
“And took out all her guards alone?” Coalpaw asked. “She’s good, but they were armed, she was locked up, and there were six of them.”
“Seven.” Baen said, kneeling besides a grey form of a seventh body, and though I walked over for the sake of keeping my secret I knew exactly why she had called out to me, and I felt something cold settle in my gut.
“What is…” Coalpaw trailed off as he joined us, crouching beside the dehydrated corpse of the pirate. “What happened to him?”
“The same thing that happened to Fiegrsson.” I said as he stared at the shriveled husk. “The creature. That’s what did this. It’s here, on this ship.” A low snarl sounded in Coalpaw’s throat, and he turned to his crew mates, who stared down at the corpse with shocked expressions.
“What creature?” Wilhar asked, Syman agreeing with nervous nods.“What’s going on? What’s this got to do with the necromancer?”
“The monster that almost sunk The Covenant?” Coalpaw growled. “Baen and Kaede here fought it. It’s been in Lion’s Arch, maybe all along.”
“By the Six… that thing’s here?” Syman’s eyes were wide. “We have to get out of here!”
“If the creature is here it’s even more important that we find the captain.” The charr rose, looming over him, and the human quailed. “When she’s safe we can think about putting the monster down. If she’s here, we need to move-” Coalpaw fell suddenly silent as a gurgling rasp, loud and sickening, suddenly sounded from somewhere in the darkness. Weapons were raised as we whirled, almost as one, to face the shambler as it stumbled from the darkness, the green glow becoming brighter as it came into view.
“Keep your distance.” Baen said, perhaps pointlessly. None of our party seemed eager to get any closer. It came towards us, rotting arms rising slowly as it gurgled black fluid. “Ignore it. It’s not in the way, there’s no sense in slowing down for it.” She backed away from the horror, and rest of us followed suit.
“Baen.” I said, drawing her attention to the second shambler that was shuffling into view, emerging from the corridor that we had used to reach the brig, blocking our only way back. Coalpaw growled and stepped in front of me, putting himself between me and the shambler, sword in hand. “We need to get back up to the deck. We don’t want to get cornered by more of those things.”
“We have to check the hold.” Coalpaw insisted. “We can’t just-”
“Think. If Tatianna had been here and she escaped with these things and the monster on the ship, where would she have gone?” I asked, my tone hard. “Would she have gotten further into the ship?”
“She’d have gotten up to the deck, taken her chances swimming.” Baen said. “It’s what I’d do.”
“Close enough. Or tried to steal a boat in the chaos.” Wilhar grunted.
“Or she’d be up in the officer’s quarters, right?” I pressed. “If Levaunt wanted her the way you said she did, wouldn’t he keep her prisoner in the captain’s cabin? Wouldn’t he know better than to just throw her in a cell?”
“If she was cornered by the shamblers she might have gone deeper into the hold!” Coalpaw snapped.
“And if we take the time to search it all then we’re all going down with this ship!” As if to accentuate my point, The Cloven Maiden listed sharply to one side as an explosion boomed somewhere above. The stricken ship righted itself after a moment, but it was clear there wasn’t much time left before the end. “Coalpaw!” Baen hissed, eyeing the first shambler as it edged closer. “We have to go. If she’s even here she’ll-”
He cut her off with a snarl, almost a roar, and sheathed his sword. Baen was about to speak again when the charr reached down and picked up a fallen table. Using the solid piece of furniture as a battering ram, he charged forward, barreling into the shambler and driving it back and to the ground, pinning the thing beneath it. He planted a clawed foot on it, trapping as he turned to us. “Go.” He said. “You’re right, this ship doesn’t have long, but I can’t leave without checking the hold.”
“No.” He cut me off. “You’re right, but I have to.”
“This is lunacy.” I said. “We have to stick together.”
“I’ll catch up with you on the deck.” He said, and his tone was surprisingly calm. “I know this ship better than any of you.”
“This ship you know so well is on fire.” I started, somewhere between anger and that same, unpleasant touch of jealousy. “This is-”
“Kaede!” It was Baen, putting a hand on my arm and pulling me back. “We don’t have time for this argument. Coalpaw says he can make it back to the deck, he can make it back to the deck. I’ll go with him.”
“No.” Coalpaw was already shaking his head. “You and Kaede stick together, you–” Another explosion rocked the ship, sending us all staggering. “There’s no time! Go!” Baen’s fingers dug into my arm, and I pushed my reluctance aside.
“Meet us back at the boats then.” I snapped.
“Wilhar, Syman – go with him.” Baen said.
“I don’t need-”
“No time.” Baen threw Coalpaw’s words back at him. “Go!” He looked at her for a moment, then nodded his massive head and turned to the two sailors.
“Come on.” He snarled, keeping the shambler pinned beneath a foot. “Baen, Kaede – if the ship looks like it’s going to do go down, get out. We’ll find another way off, so look for us in the water.”
“Sir, how’re we planning on getting out?” Wilhar asked, clearly alarmed.
“We’ll blow our way out through the hull if we have to.” He said, his gruff tone suddenly becoming oddly reassuring. An elder brother, comforting a nervous youngster, setting aside his own emotions for the sake of one who looked up to him. “We came here to save someone, not lose anyone else.”
“Be careful.” Baen said as we clambered over the flailing minion. “We’ll see you soon.” Coalpaw grunted again, and Laissa gave him a low growl of acknowledgment. “Let’s move.”