Throughout his voyage Kenny worked mostly at night, up in his post, ever watchful of any oceanic threats. There was very little chance that they'd run into any Imperial patrols once safely out of Tandrian waterways. Even encountering a rival group of pirates was not very likely.
The biggest threats were truly the massive creatures that called the sea their home. Selenian aquatic life was as diverse as one might imagine: large predatory beasts; swift and intelligent animals that have adapted over thousands of years in order to survive; many kinds of vibrant algae, reeds, and seagrass. It was all right below Kenny's feet.
It didn't take Kenny more than a week to befriend most of the members of the Lady. His personality had been molded by people like this, and he settled in quickly. He minded his own space as advised by Jill. Since he was working nights, most of his day was spent sleeping down in the bunks.
Over the next eight months, the Lady Helena and her crew powered through the ocean. The continuous sound of splashing was nostalgic, even euphoric, to Kenny. He began to miss the life, and with the help of good company, would often forget that his destination was high in the Lucos Mountains.
Kenny's previous stint as a pirate, while fulfilling, was a temporary solution to a strong wanderlust. He was not confrontational enough to live the pirate lifestyle, despite his aptitude in thievery and sailing. Kenny simply moved like a breeze, and sometimes a breeze will get caught at sea.
The sun had finally begun its decent one warm evening. Kenny saw the familiar silhouette of Port Dreq in the naval telescope fastened onto the forward edge of the crow's nest. It would be dark by the time they docked, which meant he could immediately slip through the city in the cover of night.
Kenny swiftly lowered himself from the crow's nest to the ropes underneath and climbed down. He felt stronger than he had in a long time, having spent every day climbing up and down the ship's rigging. Everyone on board was assembled topside, as they longed to stretch their legs on solid ground again.
As the Lady Helena slowed to a halt in the docks, Kenny realized that this might be the last time he would stand aboard the remarkable vessel. He turned to Jillian, who had seen this all once before. The departure of Kenny Rothman.
"Thank you." he said.
"Eh, don't mention it, Ken." Jill paused. "There's always a spot for you here, you know. We didn't come from good homes. None of us. If you are ever ready to come home, we frequent this port quite a bit. Wait long enough and you'll see the Lady docked here again."
"Jill." Kenny could sense a sadness in her. He moved forward and hugged her. "Thank you. But my fate rests above sea level."
Jill wiped a tear from her eye. She was much more emotional the first time he decided to leave, three years earlier, and in fact wasn't expecting to feel any sorrow once this particular sea voyage ended. She then closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and came to welcome the reality of the situation, much like she does before every journey.
She went into her cabin and returned promptly with Kenny's pack. "You get this 'painting' over to Quentin's cousin safely, you hear me?" she said with her sarcastic flair. "It is a thing of beauty, after all."
"That it is, Cap'." Kenny slung the strap over his shoulder. He then made his rounds, saying goodbye to Witt, Dutch, and the others.
As Kenny walked down the docks the sun had fully set, and the taverns and diners were now illuminated in torchlight, alive with patrons. As much as he wanted to stop in somewhere and grab a warm meal, he chose not to take the risk with what he was carrying. Kenny snaked through the darkest back alleys that he could find, which would often lead him to some sections of Port Dreq that were in quite a bit of neglect and disrepair.
After turning one particular corner that evening, he saw two men cloaked in dark brown robes, their faces concealed by hoods and shadow. They stood side by side, seemingly waiting for him.
"Kenny Rothman, we need you to come with us. Surrender yourself and return with us to Thiadrod immediately." One of the voices spoke clearly and calmly. Kenny's heart stopped.
The two agents didn't appear armed, but it was dark, and they both wore large cloaks. Still, the alley that Kenny had just turned from was a mere few steps away, and the two men were more than triple that distance from him. Kenny was confident that if he chose to run he could easily lose them. The previous months of climbing ropes had strengthened his stamina considerably. Realizing that the clock was already ticking, he made his choice and bolted.
Retracing his steps, Kenny jetted through the alleys with swiftness, even with the board on his back. He began to focus more on the most effective path for escape above all else. This mentality was how he had such a good track record for evading capture. He didn't overthink, he just moved like a breeze.
The two pursuers, however, were quick and persistent. Kenny turned the final corner before coming within eyesight of Port Dreq's docks and the majestic Lady Helena, among a handful of other vessels. He hated the thought of running back to the ship with his tail between his legs, but to his disbelief the two men had been gaining on him this entire time.
“Jill! Help!” Kenny shouted as he ran down the open street directly toward the ship. One of the cloaked men leapt an incredible distance before tackling Kenny from behind, both of them crashing onto the dirt path just short of the docks.
Jillian and the other crew members still on board the Lady heard the commotion and rushed out toward their former comrade, blades and bows at the ready.
The two cloaked men picked Kenny up and held him by his arms in a vicelike grip. Kenny's board had nearly fallen off the docks and into the water. As one of the men stepped toward the board to retrieve it, the other fastened Kenny's hands behind his back with a strong length of twine, preparing to escort him to their own ship.
"Hold it right there!" Jill shouted as she ran out with her saber raised and at the ready. Dutch was behind her, unarmed but still incredibly intimidating. A few crew members lined the ship with bows drawn, but with Kenny so close to their targets, they were hesitant to take a shot.
"Scoundrels, this does not concern you. Rest assured, we have every right to take Mr. Rothman into custody, so please stand down before this gets ugly," one of the cloaked strangers said.
"Release him or you bet your ass it's gonna get ugly!" Jill returned, signaling for her archers to be ready.
"Jill, take it easy with the tough talk, huh?!" Kenny nervously called. Sailors aren't the greatest archers in the world, and Kenny didn't wish to become a pincushion.
The man who had Kenny restrained quickly drew a strange firearm from under his cloak and pointed it toward Jill. It was small enough to sit comfortably in one hand. "Stand down!" He impatiently yelled. Jillian lowered her sword, but kept a tight grip on it.
The cloaked man kept his bead steadied on Captain Jillian. Suddenly a flying hatchet came from out of nowhere, striking him in his bicep. As his arm tensed in pain, he unintentionally fired off a shot, which let out a bright beam of purple electricity. The purple bolt whizzed inches over Jill's head and sliced straight through the wooden post that held up the Lady Helena's crow's nest. Seconds later the nest tilted forward, beginning its inevitable fall before crashing through part of the docks.
Kenny's disabled captor writhed on the ground in pain. Jillian had used the diversion to close the distance between herself and the other man, who reached for a similar firearm on his belt just a split second too late. Jill held her blade up to his neck, daring him to try something.
"I'll be taking that," she said as she grabbed the unorthodox weapon from its holster. Dutch apprehended the man by his arms from behind, and Jill took a closer look at her new weapon. She had never seen anything like what had just happened.
The action caught the attention of some local guardsmen, who rushed to the docks with spears at the ready. Two of the guards apprehended the two cloaked men, and another held Kenny in place. The pistol belonging to the injured agent was retrieved by one of the local guards.
"What has happened here?" A heavily armored man with a thick accent demanded as he pushed through his subordinates. His armor consisted of mostly iron and hard leather, but the spear he wielded was jet black and clearly of finer steel than that of any of the other warriors surrounding him. He appeared to be in his forties with tan skin, a grey mohawk, and a large scar that lead from the collar of his breast plate up his neck and to his left ear.
"Umm, long story. Not sure where to begin, Captain Tyboon," Jill said nervously as she slipped the second firearm into the back of her belt.
"I saw one shot fired and two advanced weapons drawn from these foreigners. Hand over the weapon immediately, unless you want to be something's breakfast tomorrow morning." The imposing Captain Tyboon raised his mighty spear with one hand and pointed it toward Jill.
"Okay, fair enough." She laughed nervously, holding her left hand out high while using the other to delicately place the weapon on the ground in front of her, before taking a couple of steps back. Tyboon's second-in-command, Sergeant Glenn, gathered both firearms.
"These bounty hunters sailed an eight month voyage to capture this man." Tyboon then turned his heavy spear towards Kenny. "Why is this?" He asked hurriedly, as if tactically cutting down any time that the pirates might use to fabricate the truth.
Jill started, "Well we don't know, I mean one minute they just..."
"Sir, if I may,” Kenny interjected. “I paid this sea captain to bring me here. She doesn't really know a thing about me, so maybe I should just explain."
Captain Tyboon looked fiercely at Kenny. "Let's hear it then, boy," he said.
Kenny glanced at the board. It was still inches from toppling off of the dock and into the bay. Among the chaos and rubble it seemed the local guardsmen had yet to notice the rectangular parcel, still bundled in brown cloth.
"Well the truth is that I'm an Imperial deserter. I jumped out on my contract to fight and to my surprise they pursued me all the way over here. I didn't mean to endanger anyone, honestly. The whole reason I left was that I'm more of a lover than a fighter." Though mostly lying, the last part could not have been more true.
The stoic guard captain turned to the two defeated agents. "Is he telling the truth?"
"It would be in your best interest to release the two of us, return our weapons, and hand over our prisoner. We paid your mayor for the right to make this arrest on your territory," the cloaked agent who had been struck by Witt's flying hatchet said boldly to Captain Tyboon.
The calm guard captain deftly thrust his spear into the bounty hunter's gut. "I'm fully aware of the arrangement, but in light of these events, I expect said arrangement might change. It matters not." He withdrew his weapon as the cloaked man slumped lifelessly to the ground. "Guards! Round up all of the crew members, take everyone to the keep, and search this ship!" His orders thundered, echoing across the bay.
A man approached with a separate but equally thick accent and a sway in his step. "My dock! Ohhh my lovely, sweet, sweet dock! What happened to my beautiful dock?" The man in ornate red robes, gold rings, and a long brown beard wailed as he walked up to the scene. "Captain Tyboon, what in the world is going on here?"
The large, armored man turned. "I was just sorting it out, Mayor Leto. It seems those two bounty hunters you let in earlier this month have a contract on this man. They have also brought some high priority items that I think you should see, in private."
The mayor turned toward the pirate crew, hardly acknowledging the loyal guard captain's status report. "Jillian! You're a week early! Hahaha!" Leto threw his hands up in excitement. He walked up and welcomed Jill in for a hug.
Jillian noted the strong smell of alcohol on his breath. "Hi, Leto. Look, me and the boys are so, so sorry about this mess. We will find some way to make it up to you, I promise," she assured the inebriated mayor in front of a confused Kenny.
"Nonsense, my dear." He shook his head. "You and your guys just keep making your deliveries on schedule and we will call it even. How does that sound, my love?"
"Works for me, Mr. Mayor! You're drunk so I guess I should milk it while I can, huh?" she joked. "But hey, I am a week early, so how about after I get this mess cleaned up I come and join you for a drink?"
"Yes, love, please do. I will be imbibing at The Lost Seagull. Captain Tyboon, please have your men help Jillian's crew tidy up this section of the dock. We will begin repairs tomorrow morning."
"Yes, sir." Captain Tyboon nodded obediently. If he was frustrated at all by Mayor Leto's interruption, he didn't let an ounce of it show in his cold gaze. He motioned for two of his guards to take the remaining bounty hunter away for questioning, while the rest of his men stayed to help clear the scene.
Everyone shuffled into action, Kenny more than anyone else. He hastily made a bee-line to his idle treasure, scooping up a few large pieces of wood before grabbing the board. With arms full, he waddled toward the Lady Helena, praying that none of the guards present would notice his unusual behavior. In the chaos of the aftermath, Kenny successfully stashed his prized item aboard the ship. He then returned to help with the rest of the clean-up.
Once the bounty hunter's corpse was disposed of and the many shards of wood were gathered into a single pile, Captain Tyboon called his men back. Though he spoke no words to the pirate captain, he gave a small, respectful nod to Jill before turning and walking toward Port Dreq's keep. Kenny and Jill were left standing near the docks, alone.
Kenny let out a long sigh of relief. "Well that could've turned out worse," he said.
"Could've turned out better, too," she replied. "I can't believe that that small weapon was able to destroy part of my ship in one shot. I had it in my hand, too. I could have ruled the sea with that weapon, ya know." She sighed. "I suppose it's all for the better, though. It's not like I would even know what to do with it."
Kenny smiled. He reached behind his back and pulled out a small item wrapped in part of the same cloth that he had concealed his board with, and placed it in Jill's hands. "Figure it out, then."
Jill's eyes widened and she glanced around quickly. "Did you swipe this from Captain Tyboon?" She muttered in a low but urgent tone.
"Yep." He calmly replied with his fingers interlaced behind his head.
"The same Tyboon that just stabbed somebody with a spear right in front of you?" She pressed.
"Uhh..." Kenny took a second to recall the course of events in his head. "Well technically I swiped it from one of his soldiers." He nodded.
Jillian gazed at him in astonishment. "I don't actually want this thing, Ken. What if it misfires and blows another hole in the ship?" She questioned him while holding the item cautiously with both hands. “Tyboon could be back looking for this in a matter of minutes.” She paced a few steps and quickly doubled back. “I'm going to have to turn around and leave right now, without a crow's nest. Without replenished rations. Do you realize how screwed I am because of this grab?!” She asked, growing more infuriated as the implications washed over her.
“Most pirates catch the bone sooner or later, Jill. Why do you think I quit? Look, you're protected by a friendship with the Mayor, right? Tyboon won't just waltz over here and gut you. He shows up, you deny everything. That weapon can be one of two things: a powerful form of defense, or the last paycheck you will need for a long time. I know you could make use of either. And if you really don't wanna bother with it, drop it into the water right here.”
“Kenny, you don't understand. If Captain Tyboon wants someone dead, he will make it happen. It doesn't matter how close I am to Mayor Leto. I mean he made a deal with those bounty hunters and Captain Tyboon killed him like it was nothing!” She paused, looking down while collecting her thoughts. “It's clear to me now that it was a mistake bringing you here. I can't just lie my way through this. Tyboon will figure it out, and I'm gonna lose this trade port at the very least, if he decides not to imprison or kill us.”
“Jill, just take a minute to...”
“No. Stop talking,” Jill quickly cut him off. “I shouldn't have helped you, and I accept that. But I didn't expect that you'd single handedly fuck up my whole operation. You're like a kid, Kenny. You see something shiny and you just have to touch... We need to part ways now.”
Kenny was stunned. “Jill, I'm sorry. Give me the weapon, I'll take it over to the guards right now and we'll fix...”
“Kenny,” Her voice froze him. “We need to part ways now. Goodbye.” Jill closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She turned toward her ship, her shoulders squarely against Kenny, and strode up the ramp with the intention of finding Witt to relay the dire situation.
A moment later, Dutch walked down the wooden ramp connecting the Lady Helena and the docks. He was carrying Kenny's personal items, including his board.
“Here ya go, Kenny. I'm gonna miss you. Jill says I need to hurry. I'll see you next time!” Dutch said, placing Kenny's personal bags on the ground before heading back into the ship.
“Goodbye, Dutch. Take care of the girls.”
Kenny collected his things. He stood on the dock, alone. He could hear the sounds of laughter coming from the local tavern. He could hear the sounds of the Lady Helena's crew preparing, as well as they could, to turn and venture out into the dark blue once again. And so for the second time in that warm coastal night, Kenny faded into the shadows of Port Dreq, intent on reaching the snow-capped peaks of the Lucos Mountains.
© 2017 Jesse Pennington