The city still echoed with gunfire in the gray dawn, as Knell found her ship and breathed a sigh of relief. No mutiny, no abandonment. She banged on the hull until a bruised and bloody crewman opened the hatch.
“Thank Rion,” he said, sagging against the wall and out of her way. “Even Daffyd was close to giving up captain.”
“He wasn’t, Joyce.” Knell said, walking past him, ghost of a smile on her lips.
“He wasn’t,” Joyce admitted, eying the new arrivals. “Didn’t we take that one hostage yesterday?” He said of the Crantiré as he edged nervously by, Blades’ hand on his arm, comforting.
“No,” Knell said, in a tone that brooked no argument. “Wainwright?”
Joyce shook his head, following Knell closely. “Woodshaw and Noster.”
Passing the galley, Knell could hear Noster’s voice, loud and proud.
“…we must join the Struggle, in this time of heresy! The Captain is godless and will not give aid, and so we must join in fighting the traitors, in Vasnok’s name!”
Silently, bloodstained, blade of her new weapon just visible in its sheath, Knell leaned against the door frame and witnesses Noster’s ‘congregation’ – three crew listening with rapt attention, the rest eating breakfast without really paying attention.
“Noster,” she said.
Heads snapped up and around to look at her. Noster faltered mid-speech, A dozen staring eyes fixed on Knell.
“Go,” Knell said. “And join your struggle. Found a replacement.” She shrugged in Blades’ direction.
“But- But I…” Noster was sweating.
“Weren’t willing to die for the cause alone? Go without a meatshield? You’ve never struck me as a coward, Noster.” Knell stood with arms folded, not so much casual as exhausted. “A minimum of converts to bring with you?”
“No.” Noster clenched her fists.
“Fighting hasn’t stopped, Noster. You can kill as many angry, untrained former slaves as you like.”
She said nothing.
“I don’t understand what you want, Noster, or what you’re doing, but I’m gone one night and you want to take some of my crew to their deaths because you caught religion? I tolerate Percy because he’s loyal. You’ve proven otherwise.” Knell said, and glanced to Noster’s potential converts – Rikker, Dolan, and Celridge. “You three – get her off this ship, or you’re going with her.”
Rikker and Celridge almost fell over themselves to haul Noster from the table on which she stood and drag her out of the door on the opposite side of the room. Knell made a note to keep an eye on then. With a backward glance, Dolan followed.
Unhesitating, Knell walked to the head of the room as her crew stared, poured herself a steaming bowl of porridge as she noted a little over half of them were there, and sat at the end of the long table.
“Does anyone want to tell me what the fuck is happening on my ship?”
A relatively new hire raised her hand – Fisk, Knell thought, but wasn’t sure. Who raises their hand? What is that? Military?
Knell gestured with her spoon and went back to eating as Blades and the creature that had been Feidhlim sat to either side of her.
Fisk stood, stopped herself from saluting. Not competent enough for a spy. Or too competent. Who have I pissed off lately?
“Captain. Noster attempted to convert the crew to the local cult and use the ship to fight on behalf of the local powers. Woodshaw insisted instead that we steal the ship and head for Kontina. He and his co-conspirators locked themselves in the engine room and disabled the lift plates in order to prevent Noster’s misuse of the vessel. First Mate Daffyd and some other crew have contained the mutineers in there.”
She continued to stand. Knell nodded. “You can sit down now. Very good, crewman…?”
“Fisk, Captain.” She said, and sat.
Knell ate a few more bites.
“‘s very good, Fisk. Whose military were you with?”
Fisk started to stand, but Lull, at her side, pressed her back down.
“The Throne Aerial Legion, Captain.”
Knell nodded again, quietly impressed.
“You’re not going to like our next stop, then.”
“Patience, Fisk.” Knell finished her breakfast. “You, Lull, and Tippet with me. Gunners, I want you at your posts when we lift off.”
A chorus of ‘aye Captain’ followed her from the room. They walked in relative silence, the grinning Blades reassuring the nameless Spriggan from time to time. Knell didn’t care for that grin.
“You two wait here,” she said, sending the two guests into her cabin before descending further into the ship.
She found Daffyd, Wainwright, and three other crew from engineering behind a stack of empty metal crates from the hold, cutting off the corridor to the engine room. A toolbox lay at their feet, and they were all prepared to fire over the top of their barricade. Daffyd had bandages on his head and arm, blood matting some of his pelt.
“Captain,” he relaxed a moment, then stood straighter. “Permission to cut the door down?”
“Have you been waiting here all night to ask that?”
“He has,” said one of the engineers, sleepily. “And so have we.”
Wainwright’s eyes snapped open, and he pushed himself from where he leaned against the wall. Can’t even wake up without being a sinister bastard, Knell thought.
“Give the order, Captain.” He purred.
Knell shook her head.
“Give me a moment to negotiate,” she said, and climbed over the barricade. She could feel the crew eying the bloodstains on her clothes.
“Busy night, Captain?” Wainwright asked, cheerful.
“Yes, Wainwright. Very.” She thumbed the intercom, wondering why Daffyd had left it on the far side of the barricade. Ideal firing lanes, she presumed; he usually had a reason.
“Woodshaw?” She said. A pause.
“Captain!” Woodshaw replied, sounding tired but pleased. “Didn’t think you’d come back alive.”
“Your faith in me is inspiring, Woodshaw,” Knell drawled. “Are you going to take your marching orders politely, or do I have to let Wainwright in there?”
“I’ve had an extremely tiring night, Woodshaw. I want to get off this tower and go to bed.”
A longer pause.
“Good luck, Captai-” Woodshaw was cut off. Silence stretched out for almost a minute.
“Captain,” a different voice. Uugen, she thought. “We’ll get off the ship.”
“I leave it in your hands, Daffyd.” Knell said.
Daffyd held his hands out and Wainwright cackled.
“I leave this situation in your command, Daffyd,” Knell said, evenly, and continued to the bridge.
“Ready for some fancy flying, Harrow?”
Knell collapsed into her chair, put her head in her hands. Harrow didn’t glance back.
“Aye, Captain. I could do with a stretch,” the pilot said, her smile almost audible.
“Didn’t see any serious emplacements; Savaan prefer to board. There’s some heavy anti-personnel guns out there, but the operators don’t have a clue how to use them.”
“Strafing ‘em, Captain?”
“Extraction. Possibly a densely populated area, though.”
“Hrm. Can do, Captain.”
The ship rumbled into the air as the scent of coffee filled Knell’s nostrils. She glanced up to see Fisk standing to attention nearby. Coffee on the arm of her chair, in a big mug.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Y-” she swallowed. “You didn’t dismiss me, Captain.”
“So you followed me up here with a mug of coffee?”
“I don’t appreciate suckups, Fisk.”
Fisk stared levelly ahead.
“I don’t appreciate getting killed by exhausted C.Os flying into embattled airspace, Captain.”
Knell’s eyes went wide, and Fisk seemed to tremble on the edge of running or begging forgiveness – but the Captain only burst out laughing.
Knell’s Death sailed over the rooftops of the Sprawl, her sides sparking with ineffectual gunfire, juking hard to the left and right to evade heavier munitions. Knell often wondered what Harrow could do with a nimbler, newer ship – one of the little fighters that could make spins and corkscrews – but for a vessel this size it was still impressive work. Knell’s gunners answered the attacks with fire of their own, drawing on the engines to fuel railcasters that tore through facades and barricades. She preferred not to think of the impact on the rebels.
They circled over Traitor’s Plaza, in sight of the Temple. Massive, hulking Savaan armoured in plates of bone, thick with muscle, stood around the perimeter. Their smaller brethren milled about between them, a few without any armour. Knell could make out tentacles writhing from the small of one woman’s back, performing some occult action or other on a larger, armoured Savaan.
Knell could also see Cerro on the bench where she left him, wearing a brightly coloured blanket around his shoulders. Someone was considerate, I suppose.
Knell’s fingers clattered over a keypad on her captain’s chair. A light on the prow flashed; white, white, blue. A multinationally agreed sign of non-aggression. The huge Savaan kept worryingly organic guns trained on the ship, but they didn’t open fire. Harrow brought them in low as Knell ran to open an entrance hatch in the lower decks.
“Cerro!” She yelled, over the sound of the engines. He’d been watching. He must have guessed. Ignored by the Savaan he walked, then ran, then leapt the short distance to grasp Knell’s hands. She pulled him into an embrace beside the open door.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Me too,” he replied.
She closed the hatch and hit the intercom.
“Take me somewhere nice, Harrow.”
Knell led Cerro to her cabin. Blades was examining her bookshelves. The Crantiré was standing with each foot in a bucket of water. Knell threw up her hands, pointed Cerro to her bed, and fell heavily into the chair behind her desk.
“Let’s try this again so I can get some sleep.” She said.
Blades took a seat opposite.
“It really is quite simple. You annihilated the memories that made Feidhlim of the Black Gate, but there is still a person left behind. Ignorant, innocent, and devastatingly powerful.” The monk explained.
“And that makes me responsible. Right. I get it.” Knell said. “But I am clearly the worst person for the job. You should take him in, teach him… monk things.”
“We do not admit Magi.”
“You accept Scions.”
“They are holy, in their way.”
“Right, fine. Can’t you take him back to the Wood, or something?”
“You have the ship.”
“Alright. Alright. I will take responsibility, for now, and get him back to the Wood.”
Blades nodded. “That will suffice, I suppose.”
“Good. Excellent. Now if both of you could fuck off to the galley so I can sleep, that would be great. Help yourself to porridge. Don’t kill Percy.”
“You’ll know him when you meet him,” Knell said, exasperated.
And as they left, she found Cerro sitting up in bed with his arms around his legs, knees drawn up to his chin. He lay back, held up the blanket so she could let herself fall in beside him.
She woke him once; crying in her sleep, twitching, struggling. But it passed, and they slept through the day.