Wainwright had to be caged, for his own good. He couldn’t manage conversation, so Knell did most of the talking, sat on the opposite side of the barred doorway to a disused hold that passed for a brig. He did most of the drinking.
“I can’t decide which is worse,” she said, as Wainwright clutched an oversized metal cup in one shaking hand, sat awkwardly cross-legged in his cell.
“Is this my fault? I mean, he knew me. I don’t know him,” she said, swigging the wine, “but he knew me, and I forgot? Perhaps I wouldn’t’ve tried this job, if I remembered, or might’ve known he’d come.”
Wainwright held his cup out against the bars, as if looking for a toast. Knell clinked the bottle against it as best she could.
“How did he find us, anyway? No one should’ve known.”
Wainwright nodded, messily sipping from his cup.
“So what can’t you tell me?”
“Can’t ‘ell m’,” he slurred in reply. He frowned. “Din’t know.”
His cup clanged against the opposite wall as he rose to his feet in a blur of fur, and then sank to sit facing Knell again, tears gathering in his eyes.
“Din’t know, can’- can’,” he trailed off, clenching his teeth. “Speak things. Can’t.”
“You forgot words. I know,” Knell said, pouring him a fresh cup. Turpin and Percy both had spoken against her giving him liquor, but they’d run out of sedatives and Wainwright was prone to hurting himself now. When Stumpy had stumbled and stepped on Wainwright’s freshly grown foot, they’d had to heavily dose the Clawtorn to keep him from growing out of control and tearing everyone in the room apart. Turpin said his impulse control was likely damaged, and said his trouble with words was like agnosia. Knell decided that sounded bad enough that she’d rather not know more.
“You forgot some words. We’ll find a way to heal you though, alright?” She said. It wasn’t wholly a lie.
Wainwright toasted again, spilling some of his drink, and emptied the vessel into his mouth.
“That’s two of us,” Knell replied, wiped her eyes, and left him to sleep.
Knell sat with her chin on her palm, elbow on the desk, watching a half-empty bottle of beer drift slowly from left to right an inch above the surface. Stumpy sat in one of the chairs opposite, one rough digit tracing lines of text from a chip novel. Knell’s gaze flicked from him to the bottle and back, then a the beer approached the edge of the desk she tapped it lightly on the opposite side, sending it drifting gently back the way it came.
“It’s too easy, Stumpy,” she said. The Spriggan didn’t reply.
“Cerro is just gone, the Herald left without telling me anything, and now I’m just stuck with you and Blades.”
Stumpy nodded, not looking up.
“Can you even understand me?”
A creak of shoulders shrugging.
“Close enough, then. How do your people deal with this?”
Stumpy looked up, perplexed, but said nothing.
“Blades explained it to me – you spend what, ten, fifteen years as a sapling, stuck in the ground?”
The spriggan leaned forward, book face-down on the desk.
“Alright, so years, anyway, stuck in place – but your minds are in a kind…. A fake world, in the roots of the forest?” Knell continued, lips twisted in an askance frown, “and you learn the language and everything in there, because for all you know, it’s real.”
She drummed her fingers on the wood, and then tapped the floating bottle – which fell with a clink halfway through its journey.
“And then you come out of the dream… but what if you don’t?” Knell said, slowly. Stumpy merely stared, concern etched in his bark.
“I’ve forgotten a lot, apparently. Things keep… changing…” She clenched her fists and stared downward, into the grain of the desk’s surface.
“How do you know which memories are real? How do you, do you check to make sure it’s not an illusion?” Knell said, a single tear running down her taut cheeks, her teeth clenched. Visions of her body propped in a psychosurgeon’s chair, blank-faced and wired up to arcane machinery, covered in dust floated through her head.
She was pulled from the reverie by rough bark on her wrist – Stumpy leaning over the desk and gently touching her arm.
“This is real,” he said, in halting, accented Trades’.
Knell shook her head, looked away. “I suppose I have to take your word for it, eh? Some Magical secret you’re not sharing.”
Stumpy only stared.
“You’re too calm,” she said, annoyed, “you don’t know where you come from, do you? I mean, how could you. You remember when… when we met.”
Stumpy’s face creased and croaked, his long fingers twining around each other on the desk before him.
“I was… someone else,” he said, “that could not be hidden. But now I am me, and I have much to learn, and I do not worry about those things I do not yet know.” He nods, as if reassuring himself. “Blades says this is ‘wisdom’ and that wisdom is good.”
Knell licked her lips and folded her arms. “That’s hard to argue with, honestly.”
They sat in silence, for a short while, when the intercom buzzed into life.
“Captain, we’re arriving in Moonbend in about half an hour, Morley’s dock like you said,” said Harrow, fuzzy over the speaker.
“Good. Keep me updated,” Knell replied.
“Is there a reason Daffyd has been in here all day?”
“Yes,” she said, coldly.
Knell was first out the door when the ship touched down, stepping from warm interior to the cooler air of the ‘Sea, Moonbend curving over her and casting no shadow.
She stood on the edge of a polished landing platform, circular, clearly repaired many times but well-maintained. She took a moment to find the dome of the Archive and keep its position in mind.
Right. Just spinward of city centre, she thought, looking from there to her right, following the curve of the immense, crescent-shaped rock on which the city was built. From here the spinward tip was almost overhead, and Knell’s stomach rolled. She grimaced and took a step forward, getting used to the extra spring in her step. A few crew were making similar preparations around her, and one whose name she’d never really bothered to learn – the one with the very hooked nose – recovered first, strolling by her with a rolling gait and descending the steps into Morley’s warehouse.
Knell took a step to follow, and frowned. A new sign was bolted to the wall over the door – Wyvern Shipping. Change in management, she shrugged, and carried on, patting the pouch of gems on her hip.
She stepped into the mostly bare building – a few crates stacked neatly in the opposite corner, but little else. An Orc in workman’s leathers watched her and her crew over the top of beaten-looking lift mechanism, a fastidiously organized toolbox at his feet and a wrench in one metallic fist.
“I do not think you have permission to land here,” he said, in a rich deep voice with noticeable Cogger accent.
“Old Morley went out of business, then?” Knell asked, innocently.
“I do not know any Morley,” he replied. “Management are out to lunch.”
Knell pulled a handful of gems from the pouch and held them up in her open palm.
“Well, what’s the docking fee? We’ll pay if you’ll let us stay until we pick a different port,” she said.
The Orc set his wrench down and folded his gleaming mechanical arms with a hiss of hydraulics.
“We have no set fee. This a charter dock,” he said.
“Well, is anyone scheduled for it today?”
“So can we offer you money to stay?”
Knell licked her lips and tilted her head, but as she opened her mouth the exit at the far end of the warehouse rolled open, admitting a slight woman in a black longcoat.
“Everything alright in here?” She said, pausing mid stride and standing casually.
“These people are stealing our dock,” said the Orc.
“Hang about-” Knell started.
“How are they stealing our dock?”
“They are using it without permission or payment.”
The woman nodded. “I suppose we’ll just charge you, then. Captain?” She said, looking to Knell.
Knell rattled the pouch of gems.
“How does ten standard cut sound?”
“Ten standard and five chips,” the woman replied, hands on her hips.
“That’s… very specific,” Knell said.
“This is a specific case,” she replied. “And you can’t call it unreasonable.”
“Bloody awkward. Mix of chips fine?”
“Jet, for preference.”
“Do we have to do this now?”
“I suppose not.”
Knell turned and picked a crewmember at random. “Oi, go tell our new Quartermaster she’s negotiating with the dock owners.”
The rat scuttled off, and Knell snapped the pouch back onto her belt.
“Good enough?” She said.
“It’ll do. How long are you staying?”
“Could be a week?”
“Five chips a day, any mix is fine.”
“Not my problem now, ma’am. Knell Blackhand, by the way.”
“Astrid, of Wyvern Trading. Not likely to partner with us, I take it?” She said, with the ghost of a smile.
“Sounds like we’d cost you more money than we’d make,” Knell sniggered. “One big payoff every few months.”
“I appreciate your honesty, however oblique. Well, don’t let me delay you.”
“Much obliged,” Knell said, and strode into the noisy street with her crew dispersing around her and more trudging through the warehouse. She paused, turned, and called to Astrid.
“Can you recommend a junker?”
“Can you pay a finder’s fee?” Astrid replied.
Knell was starting to like her.
She left directions to the junker with Daffyd, who dutifully returned to the ship after a plate of diced raw fish and pint of chocolate mixed with coffee, leaving her, Blades, and Stumpy in the crew’s favourite inn. Red light seeped in through the high windows and mingled with the dim electric lighting, few figures moving among the rough-hewn wooden chairs and polished stone tables except a young man collecting abandoned plates and glasses.
Knell leaned back in her seat, stretching against the protesting wood, and sighed.
“Well, I feel as good as I’m going to,” she said, looking at Blades, who was seated on a high stool. “How are you going to ruin my day?”
Blades cocked her head. “Why would I do that?”
“Because it’s what you always do, when you’re not making a bad day worse.”
“The Captain is observant,” the monk grinned.
“Fucking knew it. Come on, out with it.”
“I must go the Archive.”
“Good. Do it.”
“I feel manipulated.”
Knell crossed her arms behind her head. “Just because I’m eager to see you kill yourself on a crusade doesn’t mean I really thought you were dense enough to.”
Stumpy raised a hand, and Knell rolled her eyes.
“Blades here is part of a holy war against Vampires,” Knell said. “And the Archive is run by them.”
The furry, bat-faced kind, Knell thought, and suppressed a bloom of nausea.
“It is more complex that that,” Blades said. Knell shrugged.
“It’s also not my problem. Do you want me to return your rags to your bosses, or something?”
Blades rose to her feet, relaxed.
“You do not deserve truth,” she said, and left.
Knell watched with surly glower, and sipped her drink before slamming the empty wooden tankard on the table.
“Come on, Stumpy. You and me have a doctor’s appointment.”