Wolverine: Skulls and X-Bones
DISCLAIMER: The following work makes use of characters and ideas that are the property of Marvel Comics and not the property of the author. They are used without permission, for no financial profit or intent to profit.
The story itself, in whole and in part, is the property of the author. It may be passed on for private reading. If you wish to archive it, please request permission of the author first.
It may not be sold in whole or in part without expressed permission. ...whew... you just know school's back in when my disclaimers get more and more complex...
Author's Note: This is something a little different. It's an alternate universe' story. It has absolutely no connection to anything else I have ever written.
Sometimes we all like to read something deep and thought provoking. A story that makes us question the universe and our place in it... this is SO not one of those stories. This is good old fashioned fun and adventure with some characters you know, but have never seen before.
If you like what you read here, or even if you don't, I'd really appreciate you taking a second to let me know. Feedback is the fan-fic author's lifeblood...
To give credit where due, the plot was inspired by a story in Savage Sword of Conan that I read years and years ago, before I ever picked up an X-book.
As always, critique, opinions, stock tips and even just a short 'I liked it' are greatly appreciated... the only way I know that anyone's reading this stuff is if you tell me about it.
...know, oh Prince, that in the years following the sinking of Atlantis, there appeared a great comet in the heavens... and the travelling star did circle the world nine times, and men cowered in fear, for surely this was the final judgement of the Almighty.
Yet on the tenth day, the comet did depart, and mankind rejoiced, for surely this was a sign that humanity was favoured by the celestial powers...
...and then the children were born.
They looked as God intended at birth, yet one could never tell if the taint of the Devil was on them.
In the years when a child becomes an adult, Satan's taint would stand revealed, and the child would be turned over to the Church, for in God's name did the Holy House take those cursed by the devil unto itself, to purge their taint and save their eternal souls.
Yet, there were those who the Church did not find, and those who were hidden, and these few did go forth into a world that hated and feared them for the devil-spawn they were thought to be.
Some hid, some threw themselves on the mercy of the Church, some fought, most died... but for a small number who were strong or clever or lucky enough to avoid the Holy Seekers... these few did live on the edges of civilized man's domain... becoming outlaws, thieves... and pirates...
-x- -x- -x-
"Turn this load of flotsam hard aport or I'll come over there and tear you a new eye ta see with! Stand by ta reef sails, and I want six grapples ready...battle stations, laggards, battle stations, d'you think this is a pleasant Sunday sail? Haul ass!"
The clipper hugged the shore, trying to lose the heavier galleon amongst the reefs and shoals. The galleon dogged their path, catching a far better wind out to sea, always cutting down the gap between the two.
"Two degrees more to port... I said two degrees sharkbait, one good swell and you'll swamp us, and then I'll make you wish you could crawl back into the goat that spawned you... Feist, you moron, get amidships with that grapple, you throw from there and you might as well be farting in the wind for all the use you'll be..."
Aboard the fleeing clipper, the captain ordered more sails hoisted. He turned to his passenger, who had been standing annoyingly close.
"We can't outrun them reverend Gyrich... with God as my witness, we've done the best we can. It's going to come down to a fight."
ABYSSmal productions presents;
SKULLS AND X-BONES
a pirate story starring Logan
"What d'you think, Mariko?"
"She sits too high to be laden with cargo, slaver perhaps?"
"I'd smell the reek of a slaver ship from here. Nay, but whatever she is, we can sell her."
"Profit and plunder, Logan?"
"And blood, Mari'... and blood."
The two of them stood on the quarterdeck, the raised area at the back of the ship. The captain, Logan, was a short man with a broad, muscular build. Thick black hair swept back from a face dark from days of wind and sun. His eyes were deep set in a face that seemed cut from the hardest rock. He wore loose canvas trousers and a heavy leather belt, otherwise barefoot and barechested like most of the corsairs on the ship. Unlike the others, he carried no weapon.
He stood easily on the deck, the rolling motion of the ship carrying him as naturally as solid ground. His eyes roamed all about, from the sails to the prow to the water to their quarry ahead. His commands were shouted, fierce, and left no room for argument. The crew went about their tasks with a practised haste.
The lady was Japanese, barely taller than the captain, but far more slender and graceful. She wore black silk pantaloons that snapped about her in the wind, and a tight leather vest that left her arms bare. A narrow curved sword hung at her hip, and daggers peeked out from each high boot. She stood at his shoulder, her eyes fixed on the fleeing clipper.
"Boarding party at ready. They know they can't escape..."
The galleon and the clipper drew closer and closer. The clipper hugging the shore, its pilot fearing the rocks and shoals, but fearing the corsair ship as well. Logan had picked this spot well... there was nowhere for leagues where a lighter ship could avoid his... the prize was theirs... all they had to do was take it.
"I don't suppose you'll consider going below, Mari?"
"You rule my heart, Logan, but not my life. I fight at your side... try to keep up."
Logan grinned ruefully, shaking his head. His fist came up and he turned and stretched his arm across the ship and towards the fleeing clipper.
The sound of three bone claws extending from his hand was lost to the wind. Logan's shout was not.
"Grapples at the ready, double share for the first man to board her and live! They're not just going to hand her to us!"
Men gathered on the deck, arrayed behind those with the grapples. Every man who wasn't tending the sails and rudder stood ready with cutlass and sword. Some scrambled up the masts, grabbing onto loose ropes.
Logan's voice challenged the wind.
"What's the code of the crossbones, mates?"
The response was loud and fierce.
"PLUNDER AND BLOOD!"
-x- -x- -x-
"Reverend, I'll need your men on deck."
"Their purpose is to protect me in my mission. If I fail, the Archbishop will kill us as surely as these pirates, only he'll damn our souls as well."
The captain muttered something about the use of souls to a dead man and saw to the defense of his ship.
-x- -x- -x-
The ships drew closer. The wind at the back of the pirate vessel all but threw her at her prey.
Six long ropes with pointed hooks flew across the space separating the two boats. Five attached themselves to the clipper.
"Crossbows... move it you lazy dogs, move!"
Crossbowmen hurried to the galleon's rail, firing bolts at sailors as they tried to knock loose the hooks. Men frantically worked at windlasses, pulling the boats closer.
"Reef sails and have at them!"
Logan grabbed up a rope from the aft mast and hurled himself from the quarterdeck. Mariko cursed him, even as she leapt to the main deck below where men were pushing out planks.
The swing of the rope carried him across most of the space to the clipper. He let go at the end of the swing and landed on the deck in a crouch. A sailor rushed forward, swinging a cutlass at his head. Logan was far faster. Claws spilled the man's guts onto the deck, and Logan was on the move even as the first wave of pirates swarmed across to the clipper.
Sailors ran to meet the boarding pirates. Howls of rage and pain travelled across the water, blood covered the deck.
Logan was a whirlwind of death. He rushed through the sailors, leaving man after man sprawled across the deck. Few got up, but he didn't bother to finish them... his goal was ahead.
The captain stood at the aft, shouting to his men. Logan closed on him like a hawk on its prey. He only caught the scent of the man standing behind the mast as he lunged. There was the sound of nearby thunder and Logan was hurled across the deck. His chest felt like it was on fire.
A tall blond man stepped forward. He wore white trousers and a white linen shirt emblazoned with a black cross, identical to the one tattooed upside-down over his right eye.
Logan was on his feet an instant after he hit the rail.
"Here's a surprise... one of the church's pet hellhounds on a merchant vessel."
The man's eyes flashed an unearthly yellow as he strode forward.
"The church is everywhere, demon... and her justice is final!"
He held his fists out and the air itself seemed to catch fire, circular bursts of energy travelling across the space between them. Logan dove sideways, feeling the heat of the blasts. Where he had been a moment ago, the rail was torn away and a large section of the deck blackened.
The sailors were nearly beaten when Mariko Yashida heard the blast, and her eyes darted to where she knew Logan would be moving on the captain. In a corner of her mind, she chided him yet again for trying to end a fight quickly. The blast clearly wasn't normal for this kind of fight. Her blade darted out like a viper and a sailor fell back, hands clutching at a ruined throat. Her way clear, she ran for the stern of the boat, just as the cargo hatch swung open and heavily armed and armored royal soldiers spilled out onto the deck.
Her shock lasted barely an instant, and then she attacked, calling to the pirates to rally. The ship wasn't theirs yet.
Logan's shoulder ached where the Hellhound had grazed him. They circled each other, the captain cowering in the farthest point in the stern. Logan tried to close with his claws, but the blond man's magic kept forcing him back. The deck was dark where he had struck, small flames dancing in the wind.
"Do I get to know who I'm about to skewer, Hellhound?"
"My name is Alexander, and I will bring my cursed soul one step closer to salvation by slaying you, pirate scum."
"Don't tell me you buy that bilge about us being the children of hell, kid. God and the devil don't much care bout us one way or nother."
Alexander's face contorted with fury.
"We are damned from birth... only through the church can we redeem ourselves... through service, and suffering... through pain, and fire!"
He held his hands out again, the weird yellow bursts of power tearing across the deck. Logan had been waiting for the attack. The hellhound was clearly not comfortable at sea, and he had to step forward to catch his balance. Logan leapt up and over the attack, feeling the soles of his feet burn. Six long knives of bone arced down, tearing a bloody path from his foe's chest to his chin. Alexander reeled back, one hand outstretched to ward Logan away. A blast scorched the right side of his body but Logan twisted and struck out with his left, putting all his strength into the blow. Three bone claws buried themselves in Alexander's chest, right to Logan's knuckles.
"Dear... god...", the stricken man gasped, and the fire left his eyes. He slumped down and slid off the claws that had killed him.
Right arm hanging limply by his side, Logan looked down at the man for a moment.
"I doubt He had much to do with it, kid."
"Took you long enough." Mariko's voice broke into his thoughts.
She stood just behind him, the captain on his knees before her, her bloodstained blade just touching his chin.
"I figured you could handle the drudge work. Any trouble?"
She glanced across the deck. Pirates were throwing the dead bodies over the side, sailors, soldiers and other pirates all feeding the thrashing sharks below.
"A few of the King's guard seemed to be having a pleasure cruise. Took us a bit longer than usual."
Logan reached down and picked the captain up by his collar. The man stared at the arm holding him as the wide blisters and red burns began to fade, skin and hair growing back. His mouth opened and shut like a fish, his eyes wide.
"Heaven protect me..."
"I've heard about enough holy crap fer one day, cap'n. What were the soldiers doin' here?"
"I've lost two ships now to pirates, damn you to hell... I'll tell you nothing!"
"Fine... tell it to the sharks."
Muscles flexed and Logan lifted the man up and over the railing. Sleek dark forms churned beneath the waves... dorsal fins breaking the surface like knives.
"No... no! Spare me.. Spare me..."
"The soldiers... the Hellhound... why? Talk, my arm's healing slower than usual..."
"Bodyguards... they were guarding a special envoy to France... I swear it."
Logan turned to Mariko.
"You find anyone special below?"
"The cook seemed worth keeping alive."
Logan turned back to the captain. The man's eyes raced between the arm holding him and the hungry shapes in the water below.
"A secret compartment... in the fore cargo hold... where the keel slants upwards... there, I swear it!" The man's voice was hoarse with fear.
"Mari, take Thumbs and Corker, see if he's telling us the truth."
Mariko drew her blade and jumped down the cargo hatch. Two large pirates followed her. Logan stayed where he was, holding the captain over the waves, shouting at his crew to secure the prize and check for damage. After a brief wait, he casually hurled the near comatose captain onto the deck. With an audible shlikt', the claws withdrew into his hands. Spots of blood where they entered disappeared in the wind, leaving no mark behind.
A few moments later, another voice started shouting. It came from the cargo hold. Logan's ears picked up a quite threat from Mariko. The voice responded harshly, and he heard the distinct sound of a blow. Mariko spoke again and there was the sound of a body being dragged. A moment later he heard her voice yet again, but softer, coaxing. The two big pirates emerged onto the deck, carrying a thin man in the scarlet robes of a Church cardinal between them. Bulging eyes stared about the ship from a narrow face, all angles and hatred. The man's scalp was shaved, with a hint of red stubble. His right eye was swelling with the start of a black eye.
He glared about the ship at the pirates, his stare coming to rest on Logan.
"Vile pirates... I am on the Lord's business. Interfere at the risk of your souls."
A chuckle ran through the men gathered on deck.
"Shit, church-man, we goin' ta hell anyways. Why worry now?" one of the men said.
A laugh from the other pirates followed the comment. Logan walked over and knelt by the cardinal.
"Excuse these poor heathens, your holiness. They know not how to treat a man of the cloth."
"I am the reverend cardinal Gyrich, of our Lord's holy Church. If you would save your souls sir, then it would behove you to see me to my destination."
Logan's tone was all worship and obeisance. Around the deck, feral grins appeared on scarred faces.
"But of course, your holiness. And where would that be?"
The cardinal climbed to his feet, holding himself as if he were addressing a congregation and not a motley collection of men who had just seized his vessel.
"I travel to the court of the King of France, to discuss missionary business and matters of trade. You would be well rewarded for seeing me there safely."
"We would be honoured, reverend. Of course, we must make amends for assaulting so holy a personage as yourself. We are but humble men, trying to make our way in a cold harsh world... but we would never dream of attacking the Church."
"Yes... Well... perhaps I could lead you in a prayer of absolution."
"We would be honoured sire. If I might beg one further enlightenment of your grace?"
"Of course my son."
"If your revered self was travelling on Church business, why did you not fly church colours?"
The cardinal's haughty demeanor faltered for a moment.
"Uh... there was no time to arrange proper transport... my business was most urgent."
"So urgent you had to use smuggler's routes and the King's guard...and your own Hellhound?"
"Or so urgent you couldn't afford to have a church emissary be seen at the port of France."
Fury and fear played across the man's face. He clutched at his crucifix and pointed an accusing finger at the shorter Logan.
"Watch your tone, lest you be damned for your disrespect!"
"Too late, bub."
Logan knocked aside the hand and placed his fist beneath the cardinal's chin. Bone claws extended to either side of the man's face, one drawing blood as it nicked his ear.
The crucifix shook in the cardinal's hand.
"Demonspawn! Vile child of the devil himself! There can be no salvation for you..."
Logan pressed his fist upward and the cardinal raised himself up on his toes.
"I make my own salvation, church-man. Now what was this trip really about?"
"I'll tell you nothing..." Spit flew from pursed lips to land on Logan's nearly healed cheek, "...kill me, spawn of the devil... I will tell you nothing."
"Logan," Mariko's voice from the hold gave Logan pause, "you had best see this."
"I'm a little busy discussin' religion up here, Mari."
Her tone of voice left no room for debate. Logan looked sideways at his men.
He got wide grins in response. Any of the men there would follow Logan into any battle, and the same went for his Lady. Mariko had joined the crew after a smuggling run down east, and shown herself to be more than equal to any man there, and better than most.
A flick of Logan's wrist and the cardinal jumped back with a panicked cry.
"Try not to kill him till I get back, boys."
The claws withdrew into his hand and Logan vaulted into the hatch. Mariko was waiting for him in the captain's cabin. Two candles flickered on a table in spite of the light from the portholes. She was sitting on a bunk, holding a flagon towards a small figure wrapped in a blanket. At Logan's entrance, the figure cried out and cowered against the wall. Mariko lowered the flagon and gently reached out and drew the figure away from the wall. She murmured softly, in a language that sounded only slightly similar to her native Japanese to Logan's ear. The slim figure clung to her, and she looked at Logan quickly, then drew the blanket back so a face showed. It was the face of a child. Gold skin and almond shaped eyes identified her to Logan as Chinese.
"I found her in the hold with the reverend. It seems our captain dabbled in smuggling. Had I not known to look, I doubt we'd have found them."
She turned back to the girl and spoke again, the tone low and reassuring. Fearful eyes remained glued to Logan's face. He spread his hands wide and slowly approached, kneeling down near the bed, but not too close. His eyes never left her face. When he spoke, a voice that could set the hardiest of corsairs trembling was soft.
"Easy, darlin'. I may look nasty, but you got nothin' ta fear from me.", he kept his eyes on the girl as he spoke to Mariko, "I'm assumin' there's more ta this than a scared servant?"
"Indeed Logan. Much more."
Mariko whispered again, and slowly turned the girl away from Logan, her voice reassuring. When her back was to him, Mariko slowly drew down the blanket. The child was wearing nothing underneath, and she was thin to the point of starvation. Long red furrows and bruises marked her back. Logan's expression then would have surely terrified the girl had she seen it. His face hardly changed as he saw the reason for Mariko's concern. A message was tattooed into the skin of the girl's back. The letters were wide, and the skin around them red from the scarring. As he read, his frown darkened. Mariko quickly covered the child again, and Logan forced his features to calm as she turned back towards him.
"Her back's not the worse of it. There are other signs... the reverend seems prone to sin, it seems."
"Get her inta some cloths and over to the Wolf's Crest. And feed her."
"Of course. Logan... the message... what will you do?"
"First, I'm gonna see a man about religion."
Back on the deck, the cardinal was haranguing the pirates, urging them to rebel against Logan and save their souls. He was so earnest in his oration that the pirates were near breathless from laughter. All humour ceased when they saw the expression on Logan's face as he climbed onto the deck.
"Have you come to kill me, hellspawn? I'm ready. Do as you will."
Logan walked over to the man. In a move so swift the cardinal barely had a chance to flinch, his claws struck out and the crucifix was dangling by its chain at the end of them.
"I may be going ta hell... but there's a special place in the devil's heart fer pedophiles. Give him my best."
The claws snaked back and the crucifix fell to the deck, even as Logan grabbed the cardinal by his robes and lifted the man over his head.
"Preach to the sharks. They have a taste fer religion."
-x- -x- -x-
"This is foolish."
"The Frenchman has contacts all down the south coast. If we're gonna survive what's coming, we're gonna need him."
"If you insist on walking in there, I am going with you."
"Like that was ever in doubt?"
His grin was humourless, and showed teeth that were white and feral. Mariko grabbed him by his long hair and pulled him into a kiss. The men with them looked elsewhere. After a moment, the six pirates, Mariko and Logan walked across the muddy street and into the large inn.
The Devil's Aerie was well named. In a time when outlaws, pirates and freebooters roamed the High Seas, there was a need for a place where these men might meet and barter and recruit and talk. There was one rule in the Aerie, and that was Worthy's rule. No blood drawn, no steel bared.
Of course for some, that was an invitation to be creative.
Many eyes turned to watch them enter, and as many again deliberately ignored them. The chaos of a hundred conversations in half as many languages rose and fell.
Logan glanced about the long, two story inn, peering through the smoke and trying to ignore the reek of ale and grog. Serving women dodged and ducked through a crowd with practisedd ease. Huge fire pits served as gathering places, as did many shaded alcoves and booths on the second level.
The pirates fanned out through the crowd, some moving towards the long bar that filled one wall, others searching outacquaintancess Logan had directed them to. Mariko stayed a step behind Logan. He walked forward, his eyes searching the faces for the one he sought. He didn't watch his back. That was Mariko's job. Someone reached out and tried to grab at her. Her hand intercepted the other and nearly snapped the thumb, causing the owner to pull back with a curse. Her eyes never stopped sweeping the crowd, one hand hovered near her blade. At intervals along the wall, large men with clubs and leather jacks stood in the flickering torchlight, arms crossed, eyes hard. One particularly large specimen actually had four arms. She noted him with the same measuring stare she did everyone else. How much of a threat were they, how quickly could she kill them.
"Yashida-San, I'd appreciate if you didn't kill any of my patrons."
Logan and Mariko stopped where they were. The din in the place lowered only slightly at the voice that came down from the second level.
Logan's eyes pierced the gloom.
"I'm not lookin' fer trouble, Worthy."
"Ahhh, Logan... but is trouble looking for you?"
There was sound of large wings beating the air, and a pair of boots emerged from the gloom near the ceiling. A man followed, landing before Logan, just a bit more than arm's reach away... arm's reach, and claws reach.
The speaker was a tall, slender man. His face was so beautiful as to almost be angelic. He had long blond hair spilling down over his shoulders, held away from his eyes with a gold circlet. The eyes were a piercing blue that seemed to look towards some horizon just behind them. He wore a volumous blue cape that ruffled and moved behind him as he walked. He turned to Mariko and Logan spotted a flash of white feathers as the man bowed.
"Lady Yashida, you honour my establishment with your presence."
"And you honour me with the title of my dead clan... Worthy, is it?"
The man straightened and bowed again.
"I am Worthy, owner of the Aerie and all you see here. Please Lady Yashida, I ask that you not tarnish this visit by spilling blood. All steel remains sheathed here."
"I will strive to do as you ask, Worthy."
"You are too kind." With another bow, he turned to Logan. "I didn't think to see you here again, Logan. Was Spain not to your liking?"
"The Spanish Queen was far too generous with her gold, and I had to leave ere she forced more of it on me... I'm looking for Lebeau. Where's he at?"
The sky blue eyes turned hard.
"There'll be no settling of accounts here, Logan. You know the rule."
"I don't carry steel, Worthy."
"The rule still applies, little man."
Logan saw the hand signal. Three large brutes started to converge from different parts of the room, including the four-armed one. At the corner of his eye, Logan saw his own men start to position themselves, but he waved them off.
"No steel, no blood, Worthy. My word on it."
Logan's black eyes were locked on Worthy's blue ones. The brutes stopped and moved back to their stations.
"Lebeau's in back... in the pit."
The pit was a large hollowed out area in a dirt floor down in a basement level. All around the edge of the room, men and women were yelling encouragement at the pit and waving money. Logan picked up several scents as they walked in... the human ones, he was used to. The others, he didn't like at all.
A wolf and a large hound were facing each other in the pit. The hound bled from ugly bites to its flank and shoulder. The wolf was less bloody, but walking on three legs, holding a foreleg off the ground. The two circled each other, teeth bared, eyes narrow. The dog was a large hunting breed, easily standing a hand higher and wider than the wolf, whose ribs showed through. Worthy's rule had it's exceptions, it seemed.
As Logan and Mariko entered, all attention was focused on the ring. A cluster of scantily clad serving women and several rough looking men were arranged around one particular area of the pit. At the centre of them, a young looking man with reddish brown hair and a slim, muscular build shouted encouragement to the hound. He wore tight fitting leathers with a loose coat under which Logan spotted at least three knives on him. His features were handsome, the more so because they framed his red on black eyes.
The men around him were all better dressed than most of the rough crowd in the Aerie, and Logan saw at least one of the supposed serving girls was armed as well.
One of the men, less interested in the match than the others, noticed Logan and whispered something to the red-eyed man. He instantly looked up, saw Logan and sprang to his feet. A hush fell on the crowd as they watched the two men. In the pit, the hound rushed the wolf and was driven back.
A wide grin spread across the red-eyed man's face. His eyes actually sparkled as he spread his arms wide, as if to embrace Logan from across the room.
"Madames et monsieurs, we are onored indeed. My confrere Logan has chosen to join our sport!"
"This kinda crap doesn't interest me, Lebeau."
"Ahh, may'haps you identify too much wit' de animals, non?"
"Be a better example than most."
The red eyes shifted.
"You set yo' own example, mon ami, by de company you keep." He bowed, his eyes never leaving Mariko's. "Mam'selle Yashida, you be a long way from de far East."
Mariko's tone was frosty.
"Afraid I'm here to steal your business, Lebeau?"
The Frenchman laughed, his eyes like match-flame as they shifted back to Logan.
"But come, Logan, the hound is my own. Fifty gold doubloon says he kill de wolf."
Logan's eyes darted down to the pit.
"One hundred, Frenchman."
The grin widened.
Lebeau and his entourage settled to watch the fight. Mariko leaned in.
"This is foolish. You know he'll try to kill you."
"Darlin', I'd be disappointed if he didn't."
In the pit, the hound lunged again. The wolf jumped back on three legs, receiving a grazing bite to its shoulder. The hound whirled and tried for the throat, and the wolf suddenly planted the seemingly wounded leg, ducked the attack, and sank it's fangs deep into the hound's neck. It growled and leapt back as the hound tried to savage it, too late. The large animal made one halfhearted effort to get at the wolf, then fell, its life spilling out onto the sawdust and dirt. The wolf stood still, panting, licking the blood from its chops.
The crowd was quiet. Logan's voice echoed across the room.
"That'll be a hundred gold doubloons, Lebeau."
"But of course, mon ami."
Lebeau reached within his tunic and brought out a leather pouch. He made to throw it across the room, but it landed in the pit. The wolf started and growled.
Logan glanced once at Lebeau, then took one step and vaulted into the pit. The wolf was on its guard instantly, crouched down, fangs bared. Logan kept his hands open and bent his knees, meeting the animal's eyes. They remained locked like that for an instant, then the wolf settled down and started to lick at the cut on its shoulder. Logan casually walked over and picked up the pouch, tossing it up to Mariko. Lebeau stood at the edge of the pit, looking down.
"So, maybe you remind de wolf of a friend, non?"
"Maybe it recognizes one of it's own."
"Could be, mon ami, could be."
"Come on down, Lebeau. Maybe the bitch that spawned you was a relative."
Silence filled the room. Lebeau's smile faded, then returned.
"What you want here, Logan?"
"First things first..."
Logan hissed once, and the wolf sprang to its feet. With an impressive leap, Logan grabbed the top edge of the pit wall. Those standing at the edge jumped back, expecting him to clamber up. Logan just hung there, his feet almost his own height off the floor of the pit. In an instant, the wolf ran, jumped, dug its claws in and climbed up his back and into the crowd. People scrambled and cursed and screamed as the wolf snapped at them and made its way to the door. A burly woodsman made to swing his club at the animal, but Mariko backed into him and jammed an elbow into his ample gut. The wolf passed through the door, screams and general chaos sounding from the Aerie as it fled out the front door.
Logan dropped back into the pit. Blood spotted his back where the wolf's claws broke the skin. If he noticed, his voice never wavered.
"We got a problem, Lebeau. France and England are planning ta send an armada to sweep the coast. The Church is calling it a crusade to rid the waters of pirates."
"So?" the Frenchman scoffed, "We lie low for a while, den start up again."
"Not this time... this time, they're lookin' ta burn us out. Every port is gonna be raided, every cove purged, every shipping lane and smuggling route patrolled. No way we can survive this intact, less we do somthin' about it."
"And lemme guess. You got us a plan, oui?"
"Yeah, but I need you, your ships and any more you can bring in on it."
"And I supposed to just hand it all to ya? You got some serious bulles, mon ami."
"I need your ships, Lebeau. I don't need you ta lead em."
"You challenging me, little man?"
"You tell me."
"Worthy not like it if'n I come down there and put a knife in you, Logan."
"You're a bright kid, Lebeau. You'll think of somethin'."
"I already have."
He reached behind the chair and brought out a long fighting staff. One of the men to his side threw a similar one into the pit. Logan caught it. Lebeau jumped down, along with two of his men, who grabbed up the hound's carcass and passed it out, then climbed out as well. The staff spun around in his hand, a blurring circle that whistled in the air.
"You an' me, homme. You win, I gotta help you send da royalty runnin'. I win... I get da Wolf's Crest."
Logan nodded once. Lebeau continued.
"An jus ta make things interestin' we gonna do this a little different. You make de challenge, I make de rules."
He produced two lengths of cloth from his belt.
"I hope you not afraid o' de dark."
-x- -x- -x-
There was the slightest moment of silence, and then the crowd erupted, calling out bets on the contest.
Mariko appeared in the pit.
"I hope you know what you are doing. Lebeau is supposed to be a master at this. He has never lost."
"What kinda odds are they askin'?"
"Ten to one against you."
"Bet half the gold, then wait til they get worse before ya bet the rest."
"You are a fool."
"Darlin', I didn't know you cared."
"I meant you are a fool if you think I will bet any before the fight is underway."
Her hand grabbed his.
"You die, and I will come to Hell just to kill you myself, Logan."
He looked her in the eyes.
"Fair enough, darlin'. Fair enough."
Lebeau broke their moment.
"Lady Yashida," he brandished the blindfolds, "Would you be so kind...?"
Mariko tied the folds of cloth around each of their faces, tightening Lebeau's with a vicious jerk of the ends. With one last look at Logan, she climbed out of the pit.
Logan and Lebeau stood opposite each other. Eyes hidden, one's mouth a grim line, the other's a wide smile.
"Last chance, homme. You yield now, maybe I let you work as a cabin boy on the Wolf, oui?"
"Lebeau, you irritated me in Greece... now, you've really pissed me off."
The shouts of the crowd picked up, most cheering Lebeau, some yelling for Logan.
Lebeau brought his staff into both hands and concentrated. Even without the use of his eyes, he was far from blind. He was one of those `tainted' by the comet's passage, and amongst other things, he could sense motion in a limited area around him... he literally had eyes in the back of his head, and on the sides and top as well. As Logan twisted his own staff and held it parallel to his body, Lebeau instantly knew where he was.
For his part, Logan ignored his blindness and let his other senses expand to fill the gap. The scuff of Lebeau's boots on the sand, the smell of sweat and too much scented oil on his hair, all of it combined to give him clues to his opponent's attack. His senses weren't those of a man... they were those of an animal... a predator.
Neither man knew of the other's abilities, neither was going to underestimate the other even so.
Mariko watched, a part of her fearing for Logan, a part of her thrilling to the contest, to the heady rush as this man she had joined her path to fought for honour and glory. The Frenchman leapt forward and planted his staff, vaulting over it and kicking out. A booted heel caught Logan full in the face. The impact swung him around and he moved with it, swinging his staff in a wide, swift arc that should have taken his foe in the side. Lebeau landed in a crouch, the blow whistling over his head. His own staff snaked out and knocked Logan's feet out from under him. Logan went down and Lebeau sprang, jabbing his weapon tip towards where he knew Logan's head would be. Logan had rolled as soon as he landed, and the tip raised a puff of sand where his face had been a moment earlier. His feet lifted and thrust down, pushing his body upright. He swung his stick around and Lebeau twisted to get out of the way, almost as if he knew the attack was coming, and he did, although Mariko didn't know it. Even so, he caught the tip in his side and stumbled slightly. Logan cocked his head and swung again, stepping forward. Lebeau caught the attack at the centre of his own staff, his hands wide to brace it. The two men were locked for a moment, each pushing against the other.
"Dat the best you can do, I gonna be waving to the Queen from your ship real soon, Logan."
Logan's only reply was to draw his lips back in a snarl and spin to another attack. Lebeau caught it on his stick.
The crowd, bloodthirsty and loud until now, gradually quieted as the two men played out a brutal dance. Many would swear they fought as if neither was blindfolded. Again and again, Lebeau got past Logan's guard. The room echoed with each time the staff connected to his side, shoulder or thigh. A jab to his stomach sent Logan to his knees and he only just managed to bring up his staff in time to block a hit that would have taken his head off.
Bets were being taken again in the crowd... Lebeau's greater reach and apparent speed setting the odds against Logan.
"Your man seems to be getting the worse of it."
Mariko didn't take her eyes off the fight as she heard Worthy's voice next to her. Her reply was far more relaxed than she felt.
"If you are so sure of that, would you care to wager?"
"Indeed, lady. Since if he looses, I might loose far more."
She glanced at him.
"I hear everything that takes place here. How long, do you suppose, before the armada finds its way here?"
"Will you help?"
He seemed not to hear her, watching the fight. Lebeau launched a devastating flurry of attacks, forcing Logan to back up step by step. The Frenchman darted from place to place, always attacking from another direction, striking Logan's sides and thighs again and again. Blood trailed down the shorter man's face from where a hard blow had broken the skin at his temple.
"Ten to one against Logan, Lady... for the hundred Lebeau lost."
"You insult me, Worthy. That braggart's money is not worth the karma I would loose wagering it. Five hundred, at twenty to one, and we use your network should we need it."
Logan pitched over sideways as Lebeau made him duck a wide swing and caught him under the chin. Blood spilled from his lips as he fell against the wall of the pit and down to his knees.
"Done, Lady Yashida. Though I am sure I don't know what network you could mean."
"Well, Logan, you bout ready to give up?"
"Why, Lebeau? You had enough?"
"Fool, look at you, bleedin' and beaten. She's only a ship, homme."
"The armada threatens you too, Lebeau."
"I doubt that mos' sincerely... you give?"
Logan tilted his head towards the other man.
"You sound tired Lebeau, I can hear you breathing from here."
"At least I still breathing when this be over."
Lebeau swung his stick, forcing Logan to move as he heard the slight whistle the staff made in the air. Logan rolled forward and past the Frenchman, and froze in place. The move went so quickly from stillness to movement back to stillness, Lebeau had only an instant to register it. Sure that Logan was behind him and ready to attack, he spun and swung by reflex, even as he realized he couldn't sense the other man. Overbalanced by the attack, he couldn't react as Logan jabbed backwards and up, hitting Lebeau full in the gut and doubling him over, right into a sharp crack on the chin from the other end of Logan's staff. Lebeau staggered back as Logan smoothly rose to his feet, arms extended with the staff on the right, held in the middle, the other hand open, not moving at all. Lebeau stepped back a few times, whirling his staff in a wide figure eight to prevent any attack. After a moment, he froze as well. Blood trickled from his split chin. The reddish brown hair was matted to his temple and neck by sweat.
"Nice recovery homme. Gave you the one good shot you gonna get."
Logan didn't speak.
"Come on, Logan, no last words fore I take your head off? Maybe say goodbye to the lady?"
The crowd looked on. Mariko turned to Worthy.
"I trust you have the cash on hand."
"The fight's not over, Lady."
"Oh yes, honorable Worthy. It is."
Logan spun the staff in his hand. Lebeau leapt forward instantly, two hands close together, swinging his weapon for where he sensed Logan's head would be. Logan leapt to meet him, staff still held one handed.
The two met in mid-air. Logan's staff caught Lebeau's swing and pushed it aside as his free hand struck out, the open palm catching Lebeau in the throat. Both men dropped to the ground. Logan on his feet, Lebeau on his knees, both hands clutching at his neck, coughing and gagging.
Dropping his staff, Logan walked over to the gasping Frenchman. He flipped off the blindfold and dropped it on the man's head. Lebeau flinched, then pried up his own blindfold, glaring up at Logan through tearing eyes.
"I'll send word when we meet, Lebeau. Be a good host and make sure everyone's there."
Logan didn't wait for a reply.
-x- -x- -x-
The Wolf's Crest stood at anchor in a well hidden cove. Protected from the current and winds, the three-masted galleon rocked as the dusk tide rolled out. Men scrambled about the rigging, securing sails and coiling ropes. A longboat was paddled between the small beach and the ship, ferrying men to dry ground to forage for wood and fresh food and water
On the quarterdeck, Logan stood alone. His dark eyes watched the sunset over the trees that hid the inlet. A slight breeze blew across his hair, sweeping it up briefly like the mane of a lion.
His ears strained past the banter of his crew and the thousand sounds of the ship, to catch the lapping of the tide against the hull. He breathed shallowly, tasting the sea and the winds that played across it from far away.
Even caught up in the peace of the moment, Logan caught the slight creak in the wood of the steps behind him. None of the crew would interrupt him at times like these, and the tread was too light to be Mariko. The breeze coming in off the sea denied him a scent, but he was already fairly sure of who it was.
Without speaking, Logan tapped a spot on the rail near him. He heard the rustle as a slight form walked to it. Taking one last deep breath from the sea, he turned to look at the girl they had pulled off the clipper.
She cringed at his glance, her eyes looking fixedly at her feet. Logan lifted his hand off the rail and pointed to the sunset, the turned back and watched. After a moment, the girl watched as well.
Her voice was hesitant.
"Yeah kid. `Fraid so."
Logan turned towards her. She flinched, but held his eyes just slightly. Logan looked at her thin face, and pale skin, wearing one of Mariko's canvas shirts cook had taken in for her, belted at the waist by some rope. She couldn't have been more than thirteen years old.
"He's gone, kid. He can't hurt you anymore. Gone, you understand?"
Her eyes flicked between his face and the deck, then settled on the railing.
"Pirate... kill... reverend."
Logan nodded slowly.
Her face held a look of intense concentration for a moment, then resolved into a statue like calm. She heaved a sigh, and stood at the railing next to Logan, watching the sunset.
At dawn, the longboat left.
Logan sat at the prow, every sense straining towards to coastline. Mariko sat at the stern, controlling the rudder as eight pirates strained at oars. Their strokes were smooth and close to the water, barely splashing. They paddled hard through most of the day. Two more pirates sat at rest, so that every man could have a break while the others kept up the pace. Through the morning and on towards dusk they paddled. It was cloudy, and the wind moving the clouds about forced them to paddle harder to avoid being pushed too close to shore. No one spoke. Sound travelled far and fast across water. Only once did they stop. Logan lifted his hand and immediately all the men shipped their oars and crouched low in the boat. Mariko ducked down and kept the rudder steady, and Logan lowered himself to his knees, watching the patrol ship go by a few leagues out to sea. They were looking for smugglers and refugees trying to sneak inland, not a low cut longboat already close to shore. Anyone looking inland would have only a slight chance at spotting them. The setting sun at their backs made discovery even less likely. The patrol boat never slowed, its two masts of sails filled with the wind, carrying it away from them.
Logan lifted his hand and they continued.
-x- -x- -x-
"You know this is foolish, Logan."
"I know we need to know more about the armada, Mari, and this is the best was to get it."
The boat lay at a point just outside the widely patrolled area of the capital. The city lit up in the night, a thousand torches, lamps and candles blazing like low stars.
"It is most convenient that it is also the best was to see... her."
"I'm not getting into this, Mariko. Dawn ain't so far off I can waste the night arguin with you."
Mariko studied the distant city as Logan stripped off his shirt. Wearing only short canvas trousers tied with rope, he moved to the side of the longboat.
Mariko caught his arm.
"Beware of sharks, Logan. It's a swim of near two leagues."
"The sharks are the one's that'd best beware, Mari."
And with that, he dove into the water, making barely a ripple. She saw his head surface a good length away and start to move smoothly towards the distant lights. An instant later, she realized she was holding her breath. She turned to the oarsmen.
"Take us to the cliffs. We wait there."
She kept her eyes off the city as they moved away.
-x- -x- -x-
Tall watchtowers stood guard against ships seeking to enter the port in the night. Armed guardsmen patrolled in groups about the streets and alleyways. None of these watchers saw a single dark figure pull itself onto a dock. The figure crouched, scanning the area, staying low to the wood planks as the water dripped off.
He stayed where he was long enough for a small candle to burn down. A patrol moved by. Soldiers scanned the docks, but failed to pick out his low silhouette.
When they moved on, he made his way along the dock and into the streets. Eyes, ears and nose all wary for danger. His thoughts, however, were elsewhere.
-x- -x- -x-
She had known when he was within a stone's throw of the keep. Her thoughts had called out to him, but he had ignored her call, scaling the outer wall and making his way up towards the small suite that was hers.
She felt his determination as he reached the balcony below hers and dug his bare fingers into the stones of the wall. She sat on a small stool facing the balcony and waited. Moments later, Logan pushed aside the heavy drapes and entered the room.
They stared at each other for a moment, then she rose up and crossed the room, wrapping her arms around him tightly. She stood almost a full head taller than him, and when she straightened and faced him, he had to look up. His eyes never wavered.
"I could have told you what you needed to know without this visit Logan."
"When it mattered, Jane, you braved hell itself to come to me. I can't do any less."
"So they tell me."
Her hand touched his face for a moment. Then she turned her back and faced the wall, wrapping her arms around herself as she spoke.
"The armada will sweep down from the Dutch border. The French and English ships will meet and raze the coast end to end."
"The Dutch and Belgians in on this too?"
"No, but they are willing to stand aside... out of fear, if little else."
"How many ships?"
"Forty. The Grand admiral himself will command."
"Haight... still wants my head, most likely."
"Can you blame him?"
"His son was a rapist and a bad captain. I did the royal navy a favour."
"I'm sure he sees it that way. Logan... there will be Hellhounds on the vanguard."
He didn't respond. She turned to look at him, her face stricken.
"You can't win. Hide, Logan... this once, just walk away."
"If I did, would you come with me?"
The question hung in the air.
"You know I cannot."
"Cuz you have this idea that you have to save your soul. Jane... it wasn't your fault..."
"No Logan. My sins are my own to deal with."
"But you deal with me..."
"Because the church is wrong to force herself on those like you. Because I have an obligation to those like you... and me... to prove our souls are not damned from birth."
"I see they haven't branded you yet."
"The cardinal wants me to choose it myself, as a sign of penance."
"Cardinal Essex is an obsessive fanatic who thinks he's God's gift to humanity. I wonder Jane... if your penance will cost you more than freedom would've."
"My life, Logan... my decision. And you misjudge the Cardinal."
"That girl's death wasn't your decision. Staying here is... Good-bye Jane."
Her head down, she listened to the rustle of the drapes as he left the way he had come. After a moment, the shutters swung closed just a touch too hard to be caused by the wind.
-x- -x- -x-
They gathered in Worthy's Aerie... in a back room so walled off as to dim the noise from the bar itself. Seated about the room were some of the most wanted men in every seafaring nation in Europe.
The Frenchman, Lebeau, sat leaning back in his chair, feet crossed on the table, grin firmly in place. He sipped from a goblet of wine in his hand, though little of it passed his lips as he observed the gathering.
True to his word, he had put the message out. Something big was in the works, and if the denizens of the sea's dark side wanted to be in on it, they'd best hie themselves to Worthy's by the new moon. And they did. Not all of them... not even a half trusted the others enough to risk such a gathering... but some did.
The Spaniard, El Aquila, the Eagle' was there... as was the Hun called the Demon, who kept his face covered under a hood. Yellow eyes glimmered beneath that hood, but the man, feared all across the German coast as a bane to shipping remained lost to rumour and darkness. His reputation as a swordsman prevented any from trying to look too closely.
Every eye turned to the door as it swung open and Logan walked in, Mariko a step behind. Without a word he unrolled a map and spread it across the table, upending Lebeau's goblet in the process. Hostile silence reigned.
Logan spoke into it.
"The armada will sweep the coast from here..."
He pointed to the map and a single bone claw extended from his hand, pining the paper to the table.
"...forty warships. They'll raze the coast and sink anyone who even looks suspicious. The Grand Admiral himself is leading them."
Logan paused to survey the room.
"We got one chance and one chance only... an ambush... here."
The claw shifted to another point. A low murmur passed through the collected pirates. The Demon spoke, his accent heavy, and muffled within the cloak.
"Herr Logan... they vill have the wind at zerr back... we will be swept aside like so much wheat. Nicht gutt."
Logan's eyes narrowed as he peered into the hood. Yellow eyes peered back.
"You didn't have the wind at yer back in Oostende when the Dutch navy closed in... and you still got away."
"Jawohl, but it was night, and a storm favoured us with a wind. That vas a chase... this... a massacre."
"Unless of course we bend the odds in our favour."
Lebeau rose to his feet.
"Maybe lady luck she ride yo' wake, Logan, but the weather bow to no one. I know dat spot. The winds they favour the ship comin' south, an' that be the armada."
"All true, Lebeau... cept that I'm gonna provide us with a little edge of our own."
-x- -x- -x-
Jane opened the door.
Logan just stared at her, no shock in his eyes as he studied her.
"Nice, but you're not her."
"I can be anyone you want, pirate."
Her features flowed and shifted, she became slightly shorter, hair and skin and features changing to be the image of Mariko Yashida.
"Or perhaps your tastes are a bit more... creative?"
She shrank yet more, and the child they had rescued from the reverend looked up at him. Her eyes widened as his hand darted out and wrapped around her throat. He lifted her up off the ground. Her hands struggled against his wrist, then dropped and she grinned.
"Are... you... quite... done?"
"Show me your face, shifter."
Her features flowed again. She became heavier, though he didn't let go. She became taller, her feet just touching the ground as she tried to relieve the pressure on her neck. A woman's features looked back at him. She was quite attractive. Night black hair framing pale, sharp features. Her eyes met his evenly, then turned blood red, even as her skin suddenly turned midnight blue.
"Is this better, dog? When the master lets me skin your hide, you'll know who's using you for a rug."
*Now, now, Raven... that is hardly a polite way to greet someone coming to beg favours.*
The voice echoed in Logan's head. It sounded like grease being poured from a cauldron.
"Where are you, fat man?"
*Right where the spider always is, Logan. At the centre of his web. If you'll stop throttling dear Raven, she'll bring you to me.*
Logan opened his hand and the woman regained her feet. Her eyes narrowed as she rubbed at throat.
"You'll pay for that, dog."
"Dog am I? No one holding my leash, shapeshifter. Can you say the same?"
With a further vicious glare, she turned and walked down the passageway. Logan followed, alert for danger, but not really expecting any. Amal Farouk was a businessman. Killing clients was a poor way to conduct business. For not the first time, Logan considered killing the fat man.
*And yet you know you can't, because you might need me again... aaaaahhhhh, Logan... are you certain you will not come work for me? The profits would be enough to buy Baghdad.*
Logan kept his mind blank. The amused tone of the voice in his head didn't make it easy. Ahead of him, Raven stopped and opened a heavy wood door. She gestured at Logan to pass.
"After you, shapeshifter."
"I have other duties, dog."
Logan made to walk by her, then grabbed at her wrist holding the door, twisted it so she gasped in pain and propelled her ahead of him into the room.
Fists clenched, barely restraining his claws, Logan walked into the Fat Man's den.
Farouk sat as always, behind a wide table in an overstuffed chair that threatened to collapse under his bulk. The table was decorated with stacks of coins of various nations and values, and several massive platters of meat and bread. Along one wall, a line of women stood, eyes downcast, hands clasped in front of them. None looked up as Logan walked in. Raven on the other hand, drew a dagger from a boot and lunged at him.
Logan extended a hand to catch the attack, but sensed the feint an instant before it happened. Almost casually, he knocked the knife from Raven's hand as it arced towards his throat. The blade spun through the air and embedded itself in the table. A stack of Turkish lira spilled around it. Some fell over the edge of the table and onto Farouk's lap. His heavy jowls lined in a way that would be a frown on a slimmer man. Raven spun into a kick at Logan, then suddenly fell to the ground, her hands pressed against her temples, eyes shut tightly. Logan turned away from her to Farouk.
They considered each other from across the table. Farouk's eyes, small points of obsidian in the brown fleshly mass of his face, stared hard at the expressionless pirate. The heavy brow wrinkled suddenly and a deep laugh erupted from the man.
"Your defences are strong as ever, Logan. One day you must tell me where you learned to protect your thoughts so closely."
"No, I don't."
"As you wish. You're not here to present me with mysteries. What do you want?"
"I need one of your toys, fat man. Something that can give us an edge against the armada."
"One of my pretties? Logan, you are a treat. You curse me for a slaver to all who would listen... then, in desperation, you come to me for the very thing you despise. How noble... how very very noble."
"I don't have to like it... or you, fat man. This time, I got no choice."
"Indeed, Logan. Indeed. Ladies, present yourselves."
The line of women standing in the shadows stepped forward. All were dressed provocatively, and all had similarly blank expressions. Their eyes stared adoringly at Farouk and nowhere else.
"Now, which of my pretties catches your fancy, Logan?"
One massive hand swept across the line, then stopped to indicate the subject. The first was a young girl, her red hair worn loose about her shoulders. She had the reversed cross branded on her face of one who was found to be hellborne at a young age. Her green eyes held little spirit.
"My siren... perhaps her song can lure the sailors to their deaths? And lull you to sleep at night as well."
Logan studied the girl, a frown fixed on his face.
"Men on ships can't hear singing over wind and waves and screams."
The hand swung again, coming to point at a tall woman with strong features. Her face and bearing were those of aristocracy... her long hair a slightly purple tinge that branded her hellborne as surely as the reversed cross on some of the others.
"Perhaps the lady Elizabeth? She's a strong thoughdancer. Oh, how she fought me at first, before she came to see that her best interests were my own."
"I don't need a mentat, Farouk..."
"No, I suppose you have one of your own... ah, I know just the thing... Mistral darling, step forward, would you."
Logan studied the woman as she did as told. She was African, but her features not distinctly one tribe or region he recognized. She was tall, and unlike any young African he had ever seen, she had white hair that stood out even cropped close to her scalp as it was. Logan walked in front of her and was further surprised by her blue eyes. For one who had raided the Dutch and Portuguese settlements on the African coast with marauding tribesmen, this was an impossibility.
Logan turned to Farouk, the question in his eyes.
"Ah... I have your interest now, yes?", the fat man rose up, his stomach bulging under his dark robes as he walked to the woman, resting his hand under her chin, "She was found in the wreckage of a trade caravan coming north. Her parents were slaughtered by thieves... acquaintances of your perhaps?"
Logan ignored the comment.
"It was thought to sell her to slavers, and one of my agents was approached. I happened by and found an extraordinary mind... so I made her mine. I name her Mistral, after the desert winds of my homeland. She commands the winds, Logan. The storm is hers. With her at your side, you can have the very winds of the gods at your back."
"Sounds too good to be true. Why would I give her back?"
"Because you're an honorable fool Logan. And also, because of this,"
Farouk shifted the woman's face with his hands so that she was staring directly at Logan. He pressed his wide lips to her ear and spoke in a low, seductive voice that left Logan feeling cold. "Mistral darling, who is your master?"
"You are, king of shadows."
"And what will you do if too long away from me?"
"I will die without you, my Lord."
Farouk turned back to Logan.
"A simple command placed in their thoughts. Only I have the key. If any of my pretties is too long away from me, she dies."
"So your a slaver of minds, as well as bodies. How nice for you."
"And souls as well Logan. Maybe one day I'll add yours to my collection."
"Not bloody likely."
"I'll require further a half share in your next raid. A full share should she perish in your service."
"One day, fat man... I'm going to shut you down."
"I doubt that Logan. Behind your veneer of honour and righteousness, there is very little difference between us."
"Except for one thing, fat man. I don't revel in what I am."
"Keep telling yourself that Logan. One day you may even believe it."
-x- -x- -x-
"Tell me, Logan... are you collecting women who follow you without question now?"
"I'm not in a mood for this Mari."
"Forgive me. I'm used to having your heart and ship as my own. Suddenly it has become crowded around here."
"Dis place too tight for ya, lady, you more'n welcome aboard the Rogue. My cabin plenty big."
Narrow brown eyes threw daggers at red-on-black ones.
"If I ever do walk the deck of you ship, Lebeau, it will be to make her my own."
"Fair nuf. What bout you, blue-eyes? Care to join me for dinner?"
Logan turned from his place at the rail, watching supplies being loaded to his ship.
"Leave her, Lebeau. She ain't for you."
"But mon ami... if'n dis beauty going to make the wind blow for us, it not better to see what she can do now?", Lebeau turned back to the silent Mistral. Her eyes remained directed at the deck. Lebeau's fingers brushed her cheek. "C'mon, beauty... lemme see the storm inside you, non? You not want to make the wind blow for Remy? Feh!"
He turned from her and approached Logan.
"Fat man played you for a fool, Logan. She ain't got nothin' we can WHOA!"
The air was still, but the gust that struck the Frenchman from behind was strong enough to propel him over the railing and send him plunging to the water below, narrowly missing the longboat moored near the ship. Lebeau surfaced after a moment, sputtering and cursing in french. Logan looked down at him and grinned.
"When you finish your bath, Lebeau, my men will take you back to shore. Make sure you're at the rendezvous on time. I'd hate to wipe out the armada without you."
Lebeau's response was lost to the slightest rumble of thunder in the white clouds above. Mariko looked at Mistral, then to Logan.
"Apparently, Farouk isn't as powerful as he likes to think."
"Maybe, Mari. Or maybe some hearts just don't care to be chained. Go below Mistral."
The woman walked away towards the ladder. A small form scurried around her as she descended. The child rushed across the deck and came to a stop a pace away from Mariko.
"Mari...", there followed a torrent of words in Chinese that Logan couldn't follow. Mariko listened carefully, then replied. The child shot a quick frown at Logan and ran down from the quarterdeck and back into the hold.
"What was that about?"
"She asks that I not send her from the ship. I had planned to send her to Worthy until we returned."
"Smart. What'd you tell her?"
"That where we were going, there was no room for children. Only warriors."
He crossed the deck to her quickly and stopped a pace away, eyes intent, face like stone. Mariko put a finger to his lips.
"Do not dishonour me by asking me to go with her Logan. My place is with you."
His hand, callused and rough, wrapped around her slender one.
"And there's no one I'd rather have fighting by my side, darlin'. No one."
Her grip tightened on him and they moved down into the hold as the sun began to set.
-x- -x- -x-
"The armada's ahead... full sail and a heavy wind! The armada's ahead off the port bow!!!"
Logan spared an instant to stare off into the distance. The slightest hint of black lines speckled the horizon. Tall masts of ships sent to kill him.
"Signal the other ships!"
The man in the crow's nest waved a yellow flag. Cries went up from the host of ships around them.
"I want the sails awash and this ship cinched for battle now, lubbers... MOVE!"
Pirates swarmed up the nets, throwing buckets of seawater on the sails to protect them from fiery gifts from the warships' catapults. Others hurried about the deck in organized chaos. Ropes were tied off, portholes closed, weapons handed out.
He turned as Mariko swung down from a net to the deck beside him.
"There's no sign of Lebeau's ships. The armada will be amongst us in moments. He's betrayed us, Logan. We must retreat."
"Not a chance darlin'. You know the Frenchman, he just has to make an entrance."
"You do know we can still get away."
"And let them hound us down the coast. No chance, Mari. We stand and win or die."
White teeth flashed a smile from under hard eyes. She drew a long rapier from where it rested at her hip.
"As it should be. Let the poets sing of this day then."
They stood together at the bow, watching the armada draw closer.
"They'll be in catapult range soon. Their ships have a greater range than ours."
"Then we'll just have to close the gap. Give me full sails and ready us for some speed."
Logan moved away towards the mainmast, leaving Mariko to give the orders. He found the African, Mistral, standing, looking to the sky.
"Don't give us everything you have until I signal you."
"It will be as you wish."
Her voice was so dispassionate Logan spent a moment studying her.
"I won't make you go back t'him."
"I would kill you if you tried to stop me."
"Are you really so much his then?"
"Then why... is his hold on ya so strong?"
"No... I have sworn to kill him myself."
The tone of her voice and hardness of her eyes brought a grin to Logan's mouth.
"In that case darlin', I'll make sure to get ya back safe an' sound."
She turned from him and moved up the net towards the crow's nest. Logan shouted the lookout to get down. The man nearly stumbled as he past the woman on the way.
"Devil's bollocks, cap'n. Her eyes... they're like storm clouds, lightning and all!"
Logan watched as she spread her arms wide, head cast back. St.Elmo's fire... bolts of electricity every sailor knows to play about the mast and rigging, seemed to envelope the nest. For a moment the wind stopped. Sails flattened, ropes creaked, water splashed against the side... and then the wind began to rise. A gentle breeze, then a stronger one... and then a step short of a gale rose up behind them, sending the small flotilla of corsairs leaping forward towards their foe.
Logan stared at the woman an instant longer, then began to shout orders. The two sides... the armada of warships and the fleet of pirates half its size, moved towards each other.
"Ships off the stern... they're flying the crossbones!"
Logan looked to the side. Another group of ships was moving in from the open sea towards the armada. With Logan's fleet ahead and the mainland to windward, the royal armada was going to have nowhere to go but right through the pirates.
Logan stood on the bowsprit, his eyes squinting into the wind, hair a wild mantle behind him as the wind blew them towards the armada. Every sense seemed heightened, every detail of the coming warships seemed sharper... every detail... the snap of ropes in the wind, the scents of sweat and fear and... fire.
"Mistral, NOW, put us in their midst!"
The wind became a gale, throwing the corsairs like hungry wolves into the fray. At the same instant, catapults on the largest of the warships snapped forwards, sending parcels of fire, bales of hay coated in oil and grease, at the foe. Mistral's wind moved the ships under the arc of the weapon. For an instant, the sky over the pirates was painted in flame. All could smell the sulphur and brimstone in the air... and then the two forces collided.
-x- -x- -x-
The two lines of ships collided like tidal waves flung at each other with the full force of the sea behind them. Captains screamed orders and steersman fought their wheels for every ounce of steerage. A huge pirate frigate collided full on with an english warship. The sound was shattering as planks were crushed and masts knocked awry. A moment later the crews of the two ships flooded across the decks like ants, determined to take as many of the foe with them to a watery grave.
The back rank of the armada loosened their catapults, sending missiles of burning pitch and wood into the hindmost of the pirates. Sails caught and decks lit up in burning, dancing flame. An instant later Lebeau's forces hit the armada broadside and the catapults were of no use.
In the centre of the pirate fleet, his own ship still uncommitted as those around him made for targets, Logan picked out what he sought.
"Steersman, hard starboard and hold the bow... I want the flagship!"
He crew complied. All around them, ships played out a deadly dance, their captains playing for position. The pirates tried to close quickly and send boarders over the side to fire sails and hole hulls. The english and french tried to gain distance and use their catapults and ballistae to eliminate whole ships. The fiery catapult loads and the huge bolts from the ballista could ruin a privateer with a few good shots.
Pirates replied with nails and chain link from their own catapults. Sails shredded and decks were filled with screaming crewmen in the hail of small missiles. The smaller ships darted about, coming at the armada like hungry wolves bringing down a buck. The predator had to avoid the horns and close tight for the kill.
Men swarmed across planks and ropes, intent on seizing ships, and sinking those they couldn't take.
Here and there amidst the fight, there were unearthly sounds as the church's Hellhounds and those hellborne of the pirates clashed. Energy, visions and unearthly noises played about the battle. A man in white rose into the air above a pirate frigate flying a devil's pitchfork. Hands held wide, he rained dark bolts of power down on the ship's deck. There was a flash of smoke behind him and the ship's captain appeared in mid-air, striking out with a rapier to run the Hellhound through. The man, known as the Demon, disappeared just as quickly.
Elsewhere, a Hellhound leapt from the deck of a royal ship and with a roar like thunder seemed to sheath himself in flame. He flew across the water, punching a hole in the deck of a pirate clipper. Her crew had no choice but to abandon their ship for the water. Dark fins cruised about as sharks began to sense the blood being spilled into their kingdom. The flying man circled back towards another ship. A woman standing on the prow reached her hands out and the air itself seemed to distort around him. Still blasting, the flying man skidded across the surface of the water and suddenly disappeared beneath the waves. He didn't reappear.
The flagship came into sight. Logan readied his men, Mariko at his side. A french frigate came at them, but the heavier Wolf's Crest turned into the rush, tearing off the foe's bow as she slid by. Another pirate ship slid by, her crew firing crossbows at the royal crew as they abandoned ship.
The flagship's pilot must have seen the approaching Wolf's Crest. He turned the flagship into the wind, presently her bow towards Logan's. The two ships rushed at each other. Logan gripped the railing until his knuckles turned white. The distance closed until the bowsprits almost touched.
"Hard aport! Mistral, cease!"
The sudden cessation of the wind and the swing of the rudder brought the pirate ship just slightly to the side of the flagship. The royal pilot saw the move. He swung his own rudder to meet the foe tip to tip, but the prevailing wind forced them onwards too far to do anything but come up alongside them.
"Stand by grapples! Pilot! Hard to starboard and I want our hull kissing hers like newlyweds...NOW!"
Logan's steersman was one of the best. He brought the Crest up against the flagship and brought the two together with only the slightest sound of their hulls brushing against each other. Even as grapples tied the ships tight, Logan flung himself into the soldiers gathering at the rail.
"OVER THE SIDE AND INTO THE FRAY MATES! PLUNDER AND BLOOD! PLUNDER AND BLOOD!!!"
Screaming at the top of his lungs, Logan leapt across the gap between the ships. Mariko landed next to him just as royal soldiers and sailors ran to meet them. For an instant, it was just the two of them. Logan grinned. Mariko spun her sword and called upon her ancestors in Japanese. The flagship's crew hesitated for just one second, and then pirates swarmed across the deck and the battle was joined.
His claws were out, and there was more of the beast in his nature than man. Sheer savagery carried him through their ranks, clearing a path for the men following behind him. Even as the pirates engaged the soldiers and sailors, Logan, Mariko at his back, found himself facing six men in leather armor, unlike the soldiers who wore chain mail. The armor was studded with bars of metal, and allowed far better movement than the heavy chain.
"Mari... you reckon the admiral's a might bit nervous, ta be sendin' his personal guard against us."
"Perhaps he wants us to feel welcome."
The six men spread out, moving easily on the rolling deck, clearly at ease fighting on the ship. All along the deck, men fought and died, but none approached what was unfolding here. Two men charged forward, saber and spear seeking flesh. Logan cut the spear tip from its shaft with one sweep of his claws and tore the man's face off with the other. Even as he fell, something entangled Logan's legs. He had a moment to see one of the marines jerk back on a weighted net, dragging him to the deck. Two more rushed forwards. One brought down a heavy trident, nearly pinning Logan to the deck. He managed to roll to the side and the spikes grazed his side. Rolling back, he slashed at the net, but his claws caught in the line. It wasn't fishing line, it was steel wire... and he was tangled in it. The trident drew back for another stab.
Mariko saw Logan's plight, but she had intercepted the man with the saber, and he was far better than any mere soldier. Her own slim rapier dartedout again, and again, only to be turned by the heavier curved blade. She feinted a lunge, leaving her neck exposed. The marine took the cue and went to cut her head from her neck, leaving himself open to a sudden cut across the chest. His armor turned some of the blow and he pulled away. The force of his swing overbalanced him and Mariko ducked behind him and kicked out, sending him falling towards the man with the trident. Mariko couldn't watch the result as the last marine lunged forward to attack her. Silently she cursed. The man had blades where most would have hands... a Hellhound!
The stumbling marine knocked the trident wielder's aim off. Only one spike pierced Logan's side. The sudden burst of pain was enough to make him rip his claws free and strike out at the man holding the trident, severing his hand at the wrist. He rolled over backwards, pulling the net from his captor's fingers and propelled himself forward, six claws burying themselves to the fists in the man's chest. The last attacker regained his feet and swung his saber at Logan. Bone claws caught the blade and turned it. The follow up killed the wielder and Logan turned towards Mariko in time to see her fall as the man she was fighting blocked her blade with his own and kicked out, hitting her in the chin. The marine closed in to finish her when Logan crashed into him full one, growling like a wolf protecting it's mate. They rolled across the deck briefly and both sprang to their feet. Logan looked at his foe. Dressed in leather armor like the other marines, this man's wrists tapered into metal blades that shifted shape and length as he moved. One instant they were long slim rapiers, the next curved cutlasses, almost as if they were liquid metal. The blood dripping off one of them proved their sureness. His face was clean shaved and heavily scarred, and of course, he had the reversed cross tattooed over his left eye.
"So Hellhound, ready to meet your god in person?"
The man didn't speak. His hand shifted again, now an intricate combination of barbs and hooks. He swiped them through the air once and stepped forward.
Logan leapt to meet him. The marine braced to attack and Logan grabbed the nearby mast and swung around it, planting his feet hard on the centre of the marine's back. The man fell forward but caught himself, swinging one blade back towards Logan. Logan ducked, but the blade suddenly lengthened into a long slashing weapon. The tips caught him in the shoulder and ran a bloody path through. Logan advanced into the strike and thrust his right fist out, claws slashing through the man's side. Both fighters brought their opposite hands around and Logan caught the other's wrist high and away. They stayed locked like that for a moment, eyes burning into each others faces, weapons dripping blood.
Logan felt a growl start in his chest. He did nothing to hold it back. The two men tore away from each other and came together again. Blood sprayed high in the air as they ignored the raging conflict around them and concentrated on killing each other. The marine was good, and his shifting blades caught at Logan again and again, but Logan was just as tenacious, and he healed far faster than the other man. The marine's slip was a slight one, his strike just a touch too wide, and Logan ripped two deep slashes into his chest. The marine fell over and Logan closed in, and then the air around him burst into flame.
"That was for my son, pirate!"
Skin and hair smoldering, Logan looked to the voice. A tall, thickly built man in the ornate uniform of a royal grand admiral stood at the foredeck. By his side was a young woman in white bearing the tattoo of a Hellborne. Fire wrapped around her fists. Her eyes were spots of flame.
"You're son was a boil on humanities ass, Haight."
"Angelica, burn him again."
The woman's eyes flared and she opened her hands. Fire crossed the distance between them and tore into Logan. Roaring like a beast, he forced himself forward, but, weakened by the fight with the marine, he fell short of the stairs. Dimly, through a haze of pain and fire and blood, he heard footsteps behind him. The scent drifted through the smell of his own flesh burning. The marine had recovered.
Flame played across his body again. Lost in a haze of pain and fire, he crouched and whirled towards the approaching marine. The assaulting fires stopped suddenly as the hilt of a thrown blade appeared in the breast of the red haired woman. Mariko winked at Logan and darted past the marine towards the admiral. Pain played across every inch of skin. To Logan, it was a driving force. The marine never stood a chance. Slash and parry, cut and slash, and the man fell to the deck, his hands reforming into those of a normal human's as his life poured out of him.
Logan spared not a moment for the body and turned to follow Mariko. On the foredeck, she had the admiral at bay. He slashed at her with a long dagger. Mariko had drawn her own long knives from her boot-sheaths, and was stalking him as surely as any jungle-cat. Logan leapt up the steps.
The man was too busy to acknowledge him.
"Mariko, he's mine. Help the others secure the ship!"
Without a word, she turned her back on the admiral and moved towards the stairs. Haight bared his teeth and raised his dagger, lunging towards her back. Logan didn't even bother calling out a warning. Mariko snapped her foot out backwards and caught the admiral full in the groin. He collapsed to his knees, wheezing through clenched teeth. Mariko moved down the steps, calling orders at the pirates still alive.
Logan moved to stand above the shaking admiral.
"It's over, Haight. Your armada's falling, your Hellhounds are dead. The church is gonna have to put up with us a while longer."
"Never. The Lord is on our side..."
Logan reached out and grabbed up the man by his grey hair, forcing him to turn and look across the water. The corsairs were taking over those ships that hadn't fled the conflagration or been sunk. Royal sailors and soldiers were being cast adrift in lifeboats, or occasionally being made to walk the plank, depending on the whim of the conquering pirate captains. There were very few lifeboats, and many, many sharks.
Burning ships and debris were everywhere. Dead bodies and pieces of bodies bobbed in the waves as the sharks feasted.
"Look at it, Haight, look at what your god brought you."
Haight said nothing. Logan threw him to the deck and moved towards the steps. At the top, he called out to a nearby pirate.
"Feist, since you're still alive, you can take charge of this piece of filth."
To his ears, the sound of Haight grabbing up the dagger was clear even over the battles raging on the sea. He heard the steps, the indrawn breath. A simple step to the side and Haight plunged over the steps. He had enough time to curse before he fell on the deck, blade trapped beneath him. The grand admiral heaved himself up once, fell over and lay still.
"Feist, move your ass and take him into custody."
"But cap'n... he's dead."
"Then feed him to the sharks, squidbrain, now move!"
"Logan, the Wolf's Crest!"
The anger in Mariko's voice made Logan look towards his ship. The sails were fired, and another smaller ship was pulling away. Logan searched the deck of the escaping ship and saw a tall, red-haired man wave to him. Behind the man, two pirates held a prone form up... dark skin and white hair... Mistral!
Mariko grabbed at his arm as he moved forward.
"They're too far Logan. She's not worth it!"
"I made a promise Mari..."
"To a mindless slave?"
"Yeah... go figure. Save the Wolf, I'll be back."
He leapt across the rails to the Wolf's Crest, wincing at the scent of burning sail canvas. He was across the deck in an instant and diving for Lebeau's clipper as it moved away. His arm stretched out, the stern sprit so clear he could see the nails driven into it, and then it moved away and he had no choice but to dive deep into the bloody sea.
After the wounds and burning he had suffered taking the flagship, the salty water didn't help. The wounds had only healed somewhat. Logan opened his eyes into the stinging darkness and saw the hull of the clipper moving away above him. Something long and fast swam by and Logan could pick out other cruising shapes in the murk. With powerful strokes he pulled his way up towards the hull. He surfaced just as the stern moved by. Bone claws burst out of his wrist and he stabbed them into the curved hull. His arm was nearly jerked from its socket as the ship moved off. A narrow fin cut the water just below him.
Fighting back to urge to howl in pain from his wounds, Logan forced his other claws higher into the hull and began to climb.
-x- -x- -x-
Lebeau was feeling very pleased with himself as the clipper pulled away from the conflict. Elsewhere, his men were securing captured ships and booty, but he had the real prize. With the wind's themselves at his beck and call, he'd be the richest pirate in Europe. The clipper made its way along the coast, heading into the wind on a tack that would keep it far ahead of any pursuit.
About the ship, his select crew manned the rigging and relaxed. They had missed the worst of the battle to be here, and they were glad of it.
When the ship abruptly swung inland and leaned heavy with the wind, Lebeau's reverie was broken. The images of stacked bullion and lira fled from his mind as he swung around to order the steersman flogged. When he saw the man's head where it was jammed through the spokes of the wheel and holding their course with his broken neck, his priorities changed.
The red-on-black eyes turned to the foredeck. Logan stood there, dripping wet. His eyes were feral and dark, but his shoulders slumped. His skin was dotted with cuts and burns that were still oozing.
"Logan, you a tired, injured fool, and de only thing worse den that, is a dead fool. TAKE HIM!"
The pirates rushed the foredeck. Claws out, Logan leapt headlong into their midst. Two men were down before he gained his feet. The others closed in, blades thrusting and swinging, but in the close quarters of the narrow deck, they had to be wary of hitting each other. Logan had no such problems. Two more men fell.
"Back, fools, back, circle im!"
Lebeau's command was followed. The remaining eight men formed a wide circle with Logan at the centre. He whirled, ready to attack, but a swung boathook on a length of chain forced him back. He caught the length, but a crossbow bolt into his thigh made him let go. Favouring one leg, he pulled the bolt free. At that moment, Lebeau swung from a mast line and kicked Logan across the head. With a flip the Frenchman landed on his feet and closed in, a long straight swordblade held ready. His foe was wounded, tired, outnumbered... beaten.
"Any las' words, Logan?"
The feral eyes flicked to the side for an instant.
The clipper hit the first rock with full sails. The impact sent her into the air only to fall back to the waves and be carried by a swell broadside into another jagged shoal. The sails went limp as the holed ship spun into the wind and her stern caught in the shallows. The sails caught the wind then and rounded her onto a beach, leaving her tilted halfway to her side. The pirates barely had time to scream as the world around them spun, twisted, and suddenly came to rest at an entirely different angle. One man was hurled against the rail head first. He didn't get up. Another was cast overboard at the first impact. His body was crushed between the ships' hull and the second shoal. The remaining six, and Lebeau and Logan, were thrown about, then slid to the lower railing as the ship came to rest. Two men slid right over the railing to fall into the sand below.
Logan shakily regained his feet. Lebeau was already there. He had lost his sword, but had a knife out. A flick of his writs and the knife struck the rail near Logan's head. Still stunned, Logan caught only the faintest scent of ozone when the knife exploded, sending him flying over the side to the sand below. Sand stuck to his face. Blood dripped from cuts where splinters of wood had struck.
"You two," Lebeau shouted to the men who had fallen overboard, "finish him. The rest of you, grab the woman and follow me!"
Mistral was cut loose from where she was bound to the deck-rail at the bow. Her bonds had held her in place as the others were tossed about in the beaching. A sack over her head filled with black-lotus petals kept her manageable. Two sailors grabbed her up and passed her down to two others, then leapt down with Lebeau.
Logan knelt until one of the pirates lifted a rock to bring down on his head. Three bone claws to the belly stopped the attack and brought the rock down on the mans own skull. He'd be unconscious as he bled to death. The other pirate hefted a piece of wood knocked from the hull and swung it at Logan as he pulled his claw free. Logan retracted his claws and dropped, the club inflicting further damage on the already unconscious and dying first man.
Before the pirate could heft the wood for a second attack he was separated from his weapon and both hands by flashing blades of white bone. Logan got to his feet and stumbled towards the others.
"Cap'n, he just keeps coming."
Lebeau glared at the man who spoke and reversed the blade in his hand. His arm arced back and loosed the blade in one throw. Logan caught it.
"Lose somethin', Frenchman?"
Logan spun the blade and threw it back. Another pirate, just to the side of Lebeau, fell back, his throat pierced. An instant later the body exploded, raining blood and gore on them all. Three left. And Lebeau.
The other men let Mistral drop and drew blades. All four spread out. Logan faced them, barely keeping to his feet.
"I'm tired, wet and really not inna good mood, Frenchman. Let the woman go and walk away."
"How bout we kill you an' then walk, homme. You know you in no shape to win. Should'a aimed that knife at me."
"I did. I missed."
"Pity for you, den."
"You gonna talk me to death?"
The four pirates moved forward. Logan straightened, the effort clearly draining. To himself, he mumbled, "Sorry Mari'..."
Then the sky grew very suddenly dark...
Lebeau and his men looked about. A voice from behind them caused them to turn wildly.
"I... have had... ENOUGH!"
Mistral stood, the sack off her face and held in her bound hands, eyes flashing like a murderous storm. Her stance was unsteady from the lotus blossoms, but her eyes were white as sail-cloth. Lebeau looked to the sky, then back at Mistral. His hand reached for a throwing blade, and then the skies loosened their fury on him and his men. The pirates never had a chance. Lightning crashed to the ground about them, sending rocks and sand and bodies flying every which way. Again and again the bolts struck.
Logan shielded his eyes where he stood and watched. The bolts struck close enough for the scent of ozone to burn in his nostrils, but never touched him.
As quickly as it began, it was over. What was left of Lebeau and his men smoldered in the sand.
Logan looked at Mistral.
"Stormy temper ya got there, darlin'."
-x- -x- -x-
Mariko waited at the rail when the longboat returned. Logan climbed back onboard slower than usual. He was still healing from the battle and the following struggle.
"So she went back?"
"Aye, without even a glance. The fat man actually thanked me for taking such good care of her."
"He's a minddancer, Logan. He'll know all that transpired."
"I dunno, Mari'. Jane said Mistral was strong enough to guard her own thoughts, if she was careful."
"But how long can she be careful for, Logan? How long will it take for her to have her chance at Farouk?"
Almost on cue, there was a loud echoing crack as lightning erupted from the few white clouds in the sky and struck amidst the town. The ensuing thunder was deafening.
"Oh, about that long."
"You think she will take him?"
"I'd give her odds."
A light breeze passed along the water from the direction of the town, even though the prevailing wind was from the sea. Another rumble of thunder followed.
"Good odds." Logan added.
Mariko sighed and wrapped her arm around Logan's, helping him along. He didn't really need the aid, but took it all the same.
"So what now?" she asked.
"Well, I do believe the French coast is just a mite bit undermanned these days..."
There was the sound of bare feet slapping against the deck and a slim form threw itself at Mariko. She stooped to hug the girl they rescued from the reverend, then straightened. Logan looked at Mariko.
"We needed a new cabin-tender. I hired her on."
"That a good idea? This ain't the safest of places."
"These days, where is, Logan?"
"Got me. I just aim to make sure it ain't wherever the Church is."
-x- -x- -x-
...and so, oh Prince, the one called Logan ventured forth, and tales of his prowess grew in his wake.
There would come a time when he would lay aside the skull and crossbones of the pirate and take up a new banner...but that is another story.
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