“I welcome you aboard the mightiest vessel on the Lava Seas!” Thalon said with a sweeping gesture of pride to half-drunk and weary travelers. “On behalf of the captain, welcome aboard the Misfortune.”
Both sailors guarding the dock side of the gangway stepped aside with the First Mate’s words. They had a natural distrust of foreigners, and these seven stank of land.
Nathan stared at the detailed tattoos covering most of their arms and shoulders. They were heavily muscled with blue skin and long, wild looking hair. Each held a long spear and had piercings ranging across his face. His gaze eventually worked past them and settled on the smallish skiff where Thalon was waiting to receive them.
“Awfully small ship, isn’t it?” he asked.
“Nay, Outlander. This is but a skiff. The mother ship is yon.”
Their collective gaze followed Thalon’s outstretched arm to behold a breathtaking sight. Even at a mile away, the pirate ship seemed strong and mighty. The Misfortune was the queen of the seas, uncontested by most and feared by all. The tempered gray hull reflected the vehemence of the liquid fire beneath. She had ten full decks and a mighty hold in the center. Thirty hover fans ran to keep her afloat above the dangerous lava. The crew was two hundred strong and all veterans of long years at sea. Nathan’s mouth dropped open in awe.
“Believe me, she’s much more impressive from atop her decks,” Thalon told them. There was pride in his words. “The captain is anxious to set sail, so we must be on. If you’ll follow me aboard, we can begin the journey.”
Pneumatic doors sealed behind the last man, and the skiff wasted no time in launching. Nathan was seated next to the blue guards, giving him a better look at their features. He was shocked to find many of the piercings were of tiny bones. Closer inspection of their hair found it was so dark a green it looked black at a distance, and they had devious yellow eyes brighter than any moon.
The skiff cruised along at a comfortable pace. It was high enough to keep from getting too heavily scorched by the boiling lava. Thalon tried to explain the composition of the alloy they used, saying it wouldn’t do them any good should the seas bubble up and wash them under. The pilot switched on the air conditioner to cool the cabin. Both Xill and Snake Eyes exchanged glances, wondering what they were doing out in the middle of such an easy death.
“Why is it called the Port of Lies?” Nathan asked once his excitement began to ebb.
“Because, Mr. Bourne, you cannot trust anyone. Even if you pay for their services,” Thalon said. “Take no mind in this! It is just talk of late. Despite what you may choose to believe, we live by an honor code and deal with violators as warranted.” He saw the humor growing in Nathan’s eyes and continued, “Some of the best men and women you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting dwell on the island. Our community stands as trophy to the will of the people who sought to break the chains holding them down. Oppression and persecution are unknown here. Surely, there are places of this nature where you come from?”
Nathan’s silence was answer enough. The one-legged pirate shifted his attention to a quiet Emerald. “I see you’ve managed to lose your cast.”
“Yes. I took it off last night,” she politely answered.
“I wonder what it was that placed you in such a bind?”
“A fall in battle.” Her dissatisfaction was apparent.
Thalon again noticed the stump of Kane’s wrist and felt the degree of their pains.
“Perhaps my people would have offered assistance had we known the peril facing you. We are grand warriors.”
“It wouldn’t have done any good,” Snake Eyes muttered. “It was a total slaughter. You and your kind would have wiped out along with the rest of us.”
“You’re doing it again,” Nathan told Emerald once he leaned close enough for her to hear him.
“Doing what?” she asked.
“The quiet thing. I think it’s getting worse.”
She smiled, but he saw through it. “Is it so wrong to want to think on things?”
“Depends what you’re thinking,” he answered. “I’m not going to push you. I just like to think you’ll tell me when it’s time.”
“I promise,” she whispered.
The Misfortune’s bulk loomed before them, blocking all else from sight. It was a majesty of the pirate’s pride. Running lights cast places in shadow, though they were able to make out gun turrets in the gloom. Nathan found himself wishing for a camera for the thousandth time since his arrival under Rook Mountain. There was no way he was going to be able to explain any of this back home.
“Impressive, isn’t she?” Thalon asked.
They could do naught but nod, all save the Viper. He was as unimpressed with the glory of it as the pirate was with him. They knew each other too well for liking.
“She has a crew of two hundred plus, all loyal to the captain. You’ll not find a more powerful ship on all the seas. The wizard has chosen well in his scheming.”
The Viper scoffed. He’d had enough of the pomp and grandeur. “I don’t know much about wizards, and can’t say as I care. He’s taken us weeks out of our way when it’s all said and done.”
“You are a man of little faith, assassin. Creatures like you become a threat to the solidity of the crew,” Thalon said.
Smiling, the Viper said, “You seem to forget one thing, pirate. I work for the highest bidder. It is ill of me to lend my life to the hands of another.”
“You are a dangerous man, assassin,” Thalon said. He turned to the pilot and mumbled something only they could hear. “If you would please strap yourselves in. We are about to dock.”
Their stomachs rose and fell with the bouncing skiff as it shifted directions and crossed the air currents. The faint taste of bile rose to their throats. Hitting the thrusting jets, the pilot slowed the skiff and passed under the Misfortune’s shadow. A hydraulic hiss was followed by a slight bump, and they were successfully docked. Thalon unbuckled and slapped the door release.
Kane was the first to step through the airlock and set foot on the surprisingly clean and steady deck. He was amazed by the engineering involved to keep such a great ship as solid as a castle. What was more amazing was that these people managed such feats when half of the world was starving and oppressed.
“I apologize for the captain’s absence, but there are pressing matters that require his personal attention. If you’ll have me, I’ll be your guide and custodian until a time when he may free himself,” Thalon said. He cast a stern gaze over them in search of a specific reaction and seemed disappointed when he didn’t get it. “You will be shown to your quarters after a rather hasty debriefing and then summoned when it is time for the evening meal. Follow me.”
Their boots made sharp clicking sounds as they ranged across the decks. He told them it was all right to remove their respirators once they were inside. A deckhand was there to supply them with fresh towels to wipe the ash and grime away. The crew they passed shot them wary looks and curious glares. These were, after all, invaders of their inner sanctuary. Kane’s mind drifted away towards things to come, so far he hardly noticed being shown his quarters. It was through the faintest realities he heard Thalon bark the commands to raise anchor and get under way.
They boarded with unease, all but the Viper. Deck hands hurried out to take bags, carefully avoiding the massive amounts of weaponry each of the guests carried. Thalon presented escorts to see Kane and the others to their cabins. What he called modest accommodations. The Misfortune was comparable to a floating city, thus making it easy to get lost without assistance.
Nathan dropped his pack on the deck at the foot of his bunk and surveyed the room. A small bed with rolled up blankets beneath a pillow. The round window above the bed allowed the ever present red glow to seep in, reminding him of old paintings of what Hell was supposed to look like. A wall locker was big enough to hold a few sets of hanging clothes and little else. There was a foldout desk presently locked into the wall behind the door. That was it.
“Now I know why I never joined the navy,” he muttered and went to rejoin the others in the main lounge.
He was the last to arrive though he failed to see how. The others must be more anxious that me to get this moving. Can’t say as that I like the idea of floating over a sea of lava. He idly scratched the back of a hand and took a seat on the long bench opposite Thalon.
“Ah, Mr. Bourne, I trust you are settled into your cabin?” Thalon asked, the falsity of his smile unsettling.
“Well enough I suppose, though I don’t recall seeing the head on my way down,” he said.
Thalon cocked his head. “The head?”
Nathan grinned sheepishly. “Latrine. Bathroom.”
“Ah, facilities are placed throughout each deck. Yours will be located a few doors down from you.” Thalon looked around to see if there were any other questions. “Nothing else? Good, the Captain is waiting. Let me escort you to the officer’s mess so that we may embark.”
They followed the grey skin First Mate deeper into the bowels of an impossible ship. Nathan couldn’t help but feel trepidations as he strayed farther from all he knew.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present you the captain of the Misfortune.”
Everyone seated at the impressive dinner table rose and awaited their host’s arrival. His heavy footsteps echoed down the carpeted hall, heightening their expectations. The crew stood tall and proud, for they were mostly the officers and important members of the ship. Servers and cooks stood against the far wall with hands clasped in front of them. Thalon was next to the door and beaming with pride. Nathan felt the love coming from this man and knew respect. The door hissed open, ending the wait.
“Be seated, all of you,” the captain said with a deep, rumbling voice.
A gasp came from next to Nathan, and he turned to see Emerald’s face pale and drawn. There was horror and confusion in her eyes.
The captain still hadn’t seen her. “For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, my name is Vesper Razorback, captain of the Misfortune. I humbly welcome you and ask you to share this feast.”