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The Oomakudakeodkdodecahedron - Chapter II

Historianon Dec 21st, 2015 (edited) 797 Never
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  1. The Oomakudakeodkdodecahedron
  2.  
  3. Chapter 2
  4.  
  5. The “Great Grey Wolf” ship had been at sea since the dawn, and the coast was no longer visible in any horizon. In this time, Cecil Bouvier had already made a friend.
  6. “Hey Hank, what’s with all the bubbles around the ship?” he asked from the sunburnt man with a belly that could bounce back cannonballs.
  7. “Them’s Mermaids of some kind” he explained.
  8. “What about that thing up there?” he asked, pointing to the sky back the way they’d come from. Hank, his eyesight not so good these days, squinted but couldn’t make out anything.
  9. “Gull, probably” he said with a shrug.
  10. “This far out?” Cecil wondered.
  11. “Look here, I’m not a zoologist, I’m a sailor. Do you have any questions about sailing?”
  12. Cecil shook his head.
  13. “Or sailing accessories?” Hank tried, tapping the coil of rope he was sitting on.
  14. “I heard all the girls in Zipangu really like rope” Cecil said, observing the coil with interest.
  15. “What kind of woman likes rope?” the old sailor wondered, scratching his head.
  16. “We’ll find out when we get there, I guess. I need to go practice my lessons now” Cecil said and skipped along the deck as an Elf skips through a meadow.
  17. “That boy ain’t right” Hank muttered, shaking his head. Girls liking rope… now really?
  18.  
  19. Sir Ludwig was in the cargo hold, wearing nothing but his underwear and a blindfold. It reminded him of the many times he’d been “captured” by Dark Elves. Sadly, there were none in the hold with him now.
  20. “Are you sure this is alright? The way the ship moves, your balance will be…” Albertus de Vries, reanimator of the dead, fretted, but was silenced by a grunt from Ludwig.
  21. “I can do this, I’ve done it before. Need to sharpen up, going to a new place like this. Haven’t trained properly in a long time, so I’ve gotten a bit soft” he explained. Soft when it came to instincts, at least. His physical condition brooked no improvement.
  22. “I know Wilson, I know” the necromancer muttered, and then spoke the order to his minions. “Git!”
  23. Ludwig couldn’t see the Ghouls, but he could hear the subtle drip as various liquids fell from their drooping tongues or their itchy crotches and on to the floor. He couldn’t hear their steps though. They tread lightly, like cats. Being undead, they could go without breathing, too. Master Bara Khan had told him once that there lived a clan of warriors in Zipangu who could strike like the Girtablilu does from under the sand, but they could do so in every environment. Bara Khan did not speak praise lightly, and he never ventured to the realm of hyperbole when speaking of combat. What was it that he’d said about fighting blind?
  24. “Bats like getting brushed”, he’d said. Oh. How helpful.
  25. With a quick back-step and a slight rotation of his torso, Ludwig struck out his hand and found the head of the first Ghoul, which he now proceeded to pat.
  26. “There, there” he said, and an involuntary shudder ran down the undead woman’s spine.
  27. “Gotcha!” the second one called out from behind him. Grabbing the hair he was petting, Ludwig dodged and pushed the first Ghoul to the second, their impact making a wet, fleshy sound.
  28. “Aww, you dumbass! Why’d you go and yell like that?” the first one rebuked her sister.
  29. “Well excuse me, I thought you had him!”
  30. “Had him? He had me! He- KYAAH!”
  31. Ludwig had slapped the ass of the Ghoul talking and then retreated a bit. The two undead couldn’t see in the dark any better than he could, apparently, and he was blindfolded. He’d have to complain to Albert about that.
  32. “Where is he? That jerk!” the assaulted Ghoul whined, revealing her position and masking whatever noise Ludwig might have made as he skirted away and barely avoided banging his head on a crossbeam.
  33. “Keep calm and shut up, Naomi!” the first Ghoul said.
  34. “You’re the one making noise now” Naomi replied.
  35. “Shut up!”
  36. “You shut up”
  37. Ludwig slapped the Ghoul called Naomi on the ass, getting another kyaa in the air.
  38. “This is kind of embarrassing” whined the first Ghoul.
  39. “Maybe we should move back-to-back, Essie?”
  40. “Gross! I don’t want to touch your ass!”
  41. “Do you want to get spanked again?”
  42. “No…”
  43. “Then let’s do it”
  44. The two Ghouls shuffled and began to move back-to-back, scuttling about sideways like a crab. Ludwig stifled his laughter at the idea. They couldn’t exactly ambush him now, but on the other hand he couldn’t sneak behind them, either. Would the Kunoichi resort to such techniques? Probably not.
  45. A loud bang interrupted them as the hatch into the hold was opened, light and noise flooding in.
  46. “Sir Ludwig, sorry I’m late! I thought I could see the big sea gull that’s following us better if I climbed to the top mast but then the view was so great I ended up admiring it and… oh”
  47. Ludwig removed his blindfold and tried to imagine how the view of the hold looked through Cecil’s eyes. The two Ghouls were back-to-back, little pools forming on the ground below their drippy crotches, and he himself was dressed in nothing but his underwear, just taking off a blindfold, the impotent necromancer in the corner rubbing the skull… yes, a boy like him could misunderstand such a scenario.
  48. “Cecil, good timing. I was just practicing for fighting the Kunoichi of Zipangu in the dark” he said matter-of-factly by way of explanation.
  49. The squire did his familiar Kobold head-tilt.
  50. “But how come you’re not wearing anything?” he asked.
  51. “Isn’t it obvious? I intend to work up a sweat” Ludwig explained.
  52. Cecil eyes up the Ghouls suspiciously.
  53. “What are the ladies doing?” he asked.
  54. “We’re protecting our asses!” the one called Esmeralda said.
  55. “Yeah, our asses can’t handle the kind of abuse he dishes out!” Naomi said accusatively.
  56. Ludwig nodded.
  57. “That’s right” he concurred.
  58. Cecil seemed to approve of this explanation.
  59. “Okay! Do I take off my clothes too?”
  60. “Go ahead” Ludwig agreed and walked to the barrel he had stored their practice weapons in, picking up an old wooden sword and a staff. He didn’t know why, but the masters he’d trained with had always used staffs when teaching him. Bara Khan had said that his weapon of choice had always been a halberd or a bisento, so maybe that was understandable, but Thomas and Gourmand? Thomas was no fighter, and he’d never had any other weapon but his wanderer’s staff. If he’d known magic, maybe then it would have made sense, but he didn’t. And Gourmand? He needed a staff to get around but did he know how to use it in a fight? Probably not.
  61.  
  62. Cecil had stripped down to nothing but his undergarments as well and easily caught the practice sword Ludwig threw him. He spread his legs wide to get a balanced stance and compensate for the movement of the ship.
  63. “Albert, close the hatch, please” Ludwig instructed.
  64. “Really? Don’t you think it’s too much for the boy to fight in the gloom?” the necromancer questioned him.
  65. “Consider it a demonstration. He’s more capable than you think” Ludwig replied, remembering back to the way the necromancer had ignored Cecil when first meeting him. He must still think the boy was inconsequential. He would soon learn this was not so.
  66. The hatch closed when Albert waved his hand, and the hold became gloomy again. The level of illumination was barely manageable, and you couldn’t make out anything beyond an arm’s reach.
  67. “Ghouls. Attack the boy!” Ludwig ordered.
  68. “Gladly!” shouted Naomi.
  69. “Dibs on his dick!” cried Esmeralda.
  70. Thump, thump, oof, oof.
  71. “S-sorry” Cecil muttered. He didn’t like hitting girls.
  72. “En garde!” Ludwig shouted and stabbed with his staff to where Cecil’s voice had come from. A clang and an impact, and the staff was redirected to the right, which meant Cecil had dodged left, and that is where Ludwig swung, catching one of the Ghouls in the back of the head as she tried to get up.
  73. Cecil moved quietly, even compared to the Ghouls. He didn’t drip liquids, either. Ludwig made a circular sweep with his staff at around chest-height and took a few steps around while swinging, trying to see if he could catch the boy by luck. He didn’t. Good.
  74. “My head hurts” Esmeralda complained.
  75. “Let’s keep low” Naomi suggested.
  76. Good call, Ludwig thought. Ghouls could move on all fours as well as any beast, and that would let him manoeuvre more freely.
  77. “You can’t win just by running, boy” the knight called out, remembering a similar situation when he’d been training with Bara Khan and his two daughters. Direwolves worked together better than Ghouls and weren’t fooled by the dark thanks to their ears and noses. They were bigger and stronger, too.
  78. Whack. Esmeralda was “dropped” by a bang to the head. Ludwig swung at top strength and in a wide crescent, but hit nothing.
  79. “This guy…” Naomi hissed. A wet noise was now emerging from where Esmeralda has been “rendered unconscious”, making Naomi jealous.
  80. “Is there really nothing you can do about them, Albert?” he asked.
  81. “Of course there is. Camilla won’t let me. They’re our girls, they need to remain the people they are, she always says. Wilson and I think that combining the minions to a collective consciousness would improve performance and reduce the hiccups brought about by individual defects but…”
  82. “No it is, then” Ludwig interrupted and returned to looking for his squire in the dark. His eyes had gotten used to the dark again, and after adjusting he could tell where the shape was moving. Gotcha!
  83. Ludwig made a quick stab with his staff, which Cecil only barely managed to parry. Smoothly sliding the staff, Ludwig attacked from above. The squire managed to block the blow again, but only barely.
  84. Naomi had gotten around to the top of things again and rushed at the boy on all fours, and as he was preoccupied with his mentor’s long staff, he was unable to guard his bottom-half as the Ghoul lunged and grabbed him by the thighs.
  85. “Gotcha now!” she slurred, drooling from both top and bottom. She reached up to tear Cecil’s underwear off.
  86. This made Ludwig hesitate. He should stop her before she did anything weird to him, but if he took his side now, he’d never learn to…
  87. Thump. Cecil had hit the back of the Ghoul’s neck and she fell “unconscious”.
  88. “Aww!” she whined, and crawled to her sister, both now free to leave the exercise.
  89. Naomi’s assault had been a stroke of luck for the boy, who had now managed to sneak off again, getting away from Ludwig’s assault.
  90. Not for long though. This time he attacked first, lunging at his master from the side. It was sloppy work, and Ludwig almost caught him with the follow-up to his block. What happened next was more unorthodox than the knight had suspected his squire capable of.
  91. Cecil slid on the floor, right between Ludwig’s legs. He didn’t have time to attack from below, but the fact that he’d even tried a move like that had caught the teacher off-guard. He decided to let the impudent little bugger get his comeuppance for such a move, and stabbed down with his staff, right where the boy’s solar plexus should have been.
  92. It wasn’t. The staff embedded itself into the plank, a couple of inches deep, sending tendrils of smoke up. An impact like that… Ludwig shuddered at his lack of self-control. He’d been perfectly calm a moment ago, and now, all of a sudden, he’d tried to strike a killing blow? This wasn’t his way. This wasn’t like him. How did that even…
  93. Thump. A fatal blow, right where his liver was.
  94. “Sir Ludwig, it’s like you fell asleep! Hahahaha!” Cecil laughed at the other end of the wooden sword.
  95. Thwump. One quick motion, and the sword and staff were both broken, Cecil had flown into the wall and Ludwig’s hand was shaking. Something was wrong. Something was very, very wrong.
  96. “I need some air. I’m going for a swim. Albert, see to it that he’s alright” Ludwig said rapidly and walked off in quick, long strides, not waiting for anyone to respond. He was beginning to realize he had made a mistake. Of course, heading to Zipangu had been the right course to follow; there was no doubt whatsoever about that. But had it been the right course to join up with the necromancer? This hadn’t been the first time he’d acted out of character after meeting Albert. That business in Port Artorias…
  97.  
  98. Dietrich had been making a scene when the withdrawal symptoms of the venom he’d been injecting himself with until recently had begun to get violent, and the city watch had shown up. Cecil had gone to the docks to admire the sea, Albert had gone to talk things out with the harbourmaster and the Great Grey Wolf’s captain to get everything ready for the voyage, and Ludwig himself had been stuck minding the cold turkey postman.
  99. “A Tanuki! There’s got to be a Tanuki! You know there’s always a Tanuki! Take me to one! I’ll pay! I’ll pay her well! I need that stuff! I need the venom! I have to get the venom!” he’s shouted, foaming at the mouth, staggering around with bloodshot eyes and leaning on every bypasser, ranting, until Ludwig yanked him back and grunted an apology on his behalf.
  100. The city watch of any given settlement is not gracious and understanding when it comes to these kinds of things and to his great regret Ludwig had to admit he had cut down and maimed his fair share of watchmen during his adventures. They were sometimes underlings of whatever local overlord was in the path of whatever quest sir Ludwig was pursuing, and sometimes they were just men and women trying to do their job. This time it seemed they were the latter, on account of Albert being the greatest villain in the premises, and he was just a paying customer. This had multiple implications. One was that the watchmen could be reasoned with and there would be no need for actual violence. The second was that they were most likely good men and women, and killing them would weight on his conscience in the wee hours of the night and cause him to consume vast amounts of alcohol until their accusing phantom images melted into the haze of others like them.
  101. The watchmen he met now were a Lizard with overly polished armour and an exaggerated military posture, and a dark-haired man with much more rugged armour and a significantly slouchier stance. They were obviously partnered up on account of being a couple. Or maybe they had become a couple on account of being partnered up, as sometimes happened. Quite often, actually. Watchmen had their stories as well, and sometimes Ludwig wished the role he played in them were more positive. The slouching watchman walked up to the knight with his hands resting on his belt while the Lizard crossed her arms and waved her tail around in irritation.
  102. “Your pal is making a scene. Not contagious, is he?” the watchman asked.
  103. “Not at all. Just going through a rough spot” Ludwig reassured him.
  104. “If you can’t keep him held down, we’re going to have to take you someplace quieter so as not to… hey Rachel, what’s it again?”
  105. The Lizard replied without a hint of emotion. “Causing a disturbance of the peace”
  106. “Yeah, that’s the thing. So you want to maybe, umm, move along, sir?” the slouched watchman suggested.
  107. “No, I don’t think we’ll be moving along until we’re good and ready” Ludwig answered. He wasn’t interested in picking a fight, but if a fight came up, he’d take it in stride. He would win no matter what happened, and that made it hard to care. He knew he should, though.
  108. The slouching watchman spat on the ground.
  109. “See, that right there is going to be a problem. Rachel, we got their mugs anywhere?” he asked.
  110. The Lizard pulled out a stack of papers – wanted posters, as Ludwig well knew, having both cashed in bounties and been a wanted man – and she began to go through them quickly. Ludwig was not worried. The postman wouldn’t be a postman if he was a wanted criminal, so there was no chance of…
  111. “Right here. Ludd the Reaver, wanted for theft, murder, arson, banditry, rape and destruction of public property. Bounty of… 10,000?” the Lizard read out, her jaw dropping when she compared the Leanan Sidhe –made drawing of Ludd the Reaver to the knight before her. The poster was almost 60 years old, but the bounty was still in effect. Of course it was, all a man had to do was become an Incubus and he might live centuries.
  112. “H-hey! Johnny! This is big! Like, really big! 10,000! That’s the biggest bounty on the list!” the Lizard said, gleam in her eyes.
  113. The other watchman pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
  114. “That right there is going to be trouble” he said. “We can’t take him down with just the two of us, that’s just obvious, ain’t it?”
  115. “Don’t be a pansy! This kind of money would let us retire and get that turnip farm we always talked about!”
  116. “The turnip farm you always talked about…”
  117. “Let’s do it! You and me Johnny!”
  118. “I think I’ll sit this one out if it’s alright with you…”
  119. “Fine!”
  120.  
  121. The lovers had finished their little argument, and now the Lizard called Rachel drew out her standard-issue watchman’s iron shortsword and shield.
  122. “Will you come quietly, Ludd the Reaver?” she inquired.
  123. Ludwig hadn’t used that name in a long time. It had been a sort of a middle-age crisis, only he’d lived more than half his life since then, and didn’t intend to quit anytime soon. This spelled trouble for her.
  124. “No” he said, crossing his arms and knocking Dietrich on his ass. There was no need to have him running about and making things complicated. He didn’t take out a weapon though. Chances are a superior officer of the watch would show up and then he could talk his way out of this trouble, which would be much easier if he didn’t take up arms against the watch. Resisting arrest was one thing; doing so with lethal force was another.
  125. “You should have come quietly, criminal scum!” she hissed, put up her shield and lunged. She was quicker than Ludwig had expected. Probably a former adventurer herself, this one, he thought while stepping aside from her weapon and evading her tail. If he’d been here on his own business, he might have chopped off her tail just for laughs, but making such a ruckus wasn’t a smart move, considering Albert’s connections here.
  126. “Oh shit!” the watchman called Johnny exclaimed as Ludwig’s evasive manoeuvres led the two into close vicinity.
  127. Ludwig gave him a glare. That usually sent lonely, uncertain mooks running for their lives.
  128. It didn’t work. Biting his lip, Johnny put up his shield, drew his sword, and attacked with the shield. The knight redirected the blow and jumped aside in time to see the Lizard, Rachel, pick up the horn from her belt and blow it.
  129. Bugger.
  130. There was no other option than to stand his ground. Ludwig couldn’t just grab Dietrich and run, not with Cecil and Albert still somewhere in town, and so he put up his hands and waited as the watchmen poured out from other streets, most carrying the shield, sword and baton, others wielding spears, and on the rooftops there were even a few with crossbows.
  131. “Well, well, well. What have we here?” asked a gruff voice, and Ludwig turned to see a man with a grey beard, the most dented and unpolished armour of the group, a helmet with several small holes in it, and the cloak of authority. This was the captain of the guard. And he was holding a crossbow, pointing it at Ludwig.
  132. “Ludd the Reaver, is it?” the captain asked when Rachel the Lizard gave a detailed report, standing to attention.
  133. “You don’t remember me, do you?” the captain asked, stroking his beard.
  134. “No I don’t” Ludwig admitted honestly.
  135. “You wouldn’t, would you? We don’t all… age so well”
  136. Someone who he had wronged during those darker times, maybe?
  137. “It hardly matters now, does it? I know well enough that we can’t lay hands on you if you decide not to cooperate. I won’t risk the lives of these people over something as petty as a reward. Not like the watchmen could get the money anyway”
  138. Hearing their captain’s words, the combat-couple became dejected. They’d had such high hopes.
  139. Ludwig lowered his hands.
  140. “Then we’re done here?” he asked.
  141. “Not quite. Patrician asked me to keep an eye out for heroes, in case one was tough enough to do whatever it is he needs done. You’ll come with me to the palace” the captain said, spitting on the ground to show what he thought of this business.
  142. “I see. And my friend?”
  143. “You can come pick him up at the barracks when you’re done. We need to keep him out of trouble, you understand” the captain said, as if he were bargaining for his dignity.
  144. Ludwig shrugged.
  145. “As you wish”
  146.  
  147. The watchmen had dispersed back to their duties, with the two who had stumbled on the trouble in the first place carrying the raving Dietrich to the barracks, while Ludwig followed the short and stout captain to the palace.
  148. He felt much older when he saw someone like this, he thought. And old man, nearing retirement from his duties, no, probably past retirement age but staying on because the young’uns couldn’t be trusted to get it right. To think that someone like this had known Ludd the Reaver, well, he’d have to have been a child then. Ludwig shook his head. He really had to travel far away for a long time, come back when he’d passed on to legend properly. There couldn’t be many people left like this captain was, but he’d have to make sure that this kind of thing stopped happening.
  149. “How old were you when we met?” Ludwig asked to break the silence.
  150. “Twelve” came the reply.
  151. Hmm.
  152. “And where did we meet?” was the second question.
  153. “Ladidran” was the second reply.
  154. Really now? The ruined queendom from ages past. Ludd the Reaver had gone there with a band of brothers and sisters to seek a place to set up a fortress, instead finding armies of the undead. The land of ancient ladies was not for mortals to inhabit. He remembered the paladin who had sought to bring the light of the sungods to that place. Poor bastard.
  155. “I don’t remember meeting a boy of twelve in such a place” Ludwig admitted.
  156. “I wouldn’t expect you to remember” replied the captain. “Not for your types to remember, small folk like me. Or anyone else you tread underfoot”
  157. There was bitterness in that voice, much bitterness and grudge.
  158. “As you say” Ludwig admitted. No sense in denying these things.
  159. The rest of the way to the palace was filled with silence as the two no longer had anything to say to one another.
  160.  
  161. The palace wasn’t impressive. It was the kind of place that merchant republics built for their elected rulers to show just how far removed they were from monarchies. Behold, it seemed to say, behold my ascetic and unimpressive form, and know that the people rule here, not the tyrant they elect!
  162. Of course the insides would include much luxury, but that was not the point. Most people never went inside, after all.
  163. The captain led Ludwig past saluting guards and through an antechamber into a sort of council chamber, at the moment empty, and through that into a sort of office, where a foppish man in a badly fitting and badly powdered wig was sitting at a desk and writing a letter.
  164. “Ah, captain Lonne! I see you’ve brought me a champion” the man said, standing up. He was dressed in that silly manner that had become popular in recent years among the dandies of various noble circles, with a fluffy coat, high heels and tight, form-fitting pants, and a cod-piece to emphasize the genitals. It looked incredibly stupid and Ludwig had half a mind to start punching the teeth off people who dressed like that, but he hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
  165. “This one here is known as Ludd the Reaver. Still has an active bounty of 10,000, from 60 years back” captain Lonne informed the fop.
  166. “Indeed? That’s a name from before my time. We absolutely must discuss things! You may go, captain” he said, waving the watchman off. When the door was closed, the fop introduced himself.
  167. “Patrician Cinco Bajeena, elected ruler of Port Artorias” he said, offering hand in a gesture that made it seem like he expected Ludwig to kiss it. He shook it instead, and made sure to tighten his grip sufficiently to make it clear what his opinion of this nonsense was.
  168. “Sir Ludwig” he returned the greeting.
  169. “Sir Ludwig? Not Ludd the Reaver?”
  170. “Not for six decades. I’m a knight and that’s a fact” he explained and sat down in a comfy chair without being asked to.
  171. “I’m in town on business and will be leaving soon enough. If you have business, get it over with quickly” he told the patrician, who hurried to sit down on the other side of the desk and catch up on the quickly advancing situation.
  172. “Ah, I see, I see. Where are you headed, Sir Ludwig?” the patrician asked.
  173. “Zipangu”
  174. That raised an eyebrow.
  175. “Zipangu? Indeed? That is… very far away. Do you believe you can convince anyone to take you there? Because none of the captains here are very keen on taking risks that big when there’s so little profit to be gained by it”
  176. “I’ve a friend who has use of a ship” Ludwig dismissed the concern entirely.
  177. “Indeed? Who is this friend, if I may ask?”
  178. “Necromancer, called de Vries”
  179. There was a small flinch in the patrician’s face.
  180. “Ah” he said, somewhat nervous now.
  181. “Is there a problem?” Ludwig inquired.
  182. “Oh no, not at all, no problem at all. Master de Vries certainly has use of a ship, yes” the patrician confirmed.
  183. “And what was it that you needed me for?” Ludwig inquired. He’d been in situations like this before. Patrician Bajeena had intended to use his need of a ship and his status as an outlaw as leverage to convince him to do something underhanded. Now the smug bastard was left in a disadvantage.
  184. “Well, I’m sure that a man such as you has much to do, I’ll not waste your time with the kind of nonsense I use to keep two-bit heroes from wrecking the place, heheheh…”
  185. The door banged open, and Albertus de Vries stepped in, holding Wilson in his hands as if it were a weapon.
  186. “Patrician Bajeena, I have a complaint” the necromancer said, acknowledging the knight with a nod.
  187. “W-why Master de Vries! To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your company?” the patrician asked, rising up to greet the newcomer, who waved him to sit back down.
  188. “I was talking with the captain of the Great Grey Wolf, and I learned that my girls have been locked up?”
  189. The patrician winced when he heard this.
  190. “Y-yes, well, that is, I’m just a public servant Master de Vries, you must understand, I’m not in the position to…”
  191. “Oh, you’re not to blame, of course you’re not. It’s always someone else’s fault, isn’t it? But let’s not dwell on that, Cinco. I want them freed” the reanimator demanded.
  192. “If only were so simple, Master, but as it stands, I can’t free them and keep my post! The city will lynch me! I’m just a public servant, and those girls of yours, they’re a public menace! They went wild every night, drank and ate without paying and raped and raped and raped until the people had had enough! Captain Lonne, he’s the one who nabbed the, Master, he’s the one! If you want to blame anyone, blame him! He keeps the girls locked in the barracks, he does, and he, he’s practically setting up a junta to depose me!” the patrician blathered on as cowards do.
  193. Albert shook his head.
  194. “Simple enough, dear friend. I intend to sail for Zipangu, and I’m taking the girls with me. You will release them into my custody, effectively banishing them, and who can speak against you doing so? Not this captain Lonne, certainly. Write up the document, and this whole affair can be behind us, and we can speak business”
  195. The patrician smiled happily when he realized his own skin had been saved.
  196. “Of course, of course!” he agreed, and got the document for the release of whoever these rapists were in a jiffy. He handed the document to Albert, who pocketed it, and only then took a seat next to Ludwig.
  197. “Now then, patrician Bajeena, we can discuss profits” the necromancer said, rubbing his hands together.
  198. “Indeed? You mentioned Zipangu, Master de Vries? And so did Sir Ludwig, I believe?”
  199. “Speaking of Sir Ludwig, why was he brought here?” Albert changed the topic suddenly.
  200. Ludwig almost felt sorry for the bastard while watching the beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
  201. “Ah, captain Lonne brought him in…” the patrician mumbled a half-truth.
  202. “Oh, did he now? How convenient, this captain Lonne. He seems to be responsible for all this wrong with Port Artorias, doesn’t he, Sir Ludwig?”
  203. “He did bring me in here” Ludwig replied, speaking himself a half-assed truth. He was not in the mood for picking on a smug bastard like the patrician.
  204. “I see. Well then, back to profits, and Zipangu. My captain has gone to acquire the proper charts to help us navigate there, but he does not have any clear ideas on what we should bring with us to trade. That is where you come in, patrician. You know all about these things, don’t you? You have the records of such products as are profitable, don’t you?” Albert spoke, and there was a faint glow in his eyes, as if he were persuading the civic servant with more than just words.
  205. “I will have to check the archives for that. But tell me, Master de Vries, what it is that you’re going to buy from Zipangu? It’s not the kind of place where something as exotic as Spice can be bought, so the possible profits are hardly worth the journey!”
  206. “I intend to purchase vast quantities of aphrodisiac venom. But I’d prefer to keep this strictly between us, you understand?” Albert said, tapping the side of his nose in a conspiratorial manner.
  207. “I see, I see. Aphrodisiac venom is it?” the patrician repeated with a giggle.
  208. “Now, those records?”
  209. “Of course, of course, just a moment”
  210.  
  211. It took a good twenty minutes for the patrician to finish compiling the list of goods, which was then sent to the harbourmaster and the Great Grey Wolf’s captain so they could see about loading up said items. With this business concluded, Ludwig and Albert bid their farewell to the patrician and headed for the barracks to release Dietrich and the necromancer’s girls. They split up at the entrance, on account of the prisoners being held in different cell-blocks.
  212. Ludwig arrived at Dietrich’s cell and found him soundly asleep, or at least rendered unconscious. The jailer admitted to having knocked him out to keep him from screaming. He seemed well enough, so the knight allowed this and tossed the postman over his shoulder and left.
  213. After a few minutes’ wait, the necromancer did not appear. Enquiring after him, Ludwig learned that the girls were being held in a cell only captain Lonne had the key to, and that there was no way he’d relinquish it.
  214. With a sigh Ludwig went to see what the hold-up was, and found the necromancer and guard captain in the sub-basement where this mysterious cell was located.
  215.  
  216. “Free them? Free the rapists? Oh no, that’s not going to happen” captain Lonne said, drawing out his crossbow and setting up the bolt.
  217. “But we have the patrician’s pfft, permission” Albert said, barely containing his amusement at the novelty of the idea of doing something because the patrician allowed it. He took out the permit written up by the man himself and showed it to the captain.
  218. “I don’t care what the patrician said or wrote. These two are not leaving here” captain Lonne repeated his position with conviction, standing between the cell door and the invaders.
  219. “You know yourself you cannot stop us” Albert said, his voice dripping with the kind of honey that had been poisoned with something horrible. The watchman aimed his crossbow at the reanimator’s heart.
  220. “I cannot be harmed by such a weapon” Albert said with an evil grin, his eyes glowing in the gloom of the cell. Upon noticing this, the two chained forms in the cell lifted their heads.
  221. “Papa?” asked one.
  222. “Daddy?” asked the other.
  223. “You two can go right back to sleep” snapped Lonne.
  224. “Those are… Ghouls?” Ludwig asked.
  225. “Indeed they are. My sweet girls, whom Camilla allows to live here on account of their love for the sea” Albert said.
  226. “I see” the knight said. It made sense for a necromancer to have undead “children”, didn’t it?
  227. He dropped Dietrich on the ground and took a step towards the guard captain, who now aimed his crossbow at the new threat.
  228. “You won’t be able to hurt me much with that, either” Ludwig pointed out.
  229. “Maybe not” said the captain, “but then again, maybe you’ve grown weak with old age. Ludd the Reaver would have killed all the guards that tried to arrest him. You’re just an old man in the skin of a young one. And that makes two of us, doesn’t it?”
  230. The knight shrugged.
  231. “If you’re willing to risk your life on that shot, go on. Fire it” Ludwig said.
  232. “I bet yours” the captain replied and shot. What happened next was what had been bothering Ludwig for a long time since then.
  233. Some kind of juvenile bravado made him stand still rather than dodge the bolt. He was fast enough to dodge, but he chose to take the bolt right in the chest. It went through his recently mended chest plate, but stopped before penetrating deep past his skin. His muscles had stopped it. It was hot, and made him angry. This anger might have explained his next move, the move he made with his sword.
  234. Ludwig had plenty of time to aim his blow. If he had wanted to, he could have hit somewhere non-fatal. But he didn’t. He killed captain Lonne with a stab through the neck. The watchman dropped dead on the ground and Ludwig removed the keys from his belt, opening the cell.
  235. “Come to papa, girls” Albert said and the two Ghouls ripped their chains off the wall to rush to him, receiving headpats from the necromancer while Ludwig tried to undo the shackles still hanging off them. He then threw Dietrich over his shoulder and left the barracks, meeting up with Cecil at the docks and getting aboard the ship before anyone knew Lonne had been killed.
  236.  
  237. It had been a very long time since he’d last engaged in activity like that. It’s like he was slipping down on that chart master Gourmand had once shown him. Slipping down towards evil. At least Cecil hadn’t been there to see it. Would have been a bad influence on him.
  238.  
  239. ***
  240.  
  241. Ludwig had jumped in the sea without warning anyone, and it caused a minor panic.
  242. “Man overboard! Man overboard!” they shouted and ran around, throwing ropes to him, but he waved them off and made a few laps around the ship. Considering the rate at which the ship was moving, this was quite a superhuman feat. The water wasn’t exactly cold or warm, but it did help Ludwig cool his head some, and after he felt he was good and done he climbed back aboard the deck, where he ignored a rebuke from the captain who demanded he never again did such things without warning. Ludwig had no patience for that now. He was more concerned about the black wall of storm clouds that was steadily approaching.
  243. “There’s a storm coming” he pointed out.
  244. The sailors close enough to hear him looked where he pointed and went pale.
  245. “ALL HANDS ON DECK!”
  246.  
  247.             ***
  248.  
  249. Tia was beginning to realize she had made a mistake. Of course, following Cecilé had been the right course to follow; there was no doubt whatsoever about that. But had it been the right course to just take flight after a ship with no plan beyond following it? This hadn’t been the first time she’d acted out of emotion rather than reason after meeting Cecilé. That stupid armour she’d been wearing… at least she could fly now. At least until her wings got tired. Then she’d just drop in the sea.
  250. As a great and fearsome Red Dragon, Tia was not, naturally, afraid of anything. The sea was not scary either. Rather, it was more like, well, like, she wasn’t such a good swimmer and there were big fish in there and it was really deep and the salt didn’t agree with her skin and for the love of all that is good why did she have to take flight without a plan?
  251. These thoughts were filling Tia’s head as she hovered high in the air, seeing nothing but the endless expanse of sea in every direction. If she ended up swimming in it, how would she know where she was going? What if there were fish with tiny, sharp teeth and they started to nibble on her? Or gross stuff like jellyfish or seaweed? The sea was horrible. Why were they even taking her Cecilé across the sea? What was on the other side? She tried to think back on the books she’d read in mom’s library. There was sand, like on a beach, but more. And big, gross worms who lived in it. And in another place there were girls who were part-seal and there were girls with fluffy coats who went awawawa and there were big spider-cow-things that were as strong as Wurms.
  252. There was no real reason to cross the sea, was there? That stuff was horrible. Why would anyone want to get involved with that nonsense?
  253. Her shoulders and pectoral muscles were aching. She’d have to come down sooner or later. She sniffled a little. If she died here, what would happen to all her cute little minions? The lair had been wrecked pretty badly. Though her errant bandit unit was getting back there with all those parcels banknotes in them… that had been a stroke of luck that made up for them getting raped by the postman. Tia hadn’t even had time to count all those cheques and things, but she could tell it was worth at least a third of what she owed. That was a huge haul. And the dumbass had been thinking with his cock so intensely he’d just forgotten it all! Hahahaha! That’s what men were like. Most men. Not Cecilé. Never Cecilé, oh no. He was sensitive and intelligent and deep and cute and he’d appreciate her for who she was rather than for her body or her hoard.
  254. Tia saw something now, at the edge of her vision, and she turned her head to witness a… wall of dark, black clouds with the occasional lightning striking. Oh dear. That was a storm. It was headed right at her.
  255. As a great and fearsome Red Dragon, Tia was not, naturally, afraid of anything. The storm was not scary either. Rather, it was more like, well, like, she was going to get tossed around and struck by lightning and then she’d end up in the dark, stormy sea and then she’d drown and get eaten by bottom feeders.
  256. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she thought about never meeting all her friends agai… because the wind struck her eyes. If she dived down lower, she might avoid the, umm, lightning? No she wouldn’t. But she couldn’t fly above the clouds either, and staying at this altitude, falling into the sea would really hurt. Better just go lower. Yeah. She’d be fine, right? She’d be totally fine. Nothing bad could possibly happen to her, she was going to survive this little breeze and then she’d keep right on following the ship Cecilé was on and then she’d save him from a life of hardship and fatal battles and take him back to the lair and then they’d live happily ever after and have lots of beautiful, beautiful children and grow old together and watch the little Dragonettes gather up their own hoards and build their own lairs and find their own husbands and have their own children and, and…
  257. “Uuuu…” she wept.
  258.  
  259.             ***
  260.  
  261. The storm had passed, and the ship had run aground on some shallows in the bay of an island covered in beautiful, green vegetation. Luckily they found that it was low tide, meaning the ship could be sailed out again with the tide.
  262. “I’m not entirely certain about our current location, can’t be until I see the stars” the captain said. “But I can assure you, we’re not too badly off-course, and this island will let us fill up on more fresh water and food, and without the need to pay for it. We were lucky, Sir Ludwig”
  263. It certainly seemed that way, didn’t it?
  264. “I’ll go and check up on the postman” Ludwig said, straightening his belt and stamping off to the cabin where they’d locked him. If the ship had sunk, there was a good chance, almost a certainty that Dietrich would have drowned. It would have weighed on the knight’s conscience for a time, leaving a helpless, sick man to his fate in such a manner. But then again, what else could they have done with him? He’d been raving and ranting and flailing his arms and drooling and rolling his eyes like a shaman in the southern lands, and he’d tried to bite people. Keeping him out of trouble for both himself and for others had been the sensible thing to do. It’s not like they could do much else for him, other than giving him diluted Manticore venom to keep him from getting killed by the withdrawals.
  265. Ludwig entered the cabin and was greeted by an unpleasant stench. They hadn’t been at sea for THAT long and yet… oh well. Can’t help it, the man is ill.
  266. “Are you alright?” the knight inquired upon entry.
  267. “You know, I think I left the mule and the mail on the side of the road after I was done with those bandits” Dietrich observed, after a brief coughing fit. He seemed almost perfectly lucid.
  268. “Was there something important in that load?” Ludwig inquired.
  269. “For the honour of a postman, yes, of course. To deliver the mail, no matter what. Neither snow or hail or gloom of night and so on will stop, you know how it goes. It’s not like the mailman knows what’s in the letters of packages. It’s just my job to deliver it. Who knows? Maybe for want of a mail, the kingdom will be lost. Ehehehe…” he coughed a little after trying to laugh.
  270. “Excuse me?” Ludwig asked, not quite getting the humour of the situation.
  271. “It’s a line from Steppenstute” Dietrich groaned, the shivers taking him again. He cleared his throat before continuing.
  272. “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the Centaur was lost. For want of a Centaur, the message was lost. For want of a message, the battle was lost. For want of the battle, the war was lost. For want of the war, the empire was lost. Thus for want of a nail the empire was lost. Hehehehe…” his laughter sounded like the croaks of a dying raven.
  273. Ludwig remembered the legend. Something from centuries before he’d been born, a horde of Centaurs swept across the land and trampled the kingdoms of men underhoof. The limerick wasn’t historical though. The empire had fallen apart because their empress died, and the clans had a falling out. The point was not lost on him, though.
  274. “Too late to worry about it now” he said fatalistically.
  275. “As you say” Ludwig agreed, and got up to leave. The postman was not a pretty sight to look at, most certainly not a joy to be around.
  276. “Hey…” the bedridden wretch called out as he was leaving.
  277. “Yes?”
  278. “Tell them to go faster, will you?”
  279. “As you wish”
  280.  
  281. Returning to the deck, Ludwig saw an argument between family.
  282. “But daaaaad~!” whined Esmeralda.
  283. “No!” Albert snapped.
  284. “Buuuut daaaaaaad~” whined Naomi.
  285. “I said no and I meant no! Respect my authority!”
  286. The two Ghouls slumped their shoulders and shuffled down into the cargo hold. Whatever had that been about? He approached the necromancer, who seemed unwell.
  287. “A little sea-sick, perhaps?” he inquired.
  288. “No”
  289. “Are you alright?”
  290. “No”
  291. “What happened?”
  292. “I feel like something is missing. Like a part of my heart is suddenly gone, but not in the physical sense. As if, as if a loved one has died and I’ve forgotten they ever existed. Do you ever get this feeling?”
  293. After asking the question, the necromancer turned to face the knight, and Ludwig saw a sickly, feverish look in his eyes that would have given good competition to Dietrich.
  294. “I don’t see Wilson anywhere” Ludwig observed.
  295. The necromancer blinked.
  296. “Who’s Wilson?” he asked.
  297. “Nevermind” Ludwig replied and walked off.
  298. “Where’s my squire?” he asked the sailor who had befriended the boy.
  299. “Said something about wanting to eat coconuts” the sailor replied.
  300. “The fool has gone on land, then” Ludwig said, shaking his head and jumped overboard and into the shallows, where he waded toward the unknown. The boy could find trouble anywhere.
  301.  
  302.             ***
  303.  
  304. Patrician Cinco Bajeena twisted the knob of the holographic device and opened the channel to Camilla. He gave a polite little bow, which the Wight didn’t dignify with a response.
  305. “I must say Mistress, that husband of yours keeps such boorish friends…” he begun, and the Wight still ignored him, reading a small book with the keenest interest, a blush on her cheeks.
  306. “Mistrss?” the patrician said, a little louder this time.
  307. “Mmh?” the Wight replied, a ghastly finger materializing to mark her spot on the page as she lifted her gaze back up.
  308. “He seems convinced this venom found in the Zipangu region will cure his… ailment” the patrician said, with a giggle. “How could a man of his learning be such a fool?”
  309. “I’ll ask you not to speak ill of him, slave. You had your fun with him already” she said, her voice icy.
  310. The patrician went pale. “I… you… how?” he stuttered.
  311. “You think I don’t see what my husband sees and hear what he hears?” the Wight asked, the faintest smile of amusement playing around her lips.
  312. The bow the patrician made this time was considerably fuller of urgent humility than any before.
  313. “Mistress, I beg your pardon!” he whimpered, his gaze fixed in the ground.
  314. “And you shall not have it, slave. Now be quiet and listen”
  315. He did so.
  316. “…and that is why you’ll have to send a fleet” she finished.
  317. She was asking the impossible from him, and she knew it. And he knew he could not refuse.
  318. “Very well, my Mistress. It will be done” he muttered.
  319. “Good. If you fail, I’ll sell you to the Krampus”
  320. With that last bit of motivation, the Wight closed the device on her end and the orb was filled with static. His hand trembling, patrician Bajeena closed the device and chewed on his thumb. This very morning he’d gotten up knowing he was the most fabulous, wealthiest, least hated patrician in all the merchant republics dotting the coasts in these parts. When Albertus de Vries had shown up, he’d seen an opportunity to earn some considerable profit. How could a business venture with the blessing of Mistress Camilla fail?
  321. And then he’d learned the venture was not something she’d planned and that to ensure the necromancer’s survival, he would have to ruin his operations. And most likely his life and reputation. He’d be ruined by this, and probably banished from Port Artorias forever. And that was all he had to look forward to if he succeeded. Failure… failure was unthinkable. He would need to write a lot of letters tonight. And cancel the spider-web bondage.
  322. “Sic transit gloria mundi…” he muttered.
  323.  
  324.             ***
  325.  
  326. “Ah! She’s waking up!” said the voice of a woman, and Tia opened her eyes to a blue, clear sky. She was alive, and could feel something solid underneath her.
  327. “Never thought I’d run into a Dragon at sea” said the voice of a man. “You got lost while migrating, miss?”
  328. “W-whahh?”
  329. “It’s alright, take your time. We’re not in a hurry anywhere” the man reassured her.
  330. Something slimy touched her hand.
  331. “That’s right. We’re here for you whenever you’re ready!”
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