The Assignment

Captain Von Delgo is a man who is lost. He is known as a turncoat, a hero and a mass-murderer. He has no beginning, and as far as he can see he has no end. Which makes him just about the most dangerous man alive. After the completion of his last job Captain is on his way out to receive his payment and rest up. His plans are delayed when a religious sect known as the Ravens pull him in with an offer. Captain faces a dilemma, he has never once failed in his assignments. But accepting this one and succeeding would change the way of the world, change everything that everyone has ever known, plunge it into chaos. But he has also never once turned down a job, and with his life quickly descending into a chaos of its own despair, he can see no reason why not to accept. After all, how hard can it be to kill an immortal?

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16. Chapter 16

The waters were calm, a crystal-clear mass of endless water. A shimmering pond of death. The Captain stared drowsily at the sea, watching as small fish swam under the boat. His mind was heavy with the heat radiating up from the water, his skin a bright red, his lips cracked and his tongue almost swollen. They shouldn’t have survived, his fractured mind tried to reason. There were so many times that death stared them in the face, and yet something had bargained from their life and won them from death.

He looked around at his pitiless crew, forcing his eyes to focus on the bodies sprawled across the tiny boat. How many of them had wounds that should have killed them within the first day of sailing? All of them? They should be dead, yet they were all breathing. And the sea, what was with the sea? His dazed eyes turned back to the water. He could see straight down until his sight failed as the water became too dark to see through. It should have swept them over the edge, but it kept pushing them away. Devil water.

His hand splashed angrily at the water, a few droplets fell into the boat on to members of his crew. They stirred listlessly, eyes cracking open, lips bleeding as they forced their lips open imaging the sea was fresh water they could drink.

Bright scaly things, attracted by the splash of his hand swam briskly up to the side of the boat. As the ripples subsided, they turned and swam back to the deep. The Captain watched their bright tails, and the stark contrast to their human upper body.

He grew tired of watching the blank sea long after they had disappeared, closed his eyes and shifted into a more comfortable position.

Night drifted in and the Captain woke up. His heart pounded and sweat dripped from his body as the face in his dreams faded. Around him, the Ravens snored gently, keeping time with the boat as it bobbed on the water. The Captain frowned as he peered over the edge of the boat. Dark forms were swirling away underneath the boat. The water seemed to be passing the boat, white froth churned near the edge of the boat. The Captain realised that whatever was swimming under the boat was actually pushing it.

He twisted in his seat, his eyes squinting in the odd light as he tried to see where they were heading. A small speck took up a spot on the horizon; it was slowly drawing nearer. As the Captain roused his men there was a sharp cry from the crow’s nest of the ship –they had been spotted.

The ship changed course and began its slow journey to the Captain’s dinghy. The winds rose and shifted the ship’s flag around until its emblem faced them. A two-headed lion roared at them across the gap of the sea as it sprang upon a chest of broken glass. A sigh of relief escaped from the Captain’s parted lips as he sunk back down into the boat. They weren’t Shadows.

After what seemed like only a few short minutes, a shadow spread out over the small crew and they twisted in their seats as they watched the towering structure come to rest beside them. Tatted and worn crew glared over the edge and someone called out to watch out below as a thin rope ladder dropped. It fell into the water and the Captain had to reach out to grab it and draw it in.

‘Better go up,’ he said, holding the rope steady while pushing it towards the Ravens. As the last Raven disappeared over the edge of the ship, the Captain started to climb. He reached the top and callused hands grabbed his shoulders, pulling him over the side. He sprawled to the deck; scuffed boots stared at him as they moved around.

'Who are you and what were you doing floating in the Edge Sea in an old boat that crumbles into the sea as we speak and without provisions?' A man’s rough voice demanded.

The Captain looked up and rose, resisting the hands that went to help him and hold him still. They groped and he stared blankly at them, the crews’ eyes were blank, white, and unseeing. Their bodies surged forwards, massing around him and pushing him in a twisted line towards the stern.

The stink of rotting flesh filled his nostrils as around him the Ravens swore and pushed back against the Living Dead.

‘Don’t fight them!’ the Captain called, but even he felt revulsion at being touched by them and batted them away as best he could. Zombies, they were certainly a new sight to see. They only lived near the Square In Land, that was where the Livers lived, creating life out of death. The Captain pushed away the decaying hand of a Zombie as it began to explore his face. It’s fingers left a trail of pus across his face.

The Square In Land was good, it was the only place the Shadows let the Livers settle. It was also close to the center of Gamdagleeare Luff.

Fingers with grips of steel wrapped themselves around his arms and found grip in his hair, forcing him to a stop. Before him the Zombie massed, a wall of thick, green and rotting flesh, barely holding together with the magic that bound it. It was unearthly magic, cheap and badly spoken. It shimmed in an orange haze around the joints of the Zombies bodies.

The air that had been filled with curses, low moans and stomping feet became an ocean on a calm day. The Captain struggled to free his hands from the bonds that someone had tied them with, unnoticed by him. His eyes watered with the stench that filled his lungs. Tears dribbled down his cheeks as he blinked to try to clear them.

Before the group rose the wheelhouse, a small shack large enough to fit two men. It was made of rotting wood with stained, grimy windows. A speaker sat attached to the roof of it and it was from this that the gruff voice spoke.

‘Who are you?’

The Captain struggled to release himself and collapsed to the floor as the Zombies let go. He struggled to his feet and faced the grimy windows of the wheelhouse.

‘We are refugees from Death Drop Island.’

There was coarse laughter from the speaker, it crackled and faded in and out. ‘You lie! Death Drop Island is nowhere here. Tell me, how did you manage to travel from an island on the other side of the world, to us, with a boat that has already sunk into the sea of its own accord and only one oar?’

The Captain’s ears picked up as he glanced at the Ravens, they were watching him rather than the wheelhouse. Their faces were pale, their bodies only standing because of the support from the Zombies. He turned back to the wheelhouse.

‘Where are we?’ he asked with interest.

The disembodied voice ignored him. ‘We do not listen to mutineers nor take kindly to them! Throw them in the brig!’

Clawed hands gripped the Captain dragging him back as he made to lunge forwards. His head snapped back with the force of the sudden stop and a tingle went down his spine. His sight went dark and he felt his body falling through empty space while around him the world erupted into noise.

He awoke in a dank cell surrounded by the dark forms of his companions. They watched him silently, heads on one side as their bird nature took over. The Captain wondered if they could transform yet, or whether they were still too sick.

‘Are we on a Tolva?’ whispered Kion, his voice a barely audible whisper.

The Captain rose shakily to his feet, walked to the rusting iron bars of the cell and peered out into the murk, shaking his head. ‘No, we’re safe. This is just a normal slave ship. The last Tolva set sail a month ago with a full cargo, they won’t be back for another year.’

The horrified silence, mixed with the soft sighs of relief, spread out across the cell and washed over the Captain. He snarled at the bars, he didn’t feel any cleaner.

The Tolvas were slavers employed by the High Lord as a means to earn something on the side. Because of their sick ideas that they use on the slaves they live on an island they built of scrap that floats in space, chained to the mainland allowing them to be a part of it but not on it. Their job was scientific warfare; they were the High Lord’s lead scientific minds during the early wars. After the wars were won, there was no need for them and they were banished to an island of their own devising to continue their experiments.

They pay people to bring them unsuspecting citizens to use for their own sick ideas. Their boats are allowed to dock for a single day for them to stock up for food, equipment, anything that they need or have run out of. If they do not leave by the deadline set by the High Lord, they will be blown out of the sky. During the time they are docked, at least one person will bring someone unsuspecting for them to take away.

Anytime at all, someone could unhook the chain that keeps them connected. But if you could stand knowing what you've done to someone, selling a soul is a good way to become rich. To live with their conscience, people turned to Tolvaning No Ones. Creatures no one will miss. Creatures no one even actually realizes have more of a right to live than other people do. Not only do those sick of No Ones free their country from a pest, but they get payed to do it.

 No one really knows what exactly the Tolvas do to the people they receive, but they never see anyone that goes on board ever come off board again. The captains of the ships will sometimes, if the pay is right, whisper secrets of what goes on, but the people they tell kill themselves so that no one will ever Tolva them. So was the money worth it in the end?

‘How long are they going to keep us in here for?’ one of the Ravens asked as they stretched his legs as best he could in the cramped compartment.

‘I don’t know,’ the Captain shrugged, turning from the bars and starting to explore the cell. ‘If they don’t come to us, I’m going to try to go to them.’

The ship moved beneath them as it sailed upon the wave. It rocked, rising and falling with the tide pulled up by the wind. The Ravens leaned against the walls and each other, seated in the few inches of water that leaked in through unseen holes. The Captain had no way of knowing, down in the dark, exactly where the ship was heading. All he could do was make faint guesses, and hope furtively that they weren’t heading back the way they had come.

‘Isn’t it strange that no one has come to talk to us yet?’ asked Kion, licking his dry lips and shifting his numb legs to try to get the blood circulating.

The Captain shook his head and slipped to the ground. ‘It doesn’t surprise me. They don’t need to talk to us, they don’t need to know what their prey is or who we are. They just need to get us to wherever they’re heading and then flog us off.’

Kion glared at him before looking around at his friends to see if they had heard. They were partly awake, only half listening to the words around them as they suffered. Two had come down with a fever separate from their wounds, while the others were slowly healing still. Without proper medical treatment the wounds would heal over infections and they Ravens would still die, later and of diseases. It seemed to the Captain hardly worth letting them live now if they were only to die later.

‘You should have left us on that Island,’ Kion whispered to him, shuffling across the bodies to sit next to the Captain.

The Captain nodded his head. ‘I know.’ He shook his head. ‘But I couldn’t. I made a promise and I broke it once before, don’t force me to breaking it again. I told you on the island that I’d help.’

Kion grunted and glared at the ground. ‘I don’t know who is more selfish, me, Ravenwood, or you.’

‘It could be all of us.’ The Captain rose, flecking life into his stiff fingers before seizing the bars of the door in his hands. ‘Why settle on just us three for the things we want? Why not all of us?’

Patting his pockets the Captain could feel that he hadn’t been searched before being thrown in the cell, he still had all his equipment on him. He fished into one pocket and pulled out the strip of material that he used as a hood on his coat. It had a row of slits along one side which he pushed the buttons that lined the collar of his coat through. He rolled it up and tied it in a ring around two of the bars. Using his gun as a lever, he slipped it through the ring and began twisting. The bars groaned ever so slightly. Despite their frail appearance, they remained adamant.

With a groan, the Captain crossed his hands and tried to twist in the opposite direction. The bars groaned again and gave just a little. Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead as he pursed his lips and strained. Slowly, the gun turned. He moved slightly to get a better grip and strained again. The bars creaked and slowly bent inwardly. After perhaps five minutes, the Captain released his hold and unwound the material. After it was free, he began on the two bars next to the ones he had just bent. Breathing heavily he started over again.

The top of the deck was clear of the zombie crew as the Captain stepped out of the hold. He helped the Ravens up one by one until they all stood gathered in a small group next to him. He glanced up at the wheelhouse, their first point of call. In his right hand he held one of his silver pistols.

Moving quietly, unsure what had happened to the crew, the group set off towards the wheelhouse. The deck creaked below them with each step they took on the near rotting wood. Around them the wind whistled through the sails, pushing the boat towards its destination.

‘Where is everybody?’ asked Kion as he walked beside the Captain, his eyes and ears peeled for any unusual noises.

‘The dead need to rest just as much as the living,’ was the reply. He glanced up at the Captain who stopped and pointed.

‘See?’

Kion followed the finger to a mass of grey bodies standing in a row past the wheelhouse. Wires fitted into their legs and arms connected back to a small generator that pumped watts into their body, charging them for their next assault.

‘Come on,’ the Captain whispered, pulling Kion’s arm as he turned and pushed on the door of the wheelhouse. It creaked open and he stepped in. The small room was deserted, the wheel kept from spinning by a rope that tied it in place. A chart of the seas was pinned to the wall and the Captain moved closer to study it.

A sharp cry from outside pulled him from the map and he dived out of the cabin. The Zombie had awoken and were shuffling jerkily towards them, as if someone had woken them before they were fully charged. The Ravens moved back, grabbing the Captain and pushing him in front as he held a weapon. He brought it up and pointed the nozzle at the Zombie in the lead. The Zombies surged forwards, picking up speed and the Captain’s gun switched targets. Another Zombie took the lead and the barrel followed, another would sneak up from the outside and overtake and the Captain’s gun would switch to following him.

‘Move back,’ the Captain ordered, pushing them towards the stairs that led down to the lower deck.

‘Shoot them!’ one of the Ravens cried, spitting droplets of sick and blood as he did so.

The Captain fired. A sharp, almost deafening blast filled their ears as the cap in the gun struck the bullet and pushed it forwards. There was a thud and splatter as the Zombie in the lead was hit. The bullet pushed its ways through the soft tissue and embedded itself in one of the creatures behind it as it lost speed.

He fired again, this time in rapid succession, the bullets bursting with faint sparks from his gun. The shots echoed across the sea. Zombies jerked and fell backwards and their bodies were hit. They were pushed to the back as others surged past, trampling over their fallen comrades. As the surge moved forwards, the hit zombies crawled to their feet again and continued shuffling forwards with the rest of the hoard.

‘Captain! We’ve got more behind us!’

The Captains cursed and twirled, glancing at the other hoard that had sprung up behind them. He shot the one that was in the lead of the crew and watched it fall to the ground and then trampled on by its companions. He could see it twitching and then pulling itself to its feet moments later.

He turned back to the first group. It had ceased walking and was standing just at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the wheelhouse. They curved around the deck until they were almost half surrounding the Captain and the Ravens. The Captain turned back to the second group; they were still shuffling forwards, pushing them back towards the first group. After they had been pushed back to the middle of the deck and were no more than 5 meters from either group, the second group of Zombies stopped.

‘What do they want?’ whispered one of the Ravens.

‘Orders,’ the Captain answered, looking around.

‘Who are you looking for?’

‘The man that gives the orders,’ the Captain replied, licking his lips as he continued to turn in the circle. His fingers fiddled with the clasp on his gun. The empty clip fell from the handle and he pushed in a new one.

‘What’ll you do when you find him?’

‘Shoot him.’ The Captain turned again, his eyes lifting up to the empty wheelhouse and then falling down to the door of the cabin set underneath the helm. ‘He’s in there.’

‘How can you be sure?’

The Captain shrugged. ‘It’s a lucky guess,’ he conceded.

The Zombies swayed where they stood, their legs apart and feet flat as they kept their balance on the rolling deck. They faced the small group, seemingly unaware that they were there as they awaited new orders. If someone had given them the orders to move the Captain and the crew to the middle of the deck, then he had to be close by. The Captain waited patiently, he could stand around all day if need be. But if the captain of the ship wanted them back in the brig, he would have to make the first move.

‘Welcome to the Broken Heart! I see you have escaped the brig, which I’m sure wasn’t the hardest thing to do.’

The voice came from the speaker above wheelhouse and all heads turned to it, except the Zombies.

‘It hardly seems worth ordering my crew to put you and yours back in the cell as you’ll only escape from it again. Perhaps we should talk?’

‘I don’t talk with ghosts, or disembodied voices!’ the Captain yelled. ‘If you want to talk come out where we can see you.’

‘Of course.’ The speaker fell silent and a minute later the door of the cabin eased open. A straggly man in red and black emerged. His face was a rough patchwork of pale scars. He wore long sideburns and a hat that was flaking. He faced the group silently for a moment before turning to his crew. 'Get these men something to eat and drink and treat the wounded! What do you think I'm paying you to do? Stand around? The show’s over! You,’ he pointed to the Captain, ‘come here.’ Then he turned and retreated into his cabin, leaving the door open invitingly for the Captain.

As the Captain pocketed his gun and strode towards the door, the Zombie became alive and began ushering the Ravens back below deck.

Inside the cabin the captain of the Broken heart was seated at a short, narrow desk. He indicated a seat for the Captain to take which he sank into greatfully.

'Who are you?' the Captain asked.

'I am Captain Hellvon. Who are you?'

'Captain Von Delgo.'

'For a captain you had a very small ship.'

'I'm not that sort of captain,' the Captain told him quietly. ‘I am in a different line of work. You’ve never heard of me?’ he frowned.

'Should I have?’ asked Captain Hellvon surprised. ‘I spend a lot of my time at sea.'

'You shouldn't have, no. People really shouldn't know who I am, though they seem to anyway.'

'So you're a captain that isn't really a captain and you say you've come all the way from Death Drop Island to here?'

'Correct, though I don't know where here is exactly.'

‘Hm.' Captain Hellvon handed the Captain his map. 'Where we are, is here,' he pointed a stubby finger at a small section of sea in between a small group of island.

'What are those island called?’ the Captain asked, pointing his own finger down at the group of three islands.

'You don't know? The way you act I would have thought you knew all the islands by name!' scoffed Captain Hellvon, glaring at the Captain.

The Captain shrugged. ‘Remind me.’

'Those are the Donaganh Islands.'

‘Ah,’ the Captain nodded, a faint trail of memory sparking in the depths of his mind. He remembered them now. They were almost exactly, where he needed to be, from the islands it was just a short journey to Gamdagleeare Luff.

‘So, mutineer,’ sneered Hellvon, ‘what should I do with you? You’d make small change on any slaving island. Your crew of Ravens might just scrape together enough for a few repairs on my boat. Or else they would make a delicious stew. What say you?’

‘I have one bullet left,’ the Captain told him. ‘And I am good with a shot. I may have put the gun away but do not be at ease, that won’t be a problem. I can still lay you dead.

Grinning broadly, Hellvon chuckled. ‘You have spirit! You would make a fine addition to the Battle Tournaments on Vasta-Esc.’

A tiny corner of the Captain’s lips twisted up into a grin. ‘Would those be the battles run by Gor-nad the Fearless?’

‘That would be the same.’ Hellvon raised his eyebrows. ‘You know them?’

‘I won it,’ the Captain replied, tossing the remark across like it was nothing. It had the effect that he wanted it to have; Hellvon stared.

‘You? You’re the slave that beat the Gorth?’ the words came out in a hushed rush, Hellvon’s eyes widening in respect.

‘Well,’ he continued, sitting back. ‘This is something indeed! To think I would find the champion of Gorth floating in a boat in the seas of Square In Land? What were you doing?’

‘We were escaping from Death Drop Island, like I told you earlier. We’re trying to make our way to Gamdagleeare Luff…’

‘If you’re thinking of asking me to drop you off there then the answer is no!’ Captain Hellvon’s outcry woke the Captain from his revere.

‘You don’t have to go to that island itself, you just need to drop me and my crew off on the furthest Donaganh Island,’ the Captain explained calmly, his eyes brightening as he watched Hellvon. He had touched a nerve just by thinking about the islands. ‘The people are made of gold…’

Hellvon’s eyes sparkled as if he could already see the gold and it was reflecting off his eyes. The Captain allowed himself the faintest of smiles.

‘It’s an intriguing offer, a chance to strip gold from locals, but unfortunately I cannot help you.’ Hellvon flashed an evil grin that spread up his cheeks and clouded his eyes. He spun lazily to the side and stared off into a spot in the distance.

‘Why not?’ the Captain demanded angrily.

‘I owe you nothing, and you have no place to demand such things from me you wretched mutineer,’ growled Hellvon angrily, spinning back to face the Captain. ‘You can make no challenges or threats to me, my crew will tear you apart if I say so.’

‘Even though I defeated Gorth?’ the Captain pointed out.

Hellvon shook his head, ‘How do I know you’re really the champion? You have no proof! Unless…’ he leaned forwards, bringing his hands down onto the desk. ‘Perhaps… The winner of Gorth showed initiative, great strength of mind, cunning and inventiveness! If you are who you say you are, then you and your crew will sail to the Donaganh Islands.’

‘My men are wounded; they cannot do anything without the proper care, let alone sail!’

‘Then you will never see the South-east Bank, or any such banks again! If you cannot sail a ship in the health that you are in, we will change that for a health that you are not in.’ The evil grin spread out over Hellvon’s cheeks and face again like a web spreading out between trees.

The Captain glared, fingering the holt of his gun through the material of his pocket. Hellvon rose slowly, accentuating every move as he stepped away from his chair and crossed the space that separated him from the Captain.

The Captain lowered his hand and nodded. ‘I will tell my men to prepare themselves to sail your boat.’

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