Twitch laughed as Hakbutt fought temporarily blinded. Grinning, he anticipated the moment when the pirate would be disarmed, lusting for the prestige that being the man who killed Hakbutt Bryne would bring. Watching Bryne slowly losing the fight, Lord-Captain Anise chanted arcana far behind Twitch’s fat shoulders.
Then the pirate’s glazed white eye lolled pupil-less to met Twitch’s murderous stare.
A pin-hole of green appeared on the milky surface of the eye. For a moment Twitch dismissed it as a reflection, but it grew and flicked like a flame as Hakbutt kept his weapon in rigging-worn fingers. Then the fire in Bryne’s white eye flared, and the seaman could see a wavering green skull laughing at him like a pupil within it. Twitch’s fist shook within the basket hilt of his cutlass, and he looked down to see Hakbutt’s unshielded, weapon holding hand burst into licking green flames.
Fire lapped against the big man’s arm as he stepped back with their blades still locked. Bryne’s hand became engulfed by emerald flame as they struggled back and forth, creating a basket hilt in the form of a ghostly, leering skull that taunted Twitch with every push and shove.
His good eye of blue now free of spit and blood, Hakbutt caught sight of the Lord-Captain completing his arcane spell far behind the burly sailor’s back. A wisp of smoke and bone rose from the aristocrat’s hand to form a disembodied maw of translucent shark teeth beside him.
The young man caught the pirate’s gaze and grinned. “Eaten by sharks, indeed!”
Whipping his open palm at Bryne, the Lord-Captain hurled the snapping jaws and they flew across the room still connected to the aristocrat’s hand by a tether of smoke. With an instant to act before the Lord-Captain’s deadly puppet tore him to shreds, Hakbutt let go of his cutlass and Twitch’s arm swung free from the sudden release. The pirate’s cutlass was flung across the cabin with its phantom hilt cackling fire while the hefty man tottered on unsure footing. Bryne hooked an ankle behind Twitch’s boot and shouldered him just in time to send him careening backwards.
The young Lord-Captain squinted, appalled at the agonized wails of the seaman pushed into the path of his summoned monstrosity. Twitch’s cries stopped a moment later with the crunch of shredding bone before he could yank the spectral teeth off of his crewman with a tug of its ghostly umbilical.
Now standing with no one left to shield him from Bryne, the wizardly aristocrat pulled back the phantom jaws and readied to lash out with them keeping his cutlass high and ready to strike should he come too close.
The rendered, bloody body of Seaman Twitch slumped and fell with a moist thud between the captains.
“Yer pappy killed me best ship’s dog with that old trick, Boy! There ain’t nothin’ new in yer repertoire, is there? ”
“Shut up!” the Lord-Captain sneered at Hakbutt.
Disarmed, the scraggy-bearded pirate clenched his fists and grinned gap-toothed before winking with a lolling white eye. “An ye so wanted me talkin’ earlier…”
The young Lord-Captain shook the cutlass in his hand. “You should know that I have trained with the greatest swordsmen that can be bought!”
“ ‘Tis fine, lad! I’d bested a score o’ those ‘fore ye was born!”
With a scowl and fiery glare from amber eyes, the young man reined-in the floating jaws and prepared to flail them at the pirate. “I will maim you and I will torture you! I will strip every secret you have locked in that tiny, diseased skull of yours and leave it empty! ”
The Lord-Captain whipped his open hand once more and the phantasmal mouth of fangs flew forward to clamp down on Hakbutt’s knees. The pirate captain had seen the deadly accuracy of this spell firsthand before, and without cover or distraction he held little hope that a nimble jump would save his legs. But no sooner had the attack been cast than a young seagull flinging itself through the air with no proper knowledge of flight managed to smack into the fair face of the aristocrat.
Blinded at a critical moment by Eevin’s pelting wings, the Lord-Captain missed the sight of Hakbutt leaping over the jaws that then sailed into the wall paces behind him with a crash. The juvenile gull squawked as he was backhanded away, leaving the young captain’s forehead nicked and scratched before he looked wide eyed at Bryne.
The pirate pulled the bloody hilt of Twitch’s serrated cutlass from the sailor’s dead hand. Bellowing a growl with a lunging dash he sprang over the headless body of Hollomon lying supine on the floor to reach the Lord-Captain. The young man slashed boldly with his cutlass, but Bryne sidestepped the stroke. Slapping down the saw-toothed serrations of his blade into the backside of the aristocrat’s weapon, Hakbutt locked a grip upon it with a twist. Before the Lord-Captain could react, he watched his cutlass tugged free of his grip and chucked away with the yank of Bryne’s sword.
Hakbutt snarled face-to-face with the shocked captain. His one good-eye caught sight of the Lord-Captain pulling back his smoke-wrapped hand to return the spectral jaws at the end of the tether. The pirate captain grabbed the young man’s forearm in response, then cleaved his magic wielding hand clean off at the wrist.
“Nay!” Bryne yelled amid spraying blood and the Lord-Captain’s scream.
The hand fell limp onto the floor and the smoky umbilical bound to its fingers drifted way as it slid on the planking. At the end of the ectoplasmic thread, translucent shark teeth fell to the floor with a sound like clattering dominos in the background.
Hakbutt hauled back his arm and punched the Lord-Captain square in the nose with the steel basket of his cutlass, snapping his head back with the crunch of cartilage and bone.
“Threaten me son and the child o’ Sargassa’s flesh will ye?!” Eevin overheard shaking his feathered head and coming to his senses at the men’s ankles. A black tricorne hat then fell right beside the bird, knocked off the blond locks of a man receiving the beating of a lifetime.
The pirate pushed the aristocrat’s back into a wall, and the Lord-Captain gargled out something unintelligible in a gush of blood from his now broken and crooked nose. Hakbutt hefted his cutlass above a balding scalp and the young man at his mercy watched the blade fall wide-eyed. With a chop, Bryne buried it inches deep into the wood beside the captain’s ear and left it jutting out from the wall. With a second hand free, the pirate gripped the stump of the Lord-Captain’s severed wrist and clenched the spurting wound so tightly that the young man screamed a second time.
“Ye think I’m goin’ to just let ye bleed out, boy!? Nay!” he yelled landing a head-butt that left his opponent weak-kneed. “That’s too good for ye!”
Eevin watched green fire burst from Hakbutt’s clenched fingers around the bloody stump. Flapping his wings, the juvenile gull fumbled his way into a clumsy, web-footed scamper as the smell of searing flesh filled the cabin.
The Lord-Captain pulled the smoking, cauterized stump at the end of his left arm free of Bryne’s grip. In an adrenaline fueled panic, he lashed out in an attempt to break free and run.
“Oh nay ye won’t!” the bearded pirate said grabbing a handhold on the man’s belt. Hakbutt snagged the captain’s map case as he struggled, snapping its thongs as he pulled the leather cylinder free and tossed it over his shoulder. “ ‘An I’ll be takin’ that!”
Now a safe distance from the stumbling fight, Eevin perched atop Hollomon’s cold metal chest and watched Hakbutt grip the back collar of the aristocrat’s red longcoat. Using the leverage, Bryne bashed the Lord-Captain’s face into corners and walls.
“None uses a child o’ the Bryne as ye hast! I’m goin’ to strap ye to an anchor an drop ye so deep into the Abyssal Straight that Morbia herself will never claim ye sorry soul!”
Broken toothed and black-eyed, the Lord-Captain lifted his arms and slipped free of his leather longcoat to escape Hakbutt’s grapple. The pirate was left holding the collar of the empty coat as the young man started a stumbling run for the open door in a frilly and bloodstained silk shirt.
Bryne threw the longcoat aside and its flapping dusters sailed into Eevin, scooping up the flapping gull as he gave a shrill cry. Dragged off of Hollomon, he slid within the rumpled leather folds of the coat as it spilled coins, trinkets and spell components from innumerable pockets until it came to rest across the room.
While Eevin squawked and thrashed to find an exit from the coat, Hakbutt tackled the fleeing Lord-Captain and slammed him to the floor. Bryne flipped the young man face up on the planking halfway out of the cabin door, his knees pressed into his gut. He swung a right hook and then a left into the young man’s cheeks, snapping his head back and forth. Having reduced the formerly handsome youth to a broken and bloody wreck, Hakbutt curled his fingers around the languid man’s throat and hauled his face up to meet his burning eye.
“You ain’t half the man yer pappy was! But I’ll grant that ye heart ‘tis twice as black!”
“…Would? W-would you?” the Lord-Captain wheezed between coughs of phlegm and blood.
“Wot?” Hakbutt said squinting to look into the swelling slits of the young man’s eyes. “Aye, I would, ye scrawny little snot!”
The Lord-Captain weakly shook his head, then ran a tongue over broken teeth before speaking more clearly. “H-Hollomon… would you kindly grab him?”
Bryne raised an eyebrow at the strange remark as he lifted a fist to deliver the knock-out blow that would end the fight. Then the cold steel fingers of armored gauntlets wrapped around his neck from behind.
Hakbutt released the Lord-Captain and kicked off his body, struggling to his feet. Bryne was able to spin around and face his attacker as they stumbled out onto the fog-shrouded deck of Kora’s Blessing. Yet the iron grip of Hollomon’s hands remained locked on Hakbutt’s sweaty throat, and as the pirate thrashed to escape the deadly grapple he looked up to find no trace of a head above the armor’s shoulders. They tugged back and forth as Bryne gasped for air and the pirate noted that for all his monstrous strength, Hollomon was as light as a child.
Eevin wiggled his way out of a sleeve cuff to exit the Lord-Captain’s longcoat just in time to see Hakbutt plunge a grasping hand elbow deep into the hole that was Hollomon’s neck… and find nothing within.
The headless armor lifted Bryne’s bare feet off the rotten deck of the ship, and the pirate kicked his heels ringing out dull hollow gongs in the fog. With lurching strides the possessed and empty suit carried Hakbutt to the worm-eaten ship’s railing, and slammed him down hard enough to snap the post underneath.
The Lord-Captain, broken and bloody, slowly dragged himself up off the floor holding the stump of his wrist to limp toward the futilely struggling pirate. “I no longer care about the risks!” he spit out from swollen, split lips. “I will gladly owe a favor to the dark ones to watch you die! I will cut the heart out of your son, bird or… whatever he is now! Then the devils can dredge the secrets from your corpse!”
Eevin wobbled around unseen within the wrecked cabin, behind the struggle outside. His gull’s eyes of mismatched blue and green peered around in a panic. He looked to the door and scampered towards it. Looking towards the fogbound sky, he knew that even if he didn’t get the knack of flying anytime soon, with a splash into the harbor he could paddle and swim his way to safety bobbing on the water.
But he stopped short of leaping off the deck. Catching sight of the Lord-Captain leering over Hakbutt, he paused as the blond taunted the pirate from behind the headless Hollomon choking him to death.
Eevin turned about, and with a determined gaze flapped his way back into the cabin. Searching for something, anything, that could help, he instead clumsily slipped and fell when his webbed foot slid out from under him on a coin spilled from the Lord-Captain’s pockets.
A coin the size of a Royal Albine Guilder, but made of lead.
Eevin cocked his mismatched eyes and looked down at the coin as he rose on knobby gull’s knees. Then he glanced back over his folded wings of grey and spotted white to the Lord-Captain’s severed hand. Bending down and with several clumsy pecks he managed to get the big coin into his mouth.
With a flap of wings he hopped to the hand that lay palm side-up on the cabin floor and dropped the lead coin onto it like a tip. Slowly, the warm glow and luster of gold enveloped the dull slug as the illusion of a true Guilder took hold. Eevin wasted no time in snatching it from the open palm with his beak and scrambling out the door.
Lord-Captain Absyn Anise, Baron of Gwern, loomed beaten but smug behind the hunched back of his spirit-driven automaton choking the life from the pirate captain that had bested him. His broken, bloody smirk mocked Hakbutt as he struggled and drew what could be his last breath. Hearing the flutter of the gull’s wings before seeing Eevin, he made the mistake of trying to grab the bird that flew in from the left with an arm that no-longer had a hand.
The juvenile seagull tumbled onto Hollomon’s shoulder. Both men looked to the bird and the Lord-Captain raised his remaining hand to snatch him where he teetered. The aristocrat locked his fingers around the avian as the bird flipped the coin in his beak into the hole where Hollomon’s head should have been.
“Seven!” the gull cried in a shrill voice that was between boy and bird.
Eevin looked to Hakbutt’s one blue eye. The pirate and the nobleman heard the coin hit the bottom of Hollomon’s empty chest where it dinged and rolled around as if within an enormous bucket.
“Six!” Eevin’s small, sharp voice cried out again.
Stunned, the Lord-Captain stared down the open neck-hole. “You! Little! Bast—”
Eevin saw a flicker of green fire in Hakbutt’s milky eye, and before the Lord-Captain could finish his curse the pirate surged up with his last reserves of strength. Unable to break the grip of the hollow man choking him, Bryne ducked and shouldered the empty armor at the waist. His bare feet slapped across the decking, slamming and shoving Hollomon into the master leaning behind the puppet.
The bird struggled free of the aristocrat’s grip and Hakbutt pushed with all his might, ramming the young man’s backside into the opposite rail across the deck.
Pinned and panicking, the Lord-Captain slapped and clawed in vain to escape or grab-hold of Bryne crouching behind the armor. Then with a look of remembrance, he shouted down into the empty neck of his automaton. “Hollomon! Would you kindly—”
The explosion blew Hollomon to pieces and was heard across the old shores of Eastport Maduc.
The blast blew the men in opposite directions. Bryne flew backwards holding onto the front half of a breastplate. Skidding along the deck on his buttocks, he crashed into the barrel Eevin had scrambled behind for cover. Simultaneously, Lord-Captain Anise was blown right through the rotten railing by the explosion, falling with a splash into the harbor.
Eevin hopped out from behind the barrel while Hakbutt groggily threw the smoking, twisted breastplate in his hands to the side. He stumbled up staggering with a singed beard and eyebrows as his ears rang. The bird watched the pirate remove a lone and lifeless gauntlet still clinging to his neck before he caught sight of the gull eyeing him from below.
“Aye! Good one, Squab!” Hakbutt said looking down and raising the armored hand in a wobbly salute.
Bryne then looked to the hole in the railing opposite him, and cast down the gauntlet with a clang. Eevin scampered alongside as he stomped towards the breach and summoned a growing ball of green flame in his hand that soon assumed the size and shape of a skull.
Hakbutt grabbed a splintered section of rail and sneered looking over it before Eevin hopped up alongside him. Barely visible in the fog-covered water below was the Lord-Captain lying beaten and dripping in a dory.
“Luck o’ a bloody devil!” hollered Bryne as he hurled a flaming green skull that screamed towards the villain.
Exhausted and injured, the Lord-Captain managed a limp swipe of his right hand. A thick tendril of seaweed followed the command and swatted the skull above the dory in an explosion of green fire and steaming wrack that nevertheless left him unharmed.
As Hakbutt summoned up another ghostly skull, the kelp serpent latched onto the bow of the rowboat and yanked it into the fog. Defeated, Lord-Captain Anise lay still in pooled seawater and blood on the bottom of the boat as it was spirited away. Then his hand grabbed Hollomon’s surviving vambrace and gauntlet, and slid it over the stump of his left wrist.
Before Captain Bryne and Eevin disappeared behind the thickening mists above, he lifted the empty armored hand and clenched it into a defiant fist with magical animation.
Hakbutt’s skull formed too late for another attack. With a salty curse he tossed the ghostly thing screaming blindly into the brume where it exploded unseen on the water with a muted green flash. He then put his elbows up on the shattered railing and rested a bearded chin on bruised knuckles.
“He’ll be back, ye know,” he said leaning his head over to look at the juvenile gull with his good eye of blue. “Me bet says vengeance runs thick as the magic in their family blood!”
Copyright © 2016 by Jason H. Abbott, All Rights Reserved.