Part II of Lady Blackbird. Part I can be read here.
Wonderful news! Naomi woke up! She was a bit worse for wear for a few hours after we got her up and moving around, but she’s otherwise back to her taciturn self.
We landed in Nightport and Mister Snargle and the Captain immediately sought buyers for the goods we’d invested in, back in Haven. As I understand the mathematics of it, they traded much of the goods for information, which does not return a tangible profit. In this case, I’d rather have the information.
The information in question was the location of Uriah’s former partner, his brother Josiah, who I’d been interested in tracking down, since the rumors were that Uriah had marooned him on some godforsaken rock. As it turns out, the rock in question was Nightport itself.
Naomi and I went into port as well, seeking the same information, as it turns out, though we didn’t know it at the time. We didn’t learn much about Grimy Joe, the abandoned crewman from Uriah’s ship, but I did track down rumors of Uriah’s romantic exploits (all temporary and short term and insignificant, I assure you). I will confess to also pursuing a rumor lead on Nightport’s most recent celebrity, our own Captain Cyrus Vance.
As it turns out, the Captain “befriended” a very nice, if a bit simple, young woman named Emily some time ago, but broke things off four years ago when he was unwilling to commit to starting a family with her. He hadn’t been back to Nightport much since then, as her father was rather hostile towards him. Emily’s father is dead now, and though I couldn’t understand her through her tears, I believe she said something about “Pirate Flint” being involved.
I’m going to hope she meant Josiah. But given what I’ve later learned…. I rather doubt it.
We returned to the Owl and headed to Midnight to follow up on more leads on Josiah. There, we put two and two together and learned that Josiah Flint and “Grimy Joe” were one and the same man– and that man was being held prisoner on board the Emperor’s Gauntlet, a prison and privateering ship that operates out here in the Free worlds. Its captain, Noah Quinn, is well known to me– the Quinns have always been something of upstarts among the noble families, and I certainly don’t have to tell you about their routine appearances in the scandal sheets.
Just as we were discussing the folly of pursuing Josiah onto the Gauntlet, Quinn himself entered the tavern in Midnight and cleared out all the customers, leaving just the four of us (Mister Arkam had remained on board throughout our visit to Nightport). Quinn immediately identified me, despite my disguise, and I had a sudden moment of panic. He’d brought so many guards with him, and he seemed so forceful– I was fairly certain he was planning to capture me and take me back to Ilysium. At one point, determined to undermine my disguise, he even ordered his men to strip me! The nerve! Fortunately, the Captain put an end to it and called his bluff.
It turns out Admiral Quinn had bigger issues on his mind. His ship had been overrun by disease-infested prisoners. They’d contracted some illness out in the Blue, something that worked on the adrenal glands and turned its victims into rage-filled, uncontrollable monsters. Quinn asserted that they had no cure for the disease, and that he was in danger of losing his entire ship. He needed access to the engines to regain it. In exchange, he was willing to give us safe passage, unmolested by Imperial vessels, to complete our mission. In addition, we extracted a boon– we also would get Josiah and any men he wanted to bring with him.
I should have known the promise of a Quinn would be worthless, even if he kept his end of the bargain.
Through all of this, I strenuously disagreed with the captain’s decision to pursue. While it would be nice to have Josiah in our corner, I felt there were less risky ways to obtain the information we needed. More importantly, I was concerned that we would contract this disease ourselves. I do not wish to see what Naomi could do if she lost complete control.
In the end, though, Captain Quinn appealed to my sense of sibling obligation. If it were my sister being surrounded by violent prisoners, I would want Uriah to rescue her, too, no matter what had gone between us. Well… maybe not all my sisters. But certainly Prudence or Charity.
As we approached the ship, Josiah’s voice came over the wireless, asking for help. We responded and communicated with the besieged pirate for a few minutes before docking at the ship.
We went in, buffeted back the prisoners, and Mister Snargle slipped into the engine rooms. I don’t know what he did in there, and I choose not to ask. He slipped back out, told the waiting Imperials that the forces inside were overwhelming, and rejoined us. We were ready to scamper back to find Josiah, but Admiral Quinn insisted we stay until they’d retaken the engines. We waited until they got the doors open, then ran.
Admiral Quinn showed marked honor (this time!) by ordering his men to let us go, little realizing that the Captain had ransacked his apartments, relieving him of a precious artifact, and that he was about to use said artifact to summon the sky squids to bring the Emperor’s Gauntlet down. We brought Josiah and his men aboard, introduced ourselves, and proceeded to question him about Uriah.
Need I go into this? I suppose I ought to. Can I simply say that what Josiah had to say about his brother was heartbreaking at best? Of course not… the whole story, then.
Uriah– my Uriah!– has attached himself– affianced himself– to another woman. That hussy Elspeth Ashe, in fact. Apparently, it is all part of his plan to restore himself to glory in the Empire and secure a title for himself.
I find it hard to believe, but there it is. All I’ve risked, all I’ve sacrificed, and it’s all for nothing. I thought the vows we made 6 years ago meant something to him. Certainly, they meant something to me. I’ve been faithful to him.
It seems he was not as constant as I.
It hurts all the more, knowing how disparate Lady Ashe and I are in our fortunes… Uriah does not know about the peculiarities of my inheritance. If he did…. well, it’s of no matter. He’s determined to become a duke the hard way. And they’re well matched– if the Captain’s remarks about her are even half true (and knowing Elspeth, they certainly are!), then a certain smuggler has already boarded that vessel.
I don’t know which betrayal is worse, though. Lady Ashe, the idea that he’s working with the Empire, or the nefarious plan they’ve concocted. It seems the Empire has acquired a plague from the Depths, with which they plan to seize control of the free worlds. They’ve already developed a cure and are releasing the plague into the free worlds. The plan is to the bargain the cure in exchange for dominion. Planets like Haven will fall to the Imperial boot, and there will be no refuge for persons like myself, and no quarter for escapees like Naomi.
And yet– is this my fight? Either I’ve cast in my lot with smugglers and thieves, in which case the fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders. Or I’m still the scion of House Blackbird. In which case it is my duty to help my fellow man and prevent further tragedy any way I can… and if that duty, then must come all the others I’ve been so eager to escape. Marriage, family, a life of bored protection– the very thought repels my sensibilities.
I find myself as adrift as one of the many ships we’ve left in our wake. Without Uriah’s love as a lightpost guiding me onward…. Do I pursue revenge? Do I fight the noble fight? Do I flee the coming plague? Every night, I stand in the shower, pondering this question, and longing for something to resolve. And yet, I can distill all my jumbled thoughts and doubts down to one, simple query, a question whose form and all its implications, shakes me to my very bones:
Oh, Cyrus… What are we going to do now?
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