Friday, February 7, 2014

The Adventures of Inkstained Succubus, Chapter One

The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus
Chapter One:
Why Is The Ink Gone?

The sun was shining brightly the day the Inky Suki pulled free from the Air Harborage and caught some good tailwind. The wind also carried the whoop of the airship’s captain along with it as the various Rats pulled the ropes and sails into position. Captain Sparrow was in fine form today, resplendent in the long leather coat that slapped her thighs as she spun the wheel. They had to hurry, after all - they’d just robbed the port.

 The ship wove through the clouds, making a decent head start before any of the heavy iron dirigibles could be activated to follow them, and the Captain waved to one of her Rats to come take the wheel when she was steady. Her First Mate, Gabriel, stood shaking his head at the foot of the stairs.

 “Sometimes I think you like the getaway more than the robbery,” He pulled his goggles up onto his head as the wind died down some.

 She swung over the rail, landing on the deck beside him. “It’s all about the flight. Of course, this is another city we can’t go back to. Remind me next time I get the urge to do this that I actually DO like sleeping on the ground sometimes?”

 Gabriel moved out of the way subtly to make way for the Captain’s rambunctious mood. “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to rob the place. Sernstown was a good port for us. You’re the one that couldn’t turn down a good challenge. We’re going to need distributors, Captain. We can’t run a rogue press without them.” He shoved his hands in his pockets, pausing a moment to be confused at what his hands found there and then shrugging. “So, we could look over the spoils if you want.”

 She gestured for him to lead the way belowdecks. Lisa the Lab Rat and sometime Cabin Girl was finishing a tally of their take. She looked up and smiled. “Hey!” She stuck the pencil behind her ear and handed over the papers. “Just got done.” She bit her lip and tapped the toe of one boot against the deck. “So...can I have that one?” She pointed at one of the boxes.

 Gabriel took the manifest and looked it over carefully before smiling. “Alright. Fine. But it’s your pay for a month.” He checked over the last of it and handed it over to the Captain. Along with the shipment of palladium that the Captain couldn’t resist stealing, the paper listed several cases of rare books, a chest of gold bullion, and one box full of fine drawings from the far east that was now being carted away by Lisa.

 “But no supplies. No paper or ink or glue,” Sparrow scowled. This was the fifth port this month that hadn’t had supplies.

 “No. And I got the strangest message from the dealer.” Gabriel reached in his lab coat’s pocket and pulled out a piece of parchment that had been sealed. He handed it over to the Captain. “Seems like it’s intentional.”

 “I can’t get books out without ink. The Children of Israel couldn’t make bricks without straw and I can’t make books without ink and paper.” She took the sealed parchment, read it over and swore voluminously.

 Gabriel walked over and sat on one of the chests, popping open the gold and running his fingers through it. “That doesn’t sound good. What’s up?”

 “My dearest Captain Sparrow and crew,
Forgive our presumption upon you. By now, you have discovered our handiwork in appropriating all the necessary book-bindery supplies. Understand that this is not in fact any real threat of our own. Your rogue publishing presents an issue that so far has yet to be addressed. We find ourselves addressing it. You can find us, if you care to, but it will do you little good. Any port within range has no supplies. And soon, you will land. For good. Have a lovely quarter, Mssrs. L and R.”

 Gabriel sighed and put the gold down. “Well, we’re boned. I can probably find some ink and paper, Captain, but it’ll be at too much of a risk. I don’t even have the materials to produce them, not that the lab could take it.” He folded his arms.

  “Sometimes I think all the lab can manage is rotgut whiskey. I know this style. I know I’ve encountered it…” She looked pensive. “Check the reject file. Then check the piracy log. These men have a grudge. And we’re not going to let them win.”

 Gabriel made a face at his Captain. “The Lab is plenty useful, thank you very much.” However, as he protested, he was moving towards the cabinets and pulling open the drawers. As he pored over the documents, he muttered to himself. “It’s okay, girl. She still loves you. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just fine. I can’t believe she...AH! Here it is.” He pulled out the file and handed it off. “Messieurs Locke and Rowe. Wanted us to publish their inflammatory pamphlet to provoke a rebellion for war profiteering. We refused.”

 “Understandably. Yellow journalism and broadsides are one thing but they should be at least readable and well-spelled.” Sparrow sank into a chair and patted a timber of the ship. “It’s okay, baby, we’ll keep flying.”

 Gabriel busied himself righting some of the equipment that had taken a tumble in their daring escape. “Our best bet is Tackston. It’s mostly pirate-owned, but we have enough to trade for ink and paper. We might be able to track down these jilted warponies there, too.” He grimaced at a broken beaker and threw it out the window.

 “I’ll set course.” Sparrow heaved herself up the steps, the scowl on her face saying that Tackston might not survive the visit of Inky Suki.

 “I bet you will.” Gabriel watched the Captain leave, sighing. He shook his head to free himself from rogue thoughts and got back to work. Angelia might need some explosives in Tackston, and now was no time to get caught up.


 Gabriel’s lab coat was replaced with a heavy long vest lined with plates for the walk into Tackston. Leaving the Inky Suki under the careful supervision of the Second Mate and the Lab Rat, he followed the Captain out into the wilds of the floating city.

 Tackston was ‘tacked’ together from several derelict airships and barges, held together with badly welded girders and kept in the air by the breath of god and a wide assortment of cobbled-together engines and propeller arrays. The roar would be deafening if the wind didn’t blow so hard. Most in Tackston stayed to the railways, a system of grips that ran through the town. It wasn’t organized along the idea of roads, per se. Clumps of people congregated on flat surfaces that had some kind of wind break, or strapped themselves into a barstool at an open-air bar.

 There was no air harborage or port. Angelia strode along the walkways to the warehouse barges that formed the outer ring of the conglomeration, furious enough to ignore the grips and safety rails. Gabriel kept both eyes open and hands on his weaponry, because when the captain headed out with that kind of murder in her eye, she tended to ignore side distractions.

 The little sky-rat leaning down to pick the pocket of her long leather coat was one such, and Gabriel collared the kid before damage could be done. He grinned at the boy. “Well, well. Cute little sky-rat. Just about got your pocketbook, too, Captain.” The grin turned into a bit of a glare. “If you’re that desperate for money, you can walk away with some. Need to find the real market around here.”

 “Yeah? Whatcha looking for?” I know all the best stuff! Dream-sugar? Kentucky bourbon, the real stuff? Loco weed out of Texicana, and I got a real cute sister, if you like girls.”

 Gabriel rolled his eyes. “Shiftless little wanker. Need the real market. A place to buy and sell. Which way is the damn thing?”

 “Oh boring. Food and blankets and books and dull.” The kid made a face. “How much you pay to get you there?”’

 “Five to show us. Fifteen if we get there and you haven’t sold us out.” Gabriel raised an eyebrow, pulling out a handful of the copper coinage.

 The kid’s grin showed three missing teeth as the coins vanished “Come on then.” 

 “Captain, native guide.”

  Sparrow stopped her stride and turned. “Lead us wrong, and I’ll use you as bait for sky-fish.”
They followed the little brigand up and around the open air bars, dodging the swinging patrons who’d managed to get into a bar fight. Through the covered walkways that wound around the engine parts that grumbled almost out of hearing range that vibrated their boots, he kept them close and led them, to Gabriel’s amusement and Angelia’s irritation. Finally, at one of the boats that looked as derelict as the others, the boy stopped and kicked open a steam vent. After the initial puff of steam, the entrance cleared out. “Best entrance. Not the biggest, but the back way.” He shrugged.

 Gabriel pointed a finger. “You first.”

 As the three of them slid downwards, Gabriel couldn’t help but let out a whoop as they hit floor. The rat pushed open a bulkhead to reveal what was indeed a marketplace, secreted away in the gutted belly of the ancient ship. “Best way. Toldya.”

 Gabriel nodded, tossing the little leather bag of copper to the boy. “Go then. Well done. And quit peddling your sister.” He reached back to offer his Captain a hand. 

 She was already on her feet and had an arcane looking pistol pulled. Shopping trips were never dull, and it looked as if she was ready for the excitement. She caught the kid with a free hand. “Book seller, or printer’s stall. Which way?”

 He looked at her. She looked at Gabriel. “Another dime, then, and I’ll pay you back. I’m not in the mood to window shop.”

 “Aye aye, Captain.” Gabriel laid a dime in the urchin’s hand.

 “Three cubes up and seven to your left.”

 She set the boy back on his feet and dug out a dime of her own to toss to Gabriel as she headed that direction.

 Gabriel caught it neatly and pocketed it, whistling as he walked through the stalls behind his Captain. Their clothing was cobbled together enough they didn’t stand out - they’d done their fair share of pirating. He’d never been to Tackston himself, but he’d have to return. The printer’s stall was where the boy had said. He waited and winced as the Captain proceeded to get into a screaming match with the man behind the counter. It escalated quickly, and he was beginning to wonder if he’d have to take Angelia’s gun away. He nodded nonchalantly to the other patrons passing by and staring. 

 “I just don’t have the quantities you need! I’ve been bought out! I won’t get another shipment until next month, and I’m not giving you the name of my supplier.” The man finally drew an answering gun and cocked it. “Are you going to take the hint or not?”

 Angelia’s gun went back into her holster and she took three deep breaths. A smile that Gabriel recognized as the “losing patience but trying to stay in control” one crossed her face. “All right. If you won’t tell me where you get your materials, will you at least tell me who bought all of yours? Perhaps they’d be willing to sell.”

 “Messieurs Locke and Rowe. Now, you’re scaring my customers. Take your satchel and go.”

 Gabriel walked over to pay for the meager supplies that the man had left and shouldered the pack. “Come on, Captain. No need in making” He scanned the crowd as he chose his words carefully. “How about a drink?”

 “A drink would be good.” He could hear her teeth grinding at the information. “A lot of drinks.” They were almost out the door when she turned back to the counter. “When did they buy you out?”

 The man shrugged. “A week ago. Now go.”

 Gabriel just about hauled his Captain by the elbow out of the shop. “You’ve got to calm down. We got a few supplies. I can get two of the special orders out of the way to bring in money. It’ll be okay. They’re just screwing with us.” He sighed and headed for one of the side bars in the market area.

 “Only a week behind them. Dammit!” She let him lead her to one of the bars and fell more than sat in the chair. She slapped a silver cartwheel on the table and scowled at the pretty girl who took it. “Starkest whisky that will buy.”

 Gabriel brushed his blond hair back from his eyes and smiled at the barmaid. “Make that a double for my grouchy Captain and a tall vodka for me.” He laid the money in her hand and watched her walk off. He kicked his chair back and laced fingers behind his head. “You’re really too uptight about all this. What are they going to do with all of it except flood the market next quarter? It’s not like we can’t survive until then. Besides, they’ve got to be cash-poor by now.”

 “They’re keeping it out of my hands. We have deadlines, Gabriel, and commitments. If word gets out that the Succubus can’t keep her promises, no one will contract with us. No one will order from us. We’ll end up having to rob all the time, instead of just now and then.” She shook her head. “Much as I love the adventure, I’m not as young as I used to be. I thought I’d take the old girl legit, but Locke and Rowe are in my way. I’ll Locke and Rowe them.”

 Gabriel nodded as the girl returned with the drinks and took a sip. After rolling his eyes into his head from the burn, he coughed a little. “I know. I know. It’s not fair. But what would you rather have - problems with supply? Or have the word get out that we sold our integrity to war profiteers who couldn’t spell because they could harvest the most ink?”

 She shot one of the glasses of whiskey and sighed. “You’re right. That’s why I keep you.” She sipped at the second shot. “We’ll find them. And then, I’m going to tan their hides for a set of new boots. Think I can get a new coat too?”

 Gabriel was about to follow up with a snarky remark when he caught sight of perhaps the prettiest sight he’d catalogued in years. The vodka was forgotten in his hand as he stared, long enough that it caught his Captain’s attention.

 She looked up and he saw her staring too. Identical twins weren’t common to start with, and neither were men so good looking. And this pair strode in as if they owned the place. Their gray sack suits looked almost new, and they both wore embroidered waistcoats, in a shade of blue that matched their eyes. One wore a floppy bow-tie and the other had a satin puff-tie set off with a ruby pin.

 Gabriel bit his lip and let out a low whistle. “Wow. I wonder what a set of twins like that do in a place like this.” He grinned a little.

 The Captain checked her money pouch. “I doubt we can afford them, whatever they’re doing here.”

 Gabriel finished his vodka and almost choked as the twin men got their drinks and headed in their direction. The chair clacked back onto four legs as he unconsciously pushed his hair back, running fingers through its tangles. “Shit.”

 “You can say that again,” Angelia mumbled as the men smiled at them. 

 “Sorry to disturb you folks. Are these seats taken?” the one in the bow tie asked, a faint southern accent coloring his voice.

 His brother tossed his longer pony tail back over his shoulder. “Not that we’d want to bother you and your wife, sir.” His was just a little thicker and put Gabriel in mind of dripping honey.

 Gabriel choked a little. “Oh! No, no. This is just my Captain. I’m not married.” To his credit, his signature easy half-smile managed to find its way onto his face as he held out a hand. “By all means. Nobody else is sitting here.”

 He stole a glance at Angelia who seemed to have regained her composure. He noticed the second glass was empty. 

 “Captain Sparrow, my first mate Gabriel. You gentlemen are?”

 The one in the bow tie swept his coattails back as he took the seat next to Angelia, while his brother pulled a chair back next to Gabriel and smiled. “Lucas. My brother Cole.” The brother next to Angelia nodded. “We’re investors. A pleasure to meet you both.” His eyes traced over Gabriel’s shock of hair, piquant features, and cobbled armor with a look of appreciation, and it made Gabriel blush.

 Cole gently lifted the Captain’s hand and kissed the knuckles. “Charmed.”

 Only one of her eyebrows went up so Gabriel knew Cole wasn’t in danger of getting the knuckles planted in his teeth. He was more surprised when Lucas leaned forward to place his elbows on the table and rewarded him with a thousand-watt smile. “Can we get you a drink? Seems like you’ve already started.” Gabriel nodded mutely.

 Drinks flowed. The twins were eloquent to a fault, and their wit was as sharp as the Captain’s. Lucas easily discussed science with Gabriel, even as Cole got quite a thrill out of hearing Angelia’s travels and random criticisms. By the end of the evening, both brothers had managed to snake an arm around each of the crewmates, and Gabriel finally caught Angelia’s eyes in a moment of clarity. It was interrupted by Cole, who seemed to be the elder of the two in mindset. 

 “It’s far too late to wander through Tackston at night. Share the evening with us.” He breathed on Angelia’s neck gently. “I promise, it won’t be a wasted night.” Lucas added nothing to this except to gently stroke Gabriel’s forearm.

 Gabriel had never seen the Captain look quite so interested in a man. Most of them, she took as a lark. He’d heard more than a few go out her porthole in the night. And Lucas was hitting all the right notes with him.

 He wanted to grab the ponytail and kiss that smiling mouth, dip his tongue into the dimple on Lucas’ chin, and make the man beg for more kisses. But he waited for the Captain - he wasn’t about to run off and leave her alone in the belly of the harshest pirate port in all the Empire.

 She looked the brothers up and down. “All right. One room, though.” That was Sparrow. Keeping her back-up in easy reach even when she was busy.

 Gabriel couldn’t help it anymore. He leaned up and tasted Lucas’ lips. They were as much like honey as he’d hoped. It just made his partner smile more. “By all means. Lead the way.”

 Cole stopped just outside the bar and gently pushed the Captain up against the wall, pinning her hands. He smiled at his brother, who had a hand draped across Gabriel’s shoulder and chest. “It’s a shame they want the same room. A bit kinkier than we’re used to, right brother?” He dug a knee between Angelia’s legs with a wicked smile.

 Lucas nodded, his other hand knotting itself in Gabriel’s hair, making it hard for Gabriel to concentrate. “Indeed.”

 A half smile crossed Angelia’s face and she brought her knee up, not hard, just warningly. “You’ll let go of me right now. And you, let go of his hair. It’s hooked to his dick and he can’t think when there’s a hand on either one.”

 Gabriel almost pouted when Lucas pulled his hand free, though didn’t remove his arm from around him. Cole held his hands up with a smile. “Forgive me. I had no intention of insulting you. I’m merely a tad consumed.” His lips smiled with unspoken promises.

 “Pull the other one, there’s bells on it.” She led the way out of the alley. “Besides,” she seemed to soften under the light and fanned herself, her accent going distinctly south of her flat midwestern origins, “It’s not safe for a lady to be alone with a gentleman she’s scarcely met.” With a wicked smirk, she ruined the effect entirely.

 “Are we going to get on with this before I lose my nerve?” Gabriel’s voice was a little higher than usual, and his skin was flushed.

 “Of course, little scientist.” Lucas leaned down and nibbled on Gabriel’s ear, causing a low moan. Cole held out a more proper arm to the Captain. “My lady?”

 “Then on with it..” She readjusted Cole’s grip to her left arm, leaving her right free for any danger.

 Gabriel wandered off under Lucas’ arm with a silly smile on his face, looking forward to a night of debauchery.

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