The Adventures of the Inkstained Succubus
Part Three: The Good Hunter
Off again, the bowl of sky arching clear and blue around the Inkstained Succubus, Angelia held the wheel of the airship as they left Tackston behind. The crew scuttled here and there, checking the boilers and rigging.
The sails were more for effect--nothing like a square-rigged ship bearing down out of the sky, whether to deliver books or rain destruction--but this morning they caught the wind, bellying full and helping the engines.
She was going to have Locke and Rowe’s heads, stuffed and mounted on her cabin walls. No, better on the bowsprit. That way, when she had a warm and lovable person in her bunk, they wouldn’t be watching her.
She gripped the wheel a little tighter. Cole Locke. The name burned in her brain. Nobody had her and then made a fool of her. Boiling ink might have been a suitably poetic way to die, but that wasn’t on today’s flight plan.
The rage burned hotter with each stop. In small towns, dingy cafes and disreputable bars, in pirate air harborages and floating junkyards, she put in and asked after the brothers. Below decks, Gabriel and his lab rats scrambled with the salvaged supplies to meet the deadlines.
Whispers of mutiny and complaints reached her, but Angelia stood her ground even as Gabriel laid about him with harsh words and the occasional beaker downstairs. The sound of smashing glass would have once made her wince at the cost, but now it barely registered. She would find those men and they would pay.
Finally, on the pirate air harborage of Terrapene, the cold trail grew warmer. A note, left for Gabriel in his favorite tavern, spurred the chase.
He’s lost his mind. I’m sorry. I never intended for that. I knew he was going to have his fun, but not put you in mortal peril. I need help, Gabriel. I want out. Meet me in Kalaran. I’ll break free of him. Help me, please. He’ll kill me.
“And I suppose we’re going to Kalaran?” Angelia raised one eyebrow at Gabriel, who clutched the letter like a nervous girl afraid of being jilted. “Has it occured to you that this is a trap even more transparent than the last one?”
“...Maybe.” Gabriel looked down at the letter in his fist. “But he looked so sad at the warehouse. You didn’t see him. What if we could help him, Captain?” He looked back up again.
“Icarus save me from puppy dog eyes,” she sighed. She finished the whiskey and looked at Gabriel. “I expect you to have an all-fired amazing plan to get us out of this one.”
Gabriel lit up like one of his electrical inventions. “I will by the time we get there, Captain,” he said in a breathy voice, and was gone like a shot back to his laboratory before Angelia could reply.
“St Joseph of Cupertino, patron of flight, St. Tesla and Our Lady of Airships preserve us.” She looked at the sky, imploring the saints she hadn’t spoken to since childhood. “We’re really going to do this. Keep an eye on all of us.” She raised another glass, drank it off and followed Gabriel back to the ship.
Kalaran was a week away at reasonable speed. They made it in three days, well before Cole would expect them. The element of surprise was always a powerful one. No one slept for the last two days of the trip, thanks to a vile concoction Lisa the Lab Rat brewed and kept everyone supplied with.
A day out, Angelia summoned Gabriel, Lisa and the other Lab Rats for a planning session. “It’s your sexy boy, so amaze us with a clever plan to get him out,” she told Gabriel.
“He said he was meeting us here, having slipped his brother’s gaze. That leaves us with two options. A, it’s a trap. That means we’ll need a fast extraction plan. B, he’s going to have Cole hot on his tail, which means we’ll need a fast extraction plan. Ergo, it’s not really relevant...” He shot Angelia a look, “whether its a trap or not.”
“That letter practically had “trap trap trap” twined around the edges like decoration with a TRAP watermark for the paper. So basically, when he shows, we grab him and run. We always did do good smash and grabs.”
“So we send the pyros down to make a distraction with Cole’s ship. We’ll set some charges to slow him down. We grab Lucas and exit here.” Gabriel rolled out a large map of the city and showed the exit vectors. “Lisa, you’ll be on support, so take the munitions to this area to cover us. Captain? You’re going to want Cole. My best guess is here...or here.” He pointed to two different places.
She gave a lopsided smile. “Why brace the badger in his den? He’ll come after us and we can choose the battlefield.” She studied the map of the surrounding territory. “Here. It’s got enough hills that we can lie in wait. When he comes looking for Lucas, we come in from the belly and shoot to kill.”
Gabriel nodded and shifted some things around, leaning down with a charcoal to make marks on the map. “Which means we anchor...here.” He made a wide X on the map with a mildly maniacal grin.
“He’d better be worth it. Because Cole certainly wasn’t.”
“A good lover is always worth it,” Gabriel sniped right back as Lisa cringed.
The Inkstained Succubus lay berthed in an outer slip at Kalaran’s dock, bow first. It was bad for the escapees but Angelia trusted the boys to be clever and fleet of foot. She wanted to be away with Gabriel’s prize before Cole knew his brother had slipped the leash.
Damn the man for requiring so much of her mental effort. She’d be much happier when he was dead and his skin turned into new boots. Fancy dress ones, she decided, since they wouldn’t be nearly sturdy enough for every day wear.
But Gabriel had vanished into the heart of the city, looking for his man, and she had to wait. She hated waiting. If these bastards cost her Gabriel, there was going to be hell to pay. She would blow up the whole stinking city, kill every last person in it if she had to. It would burn beautifully, plummeting to earth in a fiery arc.
She was interrupted from her maniacal plans by Gabriel’s voice, soft and growing in volume. “Captain! Get the thing with the thing and DUCK!” He came running up with one of the brothers with short and ragged hair, beaten a little and with torn clothing. The scientist didn’t even skid to a halt - he went running right past her.
“Over the speaker tube, she gave the order, “Blow it, baby girl.” Then she opened the next tube, to the engines, “Full ahead.”
The Inkstained Succubus sailed majestically out of her slip, the masts and sails folded down so nothing would slow her running. Behind them, parts of Kalaran bloomed with red flowers of flame.
Gabriel grabbed a rope and threw it around his running partner. “Hold on. It’s going to get bumpy from here.” He swung up to the top deck and ran along a beam to catch ahold of an errant rope and pull it down with his body weight, slamming the last sail shut. “Go, go, go! They’re hot for us, Captain!”
“That’s our Lisa.” She laughed as she turned the ship toward the hilly country. They would lead Locke’s goons a merry chase, cut the flagship from the fleet and destroy the entire operation. And Gabriel could have his sweetheart and she could meet the deadlines. She loved happy endings.
A flaming ball of tar landing on the deck next to her reminded her that they weren’t at the ending yet. She checked to make sure they were clear of the city limits. The law said no firefights in town, but there was no guarantee the opponents would adhere to that.
Seeing they were clear, she ordered the rear guns to fire. More fiery orbs launched toward their pursuer, and she spun the wheel, steering them out on the set course. Gabriel lit something at the aft of the ship and lightning sparked as it arced out towards the other ship, dancing across the engines and setting some of the smaller sails on fire. His whoop of mad scientist success could be heard all the way up to the wheel. The other ship fell behind swiftly and the ship finally made it to more even currents before another rat took the helm and Angelia went down to see this newest acquisition about the time Gabriel did.
He looked beaten. His hair was shaggy, as though it had been chopped. Gabriel approached carefully. “Lucas?”
“Speak up, man,” Angelia commanded. One hand drifted to her pistol. One wrong word, hells, one wrong nose twitch, and she’d shoot him where he stood. Of course, Gabriel would sulk, but she could live with that.
Lucas looked up and startled. He flung himself on Gabriel’s neck, clinging and babbling, soaking Gabriel’s shirt with hot tears. “He blamed me for your escape. It’s so good of you to come! He was going to kill me. He already set the crew upon me…” Lucas trailed off, burying his face in Gabriel’s shirt front and hitching out great choking sobs.
Gabriel wrapped arms around the larger man and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s alright. You’re safe now. Come on. I know there’s more to you than this.” He tipped Lucas’ chin up and smiled very gently. “We’re safe here in the air. Cole can’t catch us when we’ve got full sails.”
Lucas said nothing more, but his sobs eased to general hiccuping. He held onto Gabriel as if the scientist was the last solid thing in his world.
“You’re responsible for him. Keep him in your cabin, keep him secured. I have an ambush to lay.”
Gabriel quirked an eyebrow at his Captain, as if to say Is this really the time for that? and led Lucas off. “Hope this lay will be more beneficial than the last,” he sniped over his shoulder.
“Considering it’s for the same person, so am I.” Sparrow stomped up the stairs to the deck. “Make for the ambush point,” she ordered.
Gabriel set Lucas down on the cot in his lab and locked the door. He leaned against it, regarding Lucas with a measuring look. “Why’d he cut your hair?” he asked softly.
“He didn’t.” Lucas’ face twisted. “The quartermaster took it as a trophy.”
Gabriel ran a hand across the back of his neck. “Well...it doesn’t look terrible.” He shook his head at himself. That was the best he had? “I’m at a bit of a loss here, Luc. I don’t know what to say or do for you. We had one night together...and you left me hanging over a pit of certain doom. Not much to build on there…” He laughed a little.
“I’m sorry about all that.” Lucas rose and came to Gabriel, putting one hand on his chest, his big eyes earnest. “I wanted to keep you, but Cole said you were too dangerous. The crew follows him, not me.” That same twist of the face. “I’m just useless. A pretty face with pretty manners to lure in marks.”
“Nonsense.” Gabriel put his hand over the one on his chest. “I’m sure Cole hasn’t come up with everything in your long history. He’s not smart enough.” He tried a cheeky grin, working on cheering them both up.
“Thank you,” Lucas said, the same earnest expression on his face. He leaned down to kiss Gabriel.
Gabriel snaked an arm around Lucas’ lower back, melting into the kiss. It was different somehow, more aggressive. He pulled back and smiled. “I don’t want bad places in your head, Luc. Tell me what you want.”
The barrel of the gun in Gabriel’s stomach answered that. Its immediate discharge and the searing hot pain were faster thinking than Gabriel gave anyone credit for. Most people had to work up to shooting someone.
“I want your ship and you and the bitch dead.” Lucas shot him again in the gut and once in the knee just for good measure.
Gabriel didn’t have the air to scream. He slumped down the wall, betrayal a mask across his face followed quickly by pain. “L….Luc?” he asked weakly. He tried to flail towards the shipwide announcement system, but the world was fading much more quickly than that.
“Not exactly. Although I must say you kiss better than your captain did. Seems a shame to splatter that brilliant mind all over the baseboards, but better safe than sorry. I’ll make Lucas clean it up after I have the ship.” Cole worked with the gun a moment, aiming it at Gabriel’s head. “Dammit, jammed again. That’s the last time I let someone tinker with weaponry. No matter, you’ll be dead in minutes.” He tucked the gun back into its hidden holster and Gabriel dimly saw a second beside it.
Gabriel gritted his teeth. “She’s going to kill you for this.” His hand made a fist and started banging on the floorboards in an unintelligible rhythm.
“She can try, and I’ve no doubt the formidable lady has done far more than a few men. But your captain will never see this one coming.”
Gabriel started to smile as the world went a little darker, though he could hear the responding rhythm through the baseboards. “That’s always your problem, Cole...you always assume things. My Captain? She’s never see this coming. My lab assistant, however.”
This was punctuated by the door flying off its hinges, crackling and sparking as though it would catch on fire. Standing in the opening was none other than Lisa, an oversized arc generator in her hands, and murder in her eyes. “Back. Up.” Her girlish voice was barely audible over the generator’s power cycle amping back up for another blow.
Cole raised his hands with a charming smile.“Of course, my dear.” He stepped away from the door, and almost went for Gabriel’s workbench. A gesture from Lisa’s generator stopped him and he bolted, going out of the port hole instead.
Gabriel reached up to Lisa’s knickerbockers and yanked. “He’s not...gone. Get up top. Tell the Captain. Go!” This was the last he had before sweet unconsciousness took him. Lucas waited for him in the blackness. Maybe he was in love.
The old girl cut a fast swath through the sky and Angelia took the wheel herself for the last bit of tricky flying. They cut the engines, furled the sails and let out enough gas from the semi-dirigible airbag that they dropped very low behind the high hills. The engine crew had more to pump in and make them rise quickly when the moment was right.
They ran hither and thither, loading cannon and trebuchet and other weaponry for the coming fight. Good folks all. She only wished Gabriel was up here, overseeing it. But he had a lovely young man in his cabin, and couldn’t be bothered. It still felt like a trap,somehow, even if they had gotten Lucas out.
Right now, safely in position and ready to strike, she hated with a bitter fiery vengeance. Cole. Locke. She was done with men, totally and completely. Gabriel could make her a consolateur in the shop. He had had her, under false pretenses, and he had tried to kill her. She didn’t hold a grudge, all of her best lovers had tried killing her at one time or another, but this one had lied and stolen and made her look unprofessional and incompetent. That she could not forgive.
Shots from under her feet pulled her attention from planning. Now she knew why it felt like a trap.
“Identical twins,” she grumbled under her breath. “Of course.” She stayed at the wheel but adjusted a shiny bit of brass to reflect the scene behind her and undid the strap on her pistol.
The treacherous man didn’t disappoint. Climbing up the side rigging, he popped up silently behind her, murder on his face. He pulled up a gun to bear.
She pulled her own and aimed it over her shoulder, lining up the shot with all the time she could spare. When she pulled the trigger, no bullet emerged, but rather a net of violet lightning ensnared Cole, making him jitter and jerk, dropping his gun as he did.
Angelia handed the wheel to the quartermaster, who’d heard her shot, and turned to Cole. “Very clever.” She picked up his weapon. “Shall I assume my Gabriel is dead?” she asked aiming it at his head. “Or shall I wait and see?” She took aim at his knees.
“Oh, if he’s not, he will be,” Cole cried out with the voice of a wounded predator. “You’ll need to get him to a leech if you want him to live, you fetid tripe. It’s a shame to waste such talent, especially in service to someone like you.”
“Were you raised by wolves? Do you have no sense, that you threaten the person holding your life in her hands?” Her voice was soft and deadly. “Gabriel will be seen to.” She shot him again with the lightning gun, making him arch as the electricity wracked him.
A loud groan escaped from him as he shook from the electrocution. When he once again landed on the deck, twitching, he was laughing. “I have nothing to lose, Captain,” he sneered the word. “In the battle, you’ll kill my traitor brother, who wrote the missive you received. Gabriel will expire with three bullets in his gut. And you?” He closed his eyes in glee when a klaxon sounded across the Inky Suki. “You’ve played with me long enough for your engines to reach critical. All that gas in preparation is nasty stuff.”
She slapped a speaking tube open, “Vent it!” She looked back at Cole, “My crew is at least competent. And by my calculation, you have a great deal to lose.” She nodded to the quartermaster, “Fracastoro.”
The airship rose and swung out of hiding, veering off on a new heading. “Your brother gets to live, Gabriel gets to live and my ship is fine. Now, you are the only problem on my plate.”
The responding voice on the speaking tube was mildly panicked. “There’s something wrong with the vent system, Captain. We can’t vent it fast enough. We’re going to have to jettison, and then land.” Straith, the Head Engineer, yelled over the sounds of the klaxon. “And the aetheric tank’s making all hell. We’ve got incoming, and we’ll be a sitting duck if we jettison.”
The look on Cole’s face was absolutely pleased.