Closed Pirates of the Hard Nox [archive]

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Hard Nox


The ship was never silent. It had its own story to tell, after all. Even its captain didn't know all of it. She'd acquired the ship a little over a decade ago, in a deal gone wrong. Sinéad Oíche was very fond of deals gone wrong, as she usually took care that they went wrong for the others involved. It wasn't a pretty story, but she hadn't traded away anything she would miss, nor anything that was hers to begin with. It had cost her two things: her silence on the matter, and an infant.

The latter was no trouble at all - after all, one had to do something with the stolen babe when a changeling was left behind. It wasn't a situation that Sinéad found herself in often, but when it happened, she made what use of it she could. The silence, though...

Ah, the silence. Her fingertips traced the well-worn arc of the aileron wheel. No, that story would stay between them, between herself and the ship. From that beginning she had made a new story, one vibrant with strange characters of all types. Her crew, with her only qualification requirements being skill and the willingness to use it.

The ship sailed on through the sky, and Sinéad lifted her head, feeling the wind rush past her face, wrapping around her in little eddies. The motion of the ship was the only thing that ever came close to the feeling of flying. It was not quite the same. Nothing ever would be. The muscles in her back twitched, a reflexive spasm that did nothing more than stretch the scars where gossamer wings had once been. That story, too, was ended.

And so the ship sailed on, and if she was silent, it was not. The chatter of the crew, the soft hiss of the ropes, the creak of the wood, the clank of the chains beneath that held the crow cages below the ship, clanking against each other when the ship took a sharp turn. They were empty now, but perhaps they would not be for long. Sometimes after a pillage, the crew needed a few reminders - and sometimes there were new crew members acquired during such things. Sinéad had always been of the opinion that a day in the crow cage at the beginning of a voyage did wonders for the attitudes of any newcomers.

The ship was past the coastline now, by her measurements. Another hour and they would be above the town of Fen Manor, three days before the local lord sent out his shipment of tax goods towards the capitol. They would be stockpiling now - well guarded stockpiles, to be fair, but Sinéad didn't mind the risk as long as the rewards were good.

The clouds were damp as the Hard Nox made its way through the sky. There would be a storm here tonight.

Good. It would put out the fires.

Merchants had more than a storm to fear whenever there was an overcast sky above. The clouds that covered the sun were also responsible for keeping out of sight the arrival of the Hard Nox, that would dive down from the sky with it's clinging metal cages and black flags, bringing terror and fear to whoever their target was - and one could never tell when it'd be their turn.

Half of the crew didn't know where they were heading, but Caleb was one of the few made aware of Sinéad's plan. It wasn't like she didn't trust their crew, but they were pirates after all, not the sort of people known for their sense of loyalty. There was no place safer than the skyship for Caleb, that didn't mean he didn't sleep with a knife under his pillow, and he'd bet most of the crew did the same.

The ship was on route, and the fairy took the time to clean his rifle prior to the battle that was surely ahead of them. He lifted it up, testing his aim at the back of the captain's golden locks. He wouldn't pull the trigger and the weapon wasn't even loaded yet - but a little voice inside him wondered what it would be like if he did.

He put the gun down and got back to his position behind the helm. "It doesn't look like it shall rain for another three hours. Do you think we should be done by then?" He asked the captain. They were usually quick to act, but that loot was bigger than their usual feats, and Fen Manor was a well guarded

As above, so below.

Emer sat at her desk, silver knife in hand, fresh lines of numbing leaves spread in lines before her. There was a storm brewing. She didn't need to look outside at the overcast sky to tell - she knew by the way the wind whirled around the masts, by the way her beads rattled behind her while the ship swayed, and most of all, from the deep-set ache in her joints that always, without fail, heralded a squall. She'd been taught to trust her instincts. Even now, nigh a decade on this ship, her instincts told her to run for cover.

But that wasn't her life anymore, was it? No, the storm was not a thing to take cover from, but a cover itself, bringing with it not the risks of flooded camp and wayward lightning, but instead the risks of bloodshed. The Nox rode storms like soldiers rode warhorses. Turning her knife, she pressed the flat end of the blade against the hashed herbs, drawing out tiny pools of green liquid on the side. Scraping it away, she spread the leaves out. With the humidity in the air, they'd take some time to dry. Best to start them now, before they were needed.

She hoped they wouldn't - but it was foolish not to prepare for a storm.

A day past seven years, his longest posting he figured.

Ciaran leaned back against the bow, his sharp eyes looking out across the clouds as the Hard Nox coasted along. A storm was coming, but he didn't have to look to the horizon to tell. When his people lived with the land, sometimes they'd just know - it would be in the animals and the people, the power and fury that was to come coalescing on its target before striking.

He'd been drilling the greenhorns for an hour, they didn't know what was coming and it was better that way. The calm before the storm put a bigger knot in your stomach than any combat could. His arm was locking again after the disarm drills, growing stiff in the humid air. A few turns and some grease in the elbow joint would help, but it was time to make adjustments again and he'd need an extra set of hands for that - seeing as he'd be missing one. Not a job for a ship's boy or one of the gunners and not for tonight. Tonight they'd see blood.

The cannons were clear, the magazine filled and dry, they'd be riding in on the storm, like banshees in the night. The Navy would've never approved, called it the tactic of cowards and marauders and torn the sleeves of any officer admitting such a move. A sticky thing morals are, they'd cost Ciarán a ship, a crew, and an arm. But here he was, alive and well elsewhere, playing by new rules and thriving for it. It was a good ship, some good folks aboard but enough bad to make a man in Ciarán's position doubtful of fresh blood.

But once in a while they got lucky, a turncoat or stowaway turned out to be a diamond in the rough. He'd seen a good handful come through the Nox, and he'd seen a few get churned out too - it was easier when they jumped ship, he'd rather be bitter about a deserter than trying not to cry in front of the men. Tonight would be the crucible for a fresh few faces, their chance to prove their worth under fire. None of them had actually fired the cannons or rifles yet, they didn't have the powder to spare, but he'd instructed them in the chaos - close quarters, he'd pray they didn't have to get that close. It always ended messy.

Hoist the colors.

Lucien bent over the charts spread before him, measuring distances and scratching on pieces of parchment. A small window in his cabin hung open, the wind whistling past the timbers of the skyship. He tutted as it ruffled his papers, stalking over to gently close it, each step distinct, precise. Returning to the table, Lucien continued plotting their course. They’d passed the coastline already, heading further inland. The same winds that ushered in the storm clouds had also added an extra gust to their sails. By his estimate, the Hard Nox would arrive to terrorize Fen Manor within the hour.

Their target was taxes, an easy way to acquire goods. The local tithes towards the capitol contained not only gold, but all manner of valuables and necessities. Once, the man who he used to be might’ve reveled in what they were about to claim, bemoaned sending some of his wealth to the capitol. Now he cared little for the gold, for the jewels. The men guarding it held something far more valuable within, waiting to be discovered like the insides of overripe fruit.

The charts were rolled and stored within their correct places. Lucien checked his flintlock, ensuring that a single shot was loaded. He wasn’t like Caleb, with reputation on the line with every squeeze of the trigger. It was just so much easier to take another from a corpse, or leave his hand free to sink his claws into the neck of some unsuspecting sap.

Ensuring he was well-suited, Lucien emerged from his cabin, climbing to the deck. His boots made crisp sounds against the wood. The overcast sky kept the sun’s pain to a dull ache, one that could be easily soothed by a taste of the new recruits. Sadly, there were rules against that sort of thing, and angering the captain was the last thing on Lucien’s mind.

He drew his rapier, its swept-hilt gleaming darkly, one of the few treasures he’d kept for himself. A beautifully crafted weapon, its twisted hilt made of black metal and inlaid with silver filigree and dark gems. Lucien twisted it through the air, ensuring its balance was perfect. Some of the crew eyed him warily as he turned, glancing up at the helm before giving a brief two-finger salute to the captain. He turned towards the bow, a familiar figure leaning against it, working away at his false appendage. Lucien approached, blade lazily swinging through the air. He stopped about a foot from the man-at-arms, speaking just loudly enough for him to hear, his voice flat and even.

“How many do you think will live to enjoy the spoils of the day, Ciarán?”

She'd done what she could do. Yawning, Emer laced her fingers and stretched, wincing slightly at the pop of her elbows. Then - with a final sweep to make sure everything was in order - she rose. It was warm in her cabin. Courtesy of the heating stone, now set dangling above the leaves. Normally, she didn't mind the warmth - good for the body and the mind - but her mind felt fuzzy, and she figured a quick voyage to the top deck would help clear it. Taking her fur-lined jacket from the rack and slipping it on, she exited her room.

The song of the storm swelled as she travelled, far louder than the quiet footfalls of her slippers against the wooden floor. Each torrent a creak, each gust a groan, the entire ship picking up a melody of its own in response. She'd grown used to these noises. Even learned to love them. They told as much a story as the forests did, simpler, but wilder.

Rising through the door to the lower decks, though, Emer paused, taking a moment to draw her coat tighter. It was chillier than she'd expected. Perhaps the warmth of the room gave her a poor guide to judge, but something about the atmosphere - gnawed at her. Unsettled, she brushed a windswept lock behind her ear, moving forward to the banister and overlooking the deck below. Already, people were preparing. The captain herself gazing outward, either at the gathered workers, or at some imagined goal ahead, the next conquest of the Nox. She was a difficult read, but Emer knew her as a woman whose mind spent more time elsewhere than here. A thinker. Not necessarily a dreamer - to dream, one needed to sleep, and Emer had never seen that woman rest. Ciaran, the man-at-arms, stood with the crew. If she knew him, he'd be too little elsewhere, too much here. Always the details, always the worry, always trying to keep everything in order. He didn't like to let it on, but the hoist of his shoulders spoke more than his tight-lipped frown.

And then - Lucien. To call the captain a difficult read with a man like him aboard was like calling a goose a hawk. He was empty. All stares, all stone, and beneath it all, a hunger. He spoke with charisma and moved with grace, a bubbling creek of a facade, but underneath was a current strong enough to pull any innocent waders below. She didn't like Lucien. She wouldn't ever say it to his face - she wasn't the sort to - but she also wasn't wont to pass by him alone in a corridor at night.

Fingers tightening around the banister, she leaned in, closing her eyes to the wind.

She wasn’t much of a morning person, Nessa, in her thinking, daytime was best spent observing the inside of her eyelids and she wasn’t much prone to self doubt. No, there wasn’t much for her in the daytime, lest her esteemed captain have a bite of work to offer up in the ungodly hours of the daytime. Which, as these things went, often meant Nessa was spending far more time in a wakeful state then she would like to be. Though, if there was any simple pleasure for her to have, it was with the clouds keeping the sun away.

She packed away her tools with the sort of grace that accompanied familiarity and routine. Once checked, each returned to the space that they needed to occupy in her pack, because it was important for certain things to remain consistent. To fumble about for the right pick or little blade once bullets were flying was no different than inviting death to come visit, or at the least no different than offering oneself up to Emer to find the perfect bitter herb to mend what ales the flesh. It was no panacea against danger, but the little things held their uses. Once she was certain that all was in good shape and accounted for, Nessa stashed her tools away and drew her heavy cloak from the back of her chair and slid it over her shoulders. The clouds would do their part, but she wasn’t one to tempt the sun.

With a yawn, Nessa exited her quarters. She was not hurried as she made her way up to the deck, her footsteps soft but unwavering despite how the ship shivered with the demands of the wind. Still, her legs brought her up to the deck, where it seemed all the old hands were gathering. She cinched the neck of her cloak closed with her hand and muttered her discontent with the glare of the day as she stepped out of the comforting dark. She stepped soft until she was right behind where Emer stood, looking down on the deck. Nessa followed her gaze out to the flash of silver of Lucien’s naked blade.

“Must say, can’t help to feel on edge when he’s prowling about like that.” She said, her voice just above the cut of the wind. "Feels like a calculated accident is just a flick away."

They were coming up from below, now, the scent of rain luring them out as much as the thought of blood and spoils. Sinéad knew her crew well enough. They would be focused forward - or at the very least they would be being focused forward, as the armsmaster did what he could to prepare some of the newer crew members for battle. Some of them would survive, and be stronger for it. Others would burn in the fires, just another corpse to muddy the trail. Some day, Sinéad would be one of the corpses.

She glanced forward at the hourglass, the glint of a rifle reflected in the polished bronze as her quartermaster sighted along its length behind her. She wondered if he had a way to see her smile, just as she had her ways of watching her back. He lowered his sights, though, for now, and the only sound that approached her was footsteps and a question - common, routine, nothing unexpected.

Perhaps another day, then.

"We'll be done before the storm," Sinéad answered his inquiry, with finality, "One way or another. She flies heavy when weighted, and I don't care to find her new balance in the wind." Her hand moved slightly, adjusting the wheel ever-so-slightly, watching the ailerons bend to catch a little more wind here, a little less there. She raised her voice, above its whispers. "Ciaran! Make sure they know to be back on the ship when the rain starts. I'll hold for no one."

They knew it well, those who had been with the Hard Nox for some time. The ship was feared because it slipped in, raided, and slipped out - but crew was replaceable, especially those who couldn't keep up with the ship's demands. The raids were not easy, and waiting too long and getting caught in a thunderstorm could be the death of them all. Better to leave a few behind, if they couldn't understand that. It would drive the lesson home well, for the rest of them.


Emer didn't give immediate reply, but the look on the face was enough. As she turned to face Nessa, though, her expression softened, a slight smile cresting on her lips.

"We collar the wolf to guard the sheep," she said simply. "I'd rather have him on our side than against us, I suppose."

Her eyes shifted back over to the gathering crew.

"Are you rested? You seem sandy-eyed, and I know this hour doesn't suit you."

"Aye, captain." Caleb answered with a nod, holding back a grunt. Sure Ciarán was the master gunner, but he was the Quartermaster. He was second in command. How dared she overstep his post? If Caleb slipped Sinéad might start questioning his loyalty, if she hadn't started already. He worked hard for that post, there was no way Ciarán or anyone else for that matter would get in his way.

Caleb turned on his heels and batted his wings, lifting a couple meters off the ground. Most of the crew was already on deck or on their way there, which made it all easier.

"You heard the captain!" He spoke firmly. "Get your weapons ready and be back before rain starts! The Nox will wait for no one!"

With his feet back on deck, Caleb lifted his chin up, shooting the master gunner a daring look from afar. He'd landed close to the banister where Emer and Nessa stood, noticing the bags under the vampire's eyes.

"You better wake up before we land or you'll put yourself in danger."

“So long as Sinéad thinks the leash is tight enough, then I’m sure the flock will remain safe.” Nessa said, a smile of her own curving her lips as she took a careful step around Emer so she could rest her elbows on the railing. The wind was nice and sharp, it did something to help the tired mind focus, though she couldn’t help but wave away a yawn.

“Mm, early for my tastes but I won’t be asleep on my feet.” She said, with a faint chuckle “it’s just not a fitting hour for a lady to be awake. I’ll never understand how you put up with it.”

She cocked her head as the Quartermaster settled down to join them on their little perch. "Aye, wouldn't be a problem if you lot chose better hours for these raids." She said, with a wave of her hand.

"The lot of us don't control the weather, dear." Caleb smirked, resting an elbow on the banister. "It's not every day I'm blessed with the sight of you on broad daylight, so I'm not complaining." His wings perked up, to add to the charm.

Caleb seemed to feel the need to repeat her orders, as if Sinéad weren't the Captain here. She gave him a gauging look as he walked off. It was likely that it was time for some reminders about the order of things and why it was the way that it was.

Not right now, though - not in the moments before a raid. Both of them were too professional for that. Or perhaps they were not... only time would tell. She steadied the wheel once more, gauging the winds. The ship would sail on steady, secure in her rigging. In the meantime, it was time to call forth the dogs of war.

"Lucien." A word, and a summons. No doubt he would attend her shortly. Sinéad was not impatient - she stayed the course, and waited for him to come to her. He was anxious, she knew, as he often was. She wanted him nearby, where she could keep her eye on him. Once he'd come close enough, she gave him a nod. "Don't let it get out of hand. I want there to be enough left alive that they can rebuild. It's a good location to raid. I intend to come back." Not soon - not in a matter of weeks or months, but years at the least. Sinéad had no fear of long term planning.

She considered a moment longer, her eyes drifting to the glitter of the hourglass, devoid now of reflection. "And keep an eye on Caleb, will you?"

"I like the morning. Early enough, there's a silence you don't find anywhere else. It's - peaceful," Emer replied, shaking her head slowly. "I suppose past that, it's just become habit."

The conversation was cut short at the arrival of the quartermaster, flying up to where they stood - and laying on a bit of his trademark charm to the girl beside.

"Caleb," Emer interjected, raising her eyebrows and meeting his gaze with a stare of her own. Not exactly an unkind one, there was a slight smile still, but definitely a final one.

"So there is a raid, then? I thought as much, but things have been tight-lipped."

“Ah, but, there’s always so much buzzing in the morning,” Nessa said, half turning in Caleb’s direction. She rested a hand on her hip as her other elbow remained on the railing. She smiled at him, it was pleasant if a little strained on the edges. Like the prickly flowers her mother used to weave into wreaths. She considered biting back, just a bit, perhaps something like ‘but aren’t you much more lovely in the dark?’ but Emer was kind enough to move the conversation along to more productive pastures.

“Must be something big if we’re getting all the fresh blood on deck as well.” Nessa added. “Any reason things’ve been so hush hush?”

"All done, my friend!" Sliocht beamed at the brigand seated in his barber's chair. The man's messy mop of tangled brown hair had been a challenge, but not one that Sliocht's deft razor couldn't meet. Muted moonlight pierced through the clouds onto the pirate's now smooth shaven head, lighting against the man's golden earrings and hastily braided beard.

The nameless sailor nodded in thanks as Sliocht deftly recovered the cloth covering from the man's neck and soaked away the brown shavings into a bucket of warm water. On another night, there would have been time spent gazing into a dirty mirror to ensure a perfect cut, maybe even some bartering for oils, but not tonight. Tonight, there were many more men eager to take his place in the barber's chair, not for style but necessity. All on the crew who were worth their salt knew the deadly consequences of infected cuts, and the dangerous disadvantages of long hair during pugilist combat.

The new man sat hurriedly, and the satisfied customer rushed off to join one of the throngs of raiders gathering along the ship's rail. Others that still waited in the informal line busied themselves with other tasks, checking cartridges of powder and drumming their fingers against the sides of scabbarded cutlasses. The mood was tense amongst the men, Sliocht knew. He could see it in the tightness of their necks and the way they spoke in hushed whispers. On the eve of battle, tonight had become a night of necessary efficiency, not artistic rigor.

Still, Sliocht made sure to give each of his customers a little touch of style. It was his job after all, and many of these men would be wearing the styles he gave them for the rest of their lives.

Ciarán extended the prosthetic outward and flexed his bicep, tightening the limb back up as he needed. He let out a satisfied sigh and turned to view the deck to see who was stirring. Before he could step out however Lucien made his approach, halting a mere spitting distance away.

“How many do you think will live to enjoy the spoils of the day, Ciarán?”

The Master Gunner's eyes held their intensity as his silver hand firmly rested on the hilt of his sabre, as reliable and sturdy as its wielder. "They have their orders. As long as you remain behind the firing line, I expect no casualties," he remarked and moved past the man with his typical confident gait.

He would've questioned Lucien on why he was swinging his sword around the deck like a drunken cabin boy and not attending to his navigating duties, but that wasn't his responsibility. Caleb was to see to policing the behavior of the officers, although Ciarán wouldn't hesitate to enforce maritime law if the need ever arose. Lucien's laxity would see him killed if he wasn't dead. He'd check in with the captain, make certain she was satisfied with the recruit training - if not, he'd see it amended.

Before he could reach the quarterdeck, he heard the captain call out over the rousing crew. "Ciaran! Make sure they know to be back on the ship when the rain starts. I'll hold for no one."

Hold for no one. The chill of her words was not lost on him. Sometimes - make them quite often, Ciarán forgot the nature the captain and the ship he served. They were pirates, thieves and raiders who made their fortunes plundering and stealing from each other. It was a harsh life, but it was the one he found himself in - and oddly comfortable. He cleared his throat to respond, "aye, cap-" he began before Caleb's voice cut him short.

"You heard the captain!" The quartermaster rose above the deck on his wings, just as the officers had back in his navy days. "Get your weapons ready and be back before rain starts! The Nox will wait for no one!" He landed and shot a bold glance Ciarán's way. He offered an amused smirk and matched his glare until Caleb broke off to speak with Emer and Nessa.

Trading jabs and fighting for Captain Sinéad's acknowledgment was hardly the entertainment that Ciarán was looking for at the moment. The kid had brass, but was too eager to fight for respect. He had faith that the captain would give the boy a stern chinwag when she deemed necessary. While he didn't always agree with the severity of her decisions, he couldn't argue she wasn't acting in their best interest when she gave her orders.

Orders which he intended to follow.

Following through on her words, Ciarán wanted to ensure the sailors knew what waited for them if they delayed. He made his way to where Silocht was performing his duties, a common gathering place for the crew before a shore excursion. The crew liked to be clean cut and taken care of for their duties, a behavior that Ciarán hoped had been reinforced by his words and reflection of his action, but it was hard to tell. He only wished the best for each and every one of them.

"Good morning," he walked alongside the line of sailors and gave the barber some comfortable space. "I see you have your work cut out today, Silocht." He smiled warmly at his friend.

Nessa didn't respond to Caleb's compliment, but at least she smiled. He considered it progress. Despite his attempts to change the facts, Emer was the only woman on the crew who had ever seen Caleb naked, but not in a sexy way. In a "I need to cut off your pants or you may lose a leg" kind of way. He owed her his life too many times to count, and because of the way she called his name and shot him a stare, he knew better than to keep it going.

"You know how the captain likes things to be done. Too many newbies on the ship to lay plans out in the open." Caleb didn't see a problem with these two. He trusted them enough, and was sure Sinéad did too. "They're about to collect taxes in Fan Manor. We'll intercept it before the lord's men arrive."

The master gunner’s hand fell to his saber, his stare matching Lucien’s own. A faint smirk tugged at the corner of the vampire’s lips, the barest sliver of fang exposed. He knew Ciarán wouldn’t draw on him, not here. He was still dragging along the remnants of formal military training, scraps of rank and process holding him tighter than any chains could. Lucien nodded at the curt response, waiting until Ciarán was just passing him to mutter softly.

“Optimism doesn’t stop bullets. Though you’d have learned that.”

Any further verbal sparring was cut off by a single word from the captain. Not an admonishment, but a summons. Lucien spun on his heel, rapier sliding smoothly into his scabbard as he passed other crew members, arriving at Sinéad’s side, awaiting her orders. He nodded slowly in response.

“Such restraint, my captain. Almost makes me crave another clash with the Navy.” Lucien chuckled darkly. “Almost. Their veins were as stiff and hard as their collars, their blood itself starched. It will be done, Captain. Enough alive to rebuild, and no lingering infections.”

The last thing Lucien wanted was to create more vampires. Not out of some pitiful moral obligation, but because that would mean more competition. And there was no fun in killing something you created. It would be like giving birth only to dash the infant against the floor. Her second request, however, caused him to raise an eyebrow.

“Merely a precaution? Or are there clouds on the horizon?”

"I see," Emer replied, expression softening somewhat, smile widening. She didn't dislike Caleb. He meant well - he simply had a habit of getting carried away with himself, flirting with any pretty passersby that spared him a glance. Truthfully, she sometimes wondered if behind the gay exterior he was simply lonely, looking for affection - or attention of any name.

"That sounds dangerous. I hope all goes well." A slight return of the stone face, this time more in jest than judgement, and a waggling finger of admonishment for good measure. "You've ended up in my clinic enough already. I'm wont to start charging rent."

Again, that gnawing worry hit her. There was a cold here outside of the wind, something settling deep in her limbs. She drew her coat tighter, hands now gripping it as tight as she had been the rail.

"Do be careful."