The Clockwork Sea

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Fraud

Sergeant Webly wiped his brass digits on an oil cloth.

“Took longer than expected.” He scoffed.

A band of black hats lined the edge of the main deck, each of their hands manacled in kind. Some of the black hats were lanky, a few short and others the typical burly. Waves crashed on either side. Another caravel, a Navy issued boat, sat tethered to the gold plated one on which Sergeant Webly stood. He stared out upon the prow, spotted a series of planks connecting the two boats.

Remy was beside him. Always beside him as if watching his every move. Should ever he turn, he would most likely run into her pale figure.

“They’re not here.” He said as he pocketed the cloth.

Remy saluted him, “Sir, one of the blackhats reported learning about this ship at The Captain’s Wife.”

The Captain’s Wife? The same Captain’s Wife we wasted our only boundary scrolls on?”

Remy glanced down, “Yes sir.”

“Worse and worse.” Tis’ked Webly. “It takes a month to prepare those things and to say we burned it on some low class brigands is a travesty. We were this close, Ricci, this close.”

He turned to Remy who seemed more intent at staring off into the outline of Siblisey.

“What is it, Cadet?”

Remy shook her head, “I, uh, nothing sir.”

“By the Hours, cadet, speak your mind. I’m not that damned steam-up-his arse general.”

She hesitated before following that order, “Back in the pub, sir, I saw some children about my age wander off through the back exit.”

Webly smiled, “I haven’t known you long Niss Ricci, but those eyes of yours are quite gifted.”

She felt at her goggles, frowned a little.

“So? Why did you not report it then?”

“Sir?”

“These children you saw running.”

“I had just re-entered the pub, sir, and you ordered us to search the tenants.”

Webly sighed into his brass palm, “This is the problem with soldiers these day. No initiative.”

Just as a he said that, a young half turn officer made to them. Both Webly and Remy saluted him.

He had a gold circle upon the band of his blue hat instead of a star or a stripe. His nose was pointed and his eyes narrow. He had fair skin and a small mole grew just over the left end of his lip. Despite his age, or lack thereof, the man played a permanent grin as the two held their salutes.

“At ease Sergeant Webly, Cadet Ricci. I am lieutenant-Commander Levili, acting officer for Siblisey Island. What are two soldiers of the army and half the members of the Sevens doing on a Navy Vessel?”

“Orders of General Twat sir.” Answered Webly.

“General Twat?”

Webly cleared his throat. Remy cracked the smallest of smiles.

“Misspoke sir. General Tat.”

Levili paced between them with his hands held behind his back. He had long black hair that stretched a just passed his shoulders, “You are quite a ways away from the mainland, Sergeant. Your legs shaky yet?”

Webly tapped the deck with his cane, “Why I carry a cane, sir.”

“I see.” Said Levili peaking curiously at the inscribed thing. “And your purpose for this most gracious visit?”

“A manhunt sir. We’re tracking a fugitive who may deal great harm to the Empire.”

“So why did Tat send so little as a dozen men to hunt him?”

“Discretion, sir.” Lied Webly.

Levili nodded to that and kept on his pace, every so often making eyes at Remy. Webly’s brows narrowed. He swore he saw the man redden at the sight of her.

“And why,” continued Levili, “not enlist the Navy, who I dare say, would be much more capable of handling such a case?”

“Sir.” Began Webly, taking a step towards Levili. “I’ve only been on this island for a day, and I’ve already seen a rat’s nest of piracy. Should Tat have pleafully asked for your incompetent--”

“Sergeant Webly!” snapped Levili. “How dare yo--”

“Intolerable and,” Webly took another step, oily saliva spitting at the lieutenant, “frankly inexcusable conduct, our man, no, any man who may threaten the Empire would go free. Tat may be an idiot, but even an idiot knows not to trust the navy.”

“I can have your head, Sergeant!” fumed Levili.

Webly gestured to his side. A gun clicked. Remy Le Ricci had her silver pistol aimed at Levili’s prim and proper head.

“Soldiers!” jittered Levili. “Apprehend these two. Soldiers?”

Levili turned to the notable silence. There were at least forty blue hats on board, yet only a dozen were under Webly’s command.

Levili’s own men had not stirred to the movement.

Levili shook his head, “What’s wrong with you? Capture them. Shoot them! For Hours sake, do something. Anything!”

Remy reached for him and stripped him of the pistol he had holstered to his hip.

“Bounties.” Said Webly, pacing ahead of Levili. “Turns out when you leave brigands alone long enough the townsfolk are happy to pay for their capture. More so than what the Navy issues. Take a gander at your allies’ pockets and ask yourself what changed their allegiances. Perhaps how much.” Webly snapped his clockwork shoulders and spun on his heel. “Come Ricci, we’re done here.”

“Why?” Echoed Levili as the two wandered down the steps. Webly paused. Remy bumped into his back.

Levili continued, “You could have kept the gold, been rich.”

Webly sighed. The answer was obvious, “Knowing how well your Navy handles itself, I would have been a pirate had I wanted money. No, Lieutenant, this isn’t about money.”

“Then what is it about, Sergeant?”

Webly kept walking, “Figure that out yourself.”

“The Admirals will hear of this.”

The Admirals. Webly smiled. Perhaps they were the only members of the Navy he truly respected, well them and a certain other man, “The sooner they do, the more trouble you’d be in Lieutenant.”

At last, Levili was at a loss.

Just as Webly made to the nearest connecting plank he heard a mumble and stopped once again.

“I like you.” The creaking voice came from a short black hatted man. He was one of the captured few. Webly studied him. He had no nose, only two holes to breathe from. His sockets were deep set with multiple layers leading to eyes of red. The rest of his face was skeletal. Webly shuddered. He was an ugly bastard.

“What you just did to Levili was a work of art it was.” Spoke the bastard. “Just for that I think I’ll tell ya.”

“Tell me what?” asked Webly.

A few of his crewmates snickered.

“I know where your target be. Assuming it was the man with the blue hat who tricked us into this ship, well by now he’s sure to have made acquaintance of a certain would-be-captain Franco. Saw the two of ’em sneaking out during your attack.”

Webly gestured at Remy, “Write this down.”

“Knowing Franco, the fool, he’s bound to lead them to the one place he always says he’ll go: The Hungering City.”

“The Hungering City, yes I’ve read of that.”

The short man puffed, “Hah, serves that drunk right for tricking us. Now he’s the one about to be tricked.”

Webly narrowed his eyes, “How do you mean?”

“Franco’s a fake. A fraudster. He could never be a captain what with his condition.”

Remy’s pen seized scribbling halfway. She lowered it and asked before Webly could, “what condition?”

The man laughed, and his shrill voice squeaked like a rusted bearing, “The poor fool, he’s afraid of the sea.”

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