Author: Paul aka Darth Pacula
Tongue lolling grotesquely from the corner of his mouth, Mockery lay stiffly in his seat, rigid as a board, heels drumming frantically against the wooden floorboards. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and a ghastly rattle issued from deep within his chest.
Seated beside him, Willow glanced at her second mate, and rolled her own eyes. "Mockery, stop being such a tit."
The drumming of his heels stopped immediately, and Mockery slowly straightened. Sighing mournfully, he pouted at his captain. "You never let me have any fun."
Ronan's eyes darted between the pair, visibly alarmed by the distinct lack of agonized writhing on their part. "What ... you .... what?"
Willow's lips twisted in a cold, cruel little smile. "You've never poisoned anyone before, have you Ronan?"
"Nah," added Mockery, scratching one armpit. "Toff like our man Ronan 'ere normally has people to do is killin' for 'im."
Turning her head, Willow nodded sagely. "Ya know, I think you're right, Mock. So he's tried to pop his murder cherry with us. Dunno 'bout you Mock, but I think I feel a little bit honored."
"Oh, to be sure, cap'n. T'is surely a privilege."
"Of course, that makes him a novice, so it's not surprising that he tried poison. It's physically easier, ya see."
Mockery adopted an expression of rapt concentration. "You don't say, cap'n."
"Oh yes," Willow confirmed, with a wicked twinkle in her eyes. "But that's the problem with poison; if you don't know what you're doing, you might pick the wrong one to use. Take tamas root, for example. Perfectly respectable poison, fatal within moments of consumption. A painful, messy death."
Willow smirked. "But the thing is, something about tamas root reacts badly when it's mixed with wine. It gives off this faint, but distinct odor that you just can't miss, if you know what you're looking for."
"But ... but ... you drank the wine," Ronan whispered.
"Did we?" asked Mockery, grinning like a predator that had just stumbled upon something weak, helpless and tasty. He upended the goblet that he had earlier taken what appeared to be a hearty drink from. The amount of poisoned wine that splashed onto the floor made a lie of that image, and he took another convincing gulp from the now empty goblet, before crushing it in one hand and tossing it over his shoulder.
"Now, Ronan," Willow began, her eyes narrowing and one hand brushing against the hilt of her sabre, "Lets have a little chat about why you tried to kill us."
His face stiffening, Ronan straightened in his seat with icy dignity. "There's a price on your head, woman. Arkady desires your demise."
"Is that so?" Willow mused. "I wonder why?"
"While I would love to enlighten you, captain, I rather think I'll have you killed instead." Ronan sneered. Leaping upright, he shouted "NOW!"
There was movement on both side of the upper gallery that looked down upon them. Six hard-bitten ruffians rose up, three on either side. Each carried a loaded crossbow, and they all fired as one, unleashing a hail of steel tipped death upon the unsuspecting smugglers below.
Two of Willow's sailors died in that first fusillade, one with a bolt through his neck, the other hit twice, pierced through the stomach and chest. The lone survivor narrowly avoided a similar fate and roared an angry oath as he wrenched loose his cutlass and charged at Ronan's quartet of bodyguards on the ground floor.
Another bolt splintered the floorboards by Willow's left boot, while a fifth passed close enough to Mockery's head to score a line of crimson on his earlobe. Willow and Mockery both hurled themselves over the table Ronan was lurking behind, sending the fence lurching backwards into the wall, eyes wide with alarm.
Grabbing the edge of the table as he hurtled over it, Mockery rolled, using his momentum to flip the table on its side, affording them a modicum of cover. Willow, meanwhile, lashed out with one leg, the tip of her boot driving sharply into the back of Ronan's knee, unceremoniously dumping the fence on his arse.
"Bastard!" she snarled, dragging her sabre clear of its scabbard and leveling the blade at Ronan's throat.
A choking gurgle rang out from behind them, and Mockery chanced a quick glance around the table edge. Willow's surviving crewman had struck down one of Ronan's bodyguards, but the blade of his cutlass had fouled in the dying man's innards. As Mockery watched impotently, the remaining three closed in on the sailor, their own blades rising and falling, making him a red mockery of a human being.
Swearing, Mockery ducked back into safety. Willow glanced at him, a silent question in her eyes, and Mockery shook his head curtly. Slipping a slender dirk from his belt, he lent around the corner and hurled the blade at the nearest of the three bodyguards. Spinning end over end, the dagger thumped into the shoulder of Mockery's target, butt first.
Driven back by another crossbow bolt, Mockery spewed forth a burst of profanity. Despite herself, Willow gave a bark of bitter laughter. "Still haven't got the hang of that knife throwing bit, eh?" she quipped.
"I'm workin' on it!" Mockery insisted defensively.
A second fusillade rained down upon them, and one bolt even penetrated through a weak point between two of the tables planks, a razor edged head sprouting inches from Willow's ear.
"There's no escape for you, you degenerate harlot!" snapped Ronan. All his outburst achieved was to remind the smugglers of his presence, and add Mockery's cutlass to the collection of blades at his throat.
"Call 'er that again," Mockery hissed, eyes alight with barely caged fury. "I dare ya ..."
Choosing to ignore the insult, Willow prodded the tip of her sabre lightly into the tender flesh of Ronan's gaunt throat. "Why does Arkady want me dead?" she demanded.
Ronan's eyes flickered between the two, and his tongue flickered over lips that were suddenly done dry. "I ..."
With a meaty thunk, a crossbow bolt buried itself to the fletching in Ronan's narrow chest, forever more interrupting whatever he'd been about to say. Head dropping, Ronan looked at the bolt protruding from his torso in disbelief.
"Idiots ..." he breathed irritably, blood trickling from the corner of his lips, before his head slumped to his chest, dead and his secrets gone with him.
Willow and Mockery looked at each other, and shared an obscenity.
With a roar, one of the dead man's surviving bodyguards charged their makeshift shelter, an ugly axe held high. Mockery twisted as the bodyguard cleared the tables edge, and hacked down with his cutlass, the heavy blade shearing off the front half of his attackers foot. The bodyguard's roar became an agonized squeal as he toppled forward, until Mockery's back swing tore out his throat.
"What in the Hells do we do now, cap'n?" bellowed Mockery. "We're sittin' ducks here, just waitin' to git our throats slit!"
Willow's eyes flickered over their immediate surroundings, searching desperately for a flicker of inspiration. She locked onto an iron ring set into the wall just to the side of Ronan's slumped corpse. A sturdy rope was tied to the ring, and Willow followed it up to the roof, where it passed through a pulley and then down to a massive oaken chandelier that hung above the center of the room.
Quickly performing a series of calculations in her head, Willow muttered to herself, "It might just work ..."
"What?" blurted Mockery, confused. "What might work?!"
"Distract them!" Willow ordered, turning to face her second mate.
Mockery groaned. He knew that reckless grin, he recognized that mad twinkle in his captain's eye. "I know I ain't gonna like this ..." he muttered.
Irregardless of whatever doubts he might have been harboring, Mockery took a deep breath and lunged out of cover, sprinting for the nearest length-wise wall of the hall. Skidding into it, he immediately pushed back off it and charged back towards cover, narrowly avoiding the flurry of crossbow bolts punching into the wall.
As he did this, Willow leapt to her feet and seized the rope with one hand. With the other, she swept her sabre down, severing the rope. She was instantly yanked off her feet as the chandelier on the other end plummeted to the ground, sending her hurtling towards the ceiling.
Falling back into cover, Mockery gaped at the sight of his flying companion. "You utterly mad, beautiful girl ...." he gasped.
As she soared skywards, an unforeseen flaw in her plan abruptly presented itself. A massive crossbeam ran across the hall beneath the roof, directly within her path. Lacking enough time to even curse, Willow hammered into the beam, driving the air out of her lungs. It was only by the most desperate of efforts that Willow managed to grab hold of the beam and avoid plummeting back to the floor, but she had to surrender her sword to gravity's keeping to do so. Which left her unarmed and hanging precariously, an easy target for the enemy crossbowmen. The only thing keeping her hide unpunctured was the fact that they had all fired at Mockery moments before, a situation they were working to rectify as they frantically worked the cranks that drew back their bowstrings.
Back on the ground floor, Mockery saw his captain's quandary and emitted a loud roar. Surging to his feet, he abandoned his cutlass to heft the table he had been sheltering behind and charged, holding it before him like a shield. Caught flat-footed by the maneuver, the nearest Arkady thug could only gape as Mockery bore down on him, crashing together like a battering ram against a fortress gate.
The thug was knocked senseless and dashed to the floor, and Mockery overbalanced, falling on top of him and pinning the thug to the floor with the table. The remaining Arkady enforcer lunged at Mockery with his sword, but Mockery rolled to one side, and the thug's blade scored the table surface.
Willow meanwhile, had dragged herself on top of the beam and climbed to her feet in the triangular gap between it and the roof. Extending her arms to either side for balance, Willow moved towards the left balcony as fast as she dared.
Beneath her, Mockery and his opponent clashed, the smuggler having appropriated his fallen opponent's blade. After a quick flurry of slashes and ripostes, Mockery smashed his way through the enforcer's guard and buried his blade in the other man's belly ... where it promptly got stuck. Abandoning the weapon with a blistering curse, Mockery spun on his heel and charged for the stairs leading up to the right balcony.
As Willow drew close to the railing of the balcony, the closest of the three crossbow men jammed a bolt home and raised his weapon. In an act of desperation, Willow bodily hurled herself at him as his fingers closed on the crossbow's trigger lever. In his haste however, the crossbow bolt had been improperly aligned, and when he fired, the bolt jammed and shattered, spraying his face with splinters moments before Willow barreled into him.
On the other side of the hall, a crossbowman stepped out onto the head of the staircase, but Mockery was too close. Lowering his head, the smuggler plowed into his opponent, catching the crossbowman by the legs and flipping him clean over his head. The crossbowman pitched down the stairs with a strangled cry and the muted sound of bones breaking, and lay unnaturally still.
Straddling her opponent's chest, Willow hammered her fist into the bridge of his nose, breaking it and driving the back of his head into the floor. Snatching his ruined crossbow from hands that were either unconscious or at least senseless, Willow slung it at a second crossbowman with all her might. The makeshift weapon caught him in the jaw, spinning him a hundred and eighty degrees with a spurt of blood and loose teeth before he crumpled in a heap.
As Mockery cleared the final step on his side of the hall, a second crossbowman was bringing his weapon up, drawing a bead. Ducking down, the tattooed smuggler grabbed a loose wooden stool, and hurled it. It snapped the crossbowman's head back, and sent him staggering backwards and over the balcony railing.
Willow charged her final opponent, batting the crossbow aside as he tried to bring it to bear on her. She rewarded him with a swift kick in the privates, and drove her knee into the underside of his jaw for good measure when he sagged to his knees.
On the opposite balcony, Mockery turned on his own final opponent with a snarl. His fearsome appearance, combined with what he'd just done to the crossbowman's compatriots, made the thug instinctively flinch, and his hand convulsed on the trigger, burying the bolt in the floorboards at his feet.
Realizing that he'd never get a chance to reload, the thug abandoned his crossbow and went for the dagger sheathed at his hip. The tip had barely cleared the sheath before Mockery was on him, and wrapped the thug's weapon hand with both of his own. In a brutal display of strength, Mockery drove the thug's arm back, spearing his opponent on his own blade.
As the thug's mouth dropped open with shock, the awareness of pain spreading through his eyes like ink through a cup of water, Mockery moved uncomfortably close, close enough that each man's breath fluttered on the other man's cheek. Face to face, he blew the dying man a kiss, then twisted the blade in the wound and ripped it clear. Then he stalked away as the thug fell to his knees, whimpering as he tried futilely to keep his entrails inside.
"Mock?" yelled Willow as she cautiously surveyed the fallen, her chest heaving and her limbs trembling with the aftermath of adrenaline. "Ya still breathin'?"
"No such luck, cap'n," Mockery called back, clomping back down the staircase with a heavy tread. "You're still stuck with me."
They met in the center of the hall, sharing a glance around at the carnage surrounding them.
"This is bad," Willow muttered, retrieving her sabre from where it had fallen.
Mockery grunted. "Could be worse ... it could be raining frogs."
Willow shuddered, and swatted Mockery in the shoulder. "You pratt. Let's get the hell of here. I need to work out what we're gonna do now."