Cain silently cursed as he moved to grab Pyrite. Betsy shoved Slate into his arms instead. "He trusted you!" she screamed. Out of the corner of his eye, Cain saw Pyrite fall, but Slate's frenzied punches needed his attention as they both went to the floor.
He slugged the younger man in the jaw, and seized the lapels of the white uniform jacket to keep Slate from worming away. "Let go of me, pirate scum!"
They rolled and Cain stopped them against a display case. His ear rang from the fist slammed against it, but he didn't flinch staring down at Slate. "You need better people skills." His punch split Slate's bottom lip.
Slate freed an arm and leg, and slammed them both into Cain's side. A dress brushed over Cain's back, and Betsy punched Slate in the nose. "It's Captain, Commandant! I earned my title just like you did."
The young man reached behind him, grabbed two legs on the display case, and lifted. "No you don't!" DG slammed her hands on the other end.
Cain grunted as he twisted and gripped Slate. Slate kicked Cain, freeing himself. His next grapple pulled Betsy's legs out from under her. She landed next to Cain with her legs and skirts draped over his back. Slate scuttled to the door, crawling over Pyrite. DG raced after him, but he made it to the hall. She slammed the door shut and a golden glow surrounded the wood. She grabbed Betsy's hands and pulled. "They can't get through that shield, but neither can we."
"Time to run." Betsy reached around her waistband to loosen the skirts. Cain sat up to take stock. Betsy's dagger stuck out of Pyrite's throat. "Not one self-righteous word." Her face and voice held a tenth of the fury she had displayed when she had thrown it, but it was enough to see how she had earned the nickname 'Blood-rage.'
DG stepped out of her skirts. "What do we do now? Simple plan has FUBARed."
Cain shook his head. Why does she use an Other Side term to confuse everyone?
"Beyond all recognition," Betsy agreed. "Two-faced, puny, flirt-gills." The red skirts fell in a lumpy heap as she stepped out of them. Fists pounded against the magically shielded doors. She ignored them as she turned the skirts over. "And you'd think they'd grow a brain and stop underestimating me."
Cain whistled low. Sewn into Betsy's hoop skirt were four revolvers, ammunition quick loaders, and rope coils filled the whole bottom panel between the hem and the lowest hoop. Another bulky gun was holstered on her thigh. He stood and pulled off her sword baldric. "Give me the rope."
Betsy pulled another thin-bladed dagger out of the bottom of her red bodice. "How many of those do you have in there?" DG asked.
"This is why Quincy hates repairing my dress on short notice." She sliced the rope panel free from the rest of the skirt, passing the material, rope, and knife to Cain. He headed to the window door closest to the house corner.
Cain had most of the rope freed from the material and secured to the railing by the time Betsy and DG joined him on the balcony. The balmy wind blew in from the ocean below. He took one of the revolvers from DG and checked the bullets. "Can you shoot that?" He nodded at the revolver in her belt.
DG's blue eyes looked rueful. "I learned on a shotgun."
"Save it for self-defense." Betsy adjusted the sword baldric around her torso. "We need to get away from the house before I signal Jenkins."
Cain nodded, tucked the gun in his belt, and swung his legs over the carved-stone railing. The rope reached the lawn behind the manor house. No guards had headed to the back yet, so he eased down. DG followed next, looking a little sick as she stumbled away from the rope. "Now I'm glad we did that exercise in gym," she muttered.
Betsy pointed to a cluster of funny-shaped trees northwest of the Steward's House. "Head there and watch out for the cliff."
Two of the moons lit the grounds. A low stone wall that stretched behind the house in a wavy line probably marked the cliff. A tall hedge blocked off part of the grounds beside the house. The funny-shaped trees they ran toward stood between the stone wall and the massive hedge. As they got closer, he saw they had been trimmed into fish.
Shouts came from the front of the house and a dozen men in white uniforms ran for them. Betsy fired first, and one fell. The rest scattered as Cain added his shots. He shoved DG to the base of one of the trees as more guards ran around the house.
Betsy aimed her bulky gun over the cliff. The large slug exploded into a red fire that streaked through the black sky. She dropped it onto the ground and returned fire with a revolver. Cain paused to shove the quick loader bullets into his. Some guards broke for the large hedge. Betsy's quick shots brought both down. The red glow faded above them.
Cain frowned. "Was that the signal?"
"Aye." She scanned the cliff. A loud boom echoed from the ocean, and something whistled as it came closer. Betsy found the black object lobbing through the air first. It arced down at them. "Dodge!"
He threw DG and himself to the side, covering her with his body. The ground shuddered and dirt rained down, but no explosion followed. Cain twisted and saw Betsy scrambling toward the round ball.
DG pushed and forced him off her. "Is that a cannonball?"
"A specialty cannonball." Betsy hit it with her fist and the metal cracked open. "There's a guy in Mount Cove who creates magic items." The hollowed-out cannonball held three zip line pulleys. She passed two of them for DG to hold. The zip line itself was anchored in the top half of the cannonball, which Betsy wrapped around the trunk of the closest tree. The line passed over the stone wall. "Zip line shot for when there's no other way out." She hopped over the stone wall with the third pulley.
Cain fired at the guards while DG crawled over the wall. He rolled over it next, spacing it so not to land on the girls. "You knew we were going to get caught." The wall was set three clicks from the edge of the cliff. The line stretched down to the ship in the small cove roughly thirty clicks below.
Betsy fastened the first pulley onto the line. "It would have been extremely careless not to consider the possibility, but I was hoping we could have used the dingy. Zip line shot is expensive! You first, Thea."
DG pressed her back against the wall without trying to hide her fear. "I can't! I can't!"
Cain shot at the guards daring to get closer. "You've done this before. Go!"
"That was before the Tower! I can't!"
Cain frowned as Betsy fired over the wall. She had never shown a fear of heights, but then he remembered that they hadn't dealt with any in the few cycles he had been with her before being sent away. He thrust the revolver into his belt. "Will the line hold us both?"
"Never tried it before," Betsy admitted.
A bullet hit the stone and sent chips flying. "No time like the present." He ducked and scooted to DG. "Come on, sweetheart. Time to go." Her lips went white. "We don't have a choice," he barked. "Go!"
DG gulped but scooted to the line. Betsy traded revolvers and kept the guards occupied. Cain wrapped the pulley's strap under DG's arms before gripping both handholds. "Don't let go," she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his neck, wrapped her legs around his waist, and hid her face against his chest.
"And don't you shapeshift on me." He pushed off with a helping shove from Betsy. DG's mouth opened against his chest but she didn't scream. He wasn't sure if he could've heard her with the wind rushing past his ears. There was no need to swing to keep the momentum. He drew up his legs in case they would slam against the growing larger ship.
The end of the line had been secured to the main mast. He unhooked DG's strap before letting go. Cain dropped to the deck, wrapping his arms around her as they fell. The sailors caught him and guided him down to his feet. "Easy does it, men!" Jenkins boomed. "They're fine? Then clear the deck for the Captain!"
Cain found himself and DG pushed to Jenkins's side in front of the poop deck. "Any trouble for you?"
"Not for us." Jenkins's eyes glittered. "Don't you clean up fancy. Not sure about the accessory though." He waved a hand at DG, who still hadn't unlocked her arms and legs.
Cain smirked at the older man before rubbing her back. "You can let go now, Thea. We're on the ship now."
DG trembled. "I'm trying! It's my body that's not listening."
Jenkins chuckled as he grabbed her legs and tugged them loose. "We don't send you up to the crow's nest."
She stiffly moved and glanced at Cain. "Sorry. I didn't know I'd freak out like that."
He ran his hands over her arms. "You still have the magical doohickey?"
She patted the front of her bodice. "Yeah. Where's Betsy?"
"Coming down now." Cain and DG turned to the cliff. The slim figure sped through the sky. Jenkins raised a telescope to his eye. "Damn, they're on top of the cliff. Come on, Betsy."
DG gasped as the figure in the air stopped gliding on the angle and fell straight down. The rest of the crew yelled as the zip line went slack at the mast. Cain rushed to the railing with Jenkins and DG beside him.
Betsy twisted in the air. Her arms and head came down, turning her body into an arrow that plunged into the inky water. The crew grabbed the zip line and hauled it onto the ship. "Belay that!" Jenkins bellowed. "You don't know how the Captain's tangled!" The men laid off the line to stare into the water.
Cain gripped the railing, almost silently praying for Betsy to surface. He didn't approve of her career, but they needed her to survive out here and return to the country he knew. DG clutched his arm.
The head finally broke through the surface. Betsy waved and swam toward the ship. "Haul boys haul!" Jenkins ordered. The crew pulled the zip line in concert. Betsy coordinated her swimming to their pulling.
"Quartermaster!" Bonnet cried from the steering wheel. "Ship bearing down on our port side!"
"Fie!" Jenkins ran to the other side of the ship. "It's the Relentless. Gunners, ready the port guns! Everyone else get the Captain on board!"
Cain took the place of a gunner on the zip line. DG moved down the railing to the opening for the gangplank. "Slower! You're going to slam her into the hull!" The crew listened and paused. She knelt on the deck and reached. Betsy climbed onto the deck with her hand clasped to DG's arm.
She wrung the water out of her brown hair as she gazed over the deck. "Jenkins?"
"We got the Relentless bearing down on us, Captain!"
Betsy grinned. "Slate's not commanding. He's still at the party. Battle stations!" She grabbed Cain's arm on her way to the poop deck. "Take your wife and Spencer to my quarters. Go!"
Cain didn't argue before giving DG a shake. "Captain's quarters, go." She ran for the main hatch as soon as he let her go. He found Spencer rooted to the deck and staring at the cannons being loaded. "Come on, son. We got to get below." He had to pull the dazed Spencer along.
DG whirled around when they entered. "They're going to fight that other ship?"
"That's what it looks like." Cain looked around the Captain's quarters for the safest spot for his princess. He turned Betsy's trunk against the end of the bed to provide cover on the port side. "Here. You too, Spencer."
She had to push the stunned Spencer to the floor. "What's wrong with him?"
Cain shrugged as he sat on the trunk. "I'm just following orders, sweetheart. You should ask him." The cannons beside the Captain's quarters replied to distant booms. Spencer cried out as he curled, clutching his head. DG looked at the boy in concerned dismay before hugging him. The cannons paused. "But I don't think he can answer you now."
"Hodges said he survived a massacre." DG said before the next volley drowned out their thoughts. "Wyatt!"
He wrapped his arms around both of them and soothed DG with the touch of his fingers. The ship shuddered; something had struck them. Where on the ship he wasn't certain, but no frenzied shouts or sounds of gushing water followed. He continued to hold onto them both, figuring there was enough time to get to the gun in his belt if needed.
The explosions from the other ship sounded further away. And the You and What Navy?'s cannons didn't respond. DG raised her head and looked into Cain's eyes. He squeezed her arms before heading to the windows. The Relentless fell further behind as the larger ship struggled to turn. "I think we're getting away. At least, the other ship isn't catching up."
"I guess that's good." She turned her attention to the sobbing boy in her arms. "It's over, Spencer. It's okay."
The door creaked open and Betsy didn't even blink at the gun Cain aimed at her. "Shite, so much for that hope. Take care of him and we'll take care of the ship."
Cain holstered the revolver in his belt before heading to DG and Spencer. He sat on the floor next to them, pulling Spencer out of DG's arms. "Get him some water." The boy burrowed against him in a way Jeb hadn't since annuals before the suit. "It's over now, Spencer. It's alright, son." His hand cradled the smaller head, trying to give solace to Spencer's grief.
"They're all dead. They're all dead."
"The Captain would have said something if they were all dead."
Spencer shook his head without lifting it. "Back home." His inhale caused his whole body to shake. "I couldn't save them. I was supposed to save them!"
"Sometimes, you can't. Sometimes, all you can do is save your own worthless hide." Cain rocked the boy, hoping his words could ease the pain. "Did you start it?"
"Pingaree wasn't at war. They just opened fire." The tears stopped, but Spencer's voice was raw with a haunted past. "And it was the same ship. We were attacked by the same ship that attacked my home."
It clicked for Cain, much like when he had investigated crimes. "The Captain had you looking for it."
"It didn't match pirate attacks. And no pirates boasted of any of the attacks." Spencer savagely wiped his face. "I can't do anything else, but find out who killed my family, my people." DG sat on the trunk, holding out a goblet of water and a damp washcloth. He took the water before the washcloth, refusing to look DG in the eye. "I should not have. I'm sorry."
"It's okay. We understand about survivor's guilt." DG's innocent assurance made the boy more uncomfortable.
Cain passed her the goblet. "Get him some more water." Her look plainly said she was playing along because they had an audience before taking the goblet and going back to the bathroom. He squeezed Spencer's shoulder. "Thea helps people. You did nothing wrong by turning to her while in distress. She'd be more upset if you hadn't."
Spencer took the goblet of water from DG with a grateful smile. "Survivor's guilt?"
"Stories for another time," Cain gestured at the doors with his head, "when not so many ears are about."
"I should tell the Captain. She needs to know." Spencer climbed to his feet.
"She needs to know what?" Betsy and Sprite entered the cabin. Jenkins closed the door.
Spencer still looked sick. "That ship was the one that attacked Pingaree."
"Are you sure, lad?" Jenkins asked. Betsy's face was somber like a mask.
"Aye, I'm sure. Same figurehead, same configuration of sails. I swear to it on my father's pearls."
"This is not the way I wanted you to confirm it, Spencer." Betsy's brown eyes glimmered. "Are you alright?"
"No, Captain. But I'm not jumping into the water holding a cannonball. I know it wasn't your plan."
Sprite lashed her arms around his waist. "Poor Inga. I stay with you tonight and keep the bad dreams away."
"It's Inge, Sprite. Inge."
"I like Inga better."
Spencer rolled his eyes. "You would. Come on, show me where the holes in the ship are."
Betsy whirled to face Jenkins as soon as the two youngest of the crew shut the door. "I hope you're happy!"
"I had him dead to rights but no, you had to make me promise not to kill the slimy bastard. And look what he did to my shirt!" She thrust her hand through the hole in the white sleeve before whirling to face DG. "Tell me you still have the pieces."
"They're stuck." DG patted the front of her silver and blue bodice.
"Out of corsets." Betsy pounced on her trunk and pulled out two shirts. "Best idea tonight." She pulled DG into the bathroom with her. Cain raised both eyebrows. He wasn't sure if there was enough room for both of them to move in the small room.
Jenkins heaved a sigh. "Do you drink, Mr. Cain?"
"I wouldn't say no to one after tonight." He undid the top buttons on the doublet and shirt so he could breathe as best he could with the damn collar on.
"And I say I'm glad I'm not her husband or her father." Jenkins pulled a squat glass bottle filled with an amber liquid and two small goblets out of the cabinets. "Scotch?"
"Never had it. I'm more of a whiskey drinker."
He poured a measure into the two goblets. "Probably a flavor difference but not enough to worry about. To your health."
Cain slugged the drink back after the toast. The familiar barley-malt taste had an added smoky tang that reminded him of the fuel used in the marshes around Lake Country. "That has a kick."
"Aye." The door vibrated from the knocking. "Good lord, that man is persistent." Jenkins stowed the bottle back in the cabinet. "Or suicidal." He opened the door for Hodges, Benavides, Roberts, and Teach just as Betsy and DG left the bathroom, holding the astrolabes.
Hodges looked aghast at the navigation tools. "All that for pieces of junk?"
"Changing careers? I'm sure appraising will bring you a tidy profit." Betsy headed to the table. "I'm positive your charming personality will win you many repeat customers. Or you could kill the competition."
Hodges scowled hard enough to make the scarred side of his face move. "We nearly died for that broken bauble?"
The brown-haired woman refrained from slamming her astrolabe on the table, but that saved her fury for her stride to the crewmen. "I have learned several pieces of news today that have made me cranky and I haven't killed nearly enough people to feel better. So do you want to rectify that situation, Hodges? Or do you want to keep breathing?"
The gang behind Hodges took a step back. "I hope our shares are worth all this," he muttered as they left.
"They will be." Betsy slammed the door shut and leaned against it.
"Don't look at me," Jenkins said. "I told you to run him through."
"Don't remind me." She stalked to the table. "Any ideas on how to get all the pieces together again?"
DG looked up from her examination. "Taking this fake one apart, easy. One simple nut and bolt. The bolt doesn't unscrew on the magic one." She held up that one.
Cain looked over her shoulder. "Maybe it takes magic." DG's hands filled with a golden glow that spread to the astrolabe in her hands.
The glow wobbled before petering out. "Now that's messed up," DG said.
"What is?" Betsy leaned her hands onto the table.
"It doesn't have a mind to tell it what to do. But it sensed that I don't have a clue and blew a big raspberry at my suggestion to reassemble."
"A what?" Cain asked.
Betsy answered by making a rude noise with her tongue. "That," DG answered. "I don't want to break it because I don't know what I'm doing."
"There's only one choice then." Betsy stood.
"We're going to raid Arol," Jenkins said hopefully.
"We're going to see the Shaman."
Jenkins's moustache bristled. "I thought you said we weren't going to deal with the Shaman again."
"You don't have to go." She sank into a chair and stared down at the astrolabes. "It's my quest; I'll bear the costs." Jenkins started to protest, but she forestalled him with a raised hand. "Bitch about my decision in the morning. Now goodnight."
Cain pulled DG out while Jenkins shuffled after them. "Will there be trouble?"
"Depends on what you mean by trouble. But then, you married a witch; maybe you don't think they're trouble." He continued down the corridor to his quarters.