A Skull Island excerpt: The Better Part of Valor

NQcover

Lost Hemisphere and Skull Island Expeditions present an excerpt from the story:

“The Better Part of Valor”

included in:

The No Quarter Collection: Volume One

By Douglas Seacat

Act I

Wherein a pirate and a privateer captain learn of an
opportunity for profit and revenge

The sleek, predatory vessel Talion exchanged cannon fire with its prey before sliding alongside. Grapples arced between the ships, and the two hulls cinched tight with a grinding protest of wood and metal. The battle-ready crew filled the air with yells and pistol fire as men leapt across, cutlasses in hand, to cut down any defenders.

Captain Phinneus Shae strode to the Talion’s rails to find, with satisfaction, the initial boarding of the Mercarian League vessel Lasting Promise well underway. Shae drew his pistol and took a bead on a league gunner crouched behind the railing on the poop deck. A squeeze of the trigger sent the man tumbling and his rifle clattering to the lower deck. Shae holstered his pistol and drew his mechanikal saber Squall.

First Mate Hawk appeared at his side, blades ready, and they shared a look. Without a word they grabbed ropes and soared across to the deck of the enemy vessel. A shout went up from the Talion’s crew as the pair waded in. Hawk landed three quick thrusts for every one of Shae’s powerful cuts. Shae signaled back to the Talion. A crewman operating its crane swung out a dangling Mariner warjack on a creaking cable and dropped it to the deck of the Lasting Promise. It landed deftly despite its size, splintering deck boards under its feet. Shae touched its cortex and mentally urged the ’jack into the thickest knot of the defenders. Its anchor swept in an arc and shattered Mercarian League marines like dolls.

The advancing ’jack and warcaster drained the will to fight from the rest of the defenders. Many threw down their arms and immediately surrendered. A few officers made a fighting
retreat toward the aft decks, but Shae knew it was over. He and Hawk advanced toward the last holdouts.

After years of capturing Mercarian League vessels, the Talion crew had developed a rather involved but quite effective routine for taking what they most needed from their prisoners:
information. They invariably started with the captain and rarely had to proceed further. They could not predict what a given captain might know, but usually they could find something useful, such as reports of other league ships carrying lucrative cargo, recent sightings of Cygnaran Navy vessels, or the location of hidden stashes.

This drama required the crew to bring the surrendered captain to Shae and Bosun Grogspar for interrogation, and then Shae left to deal with a fabricated dispute. Grogspar would express his delight at the sudden opportunity to indulge his appetite for torture. When the captured captain started to sweat at the thought of what Grogspar might do, Quartermaster Walls would barge into the cabin. The quartermaster would try and fail to keep the trollkin in check, and then he would plead with the captive to cooperate for his own good. The routine lacked subtlety, but invariably the browbeaten captain would give up whatever information he thought might keep him alive.

On this particular occasion, while Grogspar and Walls played their parts, Captain Shae stood in the corridor debating with the expedition financier, a peg-legged dwarf named “Lord” Joln Rockbottom. “This leaky tub has to be worth something,” Shae said.

Rockbottom shook his head. “The closest port where we could sell it is too far. Just seize the cargo and leave ’em. Navy patrol might come through any time.” Sea dogs hurried around them looking for anything remotely valuable enough to pry loose, toss in a sack, or drag behind them. Aside from any treasure, the great reward of piracy lay in the claiming of whole vessels. Whenever possible, the Talion crew would capture a ship and
take it as a prize while setting the captain and officers adrift in the nearest launch. Shae frowned at the dwarf and prepared a rebuttal.

Grogspar emerged from the cabin and interrupted by clearing his throat. “Cap’n?”

Shae glanced toward the cabin. “Is he singing already?”

The trollkin packed his pipe philosophically, stuck it back in his mouth, and raised a flint-striker to light its leaves. “He thinks we picked him up fer a reason. Ain’t got a clue what he’s yawling on about. Ye might want to give a listen.”

Intrigued, Shae and Rockbottom followed Grogspar and found Mr. Walls waiting with his agitated monkey Stubs perched on his shoulder. The Mercarian League captain sat slumped, surrounded by the splinters of broken furnishings. His once-fine uniform hung
rumpled and torn, and his posture conveyed defeat.

Rockbottom’s peg leg made a staccato rhythm on the floorboards. “Tell us what you know,” he said. The dwarf managed to convey menace despite his ridiculous attire. His enormous sidearm, a weapon ornamented so its bore resembled the open mouth of a
scaled monstrosity, doubtless helped.

“L-look, I already t-told the trollkin. I don’t know anything about Fort Lamis. We just stopped there for s-supplies, I s-swear!” He was clearly a young captain probably with his first command. His wispy beard trembled piteously.

Rockbottom looked at Shae. “Ever heard of Fort Lamis?” Shae
silently shook his head.

Rockbottom lifted his weapon and set it against the man’s shoulder. “This is ‘Fire Breather.’ Ignites anything it touches. It’d take your arm clean off and burn the stump to a husk, saving us the trouble of watching you bleed out. Ever left a pig shank roasting too long? The smell is—”

“Stop, stop! I don’t know anything. It’s a supply fortress, one of many. I have no idea why so many ships and soldiers are there!”

Rockbottom glanced around, found a crumpled chart among the detritus on the floor, and jammed it into the captive captain’s hands. “Whereabouts would we find this little fortress?”

 

 

The story continues in The No Quarter Collection: Volume One, available in all in pdf, ebook and mobi formats from Skull Island Expeditions.