The world was frozen.
Lauren looked up, the motion harder than it should’ve been, the air pushing back against her. She could see the tracery of a lightning bolt overhead, crawling through the air towards the lightning rods installed on the building.
She only had moments- it was already getting hard to breathe. She gathered herself up, and jumped. In a moment she was back on the rooftop, moving towards the still forms of the dandy and his overly-dressed sweetheart. Black tux and black cocktail dress. What a pair.
Bullets would take too long to crawl out of their barrels. And her lungs were starting to burn as she walked towards the pair.
She slipped her hatchet out of a belt loop.
One swing. Two.
That little bit of exertion was almost more than she could bear. Her hands scrabbled through her coat, reaching for the counteragent the Captain had concocted for her. The hypodermic hissed as she jabbed it into her thigh, and the world-
-back into motion as she collapsed, feeling like she'd been forced to practice Iron Body for hours. Everything hurt.
“Holy shit what the hell? Who did this?”
Oh. There were more pirates on the roof, ones she couldn't even crane her neck to see from her position flat on her back. Goody. She tried to reach for her gun, but her muscles apparently didn't want to cooperate.
“Look, it's that pirate bitch!”
Oh hell .
Crack crack crack crack crack.
The thumps of several bodies hitting the dirt seemed like a good thing. She heard crunching footsteps, and then some distinctly wrong sorts of crunching.
Okay, maybe not.
There was the distinct noise of swallowing, and then C walked into view. The bottom half of his mask was practically solid red.
“Need a hand?”
Lauren just glared at the creepy little fucker.
I’m fairly certain I know how annoying it is to fight me, now.
Because dodging and cutting through the near-literal forest of hair-based tentacles is getting really fucking old.
I don't know how to others are coping. If they're smart, they've run and let me handle it. Can't even see anything beyond the thicket of beard.
When the hell did my life become a comedy? Or just become utterly insane?
Oh, right. Probably around the time I decided following the obviously batshit insane pirate doctor was a good idea.
On that note…
“SURRENDER TO THE POWER OF MY FOLLICLES!”
“Right,” I grumble, drawing my tails in close. “It’s time for a shave! Draconic Twister!”
The accumulated wind blades lash out in all directions, tearing the thicket of hair to shreds, and I jump back as tendrils of the stuff stab towards where I’d been standing.
I can't see him, but the reverse is true as well. He only knows where I am when I cut at his hair, and he can't quite react fast enough to catch me lethally.
I sniff at the air, trying to figure out where he is as I cut out again and leap through the air, free of the thicket. The hall's deserted, only the unmoving bodies of Black Beard pirates present. Good. Means I've got space to work.
The man's beard covers half the hall, still moving faintly, his body hidden behind a wall of hair. Can’t figure out where he is...hrrmph.
“YOU THINK YOU HAVE ESCAPED ME? NONE SHALL EVADE MY WRATH! GOATEE GOLEM!”
Wait, what the fuck is he-?
I stare as the beard-forest condenses itself into limbs , forming what is unmistakably a humanoid body...with the bearded bastard himself forming the head.
I grin, and run.
“YES! FLEE BEFORE MY GLORIOUS MAJESTY!”
A running leap takes me a third of the way up one of the pillars. My tails propel me across the room to the opposite one, and again and again as the golem of hair takes its first few steps forwards.
It raises an arm to swat me from the sky, but even as poor as I am at Moon Walk, the creation is ponderous enough I can dodge easily, jumping off the air and directly at the man himself.
I grin. “Scaled Cross!”
I hit the floor around the same time the man’s head does, two tails slick with blood.
Grackle was beginning to regret his choice of occupation.
“Make it as a pirate, they said,” he grumbled as he ran through the far-too-narrow hallways as fast as he could manage. “Plenty of loot, they said. Now everyone's fucking dead and the Captain's fighting a cannibal monster. Black Talons!” He spun on his heel, hurling a half-dozen blades back at his pursuers, only to snarl in frustration as again they were all deflected or dodged by the two Nightmares.
At least the captain would crush that damned Butcher Bird quickly enough. And if he could just get outside , he could-
It was a bloody big thing and he didn’t have the time to break it with whatever he could find. This was going to hurt…
Probably less than that spindly fucker’s tonfas, though.
He grit his teeth and put on a fresh burst of speed, accelerating even faster than the running pace that had kept him ahead of whatever technique they were using to seemingly teleport after him, and jumped.
The window shattered, and despite him covering his head with his arms a shard of glass sliced across his cheek and ear, living stinging pain in its wake. No time to deal with it- he hit the ground, rolled, and sprang back up. If he could just make it back to-
Grackle fell to the ground as his knee turned into a symphony of pain, worse than anything he’d ever felt before. He couldn’t even breathe , the white-hot hole in his leg blocking out everything else as he curled up into a fetal position, clutching at the bloodied remnants of his knee cap.
There was a thump, and then a weight on his back, and then oh god teeth in his shoulder, biting and tearing and-
“C! We need him alive.”
The weight and the teeth vanished, and Grackle let out a sob of relief.
Someone put pressure on the ruins of his shoulder, and that last spike of pain was enough. Grackle slipped gratefully into unconsciousness.
Fuck, everyone’s tired. Between the actual fight, the relentless grilling for details Grenzer and his officers put us through that they had the gall to call a ‘debriefing’, hauling off that one guy who half the crew has started calling ‘Kan-edgy’ thanks to his resemblance to me to be interrogated, and the Doge giving personal thanks for handling things...well, hardly quietly, but with a minimum of fuss and with the heads of most of the Black Beard Pirates on stakes to show off to the nobles and rich assholes as a sign of strength...between all that, even I’m pretty much running on empty. All I want, as I stumble into my cabin on the Ends , is to snatch a few precious hours of sleep before the new day…
Which is made more than a little difficult by the person standing in my cabin. One I recognize, albeit dimly.
I don’t say a word. Just close the door behind me, and sigh. “So, I guess those rumors about Roberts being associated with the Revolutionaries are true, then,” I say. “You here to kill me, or just make some threats? Maybe try to bribe me into turning my coat?” I grin. “Might find that harder than you think...Koala.”
The orange-haired Revolutionary doesn’t even flinch. “Roberts can claim what he likes. But he isn’t part of us. The men he sends to his mines are practically slaves,” she says flatly, folding her arms. She’s dressed like anyone else on the Archipelago, favoring heavy furs and one of those hats that makes me want to alternately laugh and start saying things in bad Russian. “No. I’m here because of Kuma.”
“This is gonna end with me getting knocked unconscious and delivered to Baltigo, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” she says, far too cheerily.
“And it’ll happen without anyone even noticing I was gone, and I have absolutely no choice in the matter, am I right?”
Her grin widening by a couple molars is all the answer I need.
“Well then, fuck y-”