“’Nother ale, missy!”, the dwarf called out, a stocky arm up and a stubby finger pointing down to the table at which he sat. It was a signal to a waitress, way over on the other side of the large crowded room- the dwarf’s act causing some of the nearby miners and associated cutthroats to look his way, scowling.
Closer, across from the dwarf at the small round table, an attractive woman- a half-elf, sat, shaking her head and smiling. The dwarf didn’t seem to notice.
“I’ll have one too thanks”, came a small voice from beneath the table. It made the woman smile more and the gruff dwarf guffaw loudly, slapping a heavy palm on the tabletop a few times, adding to the noise that he already made. More scowls came his way.
“Why don’t ye come out an’ ask her yeself, Gerv?”, the dwarf asked his hidden shipmate, and slapped on the table some more.
The gnome beneath the table grimaced and sighed, audible only to himself, then made his reply just a little louder.
“I don’t want them to see me Gun, you know that! I told you guys it was a bad idea for me to come here”.
“You fugitives o’ the law’re all alike, Gerv!” the dwarf told the table, a great gap-toothed smile that the gnome couldn’t see spread right across his heavily bearded face. “Yer always hidin’ away under tables an’ the like!”. The dwarf couldn’t resist himself, laughing out loud at his own quip and slapping the table repeatedly.
Gervis the gnome did not like it. Not one bit at all. The dwarf, Gunnar, was attracting way too much attention, and here was old Gervis Fig, deserter of the VAST Consortium, sitting under a table in a bar on a VAST owned mining station no less. Had the dwarf no sense at all? No compassion? Still, Gervis knew full well that he would not confront the dwarf, could not confront him, and so he sat, grinding his teeth in a worried frustration, hoping that the authorities wouldn’t arrive and spot him.
“Oi! Girly!” he heard Gunnar call out again, and, “Where’s me ale?” It was getting to be too much for the gnome. In desperation he buried his head under his hands. Getting drunk would help, surely. “Just get me one too”, he whimpered.
The face of an angel then appeared before the gnome. It was the half-elf, Deena, leaning under the table to flash him one of her subdued but all too disarming smiles. “Its alright Gervis” she told him, “A few more hours and Cormorant will be done with his, um … business, and we can be out of here.”
Gervis peered out from under his hands. She was blushing, he realised, mentioning what their ‘good captain’ was up to, and he felt a pang rising up in his chest.
Under that staid exterior of hers, the gnome knew, Deena was lost, just like they all were. Nowhere at all to be except on Captain Cormorant’s ship, The Raven. The gnome had wondered though, how it was that someone as classy and as beautiful as Deena had come about joining with such a rag-tag bunch. In the months he’d been aboard The Raven however, in position as her Junior Engineer, he’d been far too shy to ask the half-elf maiden anything of substance. “Pass the wrench please Deena”, was as deep as he’d ever got with her.
“I’ll be fine” Gervis told her weakly, adding a frantic nod to convince them both. She flashed him a wink and the gnome’s heart melted. Perhaps it would be all right, after all. She wouldn’t let anything happen to him, would she?
“Oi! Love-birds!” It was that dwarf again, his big hairy head suddenly appearing under the table behind Gervis, startling gnome and half-elf both. “Heads up!” he told them abruptly, “somethin’s amiss!”
Deena and Gunnar were immediately upright in their chairs once again. Straight after, Gervis’ small grey head popped out from beneath the table. Looking to the entrance that Gunnar not so subtly pointed at they saw another of their ship-mates enter- Aeon Wayfare, shouldering his way through the angry looking crowd, making his way toward their table.
Like Gervis, Aeon had once been a crewmember aboard the VAST owned research vessel, The Helio. The two of them had, months ago now, escaped in a drop ship along with some others, mere seconds it seemed, before The Helio had self-destructed after an orc attack had been launched on her. Ever since, and for some unknown reason to any of them, VAST security had been hot on their tails, as if the escapees were responsible for causing the whole mess.
It certainly was mystery, for Aeon and Gervis both. At the time they had only been junior officers aboard The Helio, and had certainly been ‘out-of-the-loop’, as far as anything important was concerned. In light of their situation though, and because they had caused no-small amount of trouble for VAST in getting away from them, those on board the drop-ship had decided to split up as soon as possible after the incident, so as to make it easier to slip VAST security’s reach. So it was then, that Gervis and Aeon had found themselves as part of Captain Cormorant’s crew.
Now, Aeon Wayfare approached the table with a worried look clearly upon his angular face. He stopped by Deena, placed a hand on her shoulder, and leaned over the table to whisper his news.
“We’ve got trouble”, he told them.
Looking up, Gervis ground his teeth again, with the heat of jealous anger replacing the stress-borne fear of only a moment before. Jealousy!- the darnedest thing. Gervis couldn’t help it however, for though he and Aeon had been stuck together for some time now, and had developed something close to a friendship, the annoyingly dashing fly-boy was half-elf, half-human too, the same as Deena. The gnome couldn’t stand it. Shunned by snooty and prejudiced pureblood elves, and outsiders in the worlds of humans, the two half-breeds had formed a bond upon meeting, so Gervis assumed. More in truth, he knew though, it was a respectful watching out for each other, but still, there it was, and there was nothing that the gnome could do about it.
Seated at the table, Deena and Gunnar looked up to their young half-elf pilot, waiting expectantly on what he had to say.
“Well… spill it! ye scrawny…” Gunnar began to goad, but the weight of Aeon’s words as he cut the dwarf short left all at the table stunned and open-mouthed.
“The Captain is dead”.
Gervis felt his stomach turn. “What?” he asked from beneath the table. “We’re stuck here?”
If an answer came, the gnome didn’t hear it, for a fist the size of his head dropped down from above and stole away his consciousness for a time. He was vaguely aware though, of the shelter of his table being torn away from over him and crashing to the floor, several feet away, and that Gunnar was up on his feet.
“Which one o’ these scum suckin’ sump dwellers done it?” the livid dwarf bellowed at Aeon, tossing the table away from between them. A large knife was suddenly in his hand also. “Which one o’ ye stuck me Captain?”, he asked the scowling bar in general. “HUH!?”
Thinking quick, Aeon leapt over Gervis’ prone form to latch both hands onto Gunnar’s vest front, lifting him a little. About them, several cutthroats got to their feet and drew weapons of their own.
“Shh!-Gun, take it easy!” the half-elf hissed, nose down to nose with the shorter dwarf.
Gunnar squinted, thrust out his jaw and bared his teeth, growling long and loud. The question crossed his mind then, whether or not to shove his knife deep into the stupid fly-boy’s belly. Thankfully though, Aeon spoke up before the dwarf made his decision. “Gotta stow it big fella…” he pleaded, “VAST are claiming The Raven!”
Gunnar scowled and his jaw shifted forward a little more. Blinking his way through it he finally slipped from anger to confusion. “What?” he asked.
Aeon’s eyes rolled up and he was shaking his head a little before he found the words to speak once more. “The Raven!” he hissed, snapping a glare at the dwarf. “VAST, are claiming her! on account of Cormorant dying on their station!” The dwarf in his hands didn’t look as if he understood.
“They canna do that” Gunnar told the pilot.
“Well… they are doing it!” Aeon spat back, and realised then that they still had an audience. The pilot quickly released the dwarf and held up his hands unthreateningly, smiling as he turned to the ring of cutthroats, their weapons in hand and edging a little closer. “Take it easy fellas” the half-elf told them, turning on the charm that his shipmates had come to know him by. “Just news of bereavement is all” he added, “you know how dwarves can get, down in their cups”. There were dwarves in the bar who nodded agreement and went back to their drinking.
Behind Aeon, Deena had, unlike Gunnar, quickly taken stock of what was going on. Their beloved captain, for that is how she saw him, had died, ‘on the job’ so to speak, in the company of one of the mining stations resident ‘ladies’. Now, VAST Consortium, owners of the mining station and infamous bastards to boot, were claiming ownership of the captain’s ship! Mere respect for the captain demanded outrage on his behalf, but the fact that he had promised The Raven to her crew in the event of his demise, made the matter a little more personal. Deena dropped to her knees beside the groaning gnome on the floor and gently smacked his face.
Gervis’ eyes fluttered open and, again, he saw the face of an angel above him, but what was that annoying sensation on his cheek? Smacking? It reminded him of his mother smacking his face, getting him up out of bed to attend his daily lessons. “Gervis. Wake up” Deena was telling him. Had he been asleep? “Are we there yet?”, he asked her, and he saw his angel smile, though only a little. “We have to go” Deena said to him, but then he saw Gunnar, glaring down at him as he strode right by the prone gnome’s head.
As he went, Gunnar tossed a pouch from his belt at the belly of the nearest cutthroat, where it then dropped to the floor with a jingle- gem stones and metal, enough to keep a fellow happy for a month or two. “Keep yer pants on ye nancys” the dwarf told them, slipping past Aeon with his large knife leading his way. As he went by Deena, kneeling over the gnome, his beady black eyes slipped right over her and he sneered down at Gervis, bellowing at him to “Get up ye idjit!”, without slowing in his step.
Deena looked over her shoulder as Gunnar disappeared between the bar’s most suspect patrons, heading for the door as the cutthroats in his wake moved eagerly to see the contents of his discarded pouch. Deena turned back from the departing dwarf in time though, to quickly spare Aeon a glance as he too passed her by. She then returned her attention to the gnome, still prone on the floor before her.
“Come on Gervis” she told him, as she pulled on his small arm and began to get to her feet. “We have to save a friend”.
* * * * *