Their last few hours together seemed to go so quickly. That’s all Ellis could think about, afterwards: how events had just seemed to propel them forwards, from one catastrophe to the next with no time for them to breathe or take stock in between. It had been a roller-coaster, a whirlwind, a storm on the water. There had been no time to think about the consequences and, when it came to it, no time, really, to say goodbye.
Once Siren had resolved to take action against Harker from the brig of the Ebon Crest, she quickly made sure to test the loyalty of those few crew members locked up with Rockspark. They had been those who had stayed on the Crest after Harker had ‘won’ the vessel in that ill-fated, long ago game of cards - deciding to stick with their new captain rather than follow Gulliver in his mutiny - and Siren needed to be sure that they would follow her orders now that Harker had turned against them as well. Listening to their stories, it didn’t take long for her to become convinced.
It seemed that they had been fine with Harker’s leadership for a time, even accepting the harsh punishments meted out by Salah, Harker’s second in command and the defacto captain of the Ebon Crest. Siren was puzzled, at first, as to why they would put up with such treatment and it seemed that the crew were reluctant to tell her, but eventually the picture became clearer. They respected Harker and Salah because they took a much harder line when it came to piracy, tackling innocent vessels Siren would never have touched, and the rewards for such unscrupulous behaviour were great.
That all changed when Harker began to get involved with whoever it was who was now pulling his strings. Raiding ships and ports became a dream of the past and clandestine meetings and secret plans became the new order of the day.
There was a new mutiny and, unlike Gulliver’s, this one was not successful. They were all whipped to within an inch of their lives by the strong arm of Salah and then thrown into the brig with the merest of rations. At one point, they said, they were going to be used as thralls for the Lich to crew the Dusk Raider, but the Lich had demanded healthy men, men who would last the pressures he placed on them and they were spared, much to Harker's apparent disgust.
"So we're with you now, captain," the leader of the remnant, a young man named Markus, said, "and though we have served you poorly in the past, we will not fail you now."
"I'm glad to hear it," Siren replied, "because we're going to need every bit of energy and skill you have to take control of a vessel this size with only a fraction of a full crew-" she took a deep breath "-but Harker is going to pay for all this, and Marveille. Too many people have died for it to be otherwise and I wont stop until they have both been punished for the suffering they have caused! Come on! Lets take back the Crest!"
With that Siren whirled on the spot, pushed through the small group, including Ellis, who had been standing around her listening to Markus tell his tale, and stepped out into the gangway beyond.
"First things first," she said, looking back at them and speaking in little more than a whisper now, "we need to secure this deck and quietly. Check every cabin, take any weapons you can get your hands on and subdue anyone you find. We'll advance through the ship deck by deck until we're done."
She stared at them all for a moment and then waved her hands and urged them on, whispering, "Go! Go! Go!"
The remnant of the crew poured out into the gangway and as one body made their way to the first cabin door, opening it quickly, like pulling off a bandage and piling in to the cabin beyond. Inside several off-duty crewmen were sleeping. Ellis heard their muffled cries as some woke just in time to be knocked unconscious by their erstwhile prisoners, then the remnant re-emerged, stolen weapons in hand and advanced to the next cabin.
"We should follow," Luke said, scratching at his palm.
Ellis nodded and beside him Greta too seemed eager to move. Broken-Hope and the Former Baron, meanwhile, were talking with Rockspark in hushed tones.
"You three," Siren called quietly, addressing Greta, Luke and Ellis, "follow me. We'll try and break into the weapon's locker. It should be just down here."
She turned to the right and ventured down the gangway in the opposite direction from the attacking crew towards another locked door lying just past the hatch to the engine room. It only took another few moments of fiddling with the lockpick to get the door open and then Siren was directing each of them to take handfuls of whatever weaponry was available and courier them to the rest of the crew at the other end of the gangway.
As it happened they found far too many weapons for what they needed and a small pile of swords, daggers and flintlock pistols ended up being deposited on the floor once each crew member had selected their arsenal. By this time they had already cleared out the deck and, having caused very little commotion doing so, they were ready to advance to the next one. Siren poked her head into each of the crew cabins, checking to see that no one would be in a position to surprise them from behind later, before giving her assent for them to go up to the next level of the ship.
This time Siren took the lead and Ellis, armed now with a surprisingly well-balanced short sword, followed close behind her. Gulliver and Luke, similarly armed were not far behind, although Gulliver had chosen to equip himself with a pair of pistols as well, much as Ellis remembered him when they first met in the Maelstrom's Heart, and he couldn't seem to stop adjusting the way they rested in his belt strap.
The Ebon Crest was a big ship and this deck contained more crew cabins, just like the lower one, although these were larger and clearly belonged to slightly more privileged members of the crew. Unlike those on the lower level, the crew here were not asleep, but were just coming off their watch so that, as Siren and her crew ascended at one end, they were descending at the other. There was a moment of silent confusion as each group stared down the other and then, at a command from a large, dark-skinned man who Ellis feared might just be Salah, Harker's crew drew their weapons and charged down the gangway.
There followed a few minutes of complete chaos, during which Ellis wasn’t entirely sure what was happening. All he was able to do was focus on the pirate in front of him, doing his best to fend off her vicious attacks, whilst simultaneously trying to land a few blows of his own. There was something unsettling about her movements too, as if she weren’t fully in control of what she was doing. There was a look of fear in her eyes that was not at all reflected in the ferocity of her combat. It reminded Ellis of the way Gulliver had looked on the deck of the Ya’Ma’Khul and that memory sent a chill down his spine. Could there be another Lich on the Ebon Crest, he wondered. Eventually the pirate seemed to be distracted by something happening a few feet away, one of her crewmates taking a fall, and Ellis took the opportunity to hit her with the hilt of his sword, knocking her, unconscious, to the floor.
As he looked up he saw that she had been the last of them and Siren’s remnant crew were advancing along the gangway towards Salah. He glared at them for a moment, then said in a voice strangely devoid of emotion “He won’t let you take this ship,” a statement which only confused Ellis further, but for all the dark pirate’s size, bravado and apparent strength, rather than hold his ground he fled up to the next deck, shouting for reinforcements as he did so.
“This is about to get interesting,” Siren declared, running after them with Ellis, Luke and Gulliver close behind and Greta, the Former Baron and Rockspark heading up the rear.
The next deck was already deserted, and an eerie silence seemed to have taken over the ship once more. All that could be heard was the creaking of the rigging and the groans of the hull.
“He’s waiting for us on the upper deck,” Siren said, “he knows now that we’re not a good force to fight in the confined spaces belowdecks, so he’s preparing to ambush us when we emerge.”
“Is there any way to surprise him?” Ellis asked.
“This is my ship,” Siren said, “I know it like I know no other, whereas Harker and Salah have only had it for a few months. Of course there’s a way!”
“You mean the secret passageway to the gunnery deck, don’t you?” Gulliver asked. Siren merely nodded. “Sorry, but we used that during our escape. ‘Arkers bound to ‘ave discovered it by now.”
Siren glanced down for a moment, then looked up and smiled, "Then we'll have to get clever."
She looked back at Rockspark and the Former Baron, who stood talking quietly to each other at the back of the group, as they had, pretty much, since Rockspark had been released.
"What resources do we have to make sure that we take them by surprise?" she asked them.
"Well, aside from my pocket watch, I'm all out of Philosophickal trinkets," Von Spektr replied, sounding a little forlorn at his lack of gadgetry.
"I only have my pipe," Rockspark added.
"Anyone else?" Siren asked, the smiled not yet slipping from her face.
"I have a little energy left," Broken-Hope suggested, although he didn't sound very energetic at all.
"Just the medallion," Ellis chipped in.
"An' these flintlocks, I s'pose," added Gulliver.
Everyone else had a blank expression.
"And what," Siren continued, turning back to the Spiketail and the old Philosopher, "would these things allow you to do with a Type 40 Hypostatick Engine, enough Black Sand to get us to Witherpoint and back and several gallons of Glasswhale oil?"
Rockspark began to smile, almost mirroring Siren, despite his lizard-like appearance. The Former Baron gave a thin, crafty-looking grin and said, "With that, my dear, I could give you the moon."
"I only need the ship, thanks,” she replied, her smile spreading warmly across her face. “Well, let's get started then."
And they were that much closer to the end.