The six men gathered outside the cargo hatch of the HMS Clarent stood and waited with unease. Some held their hands up against their foreheads, shielding their eyes from the sun. Aside from a rather loud thump that came from the inside of the airship, there had been no signs of activity from the ship whatsoever.
‘Geez,’ one wondered, ‘What’s taking them? I’m boiling out here.’
‘I swear to god,’ the one beside him muttered, ‘Another minute, and I’m breaking open that damn ship myself.’
‘That’s a big ship. You sure Sonny flies it all by himself?’
‘Nay. It has one of those navigation systems; you just punch in the coordinates, and the ship gets you there, all nice an’ easy. A monkey couldn’t mess it up.’
Eric Lyatt wasn’t paying attention to any of this as he squinted at the airship, wondering about the thump that they heard earlier on. He put a hand up, and all conversations immediately ceased, every man’s attention turned towards him.
‘Safety off,’ he called, a grave seriousness in his voice.
There came a series of clicks; and with every step Eric took towards the ship, he led his men to the slaughter.
‘Sweet!’ the marauder girl said, giving Damien’s unconscious body a little kick, for good measure. She looked at the Swordsman, who was busy retrieving his revolvers from the bounty hunter. ‘So what happens now?’ she asked. ‘Is this the part where we hijack this ship and hightail it outta here?’
‘No,’ the Swordsman said simply, and retreated back into the cargo hold.
‘What?’ the girl said, but followed after the Swordsman. Inside the cargo hold, he began examining the various boxes that had been stacked up onto one another, seeming to search for something.
‘Hey, yo,’ she said, squatting next to him as he bent low to examine some markings on a particularly large crate, ‘Let me give you the break down here: outside this ship, there are at least ten dudes waiting, with machine guns and shit. You know what they’re gonna do when they realize something’s up inside this ship? They’re gonna rip it apart, that’s what. I say we’ve gotta quickly hightail it outta here, and you can worry about your gear later on, eh?’
‘We’re not going anywhere until I find my sword,’ he grumbled. ‘And my coat and hat.’
‘For real?’ she put her hands up. ‘We’re surrounded by an army of guys packing some serious firepower, and you want your hat?’
‘My God, mister,’ the girl said with incredulity in her voice, ‘I think you need a real serious re-examination of your priorities. Go and get a shower while you’re at it, why don’cha? A good shave; a nap. Some R&R time. Nevermind that there are people all around trying to kill you-‘
‘I don’t know how to fly this airship,’ he said, cutting her off. He stood up from where he was and walked over to another crate, where he began his search anew.
‘That explains why you were trying to walk your way through the friggin’ desert,’ she sighed. ‘I tell ya what; I’m just gonna head over to the pilot’s cockpit; and whenever you’re done, you just come over and give me a holla, will ya? Or if you’re don’t in ten minutes, I’m leaving anyway.’
‘If it so pleases you.’
‘Good day to you too, mister,’ she did a mock salute before heading off.
‘Wait,’ the Swordsman called to her, reaching into the crate that he just opened up.
‘What now?’ she turned back to look at him with some forlornness in her eyes. From the crate, the swordsman lifted an aviator and a dagger with an ornate handle, still tucked into its leather sheath. Her eyes widened in recognition at the objects.
‘Yours?’ he asked; and before he could say anything else, she had already snatched it from his grasp.
‘See you at the front,’ she said, fitting the aviators over her head as she left.
There was, in fact, a way to open up the HMS Clarent’s cargo hatch from the outside that Damien did not know about. Eric stood, feet planted into the sizzling concrete as two of his men climbed up onto the wheels of the airship. The remaining three stayed with him, spread out in a semicircle with at least three meters between each of them.
‘Got it!’ Jamie called from the left wheel, and pulled a level on the inside of the wheel’s hatch. The first lock came loose with a heavy, sighing sound. Eric nodded his acknowledgement and turned to the other man on the right wheel.
‘Can’t find it!’ Pete shouted. ‘Where on earth is the thing?’
‘Stretch your arm further in, you dumbass,’ Jamie said, leaping off the airship’s two-meter tall wheel. ‘It’s right against the wall, facing inwards.’
‘It’s not here, man!’ Pete insisted. ‘It’s just dust and dirt in here; ain’t no level to be found, that’s for sure!’
Eric would have slapped his hand to his forehead; but it turned out that there was no need for Pete to figure out where the level was.
With a groan, the second lock was opened from within the ship, and the door to the cargo bay yawned open, settling on the ground, giving them access inside.
‘Damien?’ Eric called, squinting in the harsh sunlight. ‘Sonny? Where the hell are you two?’
Instead of two, a lone figure came clambering down the ramp from the cargo hold – a man clad in a hat, a longcoat, with something that looked like a sword peeking out from his hip. Eric raised his gun at the approaching figure – more a cautionary action than anything else.
‘This wasn’t part of the plan,’ Derek muttered beside him.
‘Forget it,’ Adrian said, raising his weapon. ‘He smells like trouble. I’ll have a bullet in his brain before he-‘
BLAM! There was a sharp crunching sound – and Adrian found himself holding two parts of a broken, smoking gun. Little tinkling sounds filled the air as the loose parts came tumbling out of the destroyed weapon, hitting the concrete ground beneath their feet.
‘God damn,’ was all he could say.
The Swordsman stopped right at the end of the ramp, a smoking revolver in his hand. With the other, he pushed up the front of his hat; and Eric saw the weathered features of the sharpshooter.
‘Konnichiwa, gentlemen,’ the Swordsman called, lowering his weapon. ‘I only request for safe passage out of this airbase. The supplies inside this room are of no interest to me, and I have no quarrel with you. Only take what you need, and I will leave with this airship.’
‘Who are you?’ Eric asked.
‘A man of sorrows, nothing more,’ the Swordsman nodded. ‘Do I have your agreement?’
‘Before that,’ Eric said, ‘Where’s Sonny and Damien?’
‘Incapacitated,’ the reply came. ‘You will find the two men among the cargo.’
‘You killed them, you son of a bitch!’ Derek suddenly shouted. ‘What did you do to them?’
There was a growing tension in the air that was quickly spiraling out of Eric’s control, and he didn’t like it one bit. The men were on edge – he wasn’t sure if he could do anything to restrain them if Sonny and Damien really turned out to be dead.
‘Just tell me one thing, man,’ Eric said, his eyes narrowing. ‘Are Sonny and Damien dead?’
If the Swordsman had been allowed to give his answer, the whole situation might have been resolved in a peaceful manner. However, the boiling heat, high tensions, and twitching trigger fingers soon escalated into a dangerous mix of elements.
And then all hell broke loose.