Last Episode: “Set Course for Danger!”
Or, Catch Up By Starting from The Beginning (of “Part Two,” that is)
A sudden silence settled in the cabin, awkward after the lengthy discussion of weevils the men had been engaged with and James’s typically gauche intrusion with the reeking corpse of the expired cook. Now, they all stared at each other as though waiting for something.
Sir Kyle recovered first. Play dumb, he thought. It always seemed to work when avoiding James’ petty accusations back at the castle. “Uhm, what strong box?” he offered.
The captain pounded the table in frustration, crushing a scuttling weevil. “The mini chest. The one YOU brought on board. The one that Papineau quite rightly noted as royal in origin – it’s sealed with the mark of the King himself!” Papineau swelled with pride at the prop. “As an emissary of Georg, I require an explanation. Now.”
Wardstein welcomed the aggression – dealing with outbursts was something he did on a daily basis. Usually with a blade. “Listen up, ‘captain’,” he seethed, tucking the last fold of crepe he’d prepared earlier into his cheek. “You aren’t going to be ‘requiring’ anything out of us. Or there’s gonna be trouble.”
The captain leapt to his feet. “Well, you got trouble, Baron! Papineau – open the chest. Do it now!” he roared. With that, Papineau reached into his cloak and withdrew the chest, slamming it onto the table, sending breakfast cutlery clattering. He snatched a butterknife and set about to removing the royal seal. Flecks of wax scattered into a bowl of whipped cream like chocolate shavings as he carved at the king’s seal.
“You just made the second biggest mistake of your life,” James hissed. Stepping forward, he whipped the Goblin Dagger from his belt in a flashing uppercut to the chin of Papineau, and in an instant, the head of the self-important little officer detonated in a hot blast upon the maps pinned to the wall beyond.
“Wow!” Wardstein exclaimed at the carnage. “What was his first-biggest mistake, though?”
“Being born,” James sneered.
The captain purpled with rage. “You idiot! You have no idea the cargo we carry on this ship! We are at sea for a reason! Below decks, we – “
“Chill out. Dickwad.” Wardstein declared. He’d drawn the great Elvish bow to his cheek – sideways in the cabin for its incredible length. And also because holding it sideways made him feel like a big man. He spared the doomed captain a wink before he loosed the arrow, which thumped into the captain’s forehead with a wet, “PWOCCK!!!”, and instantly nailed his body to the beam behind. Presently, the men heard the final disgrace – the patter of the captain’s bladder releasing, staining his fine blue trousers navy and puddling at his twitching feet.
“I guess that takes care of that,” Sir Kyle remarked, wondering why nothing could ever go smoothly with these guys. “I guess we’d better – “ but James suddenly grabbed his arm. “Kyle, shut up! Look, the cook!”
In a fetid heap by the door, Gérard stirred, groaning. With the struggle of a man weighing a thousand pounds he raised his face to the men, revealing eyes discoloured as though poached.
“Kyle, your sword!” Wardstein roared. Sir Kyle looked down, and blazing white light spilled from his scabbard. He slapped leather, drawing the fine blade, and the light illuminated the cabin in choral purity. As the zombie Gerard struggled to his feet, Sir Kyle flicked his wrists and swung the finest strike he’d ever known, and the singing blade decapitated the zombie in one strike, the head flying through the window beyond.
“…oh my god, that’s disgusting…” someone cried outside as the head landed on a floorboard with a wet splat.
James booted open the cabin door to see hatches opening belowdecks – gnarled white hands thrust blindly through, and here and there the pale heads of zombies protruded through windows and ports like vile mushooms.
“It’s a plague ship!” James yelled. “For zombies, can you believe it? We gotta get outta here!” he bolted from the door.
Grabbing the chest, Wardstein followed. “You!” he yelled at a cabin boy. “Take us to a rowboat!” The teen took one look at the rampaging Wardstein and immediately stabbed himself in the chest.
“How insulting!” Wardstein raved. “James, find another crewman to row us out of here! Make sure he doesn’t stab himself!”
Sir Kyle exited the cabin, the Avenger now burning white-hot in his hands, surrounded by a pandemonium of undead enemies. He was holding the cabin lantern above his head. “We have to burn the ship!” he cried. In that instant, he saw at the bow of the ship the mysterious woman in black, who was staring directly at him. As though marking him forever. And then, she disappeared over the side.
Sir Kyle watched, stunned, as the woman plunged off the front-part of the ship. His momentary distraction nearly cost him as an enraged zombie grabbed for his hauberk, its withered hands brushing the chain materiel near his elbow. What’s with the undead, Kyle thought to himself as he deftly sidestepped and half turned into his sideways sweep, cutting the zombie in twain. Damn, Kyle thought, no one is around to hear my badass line. Not that he had one, but he felt confident he’d have rose to the occasion. The path was cleared to the front-part, so he ran there ignoring the frightening shouts of the ships not-undead-but-soon-to be-dead-dead crew clamoring around him. He assumed they were for help, but he didn’t know for sure so he didn’t feel bad. Feet skidding as he halted, he reached the front-part and looked over the ships railing to the froth below. Nothing. His sword flashed brightly and Kyle turned with his guard up, barely deflecting the claws of another zombie. Five others were shambling towards him, finished with the ship hands who themselves were starting to tremor unnaturally. Geez Louise, Kyle thought. Then he sprang to action. You are the weapon. Stepping forward quickly he bashed his gauntleted forearm down at a precise angle, snapping the zombies head back and breaking its neck. It crumpled uselessly in front of him. One. Continuing forward a step, he lashed his sword out with a stiff thrust, taking a zombie in the neck. Two Pivoting on his back foot He ducked low under a reaching arm as he spun around, completing his turn as his sword crashed into a zombies rib cage. Three. Standing as he freed his weapon he kicked out the legs of the nearest approaching zombie and then stepped forward, crushing its skull as he impaled the next on his blade. Four. Five.
“Six!” someone said, and punctuated it with the twang of an arrow being loosed. The last zombie turned a comical 360 as the arrow caught him high in the chest, but apparently off to one side.
“Six?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah,” Wardstein said with the ghost of a smile that killing always brought. “You know, the number after five?”
Kyle looked at him confused.
“You were talking out loud, moron.”
“It happens. Where’s the bird?”
Kyle motioned towards the railing. “She jumped. Or fell. It was weird.”
James came up the few steps to the front-part, looking manic.
“Phew,” he said, with an exaggerated motion of wiping sweat from his brow. The motion only served to spread around the gore on his face though, with frightening effects.
“Plague ship,” he said, amazed. “What are the odds?”
“I think we can skip past that generic term. It’s a specific plague, zombism. It’s a Zombie ship,” Wardstein said.
“Technically it would be a Ship of the Dead.” Kyle amended.
“It’s full of zombies. Ipso facto – Zombie ship.”
“Zombie is singular. As a group they are known as the undead.”
“Oh my God.”
“Well think about it – ‘Zombie ship’ would imply that the ship itself is a zombie.”
“Maybe it is!” Wardstein yelled, and stepped up menacingly.
“You still have chocolate sauce on your face.”
“By your lip…no, not that side. Yeah. Got it, big guy.”
“Those crepes were delicious.”
Kyle nodded, situation diffused.
“Sweet,” James said, pointing at the recently murdered crew. They were beginning to slowly rise up, infected. “I got this. More games.” He walked towards them, leisurely, somehow chuckling and humming a tune at the same time. Wardstein looked at Kyle with raised eyebrows. Spinning his dagger in his palm he stopped a few yards from the now standing zombies and bowed politely, as if asking them to dance. Then he screamed a terrible scream and leaped forward, Goblin dagger flashing in one hand as the other fished a knife from his pocket and hurled it forward, taking the nearest in the eye. A moment later he was amongst them, his enchanted dagger rending horrible wounds and severing heads with reckless abandon. With two remaining he thrust his dagger deep into the chest of the ships former navigator, whose fine, intricate silks were stained with blood. But still, the silks were intricate, and the knifes ornate handle was caught in them. Without access to his weapon, James turned to watch the final zombie approach. There was a calmness in his eyes. Dwarfed by the insanity, but it was there. Seemingly at the last second James reacted. In a flash he jumped high in the air, his blue garment flowing surreally. Kicking out his leg his boot connected with the zombies skull and made a solid sound. Twisting effortlessly in the air, James landed softly in a crouching position wearing only one boot. The other was still lodged in the now motionless zombies head. Kyle’s sword stopped shining.
“Woot!” he said. “Boot-knife for the win.”
“Boot-knife?” Kyle asked.
“Yeah, man. Wait. You don’t have a boot-knife?”
Kyle shook his head.
James looked questioningly at Wardstein, who lowered his gaze.
“I always wondered why you put them on so gingerly.”
“Yeah,” James nodded. “My feet are a mess.”
The three of them stood there, silently. La Poutain Graisse sliced its inexorable path through the waves.
“So,” Kyle said, “Who can fly a ship?”
The men reclined on lounge chairs they’d arranged on the poop deck which they’d found in a nearby stateroom, sipping on Cognac they’d discovered belowdecks. After tying off every available rope they could find, the ship seemed to be sailing wonderfully. “Why does it take 100 dirty French guys to do the work of three Anglo-Saxons?” James wondered. “Because we’re awesome?” Kyle remarked.
Wardstein belched, enjoying how his lips flapped. “So, what now?” The other two shrugged.
Time passed quickly for the new, idle crew. The lounge chairs they had arranged were most comfortable, the cognac most refreshing. In no time at all, Archduke James, Sir Kyle, and lastly and leastly, Baron Von Wardstein, had drifted off to sleep under the sun’s warm rays, confident that their random lashing of ship’s wheel and assorted rigging would see them safety through to wherever.
James began to stir from his nap, his face twisted in displeasure. “Eughhhh!!” he choked, waving the air in front of his nose. “Hey! Hey Wardstein, wake up! Kyle pinched a loaf in his armour again and the sun’s turning him into a filthy crock pot!”
The Baron simply grunted and rolled over on his chair, prompting James to throw salted pistachios at his head. These too had been acquired below deck, and he made a mental note to go back down there later on and see what other luxuries could be had. Then, remembering that he had seen some deadly, deadly asbestos used as a heat shield around the kitchen’s ovens, he struck the idea from his mind and continued pelting Wardstein. Asbestos, he knew, could strike a man dead in his tracks if viewed in the right light. That ain’t the way I’m goin’ out! he thought to himself. No siree-Bob!
“Owww!” groaned the Baron, sitting up in his chair. A few pistachios remained nesting in his beard, but most clattered to the deck. He sniffed the air. “Euggh, that does reek! Though I don’t think it’s Kyle. Probably the rotting zombie crew. That was stupid of us to just leave them there, I guess.”
“Sure was!” James agreed. “Check out Gérard over there by the captain’s door! You should really take care of him first when you begin your cleanup.” James gestured to the cook who had died the first of his deaths before the men had even boarded La Poutaine Graisse, and was now bloated, purple, and green. As if on cue, a strange noise came from the man’s distended belly, and it unseamed itself in a violent eruption. The slurry of bile and partially digested croissants greased the boards, enabling Gérard to skid off down some steps, startling some chickens at the bottom.
“What? Why me?” Wardstein whined.
“’Cause I cleaned up the French sailor-zombies the last time!” said James emphatically.
Wardstein’s head was throbbing from the cognac, but he wasn’t so out of it that he’d fall for the Archduke’s blatant lie. Aristocrats are so used to having things done for them, he thought. Good to be an aristocrat, though.
“Kyle, wake up!” Wardstein screamed. The knight bolted upright and scrambled for his sword’s pommel as he scanned for danger.
“Yeah, so…we thought you had messed your armour at first, but then we realized that all the zombies were rotting in the sun, so you have to clean it up. ‘Cause you’re in charge and stuff.”
“Actually, I believe I have fouled my armour again” said Kyle. “When I dream of the manure farm of my youth, my body seems to naturally acclimatize by delivering on an olfactory memory to make it all the more vivid.”
Wardstein and James exchanged a What the? kind of look.
Suddenly there was a strange chiming noise and from out of thin air their appeared a figure, floating above their lounge chairs.
“Hello, dumb-dumbs!” said the dead doctor’s manifestation.
“McSTOGIE!!” said the men in unison.
“Just thought I’d check in on you buffoons. Enjoying yourselves, I see. So close to the lands of Georg the Generous and here you are about to run aground on the shores of the island of the Scantily Clad Nubile Women!”
Wardstein and James looked at one another and high-fived, while Kyle bolted to his feet, running to the wheel. Unsheathing his mighty sword, he hacked the ropes that held it in place and steered hard to port.
“Come onnnn, front-part!” muttered the knight as he eyed the stern. Slowly but steadily it began to nose away from the approaching rocks. On the nearby white beach, crowds of attractive, topless young women bounced up and down, squealing in excitement at the ship’s impending arrival, but then, as they noticed it turning, they began beckoning it for it to come back, bending over at the waist and pointing at their rear ends.
“Sorry guys,” said Kyle. “Maybe on the way back! King Paulus would be none too happy with me if I okayed some R and R during this mission, don’t you think. Besides – look yonder!”
On the horizon loomed dark spires and toothy ramparts under some ominous-looking storm clouds. The lands of Georg were finally within sight.
“I’ll admit, it doesn’t look quite as fun, but the mail always gets through, eh guys? Guys?”
Sir Kyle looked at the empty deck chairs, and then to McStogie, who pointed helpfully to the rail of the ship where the Archduke and The Baron were hastily trying to board a lifeboat.
“Hey!” screamed Kyle. “Back aboard, or I’m telling! Don’t make me count to three!”
The two men sheepishly complied. Sir Kyle sounded like he meant it.
“Baron, you should be ashamed of yourself,” the knight continued. “You need to start pulling your weight! And you, James, with your lies, and random nonsense! Always trying to demonstrate how smart and funny you are! Well it’s not funny, and you ain’t all that smart!”
“Kyyyyyyle — boobies!!” said James, grabbing and twisting the air with both hands and gesturing to the island with his eyes. And tongue.
“Yeah, just for a little bit?” pleaded Wardstein. Kyle only shook his head. “But Kyyyyyyyle!!!!”
“Wardstein, did you just call me…’BUTT KYLE?'”