The action-packed conclusion of Part II is below! Also, check out the link to the GoFundMe below, share, donate, yell your support to the streets, or ignore and read on! All are legitimate choices!
Just a reminder, this is unedited, a rough draft, is the product of too much caffeine and CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR WHITEOUT AND DOWNPOUR. You have been warned!
Links to previous chapters: Prologue,
12. Flight of the Bertha
It is said that the good assassin only needs to shoot once, however it is also said that the persistent hitman gets the kill, at least in the circles I run with. On that day in Tortuga, we were very lucky to have first encountered the persistent hitman. The first arrow missed my head by inches, and came so close, that I heart the hum of the wood through the air as it went.
My first instinct was obviously anger. “You asshole!” I shouted. “I’m not the one that killed her, he is.” I turned to point at Ike, only to find that he was already running down a flight of stone steps that led to the docks.
High on a rooftop behind us, the assassin was already preparing his next shot. I quickly grabbed one of the items Steve had packed us that looked vaguely explosive and lobbed it at the building beneath the assassin. The CIA can pay for that later.
Not looking to see what effect it would have, I took off down the stairs just as the assassin’s second arrow scraped off the stone where I had been standing. A few seconds later, there was a blinding flash behind me, illuminating my silhouette in stark contrast against building before me. Not bad, Steve, not bad at all.
In a matter of seconds, I had caught up to and subsequently passed Ike. “Thanks for the support, asshole.”
“You were going to rat me out,” he panted.
Neither of us were in great shape, and running down the stairs was a precarious endeavor. When we reached the docks, everyone was staring. At first, I assumed it was because of the explosion I had left behind, but then, turning around, I guessed it was the fact that the rooftops were filled with armed men and women.
I dove behind a stack of barrels and covered myself as they shattered to splinters. A hundred arrows stuck in the wood, sending chunks of it spinning into the water. Amazingly, neither Ike nor I were struck, likely to the assassins’ immense frustration.
Meanwhile, further down the dock, the sailors had stopped haggling with James and jumped into the water, trying to swim away from the conflict as fast as they could. Taking the opportunity while the assassins were presumably reloading, I ran up to the next piece of cover, a large stack of metal crates next to James.
“So, did you find us a ship?” The sound of wood splintering on metal rang through the harbor as the assassins fired again. This was followed by Ike scrambling up the docks and sliding into cover with us.
“Well, I was trying to talk those sailors into it, but they’ve backed out of negotiations it seems.”
“Seeing as how we’ve already broken a dozen laws of the black market, I say we just steal it.” Once more, we were going to have to deal with the repercussions after the fact. The sound of running footsteps on wood sealed the deal. “Alright,” I said, taking another explosive from my pack, “When I throw this, we run to the boat.”
“Couldn’t we just stay here for a while where it’s safe?” Moaned Ike.
The pounding of footsteps on the dock made it a certainty that it would not be safe for very long. “On the count of three.”
“Just throw the damn thing,” said James.
I obliged, chucking the small grenade over the cover to the surprised yells of those on the other side. A few seconds passed, and then, just as before, there was a blinding flash of light and a deafening explosion. The dock rocked back and forth uncomfortably as though it would tip, but then settled.
James had already began to run.
I followed, and Ike ran, cursing, behind me.
It did not take us long to reach the ‘ship’ James had chosen, and luckily the assassins were either blind or losing interest. My money was on the first. James turned up the gangway of a large, armored, tugboat with “Bertha” spray painted on the side in dripping red letters. The hull had been retrofitted with thick, armored plates, giving the front the appearance of a sharpened plow.
“What the hell is this?” I asked, running up the plank after James and climbing aboard.
“A ship that met all the specifications you laid out. Look at her, she’s practically a tank.”
He wasn’t wrong. Every piece of the boat looked tough as if it were built to withstand many beatings before breaking. “It doesn’t exactly look fast,” I commented.
“Well I’m sorry, Nick, I didn’t know we were going to be outrunning assassins again!” He began untying ropes from the dock, preparing the ship to leave.
“Have you seen Lopsang yet?” I asked.
James shook his head absentmindedly. The assassins were beginning to cover, and while not quite in arrow range, were quickly moving into position. I looked around the multitude of docks, looking for any sign of Lopsang. At first, all I saw were the multitudes of men and women, lining up along the shore, and picking their way through the debris of the dock to get to us. Not wanting to be boarded, I picked up a large plank and hastily pushed us away from the dock.
“What about Lopsang?” asked James, starting the boat’s engine. It practically roared. The entire boat shook with the force of it.
I continued to scan the other docks, and then, I saw him. Running down a parallel dock, holding what appeared to be a metal pyramid covered in wires and clamps, was Lopsang. Luckily, the assassins were too focused on us to see him, but I knew that wouldn’t last for long.
“Think you can pull us up over there?” I pointed to the dock Lopsang was running down. Boats bobbed close together on either side, leaving no room for us.
James kicked the boat into gear and it began to turn, lazily toward the other dock. “Time to see if this plow is worth the money they wanted to charge me for it.”
Bobbing in the middle of the bay, the sailors cursed and screamed at us as their precious Bertha pulled away. The assassins continued to fire arrows from the docks, but Bertha’s thick hide kept us safe so long as we were willing to dock. Even the glass cabin appeared to be made of shatter-resistant material, as the arrows just bounced off it, thankfully leaving James unharmed at the wheel.
“You may want to hold on to something,” he said through gritted teeth.
I poked my head briefly above the side of the ship to see where exactly we were headed and immediately grabbed on to one of the ropes traversing the deck. James had us angled to nose directly in between two large sail boats that looked outfitted for pleasure cruising. Lopsang was standing on the dock, waving his arms as if to suggest it was a terrible idea, but we were really out of options.
The docks weren’t that far apart from each other, and it didn’t take long for the assassins to catch on. Like ants, they all swarmed together and began running for the other dock. Likely there was a price on our heads, and only the killing arrow would get paid.
Bertha was moving slow, as tugboats were known to do, and as such, it felt like it took forever for the impact with the dock to come. When it did, the deck lurched briefly beneath me, but then there was the sound of breaking wood, and Bertha moved forward as if nothing were in front of her.
“Knew I picked the right one. Lopsang, climb aboard!” yelled James, tossing a rope down. “Nick, help him get that thing on deck.”
“On who’s authority?” I didn’t much like taking orders from James, even if they were necessary.
“On the authority of the captain of this ship!”
I scowled. “We are going to have a serious talk about that title later.” I scrambled across the deck, reaching over the railing to grab the metal pyramid out of Lopsang’s hands. There was the tinkling of metal on metal as the arrows began to fly again. With a mighty heave, I pulled the pyramid on deck, nearly dropping it.
“What the hell is that thing made of?”
“Materials that took me a long time to acquire,” said Lopsang, falling over the railing and pressing himself flat to the deck. Arrows began to arc over the railing and stick in the boat’s wooden bow.
“James, time to go!” I yelled, and James slowly began to pull away from the dock.
In between volleys of arrows, Lopsang and I scrambled to the back of the boat and into the safety of the glass-encased captain’s booth. Ike was curled on the floor, cradling a bottle of brown liquid. I grabbed it from him, to weak protestation, sniffed it, found it was alcoholic and took a long swig. “Oh yeah,” I sighed. “That burns like the good stuff.”
“Good to see nothing has changed,” said Lopsang, snagging the bottle and taking a drink of his own.
“Guys, I don’t mean to interrupt this tearful reunion, but where the hell do we go?” James had managed to turn the boat around and we were heading out of the harbor, much to the chagrin of the killers waiting on the docks.
I grabbed Ike by his shirt, and pulled him to his feet. “Show us how to get to the locks, Ike, and maybe we’ll let you off the boat when we get out of here. Outside, arrows continued to pelt the surface of the boat, getting uncomfortably close to the gun bags we had left on deck. “I swear, if they damage my purchases…”
Ike pointed meekly toward the waterfall. “The locks are behind there.”
“Jesus, don’t be so mopey, Ike. You just survived an attack from the clan of assassins.” I passed the bottle back to him.
“It’s not often I come so close to death,” he seethed. “I’m sorry that I’m not as used to it as you lot.” His hands shook around the bottle as he drank from it. “I told you, I’m a pacifist. All this violence doesn’t sit well with me. I watched a woman die earlier today!”
In a place like the black market, it seemed strange to find someone so soft. “Alright, calm down, Ike. You’re right, that’s a lot for one day.” The farther we got from danger, and the more I had to drink, the more I found myself prone to some form of empathy or another. “But, you did survive, so try to focus on that.”
“Alright,” mumbled Ike.
“Oh, and Ike?”
Ike looked up like a hurt puppy dog.
“Don’t ever screw us like this again or the next time, even if we do escape, I’m going to kill you myself.”
Ike nodded silently and took another long drink.
We rounded the waterfall, and saw on the backside, a long, wide tube made entirely of glass.
“That the lock?” asked James.
“Yes, pull up in front of it and the gate should open.”
Slowly, James turned the tug to move behind the waterfall entirely and then a section of the glass tube slid down into the water. If driving a large hunk of sharp metal into a fragile container that held our escape bothered him, James didn’t show it. He seemed totally at ease as the captain of the ship. I didn’t much like the title change, but I couldn’t complain with his abilities.
We pulled into the lock without incident, and the glass slid back into place behind us. Below, water began to roil and bubble as more was fed into the chamber, and then as if lifted by invisible hands, we began to ascend. Through the breaks in the waterfall, I could see the wreckage we had left the dock in, and the groups of assassins waiting patiently in case we decided to return.
“Well, that makes two black markets we can never come back to,” I said with a whistle.
“At least you didn’t get shot this time,” said James.
I clutched at my shoulder involuntarily, feeling the scar that remained from the arrow wound I had received. “If I never have to deal with ‘Dr. Lopsang’ again, it will be too soon.”
Lopsang laughed. “Hey, did your arm fall off?”
“No, I suppose it didn’t.”
“Then I still have a hundred percent success rate.”
We all laughed. It felt good to be laughing together again. Despite the challenges that likely lay ahead, we always worked better when we were together. Despite myself, and the danger that lay in the days ahead, I began to smile. Something about the group just felt right, aside from Ike that was. I knew that if we were going to succeed, this was our best chance at doing it, and if we were going to die, at least we were all going to be dying together.