“Vinci?” I ask quietly.
“No, you’re not hallucinating, I’m pretty sure he’s real,” my captain responds, staring, just as I am, at the guy who’s come aboard.
“GREETERLINGS!” the flamboyantly dressed man booms. “I AM SPINOLA MAURICE, COMMANDER OF THE FOURTH COMPANY OF TERCIO MERCENARY ENDEAVORS. FIELD MARSHAL GRENZER WISHES TO INVITE YOUR OFFICERS TO HIS VESSEL, THE OFFSHORE BATTERY , TO DISCUSS A MUTUALLY BENEFICIAL FINANCIAL ENDEAVOR.”
“My ears are bleeding…” one of the crew mutters.
“So are my eyes,” another adds.
I close my eyes, trying to un-see the image of someone who dresses like a colorblind peacock who’d careened through a paint store. I am not particularly successful.
Christ, I think Ivankov was more restrained, at least he was being deliberately campy and ridiculous, rather than...whatever the hell this guy is. So many layers and all of them clashed with each other…
“Kaneki, snap out of it,” Vinci says. I open my eyes, and grimace. Still horrifying. Bearable, but horrifying.
“DO YOU ACCEPT?” Maurice booms.
“First, stop shouting. Second, yes, now where the hell is your ship.”
“PRIMUS, I AM NOT SHOUTING. I AM MERELY EXERCISING THE MIGHT OF MY PERFECT VOCAL CORDS. SECUNDUS, LOOK TO YOUR LEFT.”
Then I turn back, and glare at Herman from where he’s manning the ship’s wheel. “How did you miss something like that? ” I growl, pointing at the fucking battleship hovering off our port side. Seriously, it’s a full-sized battleship, and I’m fairly certain I can see traces of the old Marine paint underneath the coating of black and yellow bands on the hull. Probably stole it, just like us.
“I didn’t miss, I just didn’t tell you,” the dogman says smugly. “We’re supposed to be working together, aren’t we?”
Vicni facepalms. “Kaneki. Just get us onto that ship. I am almost entirely fed up with this diurnal duration.”
I think about the brand on my chest and the mask that is most definitely not coming out of its black box, and nod in sympathy before pushing out four tails and pulling my mask on. “If you’re coming along, grab a tail,” I growl.
Jack gives the proffered appendage an askance glance before reluctantly grabbing hold. Vinci seems to have no such compunctions.
A-one and a-two...I leap off of Ends Justified , and land smoothly on the deck of the... Offshore Battery . Men in uniforms- yellow and black stripes on the shirts, black trousers- scatter as I let Vinci and Jack put foot on the deck before letting the tails dissolve away.
The walking fashion flashbang lands on the deck next to us just as easily. Hmph. Was hoping he’d have to swim back. No such luck I guess.
“THE FIELD MARSHAL IS BELOW. THE OTHER CAPTAINS, AND THE CLIENT, SHALL BE JOINING US SHORTLY. MY FELLOW COMPANY COMMANDERS ARE ADDRESSING THEM.”
“Are they all this loud?” I mutter.
“Why’re we the first?”
“YOUR VESSEL WAS CLOSEST TO OUR OWN GLORIOUS TRANSPORT. NOW FOLLOW.”
I give Vinci a raised eyebrow, but he follows the riot of color, and so Jack and I follow as well.
I hope this doesn’t go poorly.
Konig Grenzer was an old man. Unlike some of the old men who insisted upon sailing the seas, he was well aware of this fact. His fists could still shatter stone and his vision was still keen, but every day he was a little bit weaker than the day before. Still, forty years of mercenary work meant he had a wealth of experience few men could match.
Among the many skills and talents he’d amassed over the years, was one that had served him particularly well- the ability to read people at a glance. And he employed it as he swept his eyes across the assembled captains that had heeded his call, and his own officers...who stood behind the captains, ready to strike if one of them did something...foolish.
The first to catch his eye was Quare ‘Toll’ Doppel, captain of the Gear Pirates, and his second in command Foglio ‘Bronze’ Clare, 48 and 18 million, respectively.. The captain was a blunt-faced, serious man, his dark brown trench coat unremarkable, the outsized tuning fork he carried habitually at his side, within easy reach. He was passive, but wary. He wouldn’t strike first. Foglio, by contrast, was clearly on edge, the sounds of grinding gears clearly audible from within the bronze armor that covered him. Behind them, Adolphus Gabriel, his Second Company Commander, stood quietly, immaculate in his grey suit and tie as always. The small and utterly inoffensive man met Grenzer’s eye, and nodded almost invisibly. Good. The Gears were tractable.
Next was the hooded and cloaked form of Arnor ‘Strider’ Skantarios, his features invisible under the all-concealing off-white fabric. The captain of the Ranger Pirates was a 39 million enigma, with none of his crimes listed on his bounty poster. Perhaps merely being a pirate was enough. It would not be the first time. Even with his features hidden, though, nothing escaped Grenzer’s eye. The man was at ease here, confident- or arrogant- enough in belief of his abilities that he didn’t care if he was walking into a trap. A glance at the stocky form of his Fifth Company Commander, Tromp Werth, told him more. The comically short, heavily bearded man eyed the captain with barely concealed disgust, hands on the hilts of his axes. Hmph. The Rangers would be arrogant and insulting, then. That, he could handle.
The man next around the table resembled Werth greatly, if one took his subordinate and stretched him on a rack. A gigantic man, his horned helmet and shaggy blond beard almost completely obscured his face. Eric ‘Hard’ Knutte, the 51-million captain of the Steel Shield Pirates, was experienced, Grenzer would admit. His small flotilla of South-Blue-originating raiders had caused trouble up and down the Line for years. Behind him, Gustavus Frederick, the Third Company Commander, was utterly at ease in a tank top and shorts. The man grinned behind his sunglasses, and leaned against the wall of the room, unconcerned. That meant the Steel Shields would follow, which made sense. Knutte was not an imaginative man, and he’d follow the money.
The Client was next to meet Grenzer’s eye. A rich man, but nervous to be in the same room as so many deadly individuals, even with his armored guards. His name didn’t matter. He was simply the Client, and that meant Tercio Mercenary Endeavors would follow his money. Behind him, Ivan Wallenstein, his First Company Commander and most trusted subordinate, met Grenzer’s eye, and gave him a slow nod. Hrrm. Good, the man actually had the money on board his vessel to pay their price, and the price for all the captains as well.
Last, and in Grenzer’s opinion, most worrisome, was the trio Spinola Maurice had brought in. The Nightmare Pirates. New names. The captain grinned back at Grenzer, a shock of black hair topping a face laced with scars. Grigori ‘Alley Doc’ Vinci, a bounty that had jumped to 38 million but a few days before his crew had come to Turtle Bay. Yoshimura ‘Butcher Bird’ Kaneki, first mate, worth 26 million, and a cannibal. Rubeus ‘Thundering Hammer’ Jack, worth 12 million. The lowest bounty of the captains, but only a few months old, while all the others were known quantities, people who’d had careers in the Blues for years before entering the Line. He’d sent Maurice to them to provoke a reaction, but judging from the flamboyant man’s unusual stillness, they weren’t operating as expected- by which he meant, violence and slaughter.
Vinci met Grenzer’s eyes, and the pirate’s irises burned gold.
Grenzer smiled. Brat had spine, at least.
“Gentlemen,” he said slowly. “Welcome. Marquis,” he added, looking at the client. “Would you kindly explain the contract?”
The Client twitched, then looked around at the various pirates quickly. “Y-y-yes,” he stammered. “I-” He stopped. Swallowed. “I am the Marquis de la Hablarpublico, Minister of the Doge of the Spice Archipelago. The Doge has been dealing with unrest for some years now, but now...now something has changed. Edwyn Roberts, a magnate of industry, has thrown his coin and power behind a rebellion, seeking to usurp the Doge. He has hired a wide variety of blackguards and mercenaries, since the stalwart forces of the Royal Guard are more than enough to put down his pathetic followers. I have been authorized to hire whoever is willing to fight for the Royal Army, to counter these pirates.”
“How much we talking?” Jack asked, leaning forward in his chair.
“Fifty million as an advance, per crew. An additional hundred upon the rebellion being crushed. And...six hundred million to whoever brings the Doge the head of Roberts.”
A surrussus ran through the room at that.
Grenzer linked his hands together and leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Tercio Mercenary Endeavors has five hundred men, and experience in large-scale deployments. I motion that I shall take command of our combined forces. What say you?”
The captains considered.
Knutte grinned. “For a hundred and fifty mil? I’ll follow that, old man. Just don’t fuck up.”
Skantarios nodded. “Acceptable,” he rasped.
Doppel frowned. “You waste my men’s lives, I’ll be unhappy,” he warned. “But fine.”
Vinci...Vinci looked at Grenzer, expression blank. Then he nodded, slowly. “You’ve got the highest bounty, don’t you? Hundred and twenty-one million,” he said with another sudden grin. “Don’t get that without being smart. I’ll follow.”
Grenzer clapped his hands. “Excellent! Now...what are your capabilities? We need to know how many men we have on hand, and how good they are, after all.”
Conversation began, and Grenzer relaxed a bare fraction. This was just another campaign. No more, no less.