Melee on the Docks, Butcher’s Bridge, A Barrage
I’m coughin’ up black. The smoke from the warehouse fire is tearin’ my lungs to shreds, but I don’t have time to catch my breath. T.F.’s getting away, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna spend another dog’s age chasin’ him all over Runeterra. It ends tonight.
The bastard sees me coming. He shoves a couple of dock hands out of the way and runs off across the wharf. He’s trying to work his escape card, but I’m keeping the heat on him, so he can’t focus.
More Hooks swarm around, like flies on an outhouse. Before they can block his path, T.F. tosses a couple of his exploding cards and takes the thugs out. A few Hooks are an easy fight for him. But I ain’t. I’m comin’ to get my due, and T.F. knows it. He scurries down the wharf as fast as he can.
His scuffle with the dock boys gives me just enough time to catch up. He sees me and darts behind a huge hunk of whale spine. A blast from my gun shatters his cover, filling the air with shards of bone.
He answers by trying to take my head off, but I shoot his card in midair. It explodes like a bomb, knocking us both on our asses. He scrambles to his feet first and takes off. I fire Destiny as fast as she’ll shoot.
Some Hooks close in on us with chains and cutlasses. I turn quick and blow their insides out their backs. Before I can hear the wet slap of their guts on the dock, I’m spinning on my heels. I take aim at T.F., but I’m clipped by a shot from a pistol. More Hooks, and these are better armed.
I duck behind a piece of an old trawler’s hull to return fire. My gun just clicks. Gotta reload. I slam some fresh shells into the cylinder, spit my anger onto the floor, and wade back into the chaos.
All around me, shots and bolts burst through wooden crates. One of ’em tears a chunk of my ear off. I just grit my teeth and plow forward, squeezing the trigger. Destiny is chewin’ up everything. One Jagged Hook loses a jaw. Another is blasted into the bay. A third gets torn into a red sheet of muscle and sinew.
I snap around to find T.F. escaping deeper into the slaughter docks. I run past a fishmonger hanging up scavenger eels. One of the beasts is just skinned, its innards still spillin’ onto the dock. The monger turns on me, swinging a meat hook.
I take off his leg.
I follow up with a shot to his head.
I shove away a stinking razorfish carcass and keep moving. The blood is ankle deep, some of it from the fish and some from the Hooks we’ve gunned down. It’s enough to give a dandy like T.F. fits. Even with me on his tail, he slows his stride to keep from messin’ up his skirts.
Before I can close in, T.F. kicks on into a gallop. I can feel myself losing wind.
“Turn and face me!” I holler.
What kind of man don’t own up to his problems?
A noise to my right draws my attention to a balcony holding two more Hooks. I fire, and the whole thing crashes to the docks.
The gun smoke and debris are so thick, I can’t see a damn thing. I run toward the sound of his lady boots thudding across the wooden slats. He’s makin’ for Butcher’s Bridge at the end of the slaughter docks - the only way off the island. Damned if I’m letting him get away again.
As I reach the bridge, T.F. skids to a halt, halfway across. At first, I think he’s given up. Then I see why he stopped: On the far side, blocking his way, there’s a mass of sword-wielding bastards. But I ain’t backing down.
T.F. turns back only to find me. He’s trapped. He looks over the side of the bridge, down at the water. He’s thinking about jumping - but I know he won’t.
He’s all out of options. He starts walking toward me.
“Look, Malcolm. Neither of us needs to die here. As soon as we get out of this-”
“You’ll run again. That’s all you’ve ever done.”
He don’t answer. Suddenly, he ain’t so worried about me. I turn back to see what he’s fixed on.
Behind me, I see every lowlife that can carry a blade or pistol storming onto the docks. Gangplank must’ve called in all his boys from across the city. To keep going’s a death sentence.
But livin’ ain’t the most important thing to me today.
Closing In, Above the Abyss, Taking a Dive
They’re in no rush, the Hooks. Not anymore. They know they have us trapped. Behind them, it looks like every rat-stabbing cutthroat in Bilgewater has shown up to the party. No way back.
On the far end of the bridge, blocking my escape into the maze of Bilgewater’s slums, is what appears to be the whole Red Caps dock gang. They rule the east side of the waterfront. Gangplank owns them, just like he owns the Hooks and nearly the whole damned town.
Behind me, there’s Graves, stomping ever closer. The stubborn son of a bitch doesn’t care about the mess we’re in. It’s amazing, really. Here we are, yet again, like all those years ago. Deep in the muck, and he just won’t listen.
I wish I could tell him what really happened back then, but there’s no point. He wouldn’t believe me, not for a second. Once something’s lodged in that thick skull of his, it takes a while to shake it loose. And we don’t have a while.
I back up to the side of the bridge. Over the rail, I see the winches and pulleys suspended beneath me - then the ocean far below. My head spins, and my stomach drops into my boots. As I stagger back to the middle of the bridge, I get a full view of how bad a spot I’m in.
Looming in the distance is Gangplank’s black-sailed ship. From it, a damned armada of boats is closing in below, rowing hard. Looks like all of his men are heading our way.
I can’t get through the Hooks, I can’t get through the Caps, and I can’t get through Graves’s pig-headedness.
Only one way to go.
I step up onto the railing of the bridge. We’re even higher than I realized. The wind whips at my coat, making it snap like the sails of a ship. I should never have come back to Bilgewater.
“Get the hell down from there,” says Graves. Is there a hint of desperation in his voice? It’d break him if I died before he got the confession he wants so much.
I take a deep breath. It really is a long way down.
“Tobias,” Malcolm says. “Step back.”
I pause. I haven’t heard that name in a long time.
Then I jump from the bridge.
The Performance, An Observer, Into the Night
The Brazen Hydra was one of the few taverns in Bilgewater that didn’t have sawdust on the floor. Drinks were rarely spilled, let alone teeth, but on this night, its patrons could be heard all the way to Diver’s Bluff.
Men of some repute, and even greater means, were turning the air blue with wondrous songs of the very worst acts.
And there, in the middle of them all, was the conductor of the night’s revelry.
She twirled, toasting the health of the harbor master and all his watchmen. Her lustrous red hair whipped around, captivating the eyes of every man in the room, not that they had been looking at anything other than her.
No glass had been allowed to run empty all night - the crimson-haired siren made sure of that. But it wasn’t the dulled senses of every man in the room that drew them closer. It was the promise of her next glorious smile.
With merriment still shaking the tavern, the front door opened, and in stepped a plainly dressed man. Inconspicuous to a degree that only comes from years of practice, he walked to the bar and ordered a drink.
Among the clumsily assembled gallery, the young woman grabbed a fresh glass of amber ale.
“My fine fellows, I’m afraid I must take my leave,” she said with a flourish.
The men of the harbor guard responded with loud bellows of protest.
“Now, now. We’ve had our fun,” she said, chiding them amiably. “But I have a busy night ahead, and you are all so very late to your posts.”
She hopped onto a table without missing a beat, before looking down upon them all with triumphant glee.
“May the Mother Serpent grant us mercy for our sins!”
She smiled her most captivating smile, raised the large tankard to her lips, and then downed her ale in one tremendous gulp.
“Especially the big ones,” she said, as she slammed her glass on the table.
She wiped the beer from her mouth to a rapturous roar of approval and blew a kiss to all.
Like servants before their queen, the room parted.
The door was held open for her by the gracious harbor master. He hoped to garner one last glance of approval, but she was lost to the streets before he could look up from his unsteadily courteous bow.
Outside, the moon had dipped behind Freeman’s Aerie, and the night’s shadow seemed to reach out to meet the woman. Each step that she took from the tavern became more purposeful and surefooted. Her carefree veil dissolved, and her true self was revealed.
Her smile, her look of wonder and joy, were gone. She stared grimly, not seeing the streets and alleys around her, but looking far beyond to the many possibilities of the dark night ahead.
Behind her, the plainly dressed man from the tavern was gaining. His footsteps were silent, yet unnervingly swift.
In a measured heartbeat, he put his stride in perfect unison with hers, just off her shoulder, out of her periphery.
“Is everything in place, Rafen?” she asked.
After all these years, he was still taken aback at how he could never surprise her.
“Yes, Captain,” he said.
“You weren’t spotted?”
“No,” he bristled, reining in his displeasure at the question. “The bay was free from the harbor master’s eyes, and the ship was as good as empty.”
“And the boy?”
“He played his part.”
“Good. We meet at the Syren.”
At her word, Rafen broke away and disappeared into the gloom.
She continued onward as the night wrapped itself around her. Everything was in motion. All that remained was for her players to begin the show.
The Dive, The Finest Pair of Boots, Oranges
I hear Graves roar as I dive off the bridge. All I can see is the rope beneath me. No need to think about the fall or the bottomless black depths.
Everything is a blur of rushing wind.
I nearly scream with joy when I catch the rope, but then it burns into my palm like a branding iron. My fall stops with a snap as I slide to the bottom of the looping tether.
I hang there a moment, cursing.
I’ve heard that dropping into water from this height normally won’t kill a man, but I’d rather take my chances on the stone loading dock that’s at least fifty feet straight down. I’ll die, but it’s a damned sight better than drowning.
Between me and the stone platform, a pair of heavy-duty cables run from here to the mainland, one forward, one back. Crude, noisy mechanisms power them. They’re used to transport rendered down parts of sea beasts to the markets in Bilgewater proper.
The cables strum as a heavy rusted bucket, as big as a house, grinds its way toward me.
I let a smile creep on my face for a second. That is, until I see what’s in the cart. I’m about to drop feet first into a seething vat of rotting fish spleen.
It took me months to earn the coin for my boots. Supple as gossamer and sturdy as tempered steel, they were crafted from the hide of an abyssal sea drake. There are fewer than four pairs in the whole world.
I time my jump just right and land in the middle of the chum bucket. The cold slop seeps through every hand-stitch of my prized boots. At least my hat’s clean.
Suddenly, I hear that damned gun bark again.
The mooring line explodes.
The cart groans as it slides free from the cables. The wind’s knocked out of me as the bucket slams into the stone platform. I feel the foundations of the dock shake before everything flips on its side.
The world falls over my head, along with a ton of fish guts.
Struggling to stand, I look for another way out. Gangplank’s launches are closing in. They’re nearly here.
Dazed, I drag myself toward a small boat moored on the loading dock. I’m not halfway there when a shotgun blast rips its hull wide open, scuttling it.
As the boat sinks, I drop to my knees, exhausted. I try to catch some breath over my own stench. Malcolm stands over me. Somehow, he made his way down, too. Of course he did.
“Not so charmin’ now, are ya?” Graves grins, looking me up and down.
“Are you ever gonna learn?” I say, rising to my feet. “Every time I try to help you, I-”
He fires into the ground in front of me. I’m pretty sure I get a chunk of something in my shin. “If you’d just list-”
“Oh, I’m all done listenin’,” he interrupts, grinding out the words. “The biggest score of our lives, and before I knew it, you were gone.”
“Before you knew it? I told you-”
Another blast, another shower of stone, but I’m past caring.
“I tried to get us out. The rest of us saw the job was going south,” I say. “But you wouldn’t back down. You never do.” The card’s in my hand before I realize it.
“I told you then, all you had to do was back me up. We would’ve gotten out clean – and rich. But you ran,” he says, stepping forward. The man I used to know seems lost under years of hatred.
I don’t try to say anything else. I can see it in his eyes, now. Something’s broken inside of him.
Over his shoulder, a glint catches my eye - it’s a flintlock. The first of Gangplank’s crewmen are on us.
Without thinking, I flick the card. It slices toward Graves.
His gun thunders.
My card takes out Gangplank’s man. His pistol was leveled at Malcolm’s back.
Behind me, another member of his crew slumps to the ground, a knife in his hand. If Graves hadn’t shot him, he could’ve had me, cold.
We both look at each other. Old habits.
Gangplank’s men are all around now, crowding in close, howling and jeering. There’s too many to fight.
That doesn’t stop Graves. He brings his gun up, but he’s out of shells.
I don’t draw any cards. There’s no point.
Malcolm roars and goes at them. That’s his way. He shatters one bastard’s nose with the butt of his gun, before the mob beats him to the ground.
Hands grab me, pinning my arms. Malcolm’s hauled to his feet, blood dripping from his face.
Ominously, the hoots and hollers from the mob around us fall silent.
The wall of thugs parts to reveal a red-coated figure striding toward us.
Up close, he’s much bigger than you’d imagine. And older. The lines of his face are deep and chiseled.
He’s holding an orange in one hand, slicing off its skin with a short-bladed carving knife. He’s doing it slow, making each cut count.
“So tell me, boys,” he says. His voice is a deep, rumbling growl. “Do you like scrimshaw?”