Lute. Part Twenty

Both time and allies begin to run out for Lute and Sincerity, as escape becomes the only option on a vessel out to sea.

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Blind panic was not in Sincerity's character, but the desperation in her run spoke otherwise. Lute would never have thought it of her, but he would also never have thought it of himself. He was terrified - running for his life.

Their silent guardian angel, bow in hand and eyes everywhere, led the way. Her more talkative companion had fallen back to cover their retreat. They were not succeeding in being quiet. Footsteps were heavy and fast behind them, hunting their prey like wild boar in the Spring; the very best for their master's table. Dress, both blades drawn, had fallen back out of sight with their rearguard, leaving something of a gap right behind Lute. He had never been a fan of the woman, but the fact that she was no longer there to defend them was far from helpful.

Severely limited below decks, it wasn't much of a surprise when the crew member leading the way waved them to stop, get down and be silent with a single gesture. She had stopped herself and, though there were still footsteps chasing behind them, they did as they were told. Her motions became almost feline; sudden, silent and elegant. She moved down to one knee, notched her bow and waited.

Thankfully, the men that appeared in the distance did so by coming out of another of the vessel's numerous trap doors. Everything from their attire to their behaviour showed that they were crew. Their guardian offered several quick hand gestures, still holding her arrow prepared with one of her hands, and the message was received quickly. The mingled expressions of sadness and fury gave a good hint to Lute of what had been said. In the next moment, the armaments and intentions of those there became obvious, and they split up and spread out.

The crew were planning to rally in the name of their defeated Captain.

That task complete, she rose again to her feet and stamped three times, paused, then another three times on the floor beneath her. This was confusing until, not two feet from where they were standing, another trap door opened a crack, then all the way. They were standing over a tiny compartment, ideal for the sort of smuggling that Captain Joseph had obviously heavily engaged in. There were two men and a woman inside, all damaged, gruesome and likely too old to really work such a ship anymore. This was as good a retirement job as any.

Again, the message was passed on, even while the footsteps behind them grew louder and louder. Without a single word, their guardian organised some sort of ambush, then led Lute and Sincerity on farther down the corridor, pushed them back against a wall and knelt down in front of them. The trap door closed so tightly that it seemed to disappear.

The first set of footsteps on the charge behind them turned out to be the more talkative guardian, sprinting back towards them with Dress close behind and running backwards. Four soldiers of Truth were coming up behind them, armed with broadswords or daggers and charging desperately towards their opponents. They didn't go as far as they wanted to; the three guardians of Lute and Sincerity saw to that. The moment that the two archers came back together, the talkative one shouted Dress down and they let fly their arrows, seconds before the compartment beneath the feet of the soldier came open, and the ambush went off perfectly and without a hitch. Four of Truth's guard - eternally silenced.

Dress returned to her feet quickly and smoothly before drawing up close to her owner. "I would suggest that we return to a retreating position, my lady," advised Dress, returning her blades to their sheathes. "We need to get ourselves under cover in order to strengthen our defensive position."

"That's fairly pointless now," their more talkative archer guardian told them all. Behind her, the three crew members that had been hidden beneath the floorboards clambered out into the corridor, swapping words about the Captain. "The entire crew are going to be mobilising now, and if we all end up going down, this ship isn't going anywhere. If they want a mutiny, they're going to get it."

"Truth came in another ship, didn't he?" asked Lute. "Where's that now?"

"He'll be holding it in retreat to swoop in and pull him off if things get really ugly," Sincerity answered quickly and quietly. "It's one of our Father's lessons. Fire is the answer to anything. If things go too bad, he can always just step off and set the entire thing alight in the water. It'll go down and nobody will be any the wiser."

"Well, what about you?" Lute countered.

This brought about a confused look on Sincerity's face. "What about me? There's nothing special about me to my brother. He's set himself a job in coming here and he won't leave until it's done, one way or another."

From halfway down the corridor, making all but Dress jump, another voice spoke. "There is no chance of failure," it said, "our lord has almost collected all that he intends to take with him."

They had not seen his approach, but Lute immediately recognised the single soldier approaching them slowly as Aureon, Truth's highest ranking military officer. The battle scars, greying hair and eyes bearing all the hatred of the world were unmistakable.

Dress' armaments were back in her hand instantly. She stepped in front of Sincerity and moved into a hunter's crouch, obviously ready to lay down her life in defence of this woman. Aureon was not amused.

"I've seen you training handmaiden," he announced, growling through sharpened teeth. "Your skills are paltry at best. Release your burdens into my charge and you shall be justly rewarded."

"Move on," Dress whispered towards Lute and Sincerity. "Move on or die here." Her words showed fear, even if her actions spoke only of confidence and courage.

The elderly smugglers, trapped between the two warriors, made a bid to escape behind Dress' fighting posture. Meanwhile, Sincerity had a rushed conversation with her servant that Lute didn't hear.

"You will be discovered again, my lady," Aureon shouted over them, correctly guessing their intent. His voice carried well, and would quickly alert others as to their location. "You would do well to-"

Dress' movements were so swift that Aureon was caught completely off guard, even before he had drawn his weapon. She moved with a bound, on all fours like an animal and leapt at her prey, spinning her body to give momentum to her weaponry. He dodged her initial arrival, but fell foul of her flailing fist as she came back around and stumbled backwards.

This gave him just the time that Dress didn't want to give him. He reacted with a punch of his own through Dress' open guard, but she took a lithe leap backwards to evade the blow, leaving Aureon free to unleash his broadsword.

Sadly, he did not get the chance to use it. While preparing to strike, Dress darted in beneath his range and set her right handed blade through his sword-bearing left wrist. He cried out in pain, but this was silenced when her remaining weapon met his throat and quickly parted it. Both weapons came free of their motions with her turn back towards those that she was protecting. With nothing holding him up, Aureon's lifeless body fell in a heap to the ground.

"We need to go," Dress reiterated. "That is the only advice that matters."

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