Curiosity’s Kindling – Chapter 1

”Fear and Ignorance are like poverty and hunger; one almost always finds them together.”

For as long as men have attempted to understand the world which they tread upon, the unknown has borne them more fears and monsters than any implement of war in the hands of their opposing kinsmen.

Yet even as the light of progress has made away with many a shadow of the unknown, many others it has made grown even longer, giving place to many dark corners no one dares to go beyond, and bestowing upon said shadows the same brands of fear and superstition they once put upon those now bright places.

Nonetheless, there’s never been a shortage of those who plunge headlong into such darkness…

”There she is, sir. I hope you weren’t expecting much more.” Said the harbormaster nervously as the man next to him laid eyes upon the moored vessel.

The man in question gazed at it with narrowed eyes and an expression of doubt as he reached within one of the pockets of his patch-heavy coat, producing a handkerchief he used to wipe the lenses of his round spectacles a few times before pushing them back into his face with his left middle finger, and resuming his narrow-eyed stare.

”A sternwheeler.” He said, awash with shock and disbelief, as he turned over to face the harbormaster, ”I got her as payment for a loan I made to a certain unsavory fellow, who claimed to have nothing else to pay me with, so I had assumed it would be a weathered, nearly-sunken derelict from fifty years ago. But now I find myself in the ownership of the kind of decently-sized paddle steamer one would expect to find hauling goods from upriver….” he added, in mild bewilderment, ”So, now I ask you sir, if this was meant to be a scam, shouldn’t I be the victim and not the conniver? Because it certainly looks the other way around.” there was a strange mixture of surprise and suspicion in his words.

The harbormaster let out a long, tired sigh, followed by a hollow smile. That was the face of someone whom had been through this very same situation more times than he cared to remember.

”Looks can be deceiving, sir; there’s much more to a ship than what meets the naked eye. And since you don’t look like the seedy sort, I’ll be blunt with you….”  replied the harbormaster as he took a deep breath.

”She’s cursed, Mr. Tobias; this ship, the Caliginous, has been afflicted by a dread curse after she almost sunk five years ago. Since then, no one had remained its owner for more than a few months. So, even if it didn’t look like it, you are at the short end of some bastard’s scam. You have my condolences.” said the harbormaster in a tone of pity.

”….. Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.” Tobias said that with a deep frown.

”I am not joking, Mr. Tobias; I wish I was, but I am not. I don’t know what manner of tragedy might have taken place onboard such fine vessel, but-” The harbormaster began to apologetically explain, until Tobias motioned him to stop.

”No you twit, just what are taking me for? Some toddler who believes in the boogeymen? Because I have never seen or heard of anything in this world having its price reduced to less than a fifth of its real value because of some faery tale.” Interjected Tobias, now feeling like he had been made a fool of, but in a very different manner. His manner of speech also took a sudden turn.

Again, the harbormaster sighed while hollowly smiling. ”The previous owner told me something quite similar, Mr. Tobias. And the one before him, and the one before that one…. The list is long. ” He added, a pitying look upon his face.

”There’ll be a first time for everything, mate.” Boasted Tobias, adjusting his coat.

”Now, enough with the faery tales, time for some hard facts.” he with a weary sigh, ”What can you tell me of this vessel? Is its engine functional? And how many men would it take to operate it?” he pulled out a tattered notebook and a pencil as he made his questions.

The harbormaster took a few steps towards the moor, gazing at the Caliginous with pity.

”Fifty feet long and twelve feet wide. A decently sized hold. An engine capable of producing an average speed of seven knots with an empty hold, good tailwind and going downstream, and of three knots when loaded to max capacity, going upstream and against the wind. The engine is remains fully functional as far as the last report I received, and while it’s technically possible for a skilled seaman to keep this vessel running on his own, you do not look like such, so at the very least, I would advise you to hire a stoker to keep the firebox hot. That is, if you can find anyone either crazy or desperate enough to accept your offer.” Explained the harbormaster as he read the papers he was holding.

”So, now for my own questions, what purpose do you plan to use this vessel for? If it’s moving cargo or passengers, you’ll need a few additional permits.” He added as he turned over the page on his clipboard.

”I plan to make it me new home.” Tobias replied, ”I am a chemist by trade and pyrotechnician by hobby, but me years-long research on explosives and regular experiments involving volatile substances have costed me more than one house in the past, as well as bestowing upon me an undeserved reputation of arsonist. So since I am not wanted in most neighborhoods, I figured I could just live on a ship by the bay, which not only provides me with the relaxing solitude of the calm seas but also greatly reduces the chances of me accidentally setting a whole city block on fire….. again.” A creepy smile found its way to his face as he finished that sentence.

Upon processing these words, the harbormaster’s face underwent a strange metamorphosis, shifting from incredulous to bewildered, and then to an expression of pity and resignation.

”… It seems like a curse far worse than the one you already bear has fallen upon you, lass. I wish you the best of luck.” The harbormaster didn’t speak to Tobias, but to the Caliginous itself, ”And to you, Mr. Tobias, I merely beg you to not set the docks on fire, I already have enough troubles to deal with.” he added and with no further comment, he left Tobias with his new ship.

”Daff olde git.” Muttered Tobias under his breath as the harbormaster turned around.

”Oh, and one last thing.” suddenly, the harbormaster spun on his heels, looking back at Tobias, ”You will find that a small room by the end of the cargo hold that has been barricaded shut. According to the previous owners, you’d best leave it like that lest you want the curse to grow even worse. That’d be all.” and with these words delivered, he took his leave.

”… Daff. Olde. Git….” Tobias repeated himself under his breath, now punctuating each words for emphasis, ”Only curse I see here is called stupidity. And I doubt any exorcism will be ever able to lift it.” he added with a sigh.

~~~

A coterie of brawny men, fidgeting like maidens. And Tobias furrowing his brow.

”Can we just leave them all here on the deck? T-The inside will get cramped if we bring them all in.” Asked this musclebound dock worker as he hastily put the box he was carrying down.

Tobias sighed ”Alright, you big pussies. You can leave the boxes here. But, I will pay you only half of what we agreed, and you will take the desk to the captain’s quarters or no pay at all.” he said, embittered. The men he had just insulted looked strong enough to kill him with just one blow, yet they all trembled like rabbits in front of a wolf.

The stories of the Caliginous ‘curse’ had quite a far reach, apparently.

The dockworker looked back at his mates, who looked nervously from the gangplank as they held some more boxes. They hadn’t even summoned the courage to step into the ship like their leader had.

”Very well, sir. But only if you go with us.” Replied the dock worker as he motioned his mates to bring in the desk quickly.

The captain’s quarters laid at the end of a long corridor, flanked by two common bunk rooms for the other sailors.

Tobias was at the vanguard, with three of the dock workers carrying his hefty desk. They looked more nervous than soldiers in a trench, waiting for the next artillery salvo to end their lives.

”So… now I warn you….” Said Tobias all of a sudden as he put his hand on the door’s pommel ”If when I open this door you wet crumpets get scared of a shadow that moved behind it and drop the desk, I will have you bring each and every of the boxes to the lowest hold.” he spoke with a sadistic smile, fully enjoying to see the men behind him hold their breaths.

*Creoonk*

The door opened with a squeak, and nothing else, but they still rushed to get in, leave the desk. Running away once it was in place. Not because of fear alone, but because the sun was setting and they wanted to get all the boxes and furniture on board before nightfall.

Those boxes were all that remained of Tobias’s belongings after his house had been consumed in a fire. They were many and of varying sizes; some were tall and long like coffins, while others were perfectly square. What they all in common was that many of them had scorch marks around the edges.

”Milksops, nothing but milksops. Did all the men with actual balls get drafted to the frontlines while I wasn’t looking?” Muttered Tobias as he returned to the captain’s quarters, now his own.

”Hm?” something caught his attention. Something that wasn’t there a moment ago.

On top of his desk, there was one piece of paper, with one word crudely scrawled onto it with a soot-stained finger.

‘LEAVE!’

That was a pretty clear message.

”Not going to happen, wanker!” He shouted at nobody in particular ”And if yer trying to get me shittin’ bricks, you’ll ‘ave to do more than that.” added Tobias as he turned around, towards the corridor.

*Creek-WHAM!!*

But the door suddenly flew backwards, slamming him in the face and almost digging his spectacles into his face.

On the door was yet another paper, this time with a badly drawn gauntlet on it and the word ‘FINE!’ on top of it. That was a declaration of war.

”… A’ight chav, you got yourself a challenge.” Said Tobias as he adjusted his spectacles, ”Nobody conks Tobias Bancroft and getts to keep all of his teeth.” he added, cracking his knuckles.

However, as he had began elaborating his vengeance, he realized that, on the dusty floor, besides the big tracks left behind by both the boots of the dockworkers and his own, there was yet another set of tracks, a much smaller one, hugging the walls like a thief sneaking.

”Looks like this is a ghost with legs. How unusual.” He thought, sarcastically, as he began to follow the tracks, stepping softly and slowly, but then he realized that just following them would not do and shifted his strategy.

”Well, I think I’d better leave for tonight.” and then he said that aloud.

*Tap, tap, tap*

A few rushed steps could be heard from the upper deck, or at least, that was what Tobias thought at first. There was a speaking tube connecting the captain’s quarters and the pilothouse above, and the sound of the rushed steps had come from it.

”Just what do we ‘ave here?” Mused Tobias as, carefully stepping, he walked over to the speaking tube and brought his ear to it. The almost inaudible but unmistakable sound of a hushed breath could be heard on the other side.

”Hmm……” A wicked idea crossed his mind as a dastardly smile crept into his face as he breathed in.

”BOO!!” Shouted Tobias into the speaking tube in a manner quite childish.

*Twam! Clunk! Trup, tuk tuk.*

Something clearly got quite a jump scare, leaping from the pilothouse into a nearby lifesaver, and sending the later crashing down onto a pile of rope coils and canvas not too far outside of the corridor.

That same ‘something’ was now squirming and struggling against the whole proverbial predicament it had tangled itself up into.

”For a tricksy ghost, you were pretty easy to catch, chav.” Said Tobias as he grabbed the squirming shape within the canvas and began to pull it out, ”Now I hope your bum’s ready for a sound spank….ing?” but the moment he unwrapped his visitor, he came to realize this was no runaway street urchin.

Her body was tiny indeed, as well as the tarnished and soot-stained overall she was clad into, along with some brass goggles. And her green, fox-like eyes had a deep contrast with her bright, almost fire-colored red hair…. and the clearly-not-human-ears that protruded from under it.

”What in bloody ‘eck are ya?” Asked Tobias in bewilderment.

*Twap!*

A knee found its way to Tobias’s crotch.

”Heheh, I’m the girl who just kicked your balls off.” She said as she freed herself from his grip.

”Blimey, you’re a feisty one.” Muttered Tobias as he knelt while holding his man-bits.

”That’s what ya get for underestimating me.” Added his tiny attacker as she took a few mocking steps towards him.

”Tee hee.” Tobias let out a rather childish giggle. This drew her even closer as she prepared to do something else to him, but he was faster.

Using the short distance between them, Tobias leaped forwards like a wildcat, tackling his attacker and pinning her down in a rather wolf-like manner.

”Augh!” she was unable to dodge him, ”Let go off me, you asshole.” she was a lot stronger than she seemed to be, but even that wasn’t enough to escape Tobias’s iron grip.

An evil grin found its way to Tobias’s face, ”You’re quite the troublesome git, eh pygmy? You scared away the laborers I hired, you door-slapped me face in, you almost broke me bins, and because of you I’m probably gonna have some serious swelling in me goolies for at least two days now.” he said without losing that creepy smile, although there was pain behind it, ”Now, I’m sure you realize the situation you’re into, yes? If I were to deliver your bound body to those guys out the dock you scared out of their wits, I’m sure even slaves would pity your punishment.”

She tried to struggle a bit more, but it became pretty obvious she wasn’t going to break free.

”But!” he exclaimed, suddenly shifting his tone, ”It was thanks to your fear-mongering that I was able to get this ship for the price of a stale crumpet, meaning I owe you in a certain way and I am a man who always honors his debts.” His manner of speaking now sounded overly overacted.

”So I ask you now, half-pint ball-bruiser, what should I do with you? At the very least, I’ll grant you the privilege of choosing your own final fate.” He asked after that long deliberation.

A short moment of silence went by. ‘Let go off me!’, ‘Don’t kill me’ was all he was expecting from her.

”….. Just do whatever you want. If you’re gonna kill me, just get it done quick. From the moment you grabbed me, I knew I had failed my promise to protect her…” She said with a sulk.

That wasn’t the answer he expected, and it certainly took him by surprise, enough to spark his curiosity.

”Hm, that’s an interesting proposal.” sulking his shoulders, he let go off his grip on her, ”If I let you go, what would you do?” Tobias asked, gazing at the confused expression of the girl in front of him, whom hadn’t fled or even gotten up; she was just as dazzled.

”Heh, you fool. Shouldn’t you have asked that before releasing me? D’ya think you’ll be able to catch me again? Think I’ll fall for the same trick?” She flaunted as she arose from the floor, still a bit stunned from her previous restraining.

”Mm, nah. You probably won’t, unless you’re too distracted, or drunk maybe.” replied Tobias as he reached into his pockets, produced a pipe and a matchbox, and proceeded to light the former with the later, all with surprisingly deft movements, ”But then, while I no longer look the part, I was a trapper in my youth-” he added. ”And that was just one of many tricks that still inhabit the inner lining of my sleeves.” He inhaled from his pipe deeply, then exhaled a thick cloud of smoke from mouth and nose alike, ”You still haven’t answered my question, shorty sortie.”

”Hmph!”  She grinned, showing some rather sharp canines, ”I just have a promise to fulfill; one that involves safekeeping this vessel.” her reply was quite cryptic, ”And while you don’t look like a honest sort, you don’t look like a tattler either, despite how much you flap your gums.” her eyes had a strange glint to them, like the glow of ceramic baking in a kiln.

There was still a bit of a distance between them, but neither looked like it would try to fight or flee.

”Would me humble craft getts in the way of that promise, or mayhaps the other way around? Because if the answer is ‘no’, there ain’t really nothing to keep pissing about.” Asked Tobias as he brought his still-lit match back to his pipe.

”You a sailor or something?” Her answer was yet another question.

”What do I look like to you?” So he played her same game. She wasn’t amused.

”A foolish chimney sweeper short of his brush?” And she countered with a smug smirk.

Tobias smirked back to her, took a step back, straightened his coat’s collar and produced his matchbox yet again. This time, he slowly removed a match, held it upwards on his left hand, and flicked its head with other hand, lighting it.

”This is my craft.” He announced proudly, ”Fire, embers and conflagration. And all the science behind the force that set men and beast apart. That what keeps my life burning…. if you pardon the pun.” his words filled with grandeur.

”So, what? You play with fire? Kinda creepy what those folks out there do for a living.” the disillusion oozed from her words.

Tobias’s reaction was merely a blank expression and a tired sigh. ”Bloody typical.” He thought; he was used to that kind of treatment.

”So, what do you say, bird? I have no intention of burning this ship down, in the same way no one pisses on his own booze.” He asked as he tossed the lit match overboard.

”Hmm….” sitting down, she mumbled, ”What are your terms, fire guy?” she added with a ponderous expression.

”I just want to continue my work, without getting my face smashed in or my goolies kicked in. And if we were to move the ship, I would like your help stoking the firebox.” Said Tobias slowly and methodically, ”Those are me terms in broad strokes, what are yours?” he added.

*Grrrugggle*

She was about to say something, but the roars of her stomach beat her to it.

”I can feed ya if yer peckish.” He said in mild amusement.

”……………….. Fine.” Her reply came after a long silence, ”But I have more conditions than just a bowl of some chow.” With those words, she climbed on the handlebars of the short ladder leading to the pilothouse and faced towards him; she was surprisingly nimble.

”That’s fine. Like I said, those were just the broad strokes; feel free to elaborate.” Replied Tobias as he adjusted his spectacles.

”Three things.” She counted out her fingers.

”One, don’t bring other humans on board, specially below decks.”

”Two, no scraps of food, but no need for a full course; just share what you have for yourself.”

”And three, lemme use your tools and the materials of your ‘research’. Don’t worry, I will always ask first.”

Slowly, she laid down her terms, counting them on her fingers yet again. Tobias replied with a nod and a whiff of his pipe.

”Number one’s easy, and it’ll enforce itself. Number two I don’t mind, as long as you’re not greedy. But number three…..” That last one made him doubt.

”What are you planning on doing?” He asked, rubbing his chin.

”Ya’ll see for yourself; there’ll be no secrets on what I do with them as long as you share.” She replied as he jumped off the handrails.

”Hazel.” Wiping her hand in her clothes before offering it, she made her introduction.

”…..” Tobias silently gazed at her outstretched hand; the cogs in his mind turning at full power, many of them in opposite directions, releasing sparks of doubt.

”Other people are nothing but trouble.” That was chief amongst his thought; one of his life philosophy’s cornerstones. It wasn’t the first time that a ‘comrade’ or a ‘friend’ had offered him to work together, only for all of them to end in disaster and even blood.

However, there was something about her that drew him in; something in those vivid green eyes, like a kiln made of emeralds, that clawed into his soul for that tiny speckle of trust that was still hidden there somewhere.

”Hm, I guess it’s too dry of a deal. Shall I put a cherry on top of it, then?”

With these word, and before Tobias could counter with any of his own, Hazel slid out of the straps of her overall, revealing the fact that there was no extra layer of cloth covering her body beneath it.

”How about this? If you’re ever feeling bothered, I can relieve you of those urges; I may be no fancy dish with this scrawny body and rough hands of mine, but I can work more than just tools, and I’m mostly free.” She playfully stuck her tongue out.

If Tobias eyes had widened any more, they would’ve fallen from their sockets.

”Tosh! Put that away!” Tobias shouted, shocked beyond belief, ”Blimey! Of all the cussin’  ever thrown at me, never had I been thought to be a paedophile. Piss off! I’m not that sort of deviant!” he added, his face noticeably flustered.

”Imma’s old as you, y’know, and you wouldn’t be the first one to take my offer either.” These words struck him like knives.

He had to turn his head away forcefully; his unconscious tendency to quickly scrutinize anything he laid his eyes upon had just backfired on him. Her body was indeed short and stocky, but not lacking adult maturity underneath her clothes. That thought alone burnt thru his mind like a brand as she delivered her last statement.

”Look, tart, I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that, and if you wanna me keeping me end of this bargain, ya’ll quit that shite!” He continued to look away.

”Hmph! Have it your way, friend. The goods are here if ya ever change your mind.” Replied Hazel as she covered herself up.

”Cor, blimey….” He muttered under his breath.

”So, since you won’t take that currency, how about you do me a favor instead-uhh… watcha said you were called?” It was then when she realized her introduction had been one-sided.

”Just call me Tobias.” He finally turned around, ”So watcha want, bird?” His voice didn’t sound disinterested as much as it carried the grumpiness of being made a fool of a moment ago.

”Something only you can do….” Replied Hazel with a grin.

An unusual partnership had just been born. Emphasis on partnership; as ‘friendship’ wasn’t exactly the right choice of word.

~~~

*Tup, tup, tup, tup.*

The sound of each step filled her ears as she walked down that same old corridor that used to be so dusty she could feel it crunch under her bare feet, her eyes darting around at the familiar yet now different ambience.

Years of dust and cobwebs had been swept away. Lamps repaired, refueled and lit. And even some windows which had long since gunked up with soot, salt and grime now laid open, refreshing the place with the crisp sea breeze.

”She looks better now than she has in years.” Hazel muttered, ”Who would’ve thought that shabby type would be such a neat freak? Truly, looks don’t mean a thing in this world.” she continued as she approached to the door of the captain’s room. The sound of bubbling liquids can be heard coming from behind it.

”Hey big guy!” She opened the door without knocking, shouting that phrase.

”……”

Only silence replied, along with the hiss of a bubbling beaker.

Hazel looked somewhat irked.

Tobias, on the other hand, looked focused beyond words on the chemical reaction he was working on.

”…. Dontcha know is good manners to look at people who’s talking to ya?” She added, standing on the tip of her feet to try and see what he was doing.

A clear liquid with some oily egg white-like substance in the bottom rested in the flask at one of Tobias hands as he slowly poured the contents of the boiling beaker into it.

”And if me bloody hands bodge-job this one, won’t be any left of us to feed the fish, let ‘lone bury.” Tobias replied, his voice distorted through the cloth that was covering his mouth and nose.

Hazel leaned onto a nearby wall, remaining dead quiet until Tobias finished whatever he was doing.

”So, watcha need, birdie? If yer lookin’ for what I promised, dekko over there.” He pointed to a nearby countertop as he put out the fire in his bunsen burner.

On top of the counter, there was one single sheet of paper, covered in official-looking writing.

”Harbourmaster gave me the barmy look when I show’d up, and when I said that one name, he was one prayer short of dousin’ me with holy water. That aside, it was easy peasy.” Added Tobias as he took off his gloves and mouth mask.

Hazel walked up to the counter and began reading the paper on it…. or at least, so it seemed.

”Did I cock up on somethin’?” She was focusing so hard on the paper it made Tobias worried, so he asked.

”Nah, I’m just not so good at reading handwriting. But I got the gist of it.” Replied Hazel, satisfied. ”The Laurette is herself back again.” she added with a fangy smile.

”Mmm,  good name for a ship, and easier on the tongue too. What in bloody ‘eck’s a ‘Calignous’ anyways? Sound to me like something you’d catch on your man-bits after shaggin’ one too many unwashed slags.” He added as he reached for his pipe, which was resting on a small copper holder.

”Beats me” she replied with a frown, ”The fatso who renamed her like that thought that he could turn her into a floating circus; a ‘a haunted ship instead of a haunted house! I’ll sell millions!’ he said, tsk! I still remember his stupid face as he lost all his money hiring exorcists.” a tiny pride-clad smile replaced the sulk as she climbed onto that countertop, which wasn’t exactly easy for her given her short legs.

Tobias looked at her silently as she sat there, cross legged, giving the renaming certificate yet another slow read.

That image of her coming out of her clothes still clung to his mind like a barnacle to a hull, and just as difficult to remove. And this was not aided by the fact she still lacked any sort of undergarments; and depending on her position, certain bits became visible or slipped out. Just as they were at the moment, and upon realizing he was looking at them, he shook his head brusquely.

”Hm? What’s the matter?” Hazel noticed his shrug, and inquired. Her fur-covered ears perking up a bit, like those of a cat.

”Just ’em fumes ‘ere. Even after all these years, they still make me dizzy now and then.” He rapidly dodged the issue.

”What was that stuff you were brewing? Looked like some kind of oil or tallow.” She asked as she neatly folded the piece of paper and placed it in one of her pockets.

Tobias smiled as he silently lifted the bottle containing the yellow-ish white liquid he had just concocted from the table.

”Nitroglycerin.” Tobias boasted, ”Easily one of the most interestin’ explosive substances ever devised by man; no need for fire, primer or fuse, just toss it ‘gainst the ground and a mountain will go missin’. H’wever, it’s also that quality that has prevented its widespread usage, even as a tool of war. What use is a grenade that will ‘splode from just shaking around as the soldier runs through the field?” he added as he carefully put the bottle inside of a tiny iron lockbox box full of raw wool.

”Oi, then why are you making such dangerous thing?” she looked a bit nervous.

”’Cuz I got a buyer for it; bloke I know runs a minin’ syndicate that’s big ’round these parts. I provide him the ‘splodey stuff, he provides me with saltpeter, sulphur, ammonium and even some exotic fuels or other odd minerals his workers may unearth.” as he sealed the lockbox.

”… Exotic fuels, you said?” Something had piqued her interest yet again, ”Wadda ya call an ‘exotic fuel’?” she added, her ears perking up.

”Just what’s on the label, birdie. Weird things that burn and keep burning. How long and how hot is what makes them unique.” His reply was vague not because he was disinterested, but because he himself did not know the clear answer. ”Ya sound like there’s somethin’ in particular in ya mind, yes?” he added as he took a long whiff of his pipe.

”Mm, I do.” She suddenly became serious.

She put her hand in one of her pockets and produced a pair of what looked like some kind of 7-pointed stars made of some kind of multicolored-gemstone enveloped in what was like some brown-ish yet polished basalt. The colors within the center seemed to dance like flames as the gemstone moved.

”Beautiful…” That word came from bottommost of his soul.

”Ever seen anything like those before?” Said Hazel with a strange sense of urgency as Tobias pulled out a jeweler’s loupe from a drawer and focused on of them.

”Never had b’fore, but I gotta thanks you for showing me this. These colors… they dance… like fire.” He was almost enthralled, ”And I reckon this is some kind o’ quartz; agate quartz or carnelian quartz I’d wager. Although never seen it worked like this, and these ones have lots of tiny cracks inside.” his tone suddenly became quite scientific.

”I… I see. I didn’t even knew what they were called.” Hazel looked substantially shocked, ”They are part of the reason I guard this ship.” and she became serious all of a sudden.

”That’s quite an odd thing. Mind tellin’ me more?” Replied Tobias as he finally tore his eyes away from the gemstone.

Hazel smiled, her sharper-than-average fangs giving her a wolfish yet playful grin.

”Telling alone won’t do; come on, follow me, it’s time for you to meet HER.” She took the stars from his hand and began walking away. Tobias followed in tow, his curiosity now burning like a crater.

~~~

Unlike the higher and more spacious boiler deck, the cargo deck was cramped, dark and bereft of outside ventilation, and as Tobias approached the boiler from behind, the smell of moldy ash and old coals became rather strong.

”I’m surprised ya bringin’ me down ‘ere. Always considered this to be your part of the ship.” Said Tobias as he pulled up the neck of his undershirt to cover his mouth and nose. While he sort of enjoyed the pungent and acrid smells of many chemical compounds, dank, humid and moldy smells were beyond nauseating for him.

”Hey, you let me hang around YOUR part, so I guess this even the scales, no?” Hazel said that merrily; she had become unusually happy, mayhaps even plucky, as she walked ahead of him, holding a lantern. And as annoyed as he was by the smell, he couldn’t help but have his eyes glued to her behind; her ample hips and round buttocks were the biggest evidence she was no child, but he still internally denied it.

”Bollocks…” He muttered to himself soft enough for her not to hear it.

As they reached the end of the hold, right by the boiler’s backside, a particular door came into their sights.

Built from sturdy oak, a long iron latch kept it closed, as did the boards nailed to its edges. Vials of holy water, garlic braids, silver nails, ghost-repelling amulets, and even eastern talismans were either hung from or nailed into it. The words ”DON’T OPEN! HAUNTED!” badly painted in red  adorning its center.

”Blimey, there are at least three religions worth o’ exorcism prayers and superstition here.” Said Tobias in amusement as he held one of the amulets. It was undoubtedly real silver.

A sense of accomplishment could be read all over Hazel’s face as Tobias saw the door; no doubt she prided herself on all the people she had scared off.

”My sanctuary lies beyond.” she put her hand on the door, ”And there’s something I want you to see.” she added, her face suddenly turning serious.

”Fine by me, but how do ya go in? You don’t expect me to unbar all this, do ya?” Asked Tobias as he reached for his pipe and filled it; he just needed something to mask that disgusting damp smell.

”Nope, this way.” she kicked one of the floorboards.

*Grrrk*

And the wall just left of the door slid away. She wasted no time to get in.

”What in blazes…?” Muttered Tobias as he followed her.

Inside it looked like a workshop; a machinist’s workshop to be precise. Two long wooden tables on the sides topped with equally wide wall shelves, all filled with tools, parts and materials of all kinds.

What was on the middle, however, looked different, it was like a doctor’s operating table, and there was a woman’s corpse resting on it. Or, at least he thought it was a corpse.

Upon approximation, however, he came to realize not one inch of her body was flesh. Flawlessly cut and riveted plates of either steel or highly-polished iron, sometimes showing the gears that hid behind, made the entirety of a body modeled after what sculptors often referred as ‘the ideal figure’. He wanted to believe that she was man-made, but the craftsmanship was so perfect he could not fathom it being made by humans.

”Suzette, I’m back, and I brought a visitor.” Hazel’s words broke Tobias out of his reverie.

He was about to ask something to Hazel, but a third voice took his place.

”That would be a first time, sister.” Her voice sounded soft and pained, but also carried an air of class and elegance, like a princess trapped in a tower.

”That thing is alive!?” Tobias blurted that out without even thinking.

*Twak*

A heel to the toes, courtesy of Hazel.

”Ow! Whatcha doin’?” He yelped at the pain.

”Rude! Didn’t you hear me say her name!?” said Hazel back to him, cheeks puffed in a pout.

”Sorry, luv. Took me by surprise.” Tobias replied, unusually embarrassed.

”It is alright…. with all these years unable to move, I may as well be a corpse or a statue… So I care not how others may see me…” Suzette replied, her voice tired and heavy.

”Don’t say that! I’m know we’ll find a way to restore your body back to how it was.”

Standing next to her, Hazel spoke in the way one only hears nurses talk when giving hope to a terminally sick patient; a hollow yet resounding hope.

”You have been saying that for a long time….” she doesn’t buy it, but she just goes along.

”I’m not lying, he just looked at the Cores, and he said they were Carnelian Agates or something, so I’m sure I can find a place to steal some soon enough and make you some new ones using the Master’s equipment.”  added Hazel, now brimming with determination.

”… Is such a thing true..?

Making a considerable effort, Suzette turned her head to look at Tobias, looking at him in the eyes.

Pain, sadness and desperation; they were all so strong in her gaze that it almost hurt. However, now there was a glimmer of hope; it hadn’t been there before.

”Not quite.” Replied Tobias, to much of Hazel’s horror, ”I know for certain they are an odd quartz, either Carnelians or Agates, but I am not yet sure of which one, could even be neither of those.” he could just not lie to those eyes.

Hazel was glaring furiously at him and looked almost ready to kick him out, but Tobias’s words got ahead of her.

”However, I do know of someone who will be able to tell me for certain. I could easily ask him about it.” He added, displaying his confidence despite the awkwardness of his words; for him to suppress his accent was no small feat.

”Hmm….. At least you are sincere.” She said with a weary sigh. ”May I know whom I am speaking to?” her manner of speaking was like that of a noblewoman. Again the image of the princess in the tower crossed his mind.

”Tobias.” he said as he took a deep breath, ”Chemist by trade, pyrotechnician by hobby, and owner of the Laurette by an odd blend of chance, luck and misfortune.” his sentences with short pauses in between to avoid his usual manner of speech.

”….” Suzette kept looking at Tobias with a discerning gaze, while Hazel was so tense she may as well not be breathing. The silence alone was maddening.

”Can you…” Suzette finally broke it, ”… really find a replacement for those stones?” her question was heavy with doubt, but also a palpable sense of hope.

”I do not know.” Tobias replied slowly, Hazel panicking again, but he ignored her.

”Like I said, I can find out what they really are, and since the man who will be telling me such is a miner, he may also tell me where to find them or how much they are worth.” he continued, slowly, ”However, I will make no promises of results beyond my inquiries. A promise is something not to be made lightly, and I cannot make those on hope alone.”

”… You are not very encouraging…” said Suzette with a sigh, ”But at least you don’t lull me with empty hopes and uncertain resurances.” she added as she painstakingly turned her head back to her previous upwards position. However, with that last sentence, she had landed her gaze on Hazel, whom recoiled from it as if it had been an actual blow.

”I am feeling tired now, please leave me to rest.” and with those words, she closed her eyes.

”…” Hazel silently retreated from the room, pulling Tobias from the edge of his jacket. Her formerly angry expression now crestfallen.

”Suzu… for how long…?” she muttered to herself as she leaned onto the hidden door as she closed it.

”Long ’nuff for her to stop believin’ ya, bird.” replied Tobias as he lit his pipe again; he was back to his usual speech.

”It ain’t me nature to prod in other folks life, but seems to me like ya’ve pulled a whole herd’s worth of wool over her eyes, ‘aven’t ya?” he added, tossing his match away. Hazel just stood there, looking down; it was like she had her soul ousted out of her.

”Still…” he let out a puff of smoke with that word, placing his hand on her shoulder, ”Imma gonna give you a hand with this. Not for ya, but for ‘er… I know better than many what it’s like to lock’d up in some cupboard… wouldn’t wish that for Devil ‘imself, b’lieve me.” there was something deep in those words, but he was not showing it; he never showed others his weaknesses, not even those he held close.

”…”

Still silent, Hazel looked up at him. Her eyes wide and teary, but also with a sense of guilt, like a child caught hands in the cookie jar. He couldn’t help but think she looked really cute like that, but that thought was quickly pulled out.

”Haahhh….. don’t gimme that butcher’s hook, duck. Me ain’t some saint.” He said as he straightened the ends of his jacket’s collar. She had seen his soft side, and now he was annoyed with it.

”Now, hand me one o’ those pointy shards so I can ‘ave ol’ Bowman put his good eye to ’em.” said Tobias as he extended his right hand towards her.

”…. Who?” Asked Hazel at the unfamiliar name, putting two of what she called the ”Cores” at his hand.

”One of me buyers. The bloke who asked me to mix him the Nitro-boomboom I showed you. He’ll tell me what these are.” Tobias spoke with unusual confidence as he put the Cores in his pocket. Hazel’s face still wore a dumbstruck expression.

~~~

The cacophony of a few dozens voices, chatting, drinking, laughing. They all seemed to die down the moment he walked by them, like he was an avatar of silence.

Without much difficulty, Tobias made his way through the relatively crowded tavern with ease, as guests and wenches alike seemed to part at his walk like the waters before a prophet.

”Bloody typical.” He thought to himself as he sat on an empty table near the back end.

After a short while of quiet, the clatter resumed, which was around the time a young, nervous barmaid dared to approach him. And her face looked like she had just drawn the short end of a stick.

”Two pints, ale, good stuff, and quick.” Said Tobias as he tossed a silver coin towards her, which she took and ran back to the kitchen.

The mugs arrived shortly thereafter full of frothy and spice-scented ale. He usually only drank the cheap stuff, but today was special.

*Creeonk*

The doors opened with a creak, and the figure who made his way inside made the tavern fall to a death-like silence.

Probably around seven feet tall and of a remarkably wide build; like a coffin standing upwards. But his build was promptly ignored by whomever look at him above the waist.

A scar, like jagged cliff wall of fleshy rocks, covered two thirds of his face and neck, devoid of the eye, ear, and part of the forehead that had the misfortune of being on his right side. His right arm but a stump, hidden within a tied long sleeve, and his right leg sporting a polished steel peg-leg from below the knee.

To call him half a man was borderline accurate.

”Bowman! C’mere, ‘ave a seat.” Tobias called him out, mug in hand. And he walked slowly towards the table, aided by the polished steel cane he held on his left hand.

”You are early, Bancroft. Surprised to see you at all; rumor has it the Calignous now has a new owner, and he likes to play with fire.” He said as he sat down and picked up the other mug.

”Word travels fast, doesn’t it? And she’s got a new name now.” Replied Tobias after another sip. ”So, got what we agreed?” he added as one of his hands disappeared in his pocket, producing the tiny iron lockbox which contained the nitroglycerin.

”Hm.” Bowman nodded as he did the same, producing a small leather box, which he put on the table right next to Tobias’s lockbox.

”Feel free to count it up.” Said Bowman as they both pushed their boxes onto the other.

”No need for that, mate. Ya trust me, I trust you. And trust is more valuable than gold nowadays, and prolly just as rare.” Tobias pocketed the leather box as he spoke, ”Still, got something I’d like ya to eye out. It’s from another request I got.” with those words, Tobias produced one of the Cores, which made Bowman’s last remaining eyebrow to dart up.

”Rubellite Tourmaline.” Bowman said, picking it up, ”Never seen one worked like this, however. Craftsmanship is superb.” he added as he rubbed the Core with his thumb before bringing it to his nose and inhaling deep.

”Ya really know yer stuff; thought it was an agate.” Said Tobias with a smirk as he had yet another swig from his mug ”Wadda ya know ’bout them?” he added.

”A mineral as magical as it gets; if you fancy the term. It possesses a faint yet unique magnetic power; capable of attracting small particles like ash and metal shavings, but only if these are hot. It can also generate a spark strong enough to ignite gunpowder if you strike it the right way. It is a popular tool of charlatans to display ‘magic powers’, as well as creative gunsmiths trying to device new ignition mechanisms, and if mind serves, there was once a religion down south that said these were the blood droplets of their war god.” explained Bowman in a manner worthy of any scholar.

”Still, not very valuable as a gemstone; hence not many on the market, but easy to obtain if you know what hole to poke your head in. Do you need these for some explosive or detonator?” Asked Bowman, now rather interested.

”Nay, they’re for a trade in with som’one. More like payin’ back for a favor ya could say.” Tobias replied, and Bowman lifted his eyebrow once again.

”Hmhm, quite odd a taste in jewelry.”  Replied Bowman with a humming nod, ”Then again, you are an odd man so to have a… what is your word? A missus, is it? An odd one fits you well.” He has a tendency to pause between phrases.

”W-w-w-what in bloody ‘eck ya yammerin’ mate!? W-What missus?” Tobias was caught completely off guard, his accent fully blown.

”That gem carries the essence of a woman, which also lingers enough onto your clothes for me to feel it, mainly on your hands, and the things you touch.” Said Bowman as he scratched his missing eye socket, ”It was an unknown scent, first thought was most certainly a streetwalker, but there are not many brothels in this city, and I know most of them, that scent did not match any girls there.” he added, to much of Tobias’s shock.

”Sheesh, ya a bloodhound or somethin’? Tobias asked, masking his embarrassment with doubt. He couldn’t tell if Bowman was telling the truth or just bluffing.

”Hah, when you lose one third of your senses, the remaining ones tend to get sharper. You’d be surprised of how much the world speaks with scents alone.” there was an odd form of pride in Bowman’s words. Tobias just sighed, admitting defeat.

”I wouldn’t call ‘er a missus, mate. More like a bruv who ‘appens to have baps on ‘er.” He said as he reached for his drink again.

”Is she… that bad to look at?” Asked Bowman as he leaned his head, also reaching for his mug.

”Nah, she’s fit, just not me type: I like ’em big ‘n bouncy, not small ‘n lanky, and don’t mean ’em baps.” Added Tobias, finally emptying his mug.

”I usually don’t have much of a chance to choose.” Replied Bowman as he ran his hand over his scar, bits of dry tissue wriggling on his face like worms. ”I will keep my eye out for any tourmalines and their prices. Will send a messenger your way when I do.” he added as he got up from his chair extended his hand towards Tobias.

”Deal, and I’ll give ya a small discount off your next batch.” with those words, Tobias shook Bowman’s hand.

”Anyway, evening’s young and ale’s good, so let’s not waste it.” Added Tobias as he raised his empty mug, calling for the wench.

Many more pints would follow.

~~~

Tobias got out of the tavern feeling somewhat dizzy, but Bowman could barely coordinate his steps; his peg leg and cane not making it any easier, he had to walk slowly to retain his balance. One handshake and a farewell later, they both headed their own ways, stumbling.

”Heh, all that size and ya can’t hold yer liquor, bruv. Guess when ya only have one leg’s pretty easy to get legless.” Muttered Tobias, laughing as his own joke as he walked past a tiny alley separating the tavern from a some other establishment.

*Shwap!*

But just as he crossed it, a short shadow blurred past him, knocking him so slightly.

”Oi! Watch yer-” He did not even got halfway through his sentence when he realized he was one purse short, and he wasn’t drunk enough to not give chase ”Cor! C’mere ya dipper!” and without waiting a split second, he ran into the alley after the shadow.

However, he didn’t need to go too far; as soon as he turned around at the end of the alley, a hooded figure waited there, toying around with his purse.

”Fufu… you really should be more careful when you go around deep in your cups; had I been a real pickpocket, you would had lost more than just coin.” a familiar pair of emerald-green eyes gazed back at him from under a hempen hood.

”…. Hazel…?” The name came out slowly, as he doubted his eyes, ”Watcha doin’ out ‘ere?” he added.

”Hm, I wonder. I was just fooling around, getting some grub, picking some pockets; just a honest day of work.” she spun Tobias’s purse in the air with a smirk before she handed it back to him. ”But above all that… I think I owe you an apology.” her voice turned serious all of a sudden, ”I doubted your words, when I am the big fat liar.” added Hazel as he took off her hood.

”Pfft! Only yer hips are fat, duck. That aside, ya one skinny jerky.” he was clearly drunk, otherwise he would had reacted differently to her expression.

”I’m not joking.” she said with a stern expression, stern enough to make Tobias focus his mind.

”Hahhh… Lemme sit down ‘fore I drop down like ripe fruit.” He practically collapsed against the wall. Hazel sat next to him, looking particularly pensive as she reached for a small paper-wrapped package.

She quickly opened it to reveal three thick and lightly smoked strips of pork.

”Bacon?” Said Hazel, pointing one of the strips towards Tobias’s face, ”It’ll clear your head a bit.” she added while using her other hand to put another strip on her mouth.

”Sure do.” he took it and started chewing. Maybe it was just how hungry he was but the bacon tasted unusually good.

They both sat there for a while, chewing the meat away, not saying a word.

”So-” It was Tobias who first broke the silence, ”What were ya sayin’ while ‘go ’bout an apology or somethin’?” he said as he wiped his hands on his pants. Hazel looked down a bit as he spoke.

”… I’m sorry…” She said almost despondently, ”I just came to realize I am a terrible person…” her voice slow, as if sinking. ”After you left, I followed you around because I thought you had been lying about going to meet someone; thought you were going to sell it and make and excuse. And then when I saw that man….” She hugged her knees, ”… I thought all my fears were true.” she added.

”Ya know Bowman?” Asked Tobias, raising an eyebrow.

She replied with a slow nod, ”He… is one of the previous owners of the Laurette… and the reason I scare people away.” her words were heavy with a mix of sorrow and guilt. Tobias merely widened his eyes.

”I won’t tell you what happened, but he was too close to finding where Suzu is, to the point I had to actually attack him…” her words heavy with guilt, ”He didn’t show up at all for a while after, which made me thought he had bolted out, then he came back one last time to sell the ship; his wounds were fresh then…” she added as she licked the remaining fat off her fingers.

”Was a minin’ accident; he told me once. Bomb went off on some bloke’s pack, who was standin’ almost next to ‘im. Only he got outta dodge, barely. ” commented Tobias as he looked at her.

”Still, when I saw you with him… I thought you were going to tell him about Suzu and me…. my mind spun all these crazy theories that you had been working together to draw us out and the like, so I hid under a nearby table just as you pulled out the Cores and….. Heard everything you said…” she evaded his gaze.

”Sorry, duck. Didn’t knew ya-.” he did not finish saying that sentence.

”What is a ‘fit’ woman?” she asked all of a sudden as she turned back to look at him, cutting him off. Tobias’s mouth opened, but no words came out of it.

There was a short yet awkward silence. The expression in Hazel’s face was of genuine curiosity and a pinch of tricksy that showed she already had an idea of the answer.

He took a deep breath, ”Use yer imagination; I ain’t sayin’ nothin’.” he was noticeably flustered.

”…Do you find me… that ugly?” Hazel’s face now changed into a puppy-eyed expression, droopy ears and all. But this had also made her usually boyish and snarky face look strikingly feminine.

Tobias sighed; he wasn’t immune to such technique, but he would not go down so easily ”And am I such a spruced up dapper ya keep tryin’ getts yer mitts on me todger?” he said, looking the other way. He was too proud to let her see the slight blushing in his cheeks.

This time it was Hazel who let out a sigh.

”We…. are pretty much the same.” she began, ”We believe the world is against us, we distance ourselves from those who seem friendly, and we live in constant fear that any of them will betray us at any moment’s notice; there can be no love in this world we live in…” once again she looked away, but not to avoid Tobias’s gaze, but staring far into the infinite; as if her eyes tried to pierce the veil of clouds above.

”However…” she reached out for his hand, which was resting on the ground, without looking at it, ”That doesn’t mean we can’t indulge each others in a momentary fancy, fueled by nothing else but lust and desire.” with those words, she brought his hand to her chest. It was small, no doubt, but there was enough of a bump underneath her garments to be called a tit, and then there was the beating of her heart, racing like that of a hunting dog.

This sound raced to his head, teaming up with his minor inebriation to chip away what little restraint he had left.

”Ah, bugger it all!” he cried out, before he quickly changed the grasp she had on his hand in his favor, pulling her close, and ravaging her mouth with a kiss. Her mouth taste kind of salty, most likely due to all that bacon they had both been munching, however it didn’t take long for her to start tongue-wrestling back, dancing with his.

”Pah…. ya really should become a peddler, luv. With haggling skills like that, you could sell ice in the northern kingdoms, and coats at the deserts in the south.” Said Tobias as they finally let each other’s go. She still looked a bit dazed, as otherwise she would had snarked back.

”However, before we start shaggin’, lemme make two things clear; one, Imma not fond o’ doggin’ it out ‘ere, I like to bone in a bed like most folk do, and two… I’m half hammer’d down, so next time you ask me for a shag, I may say no again.” he said as he held her in his arms, over his lap, which was already pitching a sizable tent.

”Deal!”

*Thud*

She pushed him down with this word; she was stronger than she looked.

”That only means I gotta make this so good ya’ll be craving for more, eh?” said Hazel as she tossed away her cloak, grinding her crotch against Tobias’s still-covered manhood.

Even through both layers of clothing, he could feel her heat of her womanly bits, and her ragged breaths fogging his glasses a bit.

”Here, lemme ‘elp ya.” with those words he undid the straps of her overall. She slipped out of her clothes with remarkable ease, most likely thanks to the fact she wore only one layer of them.

Her breasts were the size of ripe apricots, and about as firm, which gave her a juvenile look that was in stern contrast with her ample, child-bearing hips, with a tuft of fire colored hair adorning her womanhood in a shape that reminded Tobias of a gas lamp.

”Yer surprisingly light, bird. Are your bones hollow?” He asked in mild amusement as he lifted her up as if she were a puppy.

”Hm, I don’t know about my bones, but yours might end up snapping if we don’t help it out.” Replied Hazel with a grin as she reached to unbutton his trousers…. with her feet.

In a display of dexterity worthy of a circus performer, she undid his belt and trouser buttons with her feet alone, allowing his manhood to pop-out like a spring-loaded bayonet.

”Ohhhh! This is not half bad; I actually thought you’d be much smaller.” Commented Hazel as she flicked its head playfully with her toes.

”If yer gonna say that maybe I should just drop ya on it; a nice impalin’ would prolly give ya a good idea of its size.” Retorted Tobias, anger veins popping on his forehead.

”Weeeell… if you drop me down-” she suddenly grabbed his manhood between her toes like with a pair of pincers ”I won’t be able to do this.” and she began moving them up and down with a steady rhythm.

”Hrk!” it was more pleasant than he had expected, and she was remarkably skilled.

”You better not drop me~e, or the fun will sto~op.” Clad in a grin, she almost sang these words as she increased the speed of her feet.

The stimuli was strong enough it was slowly sapping away the strength of Tobias’s arms. But he was not one to give up easily, so he put his all into keeping her in the air, however, his all was just not enough, and as his climax approached so did her moist lips to the tip of his manhood.

”So, that’s your all, eh?” a mocking expression adorned her face as she wriggled her hips, her womanhood’s lips kissing the tip of Tobias’s member.

”Nah!”

*Twamp!*

With that denial, Tobias used the last of his strength to push all the way in one stroke, and since he was already in the entrance, it slid all the way to the end.

”Grk-ahh!” Hazel had her breath punched out of her by that sudden penetration; her eyes turning upwards and her tongue hanging out.

”Yer surprisin’ly loose, luv. Didn’t think ya would be able to go bollocks-deep, let ‘lone in one stroke.” Said Tobias with a strong sense of self-accomplishment.

”You… dumbass…. you almost… killed me….” She was gasping for breath despite how much she was clenching her teeth.

”Well, ya had ‘elm for a while now, so I figured it was me time to steer the ship.” Added Tobias as his own smile widened.

”Heh, you…. think this is… enough to break menya-ah!?” Hazel was putting her strong face again, but the way her womanhood was spasming said otherwise.

”Yer clay and I ‘ave the ‘ammer, so lemme chip that prideful face away.” And with those words, he grabbed onto her sides and began moving her up and down, along with his own matching hip thrusts.

*Slap* *Slap* *Slap*

A battering ram against a castle’s gate.

”Shtaaawp…. Um dwowning…. dwowning….” Her words no longer made any sense as he kept hammering away. But he wasn’t much better.

He could feel that surge building within him like a dam about to blow, so he hastened his pace.

”…. Shaay it…. shay it…” she muttered as he grabbed onto his clothes, burying her head in his chest.

”Whatcha want, bird? Ya’ll ‘ave to speak louda.” He said with a sadistic grin.

”Shay mah naim, lik ya did bfore.” Her face was somewhere between ecstatic and pleading.

”Heh” he smiled at this request, holding her close, and playfully sucking on one of the gummy tips that had perked out of her soft apples.

”Hazel, me fit luv.” her looked straight at her emerald-colored eyes as he spoke, words coming from deep within him.

*Kerg!*

She tightened like a vice grip, that was the sign.

”Hrkah!” He moaned. Reaching his own limit, his seed erupted into her like an avalanche, which prompted him to hug her with all his might, burying himself even deeper into her.

”Ugaaaah!” Hazel’s eyes turned fully upwards as she climaxed; her walls beating and tightening, trying in vain to contain this flood from spilling outwards.

He couldn’t see her face, but she was digging her nails into him hard enough he could feel their sting, even through his coat. Yet as his seed drained, her vice grip on him loosened a bit, yet still not let him go.

”That was… that was some good buffin’, luv.” he said, trying to catch his breath. It had been a long while since his last visit to a brothel, so he couldn’t help but feel a strong sense of refreshment as he held onto the girl in his lap.

”Unyuu…” she was still basking in the afterglow, grabbing onto his coat like a baby monkey to its mother.

”Oi…” he lifted her chin to meet her gaze, although hers was all over the place ”Ya did som’ mighty good leg upin’, now let’s rest a spell b’fore we head back.” said Tobias to the still out-of-it Hazel. Even if she didn’t reply, the smile she was sporting showed mutual understanding.

<CHAPTER 1 END>

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