Curiosity’s Kindling – Chapter 3 (END)

Thunder, rain, darkness.

Even below decks, the din of the thunderclap could be felt, and more so the fact that the ship was starting to shake a bit; waves crashing against the hull.

”You sure have been unusually full of energy lately.” This comment broke the almost hour-long silence, with Suzette turning her head towards Hazel, who was face-deep in a book.

”Well, y’know me, I like having something to do; just sitting around, doing the everyday stuff, which is always the same, it bores me. I like doing new things, exploring new things, and dealing with the situations that come out said situations.” Replied Hazel as she put her book down, ”The Master’s notes are confusing, so it takes some amount of knowledge to piece them up. So I asked for Tobias to lend me some of his books; lots of things make sense when you know what you’re looking at.” she added as she flipped a page, looking noticeably excited, albeit in more than one sense.

Tobias’s ‘Promise’ before leaving had somehow switched something inside of her; the idea of knowing she would have something she wanted, but just not yet gave her an odd mixture of craving an anticipation, enough for her to feel bothered.

”So, you slept with him, yes?” Said Suzu all of a sudden, an unusual smile on her face.

”W-W-W-What are you talking about?” Hazel almost dropped the book; she wasn’t expecting such direct attack, so she hadn’t been prepared, ”N-No way, I mean, uhm, have you seen how big he is? If-If we did that, h-he’d probably kill me with that th-thing he has.” she replied, stuttering and stammering like crazy.

”If you have never done it, then how do you know about his size?” Asked Suzu without losing that small but powerful smile.

Hazel just wordlessly sunk her face in the book, trying to conceal its sudden redness.

”Sister, you may have not realized this, but you are a very bad liar. One can usually see through your falsehoods with little effort.” Suzu added as she looked at the beet-red Hazel

”Is it that bad that I want him?” She asked, puppy eyes to the maximum.

”It is not, we’re all free to enjoy ourselves at will. And to be honest, in that sense, I envy you.” Said Suzu as she looked at her unmoving body, ”However, I just want you to be careful; when the Master left, you were heartbroken; you didn’t eat, you didn’t rest, you only wandered and wandered, looking for him, looking for any clue. The first time I saw you sleep in months was when you gave up, and you cried yourself to sleep for quite some time.” her tone of voice was that of a kind mother giving a daughter advice.

This brought a smile to Hazel internally; she had always seen Suzu as her big sister, and it was at these moments when she shone.

”I… don’t really know yet; I like being with him, he’s funny, he talks weird, he’s always got something new to show you, and he has… talents… to match his endowment.” Hazel blushed a little as she said this last part, ”However, love and like are not the same thing; I loved the Master, and like Tobias, and I feel he likes me back, but also that he’s always keeping some distance, not unlike me.” she added with her eyes downcast.

”Maybe he too has suffered at the hands of others.” Said Suzu in a rather solemn way.

”Maybe; I’ve never asked him about his past, and he has never asked about mine. He doesn’t like to pry into the lives of others, and I pay him back in kind.” Hazel replied, smiling softly.

*Thump, tlak, thum-thum*

Noises on the deck above, like steps and creaking floorboards. Hazel’s ears perked like those of a puppy sensing his owner coming home.

”Looks like your knight is here, princess.” Suzu had a tendency to make jokes when one would think she was at her most serious.

”Don’t say it like that, you dummy.” Replied Hazel as she softly hit Suzu in the head with her book, before putting it on a table and heading out.

The ship as a whole was creaking and shaking like crazy, enough to make her a bit worried. There was a lamp outside of Tobias’s room, which meant he had probably gone there first. And Hazel ran towards it happily.

”Hey big guy, welcome ba-”

She came through the door with her favorite salute as unannounced as usual, but the moment her eyes adapted to the inside of the room, she froze.

Three large figures stood in the room, along with a fourth one laying on the floor, this one wearing a familiar jacket.

*Krakoooom!*

As if to add drama to the scene, thunder and lightning echoed, illuminating the three standing figures, one of which, was akin to the devil when Hazel saw his mostly-missing face.

”EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKK!” she screamed like a wounded beast, trying to run away, ”Ahk!” but sliding with something on the floor and crashing on the wall instead.

”Ugh-what is….. No!” She tried to get up from the slippery thing, only to find it coating her right arm, and that it was red, with a coppery scent.

”Blood… no… NOO! GET AWAY FROM ME!!” she cried, backing more and more into the corner.

”Oi oi oi! Quit yer screamin’; me noggin hurtz somethin’ fierce!”

Suddenly, that familiar voice.

”Tobias, y-you’re alive!” She cried, tears forming in her eyes, but quickly turning them to the others, ”What did you do to him, you monsters.” her voice turning downright murderous. Bowman and his cohorts remained silent, merely watching.

”He saved me arse, luv.” Again, Tobias replied, ”He sent half the basterds who did this to me to meet their bloody maker, the other half, I sent ’em meself.” he continued, turning his head towards Hazel. She couldn’t help but notice how strange he looked without his spectacles.

”We stopped the bleeding the best we could, and put his leg on a makeshift splint. It will take him a while to walk again properly, but he will live.” said Bowman as he put some distance between himself and Hazel.

”Boss, there’s still some coal left on the dock. Should we go fetch it?” his voice was oddly soldier-like.

”Do, but do not bring it below decks, leave the sacks in the boiler deck like you did before. This not our ship; we should not impose our order.” replied Bowman as he turned to look at his cohorts, who gave a silent not and left the room.

Hazel, now crouching by Tobias’s side, kept glaring at him with the same expression of a mother protecting her children.

The silence went on for a while, beside a few distant thunders. Finally, Bowman broke it.

”May I… ask you something, lass?” his manner was extremely polite.

”What do you want?” the exact opposite of Hazel’s.

”Were you always the ghost of this ship? I always though you to be trapped here.” his words were slow and soft.

”What does it matter? Does it bother you that much that I’m alive!?” her words remained pained.

”It was but curiosity.” he replied, not the answer Hazel expected, ”We miners are superstitious folk, more than once we see things in the shafts that shouldn’t be there: fleeing women, scared children, wounded soldiers of wars long forgotten. Being close to the earth means we delve into the realms of the fallen, and sometimes these visions are a sign of something; a forsaken corpse, a cave-in victim, a long forgotten trench. I thought you were the same, so I tried to find your sanctuary. But in doing so, I merely angered you, and for that I deeply apologise.” Bowman’s speech would’ve felt at home on a priest behind a peg.

”I thanks you for saving him, but please, go away. And I promise you I will eventually forget what happened between us.” she replied, old pain seeping from her words.

With this last exchange, Bowman walked away. It wouldn’t take long for the odd sound of his stepping to vanish on its entirety.

”Hazel-” Said Tobias all of a sudden, it still felt odd for him to call her by name, ”Check me breast pocket on the right.” his voice still sounded weak.

She did so, and found a sizable leather pouch, it content happened to be about a dozen of rough red gemstones.

”T-These are…” her face lit up as she saw them.

”The reason he was there was ’cause he heard I was there, and was comin’ to me with a deal. In the end, he didn’t charge me for them. Although now I owe him me life, so I reckon it evens out, hah.” he was doing his best to sound funny, but failed, ”As soon as your sister is walking and so am I, I will depart on me own; the bastard I killed had lots of friends, and I don’t want to involve ya in any future aggro bouts.” he was speaking unusually slowly, ”Besides, I already broke two of me promises to you.” shame permeating from his words.

”Never bring any humans on board, specially below decks. And I also promised to give ya a good, ‘ard buffin’, and I can’t do-Hmph?” his words were stopped by a sudden smothering.

”You dork.” said Hazel as she hugged his face, ”I clearly said ‘bring’ onboard, didn’t I? You didn’t bring them in; they brought themselves, and you were in no position to stop them. As for the second one, you said you’d ravage me after you came back, but you never specified it’d be immediately after. So no promise was breached, you will have a chance to fulfill the last one later.” her hug was as pure as they came; there was nothing sexual, nothing lewd, or in any way lascivious. Just a kind and warm embrace.

”Luv, I-” he tried to speak, but again she muffled him with her body.

”Whatever you choose to do next, be it flight or fight, I want to be there with you. Because when I thought of you leaving… I… I…” Hazel had managed to keep her strong face so far, but she finally became unable to hold her tears, ”I was scared…” she sobbed, ”When I saw the blood… I panicked… I don’t want you to die, I don’t want you to leave. I don’t want to wake up alone. I don’t want Suzu to suffer because I can accomplish nothing on my own.” she tried to stop the tears, but they just wouldn’t stop flowing. These were the fears she hid under a smirking face, and despite his long dislike of hearing other people’s problems, Hazel was no longer ‘other people’ to him.

”Oi… could ya do me a favor?” Tobias freed his face from her bosom as he spoke, ”Open the top drawer o’ that end table ‘ere, and fetch me a long red box on the right side.” he added.

The drawer was within hand’s reach, and she quickly procured the aforementioned red box, from where Tobias pulled a set of spectacles, one with a gold frame of all things.

”I don’t want ya to cry and not be able to see your face.” he added with a gentle smile as he put them on, ”Y’know, when I was in the ground, groveling, unable to fight back or defend meself, there was a moment I accepted me demise. But the moment I closed me eyes, I saw a figure, and seein’ her there also made me feel sad, not for me, but for her never to find out what became o’ me. And even tho I couldn’t see her, I like to think it was you, fluffybuns.” he caressed her face as he spoke, taking the chance to fondle those fluffy ears she always moved around. They had a soft and velvety feel, like an expensive silk scarf.

”… Dork…” that was all she amounted to answer as her cheeks reddened.

~~~

”Luv, ya don’t ‘ave to do this.” protested Tobias as Hazel diligently pulled on one of his jacket’s sleeves.

”But I want to, your wounds need proper dressing; not just a pile of rags stuffed on it.” she said as she managed to take off his jacket. His shoulder wound still bleeding.

”Okay, hands up!” she pulled up his fully unbuttoned shirt, followed by his undershirt.

She had seen him before in the bath, but this was the first time she actually took a good look at his bare chest. It wasn’t too wide, but it was full of wiry muscle, and countless scars, old burns and cuts covering most of it. And above all, it was making her heart flutter.

”Hnngh!” groaned Tobias as she poured some strong rum on his shoulder wound before bandaging it.

”They sure chopped you good. I’m really surprised you’re still alive.” commented Hazel as she moved onto his back.

The big knife wound was still bleeding a quite a bit, although far less that the shoulder one, as it was deeper but smaller. So following another shot of rum, she put a cluster of raw wool on it before starting with the bandage.

”The leg leave it as it is, please. One o’ Bowman’s men actually checked it to make sure ’em bones were alright. They’re still cracked tho.” he added as she tied the bandage knot.

”Alright, can you stand?” Asked Hazel as she handed him his impromptu crutch a slightly shortened oar.

”Dunno, lemme try.” Replied Tobias as he reached for the oar, using it along with the wall to get up. He managed to, literally painstakingly as he still needed to use his right leg.

”Blimey, beats me how Bowman can stand a life like this.” he said as he began redressing himself.

”So, wadda ya goin’ to do now?” he asked while buttoning his shirt.

”Bring Suzu’s back into action.” Replied Hazel proudly as she held the pouch with the Rubellite Tourmalines inside.

~~~

The gemstones themselves looked like large grapes, relatively smooth as they had been already tumbled, and far larger than the Cores. However, what surprised Tobias was the way Hazel was working it.

Placing the gemstone on a small vise, and with the help of a minuscule hammer and some even smaller chisels, she began chipping bits and corners out of the gemstones, their shape slowly becoming rounded and symmetric.

However, he wasn’t there to watch; he was just setting up a stove to heat up a pair of crucibles.

”Ohhhh! Bismuth!” Tobias couldn’t hold his exaltation as he opened the tiny box of material that Hazel gave him for smelting.

”Is something wrong with it?” Asked Hazel without moving her face away from her work.

”None at all, unless ya consider the fact this tiny box may be worth more than the Laurette as a whole.” Replied Tobias as he looked at the silvery white bits of metal with small patches of pinkish rust, ”Thing’s rarer than honest businessmen, and last ’bout as much in the market. It is mostly due to it bein’ a fairly new member to the extended family that is our knowledge of minerals, although some folks say it has been used since ancient times.” he explained as he put the bismuth bits into the crucible and covered it. To much of his disappointment, the other box contained just plain old copper in mineral form.

”So, what Imma doin’ with these, luv? Just melt ’em up?” Asked Tobias as he was done with his task, swiveling around using his much reviled crutch.

Hazel took a moment to reply as she was chipping a particularly stubborn corner.

”Just melt them, bismuth top side, copper on the coals.” again she didn’t even look back at him.

This sudden shift in her behavior; this focused and hardworking Hazel that he hadn’t witnessed before gave Tobias all sorts of fuzzy feelings, as this made her attractive in ways beyond her body and looks.

”Done!” Hazel exclaimed, holding up a finely rounded gem, ”What do you think, Suzu?” she asked as he walked back to her sister’s bed and placing the gem where she could see it.

”The colors are not quite the same, yet I figure that it is due to it being on an early stage of the process.” Even Suzu was unusually energetic.

”Luv, Bismuth is ready, and so seems copper.” Said Tobias as he lifted the lid of each crucible with a small set of tweezers.

Now standing on top of a box (as she wouldn’t reach it otherwise) and using the same set of tweezers, she dipped the cut gem into the molten bismuth, and slowly pulled it out, which left some oddly uniform patches of it on the creases of the gemstone.

”Bucket!” she cried, and Tobias handed them a small bucket of seawater, in which she slowly dipped the metal-studded gemstone, the bits of bismuth taking an oddly rainbow-like pattern upon cooling, which served as a sort of foil that also gave the gem itself that colorful pattern of the old Cores.

”Looking good, looking good.” she repeated with a smile.

”Alright, now for the final step.” with these words, she grabbed the copper crucible with a long set of pliers and headed back to where she had been working.

On the table, next to her gem cutting tools, laid a hefty cast of sorts. It looked like a massive steel brick with a small rounded hole in the center an a set of four groves leading to it. She placed the gemstone in the center hole, and with a surprisingly fast motion, she poured the copper in all four groves following a criss-crossed pattern. The flowing metal streams all reach the gemstone at the same time, forming a sort of crust around its sides, but leaving roughly one third of the gem outside.

”Hmmm, don’t mean to be the rain or yer parade but, weren’t the old Cores a bit different?” Asked Tobias after a short pondering while looking at the cooling metal. Hazel let out a sigh before speaking.

”I know, I cannot replicate the exact design, but it should mimic the function without much issue. Although the outcome still scares me.” she said while releasing a small latch on the side of the steel block, which made it split in two, the now-cool Core dropping effortlessly off the mold.

”And now, for the moment we have all been waiting for.” Declared Hazel triumphantly as she grabbed the Core and headed towards Suzu.

”Uhm, would you mind giving us some privacy? This is very embarrassing.” Said Suzu as a rather careless Hazel had just pulled up her torso, causing the blanket that usually covered it to fall and reveal a set of sizable breasts that defied the metallic look of her limbs.

”Don’t worry, I just gotta do this an’ done! Can’t see a bloody thing.” Replied Tobias as he took off his spectacles. He could technically still SEE, but everything was a blur.

”I understand, but still, at best, turn around.” Added Suzu in a tone both lady-like and admonishing.

Tobias said nothing else and turned around; his curiosity burning a hole in his skull as all he could hear the sound of metallic part and tools being manipulated.

~~~

”I need to rest and assimilate this.” Those were Suzette’s last words as Hazel completed the procedure.

At first Tobias was a bit worried as she wasn’t moving, but Hazel quickly dispelled those concerns by telling him such was a normal thing; she always took a while to assimilate a new Core.

”So, whatcha gonna do now?” Hazel asked as she walked next to Tobias, whose walking speed remained severely stumped.

”Until ’em bones heal? I dunno. Wanted to go back in the city and commission a new set o’ bins, but with Atkinson corpsed, and his friends corpsed, some pretty nasty types are gonna be in the lookout to ‘ave me at the sharp end of a knife or the business end of a gun, and can’t even fight off a mutt as I am now.” he said with a frown. His leg pulsated painfully with ever step.

”How did you get mixed up with those lowlifes? Did you blew up their place with Nitroboomboom?” Asked Hazel jokingly, but Tobias’s grim expression did not change.

”Ya could say by heritage.” he said as he reached his room and sat on his bed, Hazel also sat down on a nearby chair, ”See these?” he took off his spectacles and pointed at them, ”These were me old man’s-well, these were from the man I, to this day, see as the father I never had.” he added as he put them on again, ”Me life-story is as long and twisted as an alembic. I never knew who was me real father, and apparently he was quite the bastard, as from me earliest memory, me mother kept me locked up in a cabinet, feedin’ me whenever she had leftovers not even dogs would take. That hell lasted until I was eight, or at least I THINK I was eight; to this day I am not even sure of my own age or day of birth.” he began narrating with a long sigh, Hazel eagerly listening.

”One day I somehow opened the cabinet’s door. I saw the sun, for the first time ever, and it all looked blurry. I found somethin’ that smelled like food and chow’d it, grabbed a blanket as I felt cold and crawled through a hole in a nearby wall. I dunno what even happened after that, but I ended asleep in a pile of old coals, or so father told me, maybe because it was warm.” he looked at the window as he mentioned the sun, even though it was night, ”Even though he was but a poor prospector and I was as blind as I still am, he fed me, taught me how to talk and to walk properly, he even named me after his best friend, Tobias.” a smile formed on his face.

”Sounds like quite a man.” Said Hazel with a smile of her own, Tobias just gave a sharp nod back.

”That man’s name was Bannon Croft, his friends called him Bann…. Ban-croft, to me childish mind when I took his name and will wear it till I breathe me last.” Tobias’s expression became oddly solemn, ”However it was not all fun an’ games. As I grew outta boyhood, I was introduced to the dirty and dangerous world of prospectin’. Gold, silver, iron, tin: folks weren’t even thinking of coal back then, there were far juicier meats to partake from. But strikin’ a fat gold vein didn’t made you rich, it made you a target; folks with heavier pockets paid ruffians and cutthroats to make sure every nugget found made its way to their fat pockets. Ya’d be dead within the week if you didn’t ‘sell’ your vein to them for a fistful o’ black coppers.” he took a deep breath before continuing, ”Ol’ Bann thought he could fight back, he had money now, he had the muscle, and more importantly, he had friends, or at least, he thought he had.” his expression became grim again.

”On a crisp winter’s morning, they broke some very stubborn stone at the end of the shaft, and behind it laid twenty one feet of miner wet dreams; silver veins covering walls, ceiling and floor, so much that it was like gazing at the sun if you brought in too many lanterns. Lo, the Sunvault Vein was born, and while I didn’t do the mining; I was in the office, testing the samples to make sure it was silver, and not tin, aluminum, or some bollocks, so I saw our earnings mount. Our numbers guy once burned through three inkwells to record our earnings one particularly good week.” his face was once again a smile, ”Men flocked from all corners of the country, even from other countries, to work the Sunvault; money flowed like water, and all of a sudden, leisure found their way into our lives. Regular feasts, a house with many rooms in the Residential Middle Row, gold-framed bins, we even had servants! For the first time in my life, I was happy, unconditionally so.” he almost beamed as his spoke, ”But good things never last forever…” only for him to shrink back into gloom.

”That Atkinson fella?” Asked Hazel, lifting an eyebrow.

”Nay, his bastard of a father, and a still active member of the city’s council… a throne he paid for with the lifeblood of honest men.” he replied, gritting his teeth, ”At first it seemed mere bad luck; delayed shipments, one odd robbery or another, ledgers going missin’, could’ve passed as normal. We only came to realize something was going on when our WORKERS started to go missin’, only to be found dead on some alley, or belly-down in the harbour. And after months of bashin’ our heads together and squeezin’ info out of street rats, we found our inside man…. Tobias, me namesake… and childhood friend of Ol’ Bann. He refused to believe it until we caught ‘im taking money from Atkinson’s goons.” continued Tobias with a sigh, ”The Sunvault was a co-ownership; Ol’ Bann and Toby held half the shares each, an unspoken contract of never buyin’ or sellin’ built on nothing but trust and friendship…. trust and friendship, hah.” he laughed bitterly.

”Father insisted that there was a misunderstandin’; that maybe he had angered Toby somehow. He scheduled a meetin’ with Toby at some Pub… neither of them came back alive….” he shut his eyes, remaining silent for a full minute, ”By next week, a paper bearing Toby’s signature and some other so-and-so was used as proof he had sold the Sunvault, and after a few mysterious hand-outs, the mine ended under Atkinson’s belt.” and as he reopened them, they were filled with rage, ”And I wasn’t going to wait for me turn at the shanker’s dirk. I took what I had and fled under the cover of the night, not even telling anyone. As far as our workers and associates knew, I could’ve been killed as well. I moved to a village on the eastern border, worked as a trapper and apothecarist for quite some time. It wasn’t a bad life, I tell ya, but I was a bloke at the prime o’ me life, which made me a prime target for drafters when the war came, so I hightailed it right back.” he looked at Hazel as he said this last part.

”That was six years ago. In that time, I did lotsa stuff, workin’ ‘ere and there, meet Bowman and a few other good fellas, got pissed at many other bad fellas, and managed to trick that bastard Atkinson into a deal that seemed so good that, sure, he would win a lot, but would owe me even more. In the end, he couldn’t pay me back, so he gave me a cursed ship instead. Y’know the rest of the story.” for that last sentence, he was smiling.

”Hrm, you had it bad, and can’t say I had it much worse.” replied Hazel with a sympathetic smile, ”Short story even shorter, there are people out there who make a living out of hunting ‘non-humans’; they don’t kill us, they just catch a few of us and auction us to some cash-heavy folks. Suzu and I just got lucky; he never told us his name, we just called him Master, and was more interested in what we were than about treating us like actual slaves. He travelled a lot, so he had the Laurette, and life wasn’t bad until he just vanished one day.” she looked at the distance as she spoke, ”Suzu started to become sluggish, until she fully stopped. She had that issue before, but he had made her some new Cores, but this time, he wasn’t around, so we just sat in the ship and waited. I’d rather not talk about what happened before you showed up, but we’re still waiting for him.” she added with a face full of melancholy.

”What ’bout yer life before? Did ya live in some kind of village with many like you?” Asked Tobias, merrily imagining what would a villageful of Hazels would look like.

”I’m sorry, we don’t speak of that. I’ve never told anyone, not even Suzu. Those memories are for me alone.” Replied Hazel with an unusually serious face.

”So, this Master bloke, what was he like?” Tobias asked, his face somewhat awkward, which gave Hazel a wicked idea.

”…. Is that jealousy I hear?” her serious face quickly morphing into her usual tricksy one as she sat next to him.

Tobias just snorted as he looked away; bullseye.

”Tee hee, don’t worry. He was nice and all, but didn’t quite see us as humans. So don’t worry, you’re safe.” She rubbed her shoulder and elbow against Tobias side with this last sentence.

”Luv-” he quickly grabbed her, nimbly tossing her from his side into the pillow of his bed. She didn’t react, she just looked at him, dumbfounded. ”Lemme scratch that promise off me to-do list, aye? Ain’t gonna wait for no bloody bones to pull ’emselves up.” he added, Hazel just giving a frantic, smiling nod as her eyes shone with unbridled desire.

She came out of her clothes as easy as she always did, it was Tobias who had the annoyingly awkward moment; his splint catching the inside of his pants.

As soon as his fully-hoisted mast came into view, Hazel tried to reach for it, only for Tobias to push her back into the pillow.

”Nay, luv. Imma sober this time ’round, an’ that means I ‘old the reins.” and with these words, he brought his face to her red-crowned slit.

”Ah-w-wait a-AH!” she tried to push his head, to no avail.

His tongue danced around her folds, sliding, prodding, licking, poking, and his mouth sucking like a reverse bellows. Her plump legs folding behind his neck as she held onto fistfuls of his hair and stifled down her yelps.

”Hm, yer tangy, luv.” he spoke as he took a whiff of her fire-colored tuft, ”Ya taste of sweat, salt and a wee bit of soot.” he added with a lascivious grin before resuming his act, biting softly onto her mound, and giving that stubborn bean a well-deserved nibble.

”Hn-you clever-aagh!” her moans were leaking out, and even on his tongue, he could feel her contractions; she was close.

”A’ight, thatsa ’bout it.” and that just where he wanted her as he grabbed onto her leg-lock and escaped from it.

”Ah- wait… you bastard… why didn’t… you finish….” she complained between moans at the interruption of her pleasure.

”Wha? Dontcha think is kinda unfair only you get yer fun? Now c’mere and do yer part.” with these words, Tobias sat back, exposing his twitching length in a ‘come hither’ manner.

”You…” An anger vein popped in Hazel’s forehead; this was a challenge, and we wasn’t letting him win.

”Did you really thought I would turn back?” she moved towards him, slowly and in four legs, like a wildcat about to pounce, ”That I’d be intimidated by this thing?” she rubbed her cheek against his length; the combined feeling of her smooth cheek and the velvety caress of her fluffy ear, which she pushed towards it slightly was no joke. ”I almost suffered death by impalement that day, so I promise my revenge will be like the crawling of a drowning man-” she traced a line with her tongue along his shaft, ”slow and desperate.” she added a she flicked the crown. Was his imagination or her tongue was slightly longer than it seemed?

Satisfied with her lengthy monologue, Hazel gobbled it down. This was no euphemism, she literally took it to the root; Tobias feeling the back of her throat that squeezed him rhythmically.

She began bobbing up and down; full length in, full length out like a steam piston, and probably about as fast, pausing only to suck and nibble on his crown.

Her speed was making Tobias nervous, as he would sometimes feel the tingle of her teeth almost grazing his mast. However, that thrill was exciting in its own way, and he soon found himself close to peaking.

”O-Oi, e-easy there, slow down a mo-Uughn-” he tried to stop it, but he couldn’t.

”No-ope~!” a vice grip on his base blocked him. Denied his release, a feeling of frustration washed over Tobias.

”Cor blimey, you lil’ sadist.” he said with a pained expression, and it had nothing to do with his wounds.

”An eye for an eye, a peak for a peak.” Replied Hazel as she laid on her back, holding her leg up; her moist folds like a rose in bloom, ”Now come here and plow me until we both have the same funny walk.” she added with a hungry grin.

Tobias said nothing back, he just wore a grin of his own as he held onto her legs, aligning her entrance with his length.

*Shluck!*

”Kyah!” Yelped Hazel as he pushed all the way in with a single thrust, feeling something hard poke his glans at the end of her tunnel.

”You b-bastard! Y-Y-You did it again.” complained Hazel as she grit her teeth.

”Well, luv, som’one requested a walk-impairing bonin’, so that’s what I ought to give, aye?” he wriggled himself against that rough spot at the end of her tunnel, which send shivers all over Hazel body.

”But, if ya don’t wanna, sure do, lemme pull back.” Added Tobias with a mocking grin as he started pulling his length out; her vice-like vacuum not making it easy.

”Wait-ah, don’t… don’t.” with every inch that came out, a jolt smited her mind.

He came halfway out and stopped there; her spasms and convulsions trying to reel him back in.

”Imma not gonna move until ya tell me to, so speak up.” he said with the same mocking grin, he still wriggled around and made some very short thrustings back and forth.

”Uuuuu… you big bully…” she mewled with teary eyes, ”Just give it to me, dammit! Plow me until neither of us can think anymore.” her breathing was ragged and feverish.

Tobias just kept smiling as he slowly pushed all the way back into her, and slowly pulled it up to the tip. He wasn’t teasing her; if he went faster now he’d climax, so he had to speed up gradually.

With every thrust, her expression changed, her walls tightened; each now was faster than the previous, she was getting close, and so was he. As he laid on top of her, one of those fluffy ears flopped rather close him, giving him a wicked idea.

*Foo*

”Eeehk!”

Softly blowing on it had even more effect that he had imagined; she clamped down even harder, and dug her nails on his back as her tongue flied out. He caught this runaway tongue with his lips and sucked on it. No doubt about it now, it WAS indeed longer than normal, and Hazel made use of that too as she began to ravage his mouth with a kiss of her own, tongues wrestling like snakes.

”Tobias… please… I’m almost…” This was the first thing to come out of her lips as soon as he released them.

”Hazel…!” hearing her say his name in such a girly voice, that was the last push, so he paid her in kind.

*Sh-plaah*

The release came like thunder; a mutual climax bursting out as one emptied his load, and the other wrung it greedily to not let one drop escape her.

He collapsed to the side, holding onto her just as her legs had locked his waist in. Her tiny body was soft and warm, and it filled him with an indescribable pleasure. Not a carnal one, but one of relief and safety, paired with a urge to never let her go.

”Luv…” Said Tobias as he opened his eyes, he hadn’t realized he had been unconsciously fondling one of her ears, they were all warm and fuzzy.

It took her a while to react to his hails.

”You really did me good, lover.” she said after a brief silence, warmly smiling as she nuzzled Tobias’s chest.

”Hope ya don’t really start walkin’ funny, luv. We got already all the limps we need; if we all walk like we’re on peg-legs, port authority may think we’re pirates.” he replied as he hugged her back. She felt so helpless and tiny.

”How are your wounds feeling? Do they hurt?” she asked, raising her face.

”No more than before, although I do have a new set o’ scratches on me back.” Replied Tobias, smirking.

*Tlak! Thunk-thunk*

”Ah..!”

Suddenly, a noise from outside the room, followed by what they could’ve sworn was a muffled yelp. It kind of broke their reverie.

”D’ya hear something?” Asked Tobias as he finally let go of Hazel, whom quickly redressed and got out of the bed. Tobias was taking a bit longer due to all the splints and bandages. He could also not help but notice the big messy pool that had been left behind as Hazel left.

”Hmm… Looks like some buckets from the pile just dropped.” Said Hazel as she emerged from the room, nothing seemingly out of place, ”Anyway, I’m gonna check on Suzu. Once I’m back, maybe we should give the tub another shot, eh? I’m… still leaking out a bit.” she said this last sentence very softly, enough to actually fluster Tobias.

~~~

*Thum-Tak, Thum-Tak, Thum-Tak*

The sound of his own steps echoed in his mind and Tobias walked around the main deck, gathering the buckets scattered around the ship in preparation for the bath. It sounded like a wooden version of Bowman’s, and he couldn’t help but wonder if he could have Bowman loan him some spare cane of sorts, as his hand and armpit were getting sore and blistered from having to move that oar around, not to mention how heavy it was.

”Hm, we still oughta get these downstairs.” He thought as he saw the pile of coal sacks left in one of the empty crew rooms by Bowman’s men, followed by a sense of powerlessness of not being able to do it himself.

The storm outside had not changed much, although the wind had died down a bit. Upon Hazel’s suggestion they had set a few buckets on the hurricane deck, tied down so they wouldn’t spill, to gather rainwater for the ship’s boilers if needed.

”… Wonder what’s goin’ on down there?” This question crossed his mind as he walked past the stairs leading down.

The moldy smells down there had gone down a bit after the engine was used, but they were still strong enough to be bothersome, and now he couldn’t even walk fast towards the end of the deck. Still, it had been a long while, and there was no news from Hazel, good or otherwise.

Pulling his pipe out and refilling it, he kept staring at the stairs, weighting the pros and cons.

”Ah, bugger, let’s leave it to luck.” he said to himself as he pulled a coin from his pocket; heads stay and wait, tails go check it out.

*Flik, tap*

He tossed it up, and caught it as it fell.

”Tails, figures…” he took a long whiff of his pipe as he said that, putting the coin back in his pocket.

His descent was rather slow and clumsy; stairs and crutches just don’t get along well. But as he approached Hazel’s sanctuary, he noticed its door was slightly ajar; a single pillar of light spilling out.

”Ah… d-don’t! Y-You shouldn-ahh!” A soft voice emerged from inside, and it didn’t quite sound like Hazel, so he slowly approached the open crevice.

”Cor blimey….!”  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the light on the other side, but much more for his mind to assimilate what he was witnessing.

”If we don’t do this, you’re gonna be all like that until the Core stabilizes, which will be a big waste. But doing this discharges your body, so it will speed up the procedure.” said Hazel from her current position with her head between Suzu’s legs.

Suzette was sitting on a corner of her bed, her expression flushed and feverish, covering her bosom with the blanket that used be on top of her as she laid postrated. Hazel was on her knees at her crotch level, and Tobias didn’t had to imagine what she was doing, as she quickly resumed her actions.

That longer-than-normal tongue wasn’t for show, and even from Tobias’s limited point of view, her technique left nothing to be desired. She licked Suzu’s peach-colored lips in circles, showing impressive dexterity and sometimes sucking on the lil’ bean on top.

Suzu herself looked at odds; the fleshier parts in the center of her body all had a slight reddening, with her face having the worst beet-red of all as she bit her lip while looking at Hazel, who wasn’t shy of rubbing herself under her clothes with her free hand.

”Hnnnngh!” Suzu let out a muffled moan; Hazel had just put her tongue inside of her, most likely doing some indescribable maneuvers inside.

”You’re still holding back; don’t do that, just let it all out, moan, scream, cry like a wounded beast. Let it melt away your discomfort.” Said Hazel in a tone that could only be described as sadistic.

”…” Tobias was practically in trance; he knew he shouldn’t be watching, he knew he shouldn’t be eagerly awaiting what would Hazel do her next, but he just couldn’t look away. It was arousing beyond words.

”Wha-?” he tried to reposition himself to have a better look at Hazel, only to realize he had let go off the oar, ”Aw, shite!” that was all he amounted to say as he tumbled down.

*Clamk-thump, creoonk. BLAM!*

Having lost his balance, he supported himself with the wall in front of him, only to remember it wasn’t a wall but Hazel’s secret door, which caused him to fall face first into the room.

”Eeeek!” Suzu yelped at the sudden events.

”Oh, Tobias! Great timing. The new Core worked perfectly! As you can see, Suzu is moving again.” Said Hazel as she pulled her head out of Suzu’s crotch, ”However, it maaay have worked a bit too… perfectly; having used copper to replace the molten stone, the charge is a bit too strong, so she’s overheating a bit. It should go away after a few days, but I decided to help her speed up the process by having her spend some extra energy here.” she added, blissfully unaware of the feminine fluids covering most of her face… or maybe she just didn’t care?

Regardless of that, Tobias was already half-mast. Even if Suzu’s limbs were made of metal, her face, chest and belly were both soft and fleshy, albeit with a rather heavy pallor.

”So, mind giving her a hand?” Asked Hazel with a wink, which only made his concealed half-erection throb, trying to steadily rise, and held down only by his ironclad willpower.

”But sister, i-isn’t he your ma-ahh!” Suzu tried to reply, only for Hazel to swipe away her blanket, revealing a set of breasts about the size of unripe muskmelons, crowned with light-pink nubs.

”Don’t worry~♪, sharing is caring~♪! Besides, not like there’s anyone else who can help you, is there?” Hazel remained alarmingly nonchalant.

”Oi, don’t talk ’bout me like Imma not here or somethin’.” said Tobias with the best frown he could conjure as he managed to stand up.

There was so much wrong there; Hazel’s promiscuous nature had been no secret since their first encounter, but Suzette has always given out this refined demeanor worthy of an aristocratic lady, so to have Hazel throw her at him like that just didn’t felt right, his own set of morals kept Tobias grounded, even when his body didn’t care.

”Duck, I ain’t shaggin’ someone just ’cause ya asked nicely; she doesn’t seem to want it any more than I, Hazel.” Tobias added, his brain wrestling to stay coolheaded.

”Haaaah…. no other choice then.” Hazel rolled her eyes.

*Fwap*

”Wai-shite!” And Tobias couldn’t even reach

*Ta-clung!*

Pulling out a cloth Suzu had been sitting on, she stumbled up and towards Tobias, colliding and causing his already unsteady standing to fail as they both dropped down.

”Augh, sod it ya crazy bitch! I ain’t doing nuthin’!” he was getting pissed, ”Ya can just decide this sorta shite for her! She ain’t no slag to be tossed at me!” Tobias roared.

”Don’t get your panties in a twist, lover. I’m not tying her up and having you rape her senseless, I’m just helping her to make her mind. It’s up to you, Suzu.” Hazel still didn’t lose her grin.

Suzu had ended on top of him, her face flustered as she covered her chest, looking away. And even though his clothes Tobias was feeling the warmth and moisture of her special place, which contrasted deeply with smooth and cool arms and legs.

”Lass, I ain’t doing nuthin’ of sorts. I can walk ‘way and forget all this. Ya don’t hafta do what the pint-sized slapper says.” Said Tobias in a soft tone as he met her eyes; taking care to avoid looking at her body. He could see Hazel puffing her cheeks in pout.

”I…” she whispered, ”..do not really mind.” with this last part even softer, her cheeks reddening even deeper, ”M-My body is burning from inside out. This had h-h-happened before when I got a new Core, but it had never been this ba-ah, ah…AAAHHHHH!!” she screamed out all of a sudden. Tobias hadn’t noticed it, but she had been rubbing her moist nethers on his crotch; the coarse fabric of his pants was enough to send her over the edge.

”There you go. See how good it feels when you let it out?” Said the ever-grinning Hazel as she stood by them as Suzu’s climax had made her collapse on Tobias’s chest.

”… Ya really okay with this?” Asked Tobias yet again to the girl now deliriously drooling and panting on top of him.

”Please….” she could barely talk.

”Ya heard the lady, fine gentleman-” a now-naked Hazel raised Suzu’s waist slightly, to release the beast trapped below, in Tobias’s trousers, which stood straight like an elite soldier, pointing at her entrance, ”Now, give it to her, studhorse!” and she pushed her down, taking Tobias to the hilt.

”Ughah, bloody ‘ell.” Tobias grit his teeth. Hazel was loose and erotic thanks to her easy going nature, yet Suzette was like a steel press; abnormally hot and absurdly tight, ”Was she a virgin?” he couldn’t help but wonder.

Suzette just panted like a hunting dog, pushing herself up and letting herself drop back, which was no doubt ecstasy for her but painful for Tobias’s still-wounded back.

”Easy there, Suzu.” Hazel reached moist place from the front, twisting her lil’ nub, and giving one of her breasts a good suckle, ”I don’t want you to break him, and he’s hurting a bit, still. Just take it slow and gentle.” she said, rolling that nipple on her tongue like candy.

Part of her metallic legs reached all the way to her thighs, so the odd mixing of cold and warm was a whole new sensation for Tobias, and while Hazel was more expressive, Suzette wasn’t afraid of letting her voice out.

”Blimey, lass, I hope this is feelin’ as good for ya as it is for me.” said Tobias with a grin, which was mainly to hide just how much he was holding it; if his focus phased out for just a moment, he would shoot his load like a harpoon.

”Ghghnaaaauh!” another loud climax, her already tight insides compulsing and splashing as Hazel gave her the tongue treatment, sometimes switching to give Tobias’s shaft some love as well.

”Please…” she muttered as she bowed down again, her sweet-smelling brunette bangs hanging over his face, ”Call me Suzu or Suzette, either is fine.” she moved her feverish lips closer, and Tobias moved his to comply.

”Nooo kisses!” but they both kissed a hand; Hazel had quickly moved to block them.

”Ah?” Suzu looked disoriented.

”Ohhh… Izzat jealousy I see?” Said Tobias with a grin, which made Hazel turn red.

”N-No, it’s just-uhm, argh! Just shaddap and hold me!” She fidgeted a bit, before shouting this out and jumping onto his chest, and kissing him, ”I don’t mind to share all else but… I still haven’t forgotten that kiss you gave me that day in the alley… it wasn’t my first, but it felt special. So it’s that, and only that, what is mine and mine alone.” she had her head resting on where Tobias’s heart was, one of her ears twitching with every beat. He couldn’t quite see her face, but it felt warm on his chest.

”Fu fu fu, now this is surprising.” Suzu chuckled as she picked Hazel up like a puppy, ”You were always such a tomboyish rapscallion, never thought you would be such romantic deep down.” she added as she held up the blushing Hazel, who remained silent and evading her gaze.

Suzette seemed back to normal, a lot of the blush vanishing from her body.

”Hey now, Suzette, m’lady.” Tobias grinned, ”Good to see ya back in action, but I still ‘aven’t busted; I held on like any bloke worth the hair in his chest, you wouldn’t leave me cold-cocked, would ya?” he still sort of enjoyed to speak politely to her.

”Certainly not, how will you proceed?” she said with a nod.

”Hand me that lil’ bundle of romantic thoughts and deviant desires.” he stretched his hands to grab Hazel, ”And work me shaft as ya see fit, m’lady.” he added, Suzette giving a short nod.

”W-What are you doing?” Asked Hazel, unusually nervous, as he held her up like a child.

He brought her down, ravaging her lips with a kiss, ”Imma payin’ you back in kind, ya pint-sized luvvah.” with these words, he pushed her up, bringing her special place to his mouth, and dug into her soaked folds.

”Ah-!” This took her by surprise.

”She always acts like she’s prepared for everything, but just like the hardest rock can be shattered if one knows where it’s faults lie, her facade can, too, be broken if you know where to strike.” Said Suzu as she reached Hazel from behind, fondling her modest bosom while kissing her sideways, all of this while gyrating and kneading her hips on Tobias’s manhood.

Hazel looked fully drowned in pleasure; her eyes out of focus and her hands weakly pushing Tobias’s head towards her.

Suzu’s grip was also not as fierce as it was before, although her fiery warmth remained unchanged. Still, it gave Tobias some breathing space, as well as some more mobility as he buckled up his hips to match her movements.

”Sh…” Hazel whispered, ”Shtaawp!” she repeated, ”Shtaaaaaaaawp!” this last one was a cry, accompanied by a gushing liquid from her special place that wasn’t urine.

”There you go, sister. See how good it feels when you let it all out?” Said Suzu, paraphrasing her, as she picked her up from Tobias’s face, who used this chance to wipe his spectacles on his sleeve.

”Uhu, and now ya move, hrk!” with a grin, Tobias put all his strength in his waist and pierced upwards as Suzu moved down.

”Hnnnnguuh!” hugging Hazel like a pillow, she climaxed violently, and so did Tobias, although the amount he released was meager compared to the one from his session with Hazel. As despite Hazel claims of otherwise, he was no studhorse.

With Hazel in a hold, Suzu slowly fell back, lying on the floor. Neither them nor Tobias with any energy to move.

Nothing but silence and some exhausted breaths would be heard for a while.

”… Oi… Luv?” Finally, Tobias broke the ice.

Hazel just looked at him, a satisfied smile upon her face.

”Ya girls up for that bath offer?” he asked, now Suzu looking as well. They both nodded, silently.

”An’, one more thing…. No shaggin’ for at least a week, please. Me bones will never heal otherwise.” he added. Again, both girls nodded.

~~~

A gray and rainy morning. The fifth one in a row so far, and with no sign of ending; the storm hanging out in the gulf, moving around as if trying to decide how’s it going to screw the economy, like money-wasting wife in a jeweler’s shop.

”Tobias, may I come in?” from behind the workshop’s door, came this polite question.

”Come on in, Imma almost done securing all o’ this. What’s up?” He replied as he put some glass tubes and bends within a flat box cushioned with raw wool.

Suzette made her entrance wordlessly once invited; a gracious break from Hazel’s kick-the-door-and-shout-his-name way of doing it.

She was clad in a short-sleeved beige shirt and a stout set of britches, not a far shot from the standard attire of a sailor. Her reason for such attire was that sleeves would jam into the hinges of her arms and legs, and cause some rather annoying wardrobe malfunctions. The same applied to her being barefoot.

Nonetheless, she was even more beautiful that she first appeared to be, now that she out in the light, and not prostrated on a bed. With the right attire, she could at least make herself pass as lesser nobility.

”All the coal in the sacks was finally transferred to the fuel bunker; we should have no fuel shortage for some time. And the rain water in the hurricane deck’s buckets yielded roughly three barrels and half. The boiler should have no water shortage either until we are well within the riverways.” Suzette explained, in a manner fit for an actual sailor reporting to his Captain.

”Good, foodstuffs we ain’t got that many, but they should last until we reach the river fork; there’s a small dock there with more than a handful o’ provisioners that won’t ask any questions as long as ya pay.” Said Tobias following a few nods as he turned to face her.

His leg still hurt a bit and he even had a brief fever, but he could already walk around without that accursed crutch, albeit with a slight gait. The wound on his back mostly a big, and sometimes itchy scab now.

”Oh, also, sister said to give you these.” Suzette reached into a pouch by her belt and produced and produced another, smaller pouch, which she handed to him.

”What are these…?” Asked Tobias as he emptied it in his hand. Carved amulets, inscribed nails, bits of silver. They all looked familiar, although it took him a moment to realize from where.

”She’s clearing out our room right now, as we are moving it to the big room next to this one. So she told me to give these to you as they may be worth something.” She replied, folding her arms.

The way her body worked was downright impressive. With her permission, Tobias had studied one of her arms and their mechanisms, mainly to sate his own curiosity about her body. They worked in a manner not too unlike that of other steam-powered machinery; a series of rods, crankshafts, cogwheels and levers that regulated her movements. How she powered them, and was powered herself was beyond what Tobias considered a polite inquiry. She was also inhumanly strong; lifting materials and boxes that would take a dock crane, or at least half a dozen of burly dockworkers.

”Tell ‘er to not remove the door, or its secret switch. A hidin’ place on a ship can net ya a lot of coin, ‘slong as ya ain’t afraid of gettin’ yer hands dirty. As for these, I should be able to sell ’em; always a market out there for all things occult-related.” Said Tobias as he put the baubles and trinkets back into the pouch.

”Hey, lover!” a door thrown open, a shout in a merry tone, and the usual pint-sized girl making her intro. Tobias just rolled his eyes, Suzette’s face took on a slight frown.

”Oh, you’re here too, Suzu. Great timing! The hiding place is clear, and all our stuff is packed and ready to be moved up.” Hazel was even more energetic than usual.

”Very well, I will relocate them.” Replied Suzu with a nod as she walked towards the door, ”And please, stop barging in here unannounced; it’s rude with Tobias here.” she added before disappearing down the corridor.

”It’s almost ready, huh?” Asked Hazel with a smile as she looked at Tobias.

”Aye, just tidyin’ up me place. Don’t want no chemicals gettin’ tossed around and causin’ a fire. As soon as you’re done movin’, fire ‘er up. I wanna get to the riverways ‘fore the coppers start pokin’ around the docks. I ain’d doin’ no porridge.” He replied with a similar smile, albeit his last statement caused a short-lived frown. He had gotten letters from both Bowman and Duncan, each saying the same thing: some unsavory types had been asking a lot about him. It was time to leave once more.

”Mhm, and now that our rooms are closer-” she said this with a wink, ”If you ever feel like doing it, just swing by next door. Maybe I can even convince Suzu to join the fun.” her smile was quite lascivious now. Tobias just let out a sigh, he had already gotten used to this behavior.

”Sure do, luv. Just gimme a few more days so I can do it free of pain.” Replied Tobias, he was only halfway joking.

”Still… lately, I’ve been thinking…” Leaning onto his good leg, she looked towards a nearby window, the rain still raging outside, ”Back when we met, why were you so accepting of me not being human? Your freak-out moment didn’t last very long.” she added, suddenly sounding serious.

”Don’t remind me o’ that day, me bollocks still hurt from rememberin’ that.” he ruffled her hair with this reply, picking his lit pipe from a nearby table and taking a good whiff, ”To be honest, had ya been some street urchin or some ‘omeless bum, I would’ve thrown ya out” he added, smoke coming out of his nose and mouth, ”But, ya weren’t; I ‘ad never seen somethin’ like ya, that made me curious.” he continued, ”Not many things make me curious anymore; Imma learned ’nuff to know most hows and whys that would interest me. Ya rekindle’d that fire, an’ now I know there be lotsa stuff no one knows, and I wanna learn ’bout it. It was selfish, aye, but it was just that… at least, at first it was just that.” following this pause, he put his arm over her and Hazel rubbed her cheek on it, both of them silently looking at the clouds.

”Everything in place. We should get ready to depart.” Suzu’s voice came out from the corridor, as the door was left open.

Tobias and Hazel’s gazes met for a moment, both of them smiling.

”Luv, man the boiler. Suzu, stand by the engine. I’ll give a shout from the pilothouse when the Laurette’s all warmed up and ready.” Tobias put on a raincoat as he spoke, ”First the river fork, then the Northlands!” he declared boldly, looking at the dark clouds outside, ”Let’s see if those bastards can follow me half the world away.” he thought.

The way ahead laid shrouded in clouds, mist and shadow: the uncertain darkness, in all its shapes. However, there‘s never been a shortage of those who plunge headlong into such darkness, specially if not alone.

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