Mission: Chapter 9: Steam City
According to the note she'd just read, Captain Daenelia Bradley's crew had just lost five able bodies. It was clear that the crew was getting jittery staying in Kanesville, Not for the first time did she wonder if leaving the ship behind was a mistake. To make matters worse, Colton had told her that Brem lost the key to the Steamhawke. As payback, Daenelia had insisted that the chief engineer took Dottie and a handful of volunteers to go after Yorvlad.
In the meantime, Daenelia had taken it upon herself to go looking for the thieves that had taken the key. Finding a gang of street pickpockets was going to be hard. She really needed someone with street smarts, but also smart enough to not start a riot, when trying to find the key. Someone like Azzo, she mused. One of the more level-headed men she had had the fortune of sailing the skies with. But that was water under the bridge, she told herself. Azzo was gone, and she did not expect to run into him again.
Two streets away, Azzo was pounding down the pavement, regretting every decision he'd ever made. The first was ever coming to Kanesville in the first place and not simply settling down in Prussia. The second was allowing the lure of finding real Prussian food to coax him back into the meandering side streets of Kanesville's neighborhoods. The third was being too thick to recognize the urchin who collided with him for what he was until the boy was already halfway down the street with his wallet.
Women in kerchiefs, their baskets full of vegetables, and old men loitering with their pipes and newspapers looked up as the blond man pushed through them, shouting. The boy, barely more than a slip of a thing, wove through easily through the crowd that Azzo had to all but swim through. Strangers' hands went out halfheartedly to catch the boy, but none took hold of him. From several paces back, Azzo watched him shrug off the grasp of a greengrocer, twist, and skid down an alley. Azzo dogged after him, a shout of encouragement from the greengrocer trailing behind him.
The boy dodged with what can only be described as experienced professionalism. But he couldn't avoid the woman who rounded the corner. The pair tumbled over and the woman grabbed hold of him in a futile effort to not fall too hard.
"Woah!" Daenelia said with a grin. "Off to school, are we?" The boy struggled to get free, which made Daenelia a little suspicious. She held on, acting on her intuition that the boy was running from something. She checked him for bruises and scrapes. "Are you okay?"
"Let me go!" The boy said through clenched teeth, as he looked behind her to see the man he pickpocketed coming up behind the woman.
"You've got something of mine first," Azzo said, catching up with the boy and seizing him by the back of his collar. He barely noticed the figure who'd waylaid his quarry, focusing on the urchin instead. The boy protested vociferously as Azzo spun him roughly around and turned out his pockets. "Is this what your ma taught you, to take an honest man's coin?" He demanded. His wallet thudded onto the cobblestones, followed by several other small knickknacks, probably pilfered, and an apple and conker, probably not. "You're lucky I don't turn you in," he continued, emptying the rest of his pockets as the boy suffered the tongue lashing with ill grace. "Maybe I should march you back to your mum," Azzo contemplated.
The boy scowled at him and voiced a rapid fire retort in Prussian that proposed several things Azzo could do, none of which was fit for polite company. "Manners," Azzo replied in the same language, giving him a little shake. "There's a woman present." He looked at his helper for the second time, and this time it was enough for the frizzy blonde hair and familiar, confident stance to register. "Captain Bradley." His voice held the air of a man who has gotten used to surprises. "You pick a good time to appear."
She could not help but grin. "Mister Weisse," she said in a pleased tone. "This is a pleasure, seeing you here." The boy was still struggling in Azzo's firm grip, but unable to escape. Daenelia noticed a woman standing in a doorway, looking anxiously at the scene. His mother? The captain gestured at the boy and addressed Azzo: "You got your things back?"
Azzo picked up his wallet from the pavement and nodded. "I suppose I could let him go," he said. But he held on to the squirming kid.
"Pickpocketing is a nuisance," Daenelia said, helping herself to some of the other things that the boy had taken. "You know, some of the men got pickpocketed, too. They lost the key to the ship." She laughed at that, because it was just too preposterous to imagine. She wiped a tear away and then asked the obvious question. "What are you doing here? Did you find what you were looking for?"
Azzo didn't think he'd ever find what he was looking for, but decided to change the subject. "I wonder if this boy knows anything about that lost key of yours, captain. These pickpockets can be quite organised, you know."
"I don't know nothing about no key!" the boy protested, kicking his legs out. There were a few too many glances in the direction of Daenelia and her old crewmate, so Azzo decided to let him go. He went scampering off, and then they noticed that he wasn't the only one moving fast on his feet. The longer they watched, the more people they saw leave their homes and their stalls behind and follow each other in the direction of the train station.
There was a slight rumbling underfoot, just enough to dislodge some black ooze from between the rough-cut paving slabs. "There must be a train on the way. Do you know about the food crisis?" Azzo asked while they still watched the crowds. "Each train brings less than the last. The merchants have their own pecking order for the little that does come through, but the people are getting desperate. This one better have a heavy load, or they'll be in trouble."
Daenelia had stopped listening at "train" and only started listening again once she realised Azzo had stopped talking. But then she spotted a familiar figure running towards them. It was Bridget Perry, lifting her skirts as she moved.
"Captain! Am I glad to see you oh gosh! It's just terrible! So many people at the station, we just had to collect our things and get out of there!"
Over Bridget's shoulder the captain spotted Remington heaving away at a massively overloaded hand cart. The Perry's suitcases and bags were piled high. Daenelia had flashbacks of leafing through them back on the Steamhawke.
"And it gets worse! Soldiers! They're all coming to see you oh gosh!"
"What? To see me?" Daenelia gripped her pistol. Shadows passed over them, militia sky ships. Bridget continued. "Yes I heard them bright as day! They're heading for that dusty old hole you've been sleeping in. We could barely keep ahead with all these bags!"
"The dormitory?" Daenelia's mind was racing. All the while, Remington was dragging the cart ever closer. "I have a train to catch" was all the captain said, before running off in the opposite direction to the train station.
Azzo held back a curse word and ran after his old captain. Bridget waved her hands in the air. "You're not finished with us yet!" she exclaimed, and lifted her skirts to keep running. Remington was bent over double in pain trying to keep going with the cart.