The story so far…
Tom Cain rescued sisters Nikki and Willow Keats from psychotic Draggers (humans who have been turned into animalistic killing machines by exposure to Mist) and a Mist infestation with the help of sharpshooter Agatha West. They fled Milton on the apparently deserted airship Hecate. In the town of Havenvale they nearly lost Hecate to a crime-boss, Ponderoy Charkart, but a vertically-challenged mechanic named Shorty came to their rescue and joined the crew. On a smuggling run to Atlantis they picked up the latest member of the crew, Dog, a runaway gladiator.
Lately the crew tried to recover several tons of gold from Charkart’s warehouse, but they had to dump it to avoid crashing into a lake, as Hecate had taken heavy damage during a firefight. Tom managed to rescue some of the gold, but was dragged through a wisp of Mist. Before the psychotic rage that overtook him caused him to kill anyone, Ishara, a mysterious ghost-woman who haunts Hecate, twisted something inside his brain that knocked Tom unconscious. Now she’s patched his brain to keep him from turning into a Dragger, but the fix is only temporary. What’s more, Tom just found out that Charkart is assembling an army to invade Bedford, where Hecate is currently undergoing repairs, because Charkart thinks they still have the gold.
Tom took a deep breath. “Whoa now… before I start, you have to promise me two things.”
Agatha’s pistol wavered for a moment from his forehead, then she snapped it back into position. “Why should I promise you anything?”
“They’re simple requests. All I want is that you keep this conversation between the two of us for now, and that you hear me out fully before pullin’ that trigger.”
“Okay, but only if you back off a few paces.”
Tom slowly stepped backwards until Agatha lowered the barrel of her revolver. He let out a breath and thought about how he could phrase things to avoid being filled full of holes.
“Don’t make me wait too long, Tom.”
“Right… sure, well first off, I wasn’t being quite straight up when I told you I didn’t hit any Mist.”
Agatha snapped the revolver back up into firing position, aimed straight at his head. “I knew it! God damn bastard! I should kill you right now.”
“You promised! Agatha, hear me out. Am I acting like a Dragger?”
She lowered the gun so it was pointed at his chest. “No… but I don’t know everything about Draggers.”
“No, you don’t. I don’t think many people do. It’s…. You know where you go when you die?”
“You’re seriously not doing anything to allay my concerns here, Tom, talkin’ about me dyin’ and all…. I suppose you’re just gone, finished, blackness, whatever.”
“Well, seems it’s more complicated than that. Mist is made up of dead people, Agatha, somehow their souls have been… I don’t know, defiled or something. They possess the living ‘cause they’re impotent on their own.”
“You’re still not convincin’ me.”
“Right, well Ishara is a ghost too. Only she’s whole, and she has some kind of powers. She fixed me so the spirit inside me can’t take possession.”
“You have any idea how crazy all this sounds?”
Tom grimaced. “Some. If I hadn’t lived it I probably wouldn’t believe it either. You’ve got to admit it explains Ishara at least.”
Agatha paused and rubbed at her temple with her off hand. “Yeah… it does that. So why is she undamaged, and everyone else is driven to killin’ rage?”
“I have no idea, but I think we can use this. If we can learn more, we can figure out how to do somethin’ about the Mist. Maybe even get rid of it entirely.”
Agatha holstered her revolver. “Even the chance of that is worth the risk. You show any signs of cracking though, and I won’t hold back.”
Tom nodded. “Agatha, if it comes to that, I expect no less. I’ll write a journal explaining everything, and keep it in the secret compartment in my room. If you have to kill me, you can use that to explain why.”
Agatha sniffed and wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve. “Tom I…” her eyes started to mist, and she looked away, “I hope it don’t come to that.”
“Right, well I second that. Now, let’s go back a page. Who the hell could have stolen my gold?”
Harry Rees did not look pleased to see Nikki and Willow again. “You brought the gold?”
Nikki nodded and held up a messenger pouch.
Rees brightened slightly. “Let’s see it.”
Nikki dropped the heavy bag on the table. “There’s a bonus in it for you, if you can keep word we’re alive from getting back to our parents.”
Rees sniffed. “You two ought to give me a bonus for being a pain in my ass. If Charkart invades, I’ll have to find a new place to do business.”
Willow pushed the bag forward. “Well then you ought to be thankful. An extra two pounds of gold should help you relocate.”
Rees laughed. “Fair, but you know they’ll hear about you sooner or later.”
“You let us worry about that.” Willow turned and led Nikki out. “Come on, let’s get back to Hecate before anyone misses us.”
Nikki sighed. “Yeah… yeah.”
“We’re just doing what we got to.”
“Stealing from Tom.”
Willow put her arm around Nikki’s shoulder. “We’ll make it up to him, and it’s a damn sight better than going back to Mom and Dad.”
Nikki nodded. “The plan was for us to have so much gold Tom’d never notice it missing.”
“Nikki, I don’t like crossing Tom either, but we did what we had to.”
“I know… I just, I’d feel better if he was awake. I could have asked.”
“Nikki, don’t you do it.”
“You’re going to tell him when he comes ‘round aren’t you?”
“No…” Nikki shoved her hands deep in her pockets, “well maybe.”
“Just let it be, he’ll be right cranky when he finds out it’s missing. We add in our affiliations, which is bound to come out in that discussion, and we might as well just go back to the Dodgers now.”
“Where have you been?” Tom eyed Nikki and Willow as they boarded Hecate.
Nikki was about to speak when Willow elbowed her in the midriff. “Just stretchin’ our legs.”
Nikki swallowed and nodded. “I’m so glad you’re okay, Tom. You are okay… right?”
Tom grinned. “Well, truth told, I felt terrible when I woke up. Now I’m doing a whole mess better. If it weren’t for the missing gold and Charkart on the warpath I’d be right dandy.”
Nikki shuffled her feet and cleared her throat. She looked ready to say something when Willow threw her arms around Tom and gave him hug. “We were worried about you ya big lug.”
Tom put an arm around Nikki’s shoulder. “Well, I’m fine. Is that what’s getting to you, or losing the gold?”
“Bit of both, I guess.” Nikki sniffed.
“It’s okay, really. I’m fine. I was pretty wound up when I found the gold missing, but I don’t blame you. I will stake whoever took it to an anthill and smother him in honey though.”
Willow punched him in the arm. “Don’t you think that’s a little harsh?”
Tom nodded. “Right, maybe I’ll just yank out all their finger and toenails with a pair of rusty pliers.”
“Well, we’ll probably never know who did it, so what does it matter? Gone is gone. We’ll find a way to make more.” Willow shrugged. “We should get back to helping Shorty fix up Hecate.”
“You don’t think it was one of the crew?”
Willow scratched her ear. “Maybe, but we had a half-dozen or so people from Bedford on board before anyone noticed the gold was missin’. Could have been any one of them.”
“What I don’t get is why they left us enough for repairs. Why not take all of it?”
“Who knows what goes through the minds of thieves and criminal lowlife types. We’re just a couple of small-town girls, right Nikki?”
Nikki frowned at her sister and sighed. “Yeah…. By the way, Tom, Sheriff is holding a town hall tonight. He wants one of us to stop by, give our side of things, you know.”
“Sure, I can handle that, sounds like fun.”
“Get out of our town!”
Tom ducked as a beer bottle whistled overhead. The crowd gathered in the town square roiled with anger.
“Pipe down!” The Sheriff of Bedford stepped forward, shielding Tom. “Any one of you throws another thing is going to land in jail so fast they’d swear they was born there!” He waited a moment for the crowd to settle. “Now, y’all know this has been comin’ for some time. If it weren’t for Hecate and her crew, Charkart would be comin’ in a month, or a year, maybe two, but sure as shootin’ he’d be comin’. Point is they didn’t bring trouble.” The Sheriff waved his hand in Tom’s direction. “Charkart is the enemy here, and any in-fightin’ goes on here only helps him.”
“If we got rid of them at least we’d have another while to prepare!” A tall man from the crowd pushed forward.
“That ship has sailed my friend. Once Charkart mounted an army there was only one place he was going to point it. There’s no way he’ll stand down, even if they left today.”
“But what if we turn them over?” A woman’s voice from the crowd. “All he wants right now is them!”
The Sheriff tipped his hat. “Ma’am, respectfully, he wants the gold he thinks they have more than he wants them. Even if we turned ‘em over, he’d think we were hidin’ the gold.”
“Well, how do we know they ain’t hiding the gold?” The tall man pressed forward.
“Yeah who would dump that much gold!” a fat man at the front said. “I’d push my wife out first if the load needed lightening.”
“You’d push your wife out for free!” shouted another voice.
“Point is,” said the tall man, “we think they’re holdin’ out. And we want our share!”
“We want a share! We want a share!” The crowd chanted, all of them surging forward at once.
The Sheriff backed off and put his hand to the revolver at his side. “Sorry ‘bout this Tom. I suspect Charkart’s men have been working behind the scenes here to rile folks up. They ain’t normally so cutthroat.”
Tom was about ready to draw his own pistol, when a series of gunfire reports echoed across the small valley. Everyone froze and listened to the wind. The shots continued, a rapid exchange of fire between two sides.
“They’re here!” called the Sheriff. “Every armed man get to your perimeter stations. Tom, you come with me.” He took off at a run toward the sound of battle.