Chapter 13:

Chapter 13 - Bad Beat


“...swear I recognize him.”

“Hmm? From where?”

“Work. The bar, mainly.”

Morgan felt one of the men grab him by the hair and jerk his head upward. It stung mightily, but even in his barely-conscious state he knew better than to give himself away.

“I do not remember him, but I believe you. White hair is unusual for a man his age; very easy to pick out in a crowd.”

“I can see why he covered it up… Though that disguise was hardly any better.”

A chuckle. “Wessoners are not known for their subtlety.”

“Or their good judgment. Hand me the rope, will you?”

The two men towing his limp form along had come to a stop. It was too risky for Morgan to open his eyes, but the gentle breeze and the sound of feet shuffling on wet metal gave him a good idea of their surroundings. They were on the deck of a steamship, no doubt. Maybe they meant to bind his hands and leave him to rot in the hold?

“I wonder if that girl knew what she was doing, crossing Lazar?” one of the men wondered out loud. Morgan could hear the rope sliding rhythmically between busy fingers, as if knots were being tied. “And just how involved was this man? Were they working together, or did she pick a random scapegoat to take the blame?”

“From the way she screamed when I knocked him out, I would guess the former.” Morgan nearly opened his eyes out of pure shock when he felt the speaker’s hands working at his belt buckle, but thankfully–or ominously?–he was only tying off the other end of the rope. Confusion blossomed into a growing sense of dread as the situation grew more and more unusual; would it be better to put a stop to things now and try to fight them off? Or wait for more favorable circumstances?

He didn’t get the chance to decide.

A terrific splash issued from somewhere below. Morgan was manhandled into position somewhere alongside the ship’s railing, and he could feel a sharp, persistent tugging at his belt. His survival instincts flared to life, coaxing him to lash out in a blind panic, but he managed to steel his resolve and remain still even as his body was tipped over the edge.

Hitting the water immediately shocked him out of the feigned lethargy he’d been working so hard to maintain. He burbled and thrashed, eyes narrowed against the sting of seawater as the weight he’d been affixed to tugged him further and further beneath the surface. It was difficult to tell in the chaos of his rapid descent, but the weight looked like a dark, spherical shadow–cannon shot, perhaps? Before long it came to a stop–whatever it was–and lodged itself in the silt of the sandy seabed, granting him a moment of respite.

The floor of the bay was surprisingly well-lit here, and the ocean around him was still. After taking a few seconds to get his bearings, Morgan realized that he must be submerged somewhere very near the shore; the water was shallow enough for the ambient light of the waterfront to reach him, after all. What that light illuminated, though, made his blood run cold:

Bodies. They extended from the sand all around him, tied by the waist to cannonballs just like his. They swayed gently in the current of the shallows, their pallid flesh exhibiting varying states of decomposition. Some were linked to their rounded anchors by the belt, and others by a loop around the waist, but one thing was abundantly clear: none had escaped. All had drowned, here, less than two hundred feet from shore.

And here they would remain.

Panic crept back into the fore of Morgan’s mind for the second time in as many minutes. But this experience, terrifying as it was, had taught him one thing: he was more than a match for it. Where other men might have succumbed to terror and allowed it to guide them into the grave, he allowed it to fuel him. He harnessed it to sharpen his senses and quicken his judgment. His fingers tore at the thick knot of rope secured to his belt, tugged at the length holding him to the cannonball with all his might…

…But even his best efforts proved futile. He stayed rooted to the ocean floor while his lungs continued to empty, threatening to plunge him into a spiral of desperation from which there could be no escape.

Then, just as all began to seem hopeless, his racing mind reframed things for him. His hands drifted from the rope and reached behind him, instead, clawing off his shoes and socks with almost feral intensity. Then his legs began to flutter, propelling him upward while his fingers tugged frantically at the waistband of his trousers.

The result?

Morgan Sarada, the legendary Gunslinger–veteran of a hundred battles he couldn’t remember–pulled off his pants that night, and rose up through the waters of Pistola Bay to suck in a lungful of sweet, sweet air.

But his troubles were far from over; he knew that well enough. When he broke the surface gasping and hacking up a storm, he fully expected to alert his executioners to his presence. Thankfully, he found that there was nobody watching from the railing above. They had left him, assuming that their work was done. Indeed, from his place by the far end of the steamship, he could see a wagon moving off down the esplanade with two red-vested figures in the drivers’ seat.

Do a job enough times, and you’re bound to get sloppy, he mused, casting his gaze around the waterfront in an effort to plan out his next move. Though the casino goons were gone, there was sure to be a Moukahla man or two in the vicinity of the ship. Coming ashore anywhere nearby would be a risk, and he was too exhausted to swim much further.

He needed a way to get to Roulette. As foolish as she’d proven to be, he couldn’t leave her to whatever fate had befallen her at the casino. The experiences of the last few minutes had shown that, where punishment was concerned, the Moukahlas meant business. And their numbers and firepower meant he’d need an edge.

In other words, he’d need his gun.

He glanced up at the steamship and began mulling over a plan of action–a bold one. The kind of scheme Roulette might’ve hatched if she were here with him. Morgan couldn’t help but smile to himself as he swam over to the far side of the ship, on the lookout for a particular fixture of the vessel. He found it in short order: the anchor chain, which extended from surface-level up to a hole midway up the hull. For a moment he simply held tight to the chain and remained there, catching his breath. Then, gripping tightly, he began to pull himself up hand over hand.

The sea breeze was cold against his bare legs, and the going was tough. The chain was slippery; he very nearly fell a few times. But he persisted, his bare feet doing as much to keep him clinging to the chain as his hands. Once he’d finally pulled himself, panting, to the top of the anchor chain, the next problem became apparent:

He was still several feet from the deck railing.

Still, it didn’t seem impossible to bridge that distance with a little finesse and a lot of upper body strength. Morgan mustered all of his flexibility, bracing his hands against either side of the hawsehole and inching his feet upward along the thick anchor chain until they were atop the two uppermost links, which extended from the hole perpendicular to the hull. It was not a solid foothold; the chain jiggled and groaned with every move he made as he rose, gradually, into something resembling a crouch. But it was enough. Enough to give him one shot at making the deck.

He squatted for a moment, building power in his legs, and leapt. He sailed upward, rising about a foot off the chain, then nearly two. For a moment it looked as if he was going to make it…

...But it was too high up, and the intensity of his jump had carried him too far from the hull.

Morgan’s stomach dropped as he reached the zenith of his trajectory, and he felt himself beginning to fall. Fortunately, at that very moment, the swell of a minor wave crested against the ship. It rocked a little, bringing the deck’s edge nearer… nearer… until it met his outstretched fingers. His knuckles tightened as he grasped with all his might, legs flailing wildly behind him. The ship canted back and forth for a few seconds in the wake of that serendipitous wave before it fell mostly still, giving Morgan the time he needed to scramble up on deck.

By the time he’d finished, every muscle in his body seared with the pain of exertion. Keeping a low profile came naturally, as he could do little more than crawl after the trials of the last few minutes. Once again, though, luck proved to be on his side: the deck of the ship was littered with large, wooden crates dredged up from the hold, waiting to be loaded into wagons and carried to their final destination–the boss’s villa.

Morgan crept among them for several minutes until he found one with a loose lid. Then he wedged it apart from the box’s rim, heaved himself in, recentered the lid…

And waited.

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