Personaggi: Kurt, Dave, Blaine, Jesse, Rachel, Santana, Brittany, Sue, Shuester, Puck, Lauren
Genere: Avventura, Romantico
Avvisi: AU, Slash, Femslash, Threesome, Lemon
Note: Threesomes are always good things, everybody knows that. But we wanted to kick it up a notch, so we started talking about pirates. And battletrains. On tracks up in the air. With alchemy. You can't get any cooler than that. Except for dinosaurs. We'll be working on that next time.
With that said, we really, really had fun writing this, creating this world from scratches and having it masterfully drawn by kironomi who not only got exactly what we had in mind but delivered it in the best way possible. You will find her beautiful drawings inside the story, enhancing some part of it.
As usual, we tried to write as well as we could, but nothing changed from our last fic and we're still Italian. So, even though we hope we're getting better and better with every fic we write in English, grammar mistakes and horrors are bound to be there. Have patience.
~ reviews will be cherished, criticisms are welcomed, but please be gentle.
Riassunto: Since Queen Sue ascended to the throne of the Iron Lands, the war against the pirates of the Floating Lands got worse and worse with every year. The pirates claim the Midlands as their own, but the Steam Army of the Queen conquered them, and they're not going to let the pirates take them back again.
History seems about to change when Burt Hummel, a scientist living in the Midlands, works out a device that transmutes common dirt into iron. That way, it shouldn't be necessary to fight for the Midlands anymore, and the war could finally stop. Queen Sue asks him to bring the device to the Iron Palace, so that she can see it at work and, once it's proven working, stop the fighting. Burt, though, would be an easy target for anybody who wanted to steal the device, considering that he's very well known for having worked for the Queen for years.
For that reason, he sends his only child Kurt to the Iron Palace with the device, hoping that it could be safer with somebody who's not as well known as he is. Kurt accepts the mission and departs on his fiancée Blaine's train. He's one of the heads of the Steam Army, and his battletrain survived countless fights.
That's why Kurt feels safe.
Unfortunately, he's wrong.
PIRATES VS CONDUCTORS
The war predated everything Kurt knew, as well as the whole actual living population of the continent. There wasn’t a single alive person that was born before the conflict had started. After a hundred years of war, whoever was born before it was already dead, and in the meanwhile a lot of people were born while it was happening, and died before they could see its ending.
Kurt, for example, had lived his whole life, up to his seventeenth year of age, firmly believing the war would never stop. It would have gone on and on until the end of the world – or, alternatively, until the end of available soldiers.
If you asked history professors and learned people about the beginning of the war and its reasons, they always knew how to answer in details. They seemed to take delight in keeping you there as they went on and on for hours about this or that king of the Iron Lands and this or that pirate captain from the Floating Lands, the conflicts they had, the battles they fought, the tactics they went by.
If you asked normal people, though, those who lived in the country or in the iron cities, those who worked in the caves in the Midlands, they only knew the basics. Some of them didn’t even knew that. They knew a war had started way before they were born, they knew that war was all about conquering the Midlands and their mines and keeping them in control, they knew it had probably started when the Iron Lands first stepped into the Midlands claiming them as theirs despite them being considered neutral territories since the beginning of time, but that was all. They didn’t knew about people fighting on the front line, they didn’t knew about generals and commanders that were nothing but strangers’ names to them, they didn’t knew about all the money the war cost to the Iron Lands, or the multitude of lives it took.
They wanted the war over, but they didn’t care about what it really was, what it meant to the Iron Lands. Some of them even sided with the pirates, believing – Gods only knew why – that they were saviours, that they wanted to free them all from the Queen’s unfair treatment.
In Kurt’s opinion, they were fools. From where did they think the iron used to forge their tools, their utensils, even their money and the posts used to build their own homes came? Of course it came from the mines in the Midlands. The Iron Lands covered a huge territory through the whole continent, while the Floating Lands were nothing but a few little islands roaming around in the sky, always changing place with every month. They hosted not more than a hundred thousand people while the Iron Lands were home to billions. The pirates ruling the Floating Lands could have easily settled to buy a small portion of the iron the miner extracted from the caves in the Midlands, but no, they wanted the whole Midlands to be theirs, despite the little use they had for them, and still people really believed the war was some Iron Lands’ King’s fault.
Sure, Kurt hated war too. He hated waking up in the morning knowing people were going to die, he hated that there was a very little he or anybody else could do to save them or make the massacre stop, but he knew somebody had to fight that war, somebody had to kill and be killed to defend the Midlands and the Iron Lands’ wealth from the pirates’ invasion, and he wanted the war over, of course, but he wanted the Iron Lands to win it. Surely, he didn’t want some uncivilized pirates from the Floating Lands to sit on the iron throne and rule the whole land by his immoral and barbaric rules.
People didn’t know how pirates truly were. Kurt wasn’t exactly learned – he was the son of an alchemist, after all, he knew almost anything about basic alchemy processes, but he wasn’t really acquainted about history or sociology – but he had read some books about them, he knew how they lived by. They almost never left their battleships, they were known not to take any prisoners, and whenever they caught someone from the Iron Lands they always tortured them to death, even soldiers who clearly knew nothing about the Steam Army strategy, in an attempt to make them reveal Gods only knew which kind of secrets they thought they could use to their advantage on the battleground.
Pirates were cruel, ignorant brutes, and they only wanted the Midlands so that they could use the iron from the caves to enlarge their fleet and finally take a move against the Iron Lands, to conquer them, slaughter all the people who adverse them and enslave the others, and those who thought pirates were fighting this war to free the people of the Iron Lands from some kind of cruel and vicious queen, clearly knew nothing about anything at all.
“Kurt?” Burt said, waving a hand in front of his eyes to try and bring him back on earth from the stream of thoughts that had clearly brought him to some place else, “Are you listening to me?”
“Yes, dad,” he answered, turning to look at him with a little smile, “But you already told me everything a dozen times in the last three days. I think I know, now.”
“No, you don’t!” Burt insisted, placing both his big, calloused hands on his son’s shoulders, shaking him a little back and forth, “The mission you’re going to go on is a very difficult, very important, very dangerous one. We can’t risk for you to get caught, you will bring the philosopher’s stone to the Queen, and—”
“I know, dad, I know. If it can convince the Queen that the stone alone could provide the iron to sustain the whole land, the war will be over.”
His father had lazily searched for the philosopher’s stone for his whole life, just like every other man who considered himself an alchemist had done and still did since the beginning of the world. It wasn’t until he had found concrete evidence of his existence and utility that he told the Queen about it.
The stone had been working and improving non stop for the last eleven or twelve month, since Kurt’s dad and the Queen had last spoken about it, and Kurt had seen it at work a thousand times at least: it never transmuted into iron more than just a stone or something. And even then, the quantity of iron resulting somehow never managed to compare to the quantity of stone or dirt or even wood used at the beginning of the transmutation process.
Kurt had serious doubts that something like that could ever solve the Iron Lands’ problems to the point that the war would be useless, but his dad firmly believed that was what was going to happen, and after the countless years the old alchemist had spent working on that project he wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him “dad, no, this is clearly not going to work”.
“Exactly,” Burt said, nodding quickly. “You have to be brave and careful, son.”
“And you know I won’t,” Kurt chuckled, freeing himself from his father’s grasp, “That’s why you’re handing me over to Blaine, so he will be for both of us.”
Burt didn’t seem to find his son’s joke any funny, and frowned sternly as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Kurt, do I have to remind you about the crucial importance of this whole operation? How many lives we could save, how many battles we could spare the army with just one stone?”
“I swear, dad, if you remind me about it one more time, I’ll puke,” Kurt answered with a bright smile, “Dad, really, I know. And I understand. And I trust Blaine and his battletrain,” Kurt added, turning a bit to lovingly glance at his fiancée, waiting for him near the train, already ready to depart, “And so should you. He’s not a commander of the Steam Army for nothing.”
Burt sighed, passing a hand over his face. “Yes, and I do,” he admitted, gesturing towards Blaine to invite him to come closer. “Blaine, I entrust my son to you. Take good care of him and the valuable load he carries.”
“I will, mister Hummel,” Blaine said, smiling confidently at him. They shook hands, Kurt already by his fiancée’s side, an arm wrapped around his. Blaine turned towards him and smiled. “Now, shall we go?”
Blaine was a war hero whose name was known through the whole land. If there was one member of the Steam Army, only one, that commoners would have saved from the fury of the pirates’ fleets, that was him. He was a decorated soldier who had proven his value fighting bravery on the front line before he was awarded with the grade of commander, and he had the responsibility of the Warbler, the first, the biggest and the strongest among all the battletrains of the Steam Army.
At his command, the Warbler had won countless fights, shooting down dozens of pirate ships, and the soldiers he now commanded had captured hundreds of pirates that were now safely held prisoners into the Capital’s prisons, where they couldn’t hurt anybody anymore.
He was a well respected commander, a man about whom people could do nothing but talk with deference and admiration.
Yet, he clearly had no clue of what it meant to be a boyfriend. Three days had passed since they had left Lima, headed to the Capital, and Kurt had only seen him a couple of times tops. He had passed his days caged in a carriage equipped with all the comforts he might need, except of course for the strong arms of his boyfriend firmly wrapped around his body.
Blaine and Kurt didn’t exactly have a very close relationship, but that was only because they couldn’t see each other as often as they would have liked to. When they actually managed to finally spend some time together, they were always very close, and Kurt was hoping that this trip would have brought a lot more moments of intimacy between them, but it turned out that Blaine could barely leave the cabin, and in any way he preferred to have Kurt always locked up in his private cab, so to keep him safe and controlled day and night.
Kurt hated it. He was bored, tired, and missed his boyfriend. And he wanted to see the cabin, he had asked Blaine countless time to let him go there and watch him as he drove the train, but Blaine insisted it was safer to keep him in his room, and never let him out, and if he had to watch those same four walls for another instant Kurt was sure he would have gone crazy.
He couldn’t believe he had been so excited for this trip. What an adventure it will be!, he had thought while planning the departure; he couldn’t wait to be on that train, to pass through the Midlands with all their little villages, to see the high mountains on the horizon shelter the sun as it was setting while the rail led them straight to the Capital. And he couldn’t wait to see the Capital itself, with all his iron palaces, and the Queen, of course, oh, how he couldn’t wait to finally meet the Queen. He had always dreamed to just have a little taste of the adventures Blaine lived in his everyday life, and he couldn’t even look at himself, now, trapped in a stupid wagon with a stupid stone in a stupid box and nothing but the desert all around because Blaine thought it would be safer not to take the way through the Midlands.
He was sick of it all, and he was about to grab the phone hanging on the wall, the one Blaine used to communicate with him from the cabin without even having to move, to call him with the specific intent of fighting, when he heard a soft knocking on the door.
Finally! Something happening! Kurt could barely believe it, the knocking had been so soft it could have just as easily be nothing but his mind playing tricks on him. “Who is it?” he asked, standing up from the armchair he had been half-sleeping in boredom since he had woken up that morning.
“Private soldier Melchior Gabor, sir, serial number 114220316. I ask permission to come in, sir.”
Kurt chuckled lightly, covering his mouth with one hand as he tried to muffle the sound so the soldier wouldn’t hear it. He still hadn’t had the time to get used to how formal Blaine’s soldiers were. He really knew how to keep them in line. “Come in, please,” he said, smiling gently as the soldier opened the door and walked inside his room.
He was tall – at least compared to Blaine, after all – and kind of handsome, Kurt had to admit. He had pale skin and wavy light brown hair, and his eyes were a light, mysterious shade of a mixed tone in between green and grey. He was smiling warmly, standing there in his elegant uniform, as he politely saluted him with a little bow.
“I hope you’re finding yourself comfortable in here, sir,” he said. Kurt chuckled, nodding without hesitation.
“Of course, of course,” he answered, “But please, just call me Kurt.”
“I can’t, sir,” Melchior laughed a bit, “My commander would certainly reproach me if I dared.”
“Oh, but I won’t tell him, I promise,” Kurt insisted, playfully winking at him, “It’ll be our little secret.”
Melchior laughed once more, but he didn’t answer to that. He probably knew it wouldn’t have been proper for a soldier like him to play that way with somebody like Kurt. Blaine really knew how to handle his men, after all.
“Sir, I’m here because commander Anderson asked for your presence in the head cabin,” Melchior said, “Would you be kind enough to follow me?”
Kurt’s eyes immediately started to shine as a happy smile appeared on his lips. “Oh, my Gods,” he said, folding his hands over his chest, “He remembered! I asked him to let me see the cabin so many times!”
How could Kurt be so mean, how could he think Blaine had forgot about him, or was keeping him locked up in that room because he didn’t care about what he wanted? Of course Blaine cared! Of course he did, he was clearly just waiting for the right moment to call him! He was carrying the responsibility of his safety on his shoulders, and Kurt would have understood that better. He would have waited patiently for his fiancée to be sure there were no threats around, because, as it was obvious now, Blaine was just waiting for a safe moment when he could tell him to come without worry for his life.
His fiancée was a hero, a noble and honourable man, and Kurt loved him so much he couldn’t wait to finally see him again so he could show him.
“Commander Anderson also wanted me to ask you if you could bring that device you’re carrying with you on the cabin,” Melchior added, “He would like to watch it closely.”
“Of course,” Kurt answered without even listening to him. He was too happy to be concerned about that stupid stone or everything else in the world, for that matter. He was about to see Blaine! He was about to stand by his side while he drove the train towards the Capital in the blinding light of the day! He couldn’t imagine anything more adventurous or exciting.
He took the little velvet box the stone was kept in and followed Melchior out of the room.
“Weren’t there two soldiers here?” Kurt asked as Melchior led him along the wagons, walking slowly so to let him free to take a look around. He was grateful to Melchior to be so kind to him, he must’ve guessed or known that Kurt hadn’t really had the chance to explore the train before, but not seeing the soldiers he was sure Blaine had put to guard his door was kind of making him nervous.
“Yes, sir,” Melchior nodded, moving from one wagon to the other and keeping the door open for Kurt to pass through it, “Since I was going to take care of you here, commander Anderson asked them over to the head cabin. You know how it is on a battletrain, we can’t just leave men guarding an empty room.”
“Actually, I don’t really know how it is on a battletrain, since I had never been into one before three days ago,” Kurt chuckled, “But it makes sense. I guess you’re all very busy, all day long.”
“Constantly,” Melchior nodded, helping him into yet another wagon.
“Thank you,” Kurt said, actually looking around himself for the first time since they had left his room. “Wait a minute, isn’t this the end of the train?” he asked, looking outside the window.
“It would appear so,” Malchior nodded, opening the last door. Instantly, the wind started to blow inside the wagon so hard and fast Kurt had to grab one of the handles hanging down from the ceiling not to fall on the ground.
“What are you doing?!” Kurt screamed, terrified, “Weren’t you supposed to bring me to Blaine?!”
“Oh, was I?” Melchior asked, his formerly kind smile turning quickly into a way more wicked one.
Kurt felt his heart skip a beat and held on to the handle tighter. “Who the hell are you?” he asked in a breath.
He didn’t have the time to hear the answer, though. “Jesse St. James,” the man answered, hitting him on the back of his head and managing to grab the little velvet box he let go of fainting, before it could hit the ground, “Nice to meet you.”
Jesse opened the jacket of the uniform he had stolen from one of the soldiers he had found outside of Kurt’s room before throwing them both out of the windows, and put the box in one of the countless inner pockets it had, and then retrieved Kurt’s unconscious body from the ground, lifting him up on his own shoulders. He secured the sleeping boy on himself with a rope and then walked outside the train, jumping on the two-seater floating air-scooter tied to the iron handrail.
Whistling happily, perfectly satisfied with himself, he cut the rope and flew away.
The Warbler was the first train of the fleet and the first battletrain ever built, too. It had a body of iron, a steam turbine and four alchemy powered auxiliary engines. When it first came out, more than a hundred years prior, its only engine was coal-powered and it was replaced ten years after with a modern, more functional model, which was the one it had now.
Not the newest train of the fleet, perhaps, but the more reliable.
Blaine had driven it for five years and he wouldn't have changed it for any of those ten-engines monstrosities that industry was building nowadays. They were gorgeous and well armed, absolutely essential to fight the war, but they still couldn't compete with the flagtrain's stability. To date, the Warbler was still the best train, as far as the ratio between power, speed and endurance was concerned. Also, the flagtrain didn't need to be the best, but it needed to be indestructible because it was the only real reference point in battle. All the other conductors would look for it if they were in trouble, therefore it could not fall easily, for it was the sign that the army had still hope, that it was still fighting. And the Warbler, with his century of service, had never broken down but once, while Blaine had at least forty of the latest units in repair every week.
Blaine checked the pressure gauge and the levels of energy in the engine compartment through the control panel Hummel had installed on the bridge. Everything seemed perfectly normal. Cruising speed was good and at this pace he could hope to get to Capital City on schedule, given the pirates didn't decide to attack, which would have been unfortunate indeed.
Usually, it would have been reporting via radio to the command every twelve hours about his squadron's whereabouts and status, but the delicate nature of the current mission required total secrecy because communications between the train and the headquarters however coded could still have been intercepted, and he couldn't let it happen.
Therefore, left with really nothing to do, he realized this was a good moment to show Kurt the train, for he had been asking to visit it since their departure. He called an orderly and when he came, clicking his heels and giving a salute, he ordered him to fetch his fiancée from the cabin he had been locked in for three days and escort Kurt to him.
Knowing Kurt, Blaine doubted him would be in any way interested in what the Warbler was. Kurt wasn't exactly the kind of young man who fancied train or the art of war, in general. He was artistic, he loved art, singing and theatre. He would not understand the poetry of the pistons moving in perfect harmony, like the giant keys of a piano, pushing the train forward instead of making music. But that was one of the reason Blaine loved him so much. They were so different from one another, and still shared so much. Like a passion for music, Blaine himself used to sing from time to time, even though he was not good at it as Kurt was.
They were a strange couple, Kurt and him.
They had met by chance, in a moment when Blaine wasn't thinking about love at all. He had just been named commander of the royal fleet and he was determined to live up to the honour that had been given to him. All his efforts and energy were focused solely on lead a battle after the other and possibly to win the war as soon as possible, bringing the Iron Lands back to the peace they had long forgotten.
It was late April, some time after the fleet's victory at Kinley's point – one of the most strategic and important sites on the borders, that the pirates was about to take, opening a way not only between the fleet's lines, but to the Iron Lands as well – and a party to celebrate the astounding performance of the Queen's fleet had been thrown by a rich merchant of a city nearby. All the highest in command were there, together with all the personages of the towns all around. Mister Hummel and his son were invited to, in consideration of what the alchemist had done for the fleet.
Blaine and Kurt had never met before, but Blaine knew Burt. The two of them were talking about possible modifications on the Warbler, when Kurt had approached them, taking his father away from him with a polite apology in his direction. Blaine could honestly swear he hadn't be able to look at anything else but Kurt, that night. His eyes had followed him through the room, even when he had been expected to listen to his superiors asking about this or that detail of the battle. Every time he lost sight of Kurt's peculiar outfit, his eyes would look for it until they find it again. By the end of the night, he could recognize Kurt in the crowd by the mere sight of a button.
They didn't speak at all that night, except for saying goodbye.
Blaine had been pleased, though, to see in Kurt's eyes the same kind of longing desire that he was sure was in his own. For this reason, he had found the courage to try and court him, because all of a sudden, fight an entire fleet of pirate ships with one single battletrain left seemed easier than ask Kurt out. Blaine's visits to Burt's lab became quite frequent and so did the invitations to stay for dinner. After what felt the millionth time that he was invited to stay and he spent the time nodding politely to whatever Burt was saying while looking at Kurt and smile awkwardly every now and then, Burt had taken the problem in his own hand and asked abruptly – and a little bit sternly to add a touch of scariness – if Blaine liked his only son, for it certainly looked so. Blaine had turned red, and Kurt purple but Burt had stood his ground. “You two don't do anything but look at each other all day,” he had said. “I gave you plenty of chances to make a move, so now please do it or give up because I can't bare the lovey-dovey act any longer.”
And Blaine did it. He asked the man the honour to court Kurt and he said yes. They went out a couple of times, but it was clear since the beginning that they were meant to be together. Four years after, which means a year before this mission had became necessary, Blaine had asked Burt for Kurt's hand and they were now going to marry soon, possibly after the end of the war that both Burt and Blaine felt closer and closer with the discovery of the stone.
He was smiling stupidly at the window of the head cabin, looking not at the dry beauty of the desert but at his own mental images of how the wedding was going to be according to Kurt's fashion sense, when the door of the cabin burst open and his orderly run in, screaming his name.
“Commander Anderson,” he said, breathing heavily. “Mister Hummel is gone, sir. The room is empty and I couldn't find him.”
“What?” Blaine moved away from the window as all the wedding images disappeared from his head, his brain entering in a perfect emergency-mode. “What do you mean he is gone? Did you ask the men at his door?”
“They are gone too, sir.”
“Damn!” Blaine was already in motion before the orderly had even stopped speaking. He started running down the hall and the soldier run after him, awaiting orders. “He's been abducted. Call the security. Stop the train. Block all the exits. Now!”
The young orderly stopped and took out his radio, which frizzled a little as soon as he pressed the button. “Attention, to all units on board. We have a breach. Repeat: we have a breach. Suspected intruder. Train in red mode.”
The orderly didn't need to say his name or that it was Blaine's order. Whoever was accused of pretending a red code for a battletrain would go to the court-martial. Nobody would ever dream of playing like that, so if a red mode had been called, then it had to be real. The brakes were pulled a second after, while the orderly was still shouting about the state of emergency. The train screeched, a wave of sparkles washed over the windows as the brakes bit at the tracks. The train jumped to a stop and then, all together windows and doors shut down, leaving the whole train in the dark for a brief moment before the emergency light turned on.
Used to every single movement of his train in battle, Blaine was unaffected by its jumping and shaking, and he kept moving down the hall, avoiding things falling down from the highest shelves and soldiers throwing themselves out of the cabins and running to their duties. He shouted orders as he passed them by, taking some with him for good measure.
Kurt's door was open, obviously. He quickly checked the room but as soon as he saw his window was intact he didn't waste any more time and kept running down the hall. Whoever took Kurt had had to run that way, because they were coming from the other. He passed an awful numbers of intersections, scattering his men in each and every wagon to check for Kurt while he run forward.
There was a strange noise ahead. Some sort of enduring whistle with a knocking sound in the background. It took him a few moments to realize the whistle was strong wind coming in the train from outside, meaning that one of the exits had to be open. When he reached it, the last door was open. The shutter had closed too late and not completely. He knelt down to discover that the knocking sound was the end of a rope, slamming against the side of the train. Looking up, he saw a flying vehicle in the distance, the intruder and his precious load were gone.
“Flying vehicle, probably a scooter, going South-Eastwards” he said in his radio. “I want two squads after it.”
“Roger,” A frizzling voice said from the other end. “Squad one and two ready, sir.”
“Get him and take back Hummel and his load.”
The orderly caught up with Blaine as he put away the radio. “The train is clear, sir. What are the orders, now?”
Blaine sighed. There wasn't much he could do. There were no doubts Kurt had been kidnapped by the pirates, but he couldn't just turn the train around and go toward the Floating Lands. That constantly moving place was too dangerous to walk through without a map to follow. He had to hope the squads got Kurt back or at least catch up with the scooter and followed it, so to know exactly where he was heading to. “We get the Warbler ready,” he said as he walked back to the head cabin. Once there, he unlocked the system and cleared the state of emergency. “We leave as soon as we have the coordinates.”
“Yes sir,” the orderly said, nodding.
Around them the Warbler came back to life, roaring and ready to fight if necessary, as its conductor was.
Jesse had driven his scooter randomly for almost two hours before getting bored and nose-diving toward the ocean, run on the surface of the water for three miles and then literally disappear behind one of the many falls generated on the floated stones, giving the slip to Blaine's soldiers, running after him on their flying vehicles. He had confused them for a while, taking them away from the Warbler and right at the board of the pirates territory, where he could orient himself and they couldn't. The game was over.
He turned off the scooter's engine and waited, hidden behind one of the huge masses of rock floating in mid-air. He watched them search for him around, but not daring to cross the border. They could, of course, try and follow him, maybe they could even catch him – Jesse wasn't so sure about that but he was willing to give the poor guys at least that merit – but without a map of the rocks' migration, they were bound to turn around with their precious intruder and find themselves trapped in a labyrinth that wasn't there before. And in the land of pirates, being a group of royal soldiers away from their battletrain was never a good idea.
Jesse had to admit they were persisting, though. They searched for at least another hour, forcing him to check on Kurt and see if he was waking up, before giving up and preparing to go back to their commander to tell him he was lost.
In the beginning, the Floating Lands were attached to the continent, separated from the Iron Lands by that same Midlands that now were the reason of the war. Then various earthquakes opened a crack in the ground, that eventually resulted into big chunks of rock the size of cities to come off the land. But instead of staying where they were, they started floating due to the alchemical energy in excess, that was also the main cause of the earthquakes to begin with. Alchemists said those parts of the land were lost, because the energy was bound to run out sooner or later. The rocks would fall into the ocean, bringing the cities with them.
People left the rocks and their cities, and went to live in the Midlands or in the Iron Lands, if they had enough money. Many of them even faced the long journey to the Capital, hoping to find a job as servants and maids, there. The Floating Stones were abandoned, awaiting for them to fall and disappeared in the deep waters eight hundreds feet below them.
But it never happened.
Somehow, the energy that was keeping the rocks in the air started to interact with the energy on solid ground, creating currents that would keep these rocks floating but push them around in no predictable patterns. Because of its constantly changing geography, the Floating Lands became the perfect place to hide for runaways and criminals and people who needed to disappear from the face of the world for whatever reason. They started to live there and developed a way to understand the migration of the stones they lived on and they built ships that could fly, powered with little stones extracted from the floating rocks. And like sailors at sea, they learned how to orient themselves in a land with very few constant landmarks.
They built their own kingdom, mirroring the one that had turned them into outcasts and they took their revenge on it by attacking the people on the ground and stealing from them. They started roaming the sky in little fleets, they became pirates and the rest was history.
Jesse waited for the royal soldiers to fly away and disappear beyond the line of the horizon before turning on the engine again. Kurt was moaning now and stirring every now and then, he needed to get to the target soon. He came out from behind his hiding place and speeded up through the path of rocks without hesitation. Jesse wasn't born in the Floating Lands but he knew exactly how to move through them. A man with his kind of job needed to be able to find his way wherever he was, otherwise he wouldn't live very long. And since he planned to have a long, happy life and then retire at a very old age in one of the tropical islands in the South to enjoy all the money he would have had, he was very good at saving his ass in every possible situation.
It took him another hour to get to where he needed to be.
Eventually, the hugest rock he had seen so far slowly moved aside to reveal a pirate ship, glorious and shiny in the dying light of the day. And behind it, about other twenty ships, smaller and somehow not as impressive as the flagship but still visibly as armed. This fleet was huge, and it wasn't the only one. Jesse knew for a fact that, twenty miles East from there, there was another one, as big as this one, and the same went from twenty miles in every direction. The pirates were indeed a power to be reckon with, because they had done the only thing they needed to do: they joined forces and they were now many, angry and merciless.
Jesse approached the flagship slowly and stopped in mid-air thirty feet from it, knowing pirates tended to shoot at anything they didn't know and that moved around their ship. A man with a purple bandana over a ruffled head of blonde hair frowned at him and squinted his eyes as if he couldn't see very well.
“Who th' hell be ye?” He asked in a deep, throaty voice before coughing and then spitting in the ocean.
Jesse made a face at his astounding lack of grammar, but he smiled anyway. “Hello good sir, my name is Jesse St. James. Your captain is waiting for me. I have something he wants.”
The pirate looked at him very intently, as if he was trying to understand what exactly Jesse was saying, which was ridiculous since it should have been the other way around. Eventually, he seemed to give up on some of the words and focus only on the ones he understood, which were very few.
He nodded and then turned his head. “Avast, thar, Cap'n, thar be a scurvy dog here who says ye be waitin' fer him,” he shouted. “He says his name be Jesse St. somethin'. I shoot him?”
He was speaking to someone Jesse couldn't see, but he could hear the clear, stern voice answering him and recognize it as the captain's voice. “Of course you don't shoot him, you idiot. Let him on board.”
“Aye, Cap'n.” The pirate nodded again and then turned to Jesse again. “Th' Cap'n says ye can come on board. Leave that sailin' thin' thar 'n use th' ladder.”
After he said that, a rope ladder was thrown overboard for him. He got the scooter closer to the side of the ship and then climbed the ladder, with Kurt's sleeping body secured to his back. Once he got on top, the blonde pirate helped him out, almost dragging him on board. “Here, ye land people be not jolly at gettin' on a ship.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jesse said, dusting off his trousers. He carefully took Kurt off his shoulders and lied him on the planks, where he moaned a little and then curled up in his sleep. The captain came forward, taking a couple of slow steps toward him and stopping a few feet away, right next to the blonde pirate who obligingly took a step back. “Captain Karofsky.”
“St. James,” the captain grumbled.
Captain Karofsky was a big, sturdy young man, with dark brown hair and a constantly pissed off expression on his squared face that made him look like if he had just eaten something nasty. He hadn't missed any limbs yet and his eyes were a deep brown that matched the planks of his ship when they got wet at high tide. In his early twenties, he was quite young to be ruling a ship as big as The Fury but he was the son of a captain, the grandson of a buccaneer and the nephew of a corsair, so he wasn't expected to be less than a sea robber himself. He had got his ship and half the crew from his father, but the rest of his men and the other ships that followed his lead he had owned himself.
Jesse didn't like pirates too much – actually, he didn't like anyone in general too much, because liking someone required a certain amount of interest toward other human beings which he lacked by nature – but he found Karofsky amusing, and he enjoyed the brief moments they spent in civilities before their business.
As a pirate, he was quite peculiar. First of all, he wasn't cursed with the usual blatant ignorance. His notorious grandfather was the illegitimate son of a baron and had been educated in the finest school before going off roaming the sea. The old man was a true pirate, but he had as well the heart of a man of letters. He loved books as much as he loved treasures and he passed his passion to his son and to his son's son after that. Even though Karofsky had a lot of the restlessness of his father Paul, which made him a troubled soul, he was much like his grandfather as far as his education was concerned. Secondly, he followed no rules but his own, and that was something Jesse could relate to.
“I was starting to think you'd never show up. You're late,” Karofsky said.
Jesse smiled charmingly as he always did. “I have my reasons, sir. Men of the Queen were after me, I had to get rid of them in order to get here unharmed and with your requested goods safe and sound in my hands. So I did and here I am. I believe this should be a good enough explanation to be forgiven.”
“I suppose it is,” Karofsky granted. “Do you have what I asked?”
“As I said, I do,” Jesse smiled again and rummaged in his jacket's inside pocket, retrieving the little box. “This is the device you wanted and the kid here was the one who had it.”
Karofsky tilted his head, frowning as he watched Kurt. “This is not Hummel,” he said.
“Actually, he is. Kurt Hummel, only son of Burt Hummel and his late wife, died during a raid of your fellow pirates ships in Lima town, approximately ten, maybe fifteen years ago.”
The captain was totally unimpressed by Jesse's knowledge. “Still, the son of the alchemist is not what I asked you.”
“No, what you asked me was to bring you the box and who had it and that's exactly what I brought you, Karofsky,” Jesse said. “If you don't like it, that's fine. Feel free to lodge a complaint to the battletrain army of Her Majesty, but don't blame me.”
In the meanwhile, Kurt was finally starting to wake up. When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was the point of Karofsky's sword, aimed at his neck as the captain was arguing with Jesse over his body. “Are you trying to fuck with me, St. James?”
“For God's sake, no!” Jesse sighed. “He was on the train with the box. There wasn't anyone else. I'm sorry if you are disappointed, but let me tell you, you should get your information right next time, if you don't want this kind of unfortunate situations to happen. Now, if you'd be so kind as to pay me.”
“Who are you?” Kurt said as he tried to move away from both of them and failed because his hands and feet were tied.
“Avast, Cap'n, he be awake,” the blonde pirate said, drawing Kurt's attention toward himself and the dozen of other men on the ship.
“Oh my Gods, you are pirates!” Kurt screamed, hearing the way he spoke. He wiggled away and turned to Jesse, glaring at him. “You sold me to the pirates, you bastard!”
“At least I was trying to before you woke up and delayed this transaction even further,” he answered. Then he sighed, as if to regain his composure. “Captain, if you don't mind, it's getting late and I have other things that I need to take care of.”
Karofsky wasn't convinced about the whole matter and his crew seemed to notice that. His men came closer, all with swords or pistols in hand. Kurt started screaming even louder, accusing Jesse of treachery and ordering the pirates to stay away from him because he was the fiancée of Blaine Anderson, commander of the Warbler, first battletrain of the Queen and that soon the whole army of Her Majesty would fall upon them to save him.
Nobody listened to him.
“Dave, you wanted the thing. You have it,” the voice of a woman said, apparently out of thin air. “So, cut the bullshits and let's see if it works. The kid here is the son of the alchemist, he must know something. If he doesn't we will use him to get to the man himself.”
Kurt shut up immediately, terrified by the ghostly voice. He looked up at Jesse, but he was as calm as ever and nobody seemed to mind that a bodiless woman was speaking to them. “Did you hear it too?”
“What if he's screwing with us?” Dave said to the voice, showing that he had indeed heard it.
“He would never do that, wouldn't he?” the incorporeal woman said. “He knows that we hunt down, torture, skin and kill bastards.”
Jesse smiled as if that was a compliment. “I would never dare, miss Lopez. I swear to the Gods that this kid is Burt Hummel's son and the box he brings with him is the device you asked me to retrieve.”
“Aye, fine. Gimme that.” Karofsky reached out but Jesse shook his head. “What?”
“We are both gentlemen, aren't we, captain?” Jesse titled his head. “Let's do as gentlemen do.”
Karofsky nodded to one of his pirates, a beautiful young lady with a blonde pony tail on the top of her head who came forward, dangling her hips on a pair of staggering heeled boots. “If you are a leprechaun, why are we giving you money? Shouldn't be the other way around?” She said, giving him a sachet of clinking coins. She had the most beautiful blue eyes Jesse had ever seen. It was a pity they couldn't do nothing for her blank expression, probably mirroring a severe case of vacancy in her brain too.
“C'mere, me beauty,” the same pirate said as he grabbed the girl by her wrist and dragged her away from Jesse. “Ye need to sleep, Brit, ye be knowin' that.”
Britney nodded vaguely and walked away with the man, turning to look at Jesse every now and then, probably making sure he wasn't going to disappear. “Here is your device, Captain,” Jesse said, giving the little velvet box to Karofsky. “And the kid, of course, is yours too. I suggest that you treat him well. Anderson seems very fond of him and the man's got money, if you know what I mean.”
“This is none of your business, St. James,” Karofsky growled as he nodded to a couple of pirates who lifted a screaming Kurt from the ground and took him away. “Now, get lost. I've seen enough of you face for a lifetime.”
“I would love to oblige, but unfortunately there is something else I need to retrieve from this ship before I can consider myself excused,” Jesse said with a bow. “Now, I would ask you if you keep your marine charts in your cabin, Captain, and where it might be, but I feel you won't tell me, am I right?”
Karofsky frowned, not getting what was happening for a moment. “What are you talking about?”
“Someone else – I don't want to name names, let's just say he is a renown train conductor who happens to drive the same train that was transporting Hummel, what a coincidence! – asked me to get the charts and since he too was paying, I couldn't say no, could I?”
Karofsky literally growled, unsheathing his sword. “Take him! Take him but don't kill him,” he shouted to his men, scattered all around the deck. “I wanna do that!”
“There's no need to be so touchy!” Jesse said, swirling away from the grasp of a pirate and then jumping on a barrel to avoid the sword of another. “I'll find the cabin by myself, thank you very much.”
From the barrel, Jesse jumped up on the quarterdeck and then, he turned around to fend with two pirates from up there. While the entirety of his crew flocked toward Jesse and followed him on the quartedeck, Karofsky went the other way, knowing that St. James was going to jump down sooner or later.
Jesse didn't want to kill anyone, it wasn't his style. But he didn't have nothing against wounds, especially if they could help getting him out of bad situations. So he cut people open here and there and he scratched one pirate's face from cheekbone to chin, actually making him more handsome. He walked backward, looking back every once in a while to avoid a pitiful, totally not gorgeous fall.
“I appreciate your eagerness, gentlemen,” he said after a while, “but I need y'all to back off, now.”
Suddenly, he dove on the ground, propping himself up with his free hand as he swung the sword with the other. He kicked the first man in line in his shin and he fell to the ground, bringing with him all the ones behind him. Jesse took a moment to himself to watch the scene. “Oh, that's why I love bowling.”
Then he jumped off the quarterdeck, right in front of the door of the captain's cabin.
When he landed, Karofsky was there. “Where do you think you're going?”
“I get you feel violated by me entering your cabin. I know, everybody always does,” he said, as they started fencing. Like two trained dancers, they moved in circle, every hack and perry precise and graceful, beautiful to watch. Karofsky's men stopped where they where, keeping an eye on the intruder, in case he escaped from the captain. “But I swear to the Gods and to the soul of my poor mother, that I'll be as unobtrusive as possible.”
“Shut up and surrender!”
“I'm afraid this is not possible. Would you try and order me something else? Who knows, I might even like it!” Jesse didn't lose his smile as he looked around, searching for a way out. He found it when he saw the copper bracelet on the captain's left wrist glowing red. He avoid Karofsky's hack by bending down and then rolled on the ground. When he was ready again, he aimed his sword not to the man but to the bracelet.
“Dave, watch out!” The voice of the woman screamed.
Karofsky focused exclusively on avoiding the blow and saving the bracelet. He withdrew the arm just in time, so Jesse ended up only scratching the back of his hand, but the captain got distracted and when he looked up again, St. James had already locked himself in the cabin.
Once he was inside the captain's cabin and the door was locked, Jesse leaned against for a second, catching his breath. From outside, came the voices of the pirates, already re-organizing to knock the door down. He would have to search fast if he wanted to get out of there alive and with the charts. The cabin was huge, considering that the other hundred men slept all crowded in half the space. The captain had a four posted bed with an upholstered headboard, a wooden table that had to weight as much as the ship, more books that he would care to count and a chest in a corner that Jesse would have loved to empty if he had the time.
“So many robberies, so little time,” he sighed, dramatically as he went through the papers on the table.
“St. James, you are a dead man!” The captain shouted in a deep, angry voice.
“Aren't we all?” He answered, as he threw the log book behind his back. “You know, it's a mess in here. How are you supposed to find anything?”
Under the pirates' blows, the door was already cracked and twisted. Jesse could see their dark, sometimes missing eyes from a hole they managed to open. “Alright, it's time to get out of here,” he murmured to himself. That was when he saw the marine charts spread on the table like a tablecloth under everything else, and pinned down with heavy stones at the four corners. “Here you are.”
He moved everything else aside with an arm and he rolled the charts. By the time he was done, the door blasted open and a ridiculous number of pirates started coming in, Karofsky in the lead. Jesse was out of the window already, and climbing the broadside to get back on deck. Once there, he met Karofsky again. The bracelet was still there, but Jesse couldn't try the same trick twice, so he had to fence with the man for real, this time.
“You're not gonna leave my ship alive with those!” The captain roared.
“Come on, Capitain! I bet you don't even need them, anymore” he said, slowly moving around him to get closer to the shrouds. “Let's donate to the unfortunate people who don't know their way around here.”
Karofsky lunged but he missed. Jesse had jumped and grabbed the shrouds, heaving himself up with one arm. The captain growled and followed him, but Jesse was slimmer and faster, and he moved like a monkey. The sword back in its sheathe and the charts secured to his belt, he climbed the shrouds up to the top, with Karofsky on his heels and his crew climbing next to him, knives between his teeth and all.
He looked around, feeling Karofsky's grin of triumph on himself. “It's over, St. James,” The captain said. “Hand me the charts, and we'll be even.”
“I would, seriously, if I was trapped.”
“Well, I'm sorry to break it for you, but you are.”
Jesse's face lighted up and he smiled so graciously that for a moment Karofsky was confused. This man was trapped on top of the mainmast of his ship with his whole crew after him, why was he fucking smiling? Then Jesse jumped. He let himself go in the air, overboard. They waited to hear the splash but there was none. One moment, and the man showed up again, waving on top of his scooter.
“Thank you, Captain!” He shouted, giving him a salute. “It was a blast! We should really do it again another time.”
The crew looked at Karofsky, waiting for orders but he knew they couldn't follow him now, because the ship would never move fast enough to catch up with him. Dave took his time to calm down and then just turned around, like Jesse's escape didn't even matter. “We can do without the charts, but we need to follow other paths,” he said, serious. “Prepare the Fury, we are sailing in half an hour.”
As the crew run on deck to get everything ready, the bracelet glowed again. “What about St. James?”
“The tide will bring him back to us sooner or later,” he answered the woman.
Then, he entered the cabin and locked himself in.