Published: September 20, 2014
Blue sky, white clouds, and a hint of desert wind from the east. All was calm, as if the entire universe were holding its breath. Then it exhaled. The sky erupted in a fury of orange, yellow, red, and green flame. A mixture of hellfire and rocket fuel, with a dash of magic thrown in for maximum damage.
Custom explosives were like that, Bombkatt thought, sitting in the Captains chair of the Jolly Dagger. Multicolored, sparkly, vicious. No matter the recipe, each bento bomb was unique. In her mind at least. Katt loved crafting her own weapons, and she was damned good at making them. It was a gift. Bentos, specifically, were her preferred weapon of choice. With the right Majeki inserted, they could even be used to entertain parties. Not these ones. These were made to kill.
The Jolly Dagger, Katt’s newly bought airship, cast a Windfish silhouette, was blazingly fast... and painfully outgunned — woefully undersized for a showdown with the Motherload, a dark, sharp looking warship, vomiting forth wave after wave of Scumm Fighters. Scumms were small, one manned aircraft, designed to swarm and destroy. The Dagger, to its credit, was keeping one step ahead of them, spinning and rolling according to its evasive programming, as Katt manned the Bomb-O-Matic turret atop its highest mast.
“Malbeq! Damn you!”, said Katt. “This would go a lot easier if you’d just let me leave”
Sitting there, surrounded by flashing blue and green lights on her 8-bit console display, she swiveled wildly in her seat, shooting the fighters down one by one. The Bomb-O-Matic was worth every token, capable of 360 degree rotation and pre-targeting enemies. A feature which was saving her ass, right now. At least the shields will be leveling up, she thought as one of the downed ships slammed into the Jolly Dagger’s defensive barrier.
“Hey watch it! That’s fresh paint you jerktards!”
This time she was shouting, raising her voice to the Motherload as she took down five more Scumm Fighters.
“When you’re involved, Bombkatt, there is only a hard way.”
The vid screen had flashed to life and Malbeq, leader of the Goldbrickers, Captain of the Motherload, now hailed her via coms. Though Katt had foresight enough to shut them down prior to the battle, he was still able to force himself through.
“Are you serious?!” Katt shrieked at the screen.
“Deadly…” he replied. “You see Katt, that ship you pilot? It’s mine. You bought it without my knowledge, with my money, and thought you could keep it a secret from me. I want it back. And I’m going to get it.”
“Uh— hello? It was my money Mal. My split of the take...”
“YOU DON’T GET A SPLIT! This is my guild, with my rules. Everything you earn is mine, and in exchange…”
Katt allowed him to ramble on a bit. In fact, she was banking on it. She needed time enough to import her evasive maneuver apps — a reasonably cheap collection of piloting software she had bought on the interwebs. She needed Mal to be distracted so that when they kicked in, he wouldn’t be able to react fast enough.
“Shut yur cake hole”
It was the only thing she could think of to insult him, and once her engines kicked into overclock, Malbeq couldn’t hear her, anyway.
The Jolly Dagger rolled in a wide arc, dropped all of its altitude, kissed the undisturbed water below, and blasted off toward the horizon, churning up mountainous waves in the process. The Motherload continued toward its prey slowly, with malicious intent. What it lacked in speed and maneuverability, it made up for in cutting edge tracking systems and Malbeq’s undying relentlessness.
“KACHO! Kacho, reload the ‘Matic! Kacho!”
“I heard you, m’lady. I’ll reload the weapons. Do it as soon as the coffee’s done brewin’. Can’t very well let it burn.”
“NOW Kacho! I don’t want any coffee, reload the freaking cannons! NOW!”
Kacho, a mint green slime and personal servant to Bombkatt, heard her loud and clear.
“Yes! Yes of course, right away then, Mum!”
Kacho had every intention of obeying, just as soon as the coffee was done and his lady fingers were out of the oven. He knew how important a victory meal would be, even if Bombkatt forgot about such things. And this prized dessert was going to be a real cracker.
“You don’t load those bombs right the hell now, and I swear I’ll shove you back into that treasure chest where I found you, you-”
“Right! Of course M’lady”
Cutting her off, Kacho started back down to the armory when he noticed there were only three minutes left on the oven. His lady fingers would surely burn if he left now. Oh, and the coffee... Quickly, the little slime started to pull them out early, while simultaneously pouring a fresh pot of joe into a copper kettle when another buzzer went off. The filling! Oh snap, he thought, Katt would have to wait a second, his mascarpone needed him first.
Ear-piercing laughter rang out within the Dagger. Malbeq, still on coms, had heard every word of the exchange.
“You having crew problems? I know exactly how you feel,” he said while twisting his unbelievably long and ultra thin mustache. Suggesting Katt was as big a problem to him as Kacho was to her.
“This is why I put my trust in me, and my possessions, never people. Or talking green snots in your case. Take Skullcutter here,” patting his blade with pride. “A true servant to the core. Always obeys. Goes wherever I throw her. Faithfully returns. Every time.”
Katt flipped Malbeq the bird while pre-targeting the next batch of Scumm Fighters.
“Feisty aren’t we? You’ll be returning, too. I keep what's mine. Like that ship”
“Ha!” Katt spun around with the cannon, leveling her aim squarely at the Motherload. “You want the Jolly Dagger? Have a taste!” Katt squeezed down on the firing trigger and nothing happened.
Empty. The out of ammo light started to blink wildly in front of her as the ships automated voice alarm announced a ninety percent decrease in attack ability.
“That little shit!”
Screaming hellfire, Katt dropped down her turret hatch and sprinted to the galley, finding Kacho in the middle of plating a fresh tiramisu. He looked up at her with a prideful grin.
“You had one job to do, Kacho! One!”
Furious, Katt slammed the finished dessert to the floor, spilling coffee everywhere, grabbing him by the squishy head, and chucking him down into the armory.
“ONE FREAKING JOB!”
At that moment, the entire ship buckled. Crap! Slammed leftward and rightways, Katt braced herself steady before climbing back up to her command console. Jerkweed Malbeq must’ve caught up, Katt thought as she checked the Dagger’s hit points and programed a new route. Kacho had better be ready, or I’ll throw his ass in the cannon instead. She hit the activate button and let the ship do the rest.
One job to do, one job to do, one job to do, Kacho repeated this absurd statement over and over in his mind as he unstuck himself from the floor of the Daggers armory room.
Room. That was putting it nicely. More like a tiny storage bay in the lowest deck of the ship. It contained the ‘Matics ammo tubes, an exit hatch on the side, and the repulsive stank of epoxy polyamide enamel. A gun, a door, and cheap ass paint is how Katt described it to Kacho.
There were over a hundred and one things to manage with Bombkatt, and being her personal servant required more than acting on her wild whims. What she needed and what she wanted were two very different things to Kacho.
One job to do indeed, and right now it was spitting out bombs. He was the real armory. Kacho rolled around that never ending tummy of his, digging through hundreds of items he’d stored inside — everything Katt had managed to horde over the last few years. Plus change.
Kacho was a slime, and slimes stored stuff. Lot’s of it. Inside their jelly bean like bodies were vast, gelatinous caverns of empty, ready for storage space. It took most slimes the first hundred years of their lives to keep track of them. Kacho’d had thousands to get it sorted out. He quickly vomited up Katts best bento bombs and activated the arming switch.
Bollocks, he thought. I could really go for some Tiramisu now.
Malbeq loved a fight.
After your first lifetime ends, he thought, creatures tend to avoid the violent parts the second time around. Not him. He was a Skullock. A type of Dajuma, or “demon” as humans called them. You came back as Dajuma the first time you died, with no memory of who or what you were before that. There were three types: Skullocks, Vampys, and Octoads. Skullocks were all male skeletons, Vampys were female succubi, and Octoads weren’t really any gender at all. Just tentacles and big teeth. No one wanted to come back as one of those.
Malbeq was sitting in his Captains chair on the command deck of the Motherload, his trusty Skullcutter leaning against the seat, with a small crew on deck taking care of the ships systems. Ornate. Lavish. The highest of tech. The Motherload was all these things, and more. The Goldbrickers were the number one ranked Sky Pirate Guild in Valence, and they deserved the best money could buy.
“Like that ship” Malbeq said aloud.
“Sorry sir?” Said Arboghast, a five foot Octoad with a small conjoined twin attached to his head — second in command of the Motherload.
“What about the ship sir?“ He asked.
“Ship, shippity ship!” Replied his tiny conjoined twin.
“It’s like… what exactly?”
“Mine, Arbo,” Malbeq replied. “It’s mine. My ship. Like all things in this guild.”
“Yes, of course,” Arboghast replied. “Goldbrickers!”
“Yes, yessity, yup yup,” said the twin. “Brickers de, brick!”
“Goldbrickers,” Malbeq replied back.
The formal salutation was a statement of pride within the guild, and Malbeq encouraged it. Arboghast brought up the course trajectory for the Jolly Dagger on the main video screen. Jolly Dagger, Malbeq thought, she was always inventive with naming things. Bit of a shame having to kill her now. Bombkatt was something rare in this world, and Malbeq knew it.
“Creative,” he said aloud.
“What’s that, sir? Oh right, quite creative, heading into those canyons she is,” said Arboghast.
“Kweeate! Kweeate!” replied the twin.
That creativity of hers had been the sole reason she'd gotten this far, Malbeq thought. That was for certain. Quite a rare feat indeed, for someone who couldn’t fly a ship without piloting apps. But, at some point that creativity would end, leaving her with luck. And luck alone, he smiled, was always on short supply.
“Uh sir, we might have a small problem...”
“Teeny tiny, itty bitty!”
“What's that then?”
“Uh, yeah, she’s headed for the Gulch sir, and I’m afraid we’re a bit oversized to follow her in.”
“Tubby tubby, too fat to fit!”
The vid-screen showed the Dagger was heading straight for Blood Orange Gulch. A series of desert islands along the rim of Thousand Falls. Malbeq was familiar with the territory, all they had to do was—
“Carnivorous Plants, sir.”
“Arrrgh, eatey up the meats and bones!”
“Hm?” That twin of his could distract you, Malbeq thought. Even after all these years he wasn’t used the little urchin. Octoads were creepy enough. Two headed Octoads? Repulsively creepy, let alone rare.
“Carnivorous plants up ahead, in the canyons. Farmers grow’em for food and sport. Best not get in there, I reckon. ‘Could take a swipe at the ship.”
Malbeq thought that over, “Send Skull Squadron after her, and circle around the gulch, cut her off at the pass.”
“Righty righty, fly it right!”
Soon enough, Malbeq thought, that ship, that slime, and all of Bombkatts worldly possessions would be his and his alone.
Weapons loaded and ready to fire. Katt double checked the bentos were in correct order. That was the most important part. She had run through this drill with Kacho several times before and was pleased to see the prep had payed off. Flicking on the ship’s intercom, Katt replied, “Thanks Kacho!”
“Ay, ay Mum!”
Incoming fighters, six total. The Dagger’s immediate threat app showed a new wave of Scumm Fighters were following her into the gulch. By the look of their formation it was Skull Squadron. Damn. Still, she did have a sense of pride being chased down by the best. Bonus points for that. Nodding her head side to side, three immediate options filled her mind. Going with the second, Katt began rapidly selecting spots on her targeting screen.
The Jolly Dagger weaved in and out of the floating canyons. The Gulch was really a series of blockish desert islands that extended hundreds of feet in the air, sprinkled along the base of Thousand Falls, the very edge of Wellspring. Dust kicked up as the Dagger’s twin propeller engines whirled about at top speed. Barrel rolling left, then right, then left again, the nimble ship skillfully dodged incoming fire as well as the carnivorous free range Blood Oranges who roamed the rocky islands.
Two Scumm Fighters moved up to take the lead, each trying to block either side of the Dagger from barrel rolling any further. The ‘Matic’s turret swiveled back and forth in return, launching multiple Buzzkills — magnetic pulse wave bento bombs — incapacitating the Scumm Fighters electrical systems, causing them to sputter out and lose altitude. A rather large and voracious Blood Orange devoured the first ship, while the second careened into the canyon wall.
Scumm Fighter Pilot Airmen Twiggs Bellevue noticed two things as his engines failed. One, it gave him a short, warm fuzzy to cover his face before impact; as if the freshly made combat uniform could shield him from a fiery grave. And two, that his orange tabby had urinated on his flight gloves the night before. Twiggs blamed himself for having left them next to the hamper, rather than in it. Then he promptly exploded.
The next two fighters dropped back from the Jolly Dagger and fired off a barrage of long range cluster bombs. Katt’s piloting app easily evaded the explosives, which slammed into a geologically formed stone bridge.
“Wonderful, more fun.”
Diving underneath the falling rubble, Katt launched multiple recoil bombs, aiming overhead. Exploding upwards, they created a hailstorm of rock debris, destroying one of the fighters.
Reacting to the aerial mayhem, the rearmost Scumm ship dived underwater, cranking its thrusters to full, mirroring the Daggers flight path from below.
In return, Katt banked her ship hard right, dropping a series of shock bombs on an unsuspecting pack of wild Blood Oranges, launching their pulpy, citrusy flesh into the air. The remaining two Scumm Fighters flew through the orange chaff, covering their viewports with blood juice and bits of pith. Instantly the ships twirled about, slammed into one another, and ignited into a ball of flame.
Thousand Falls was a thousand mile long range of waterfalls that extended hundreds of miles into the air, it was home to all sorts of critters but Katt needed just one in particular. Something rare. She began scanning the surrounding waters with her bestiary app, praying to the Lords of Random Encounters for some help. Just an eensy weensy bit would do.
“C’mon, please, please, please...”
Red lights filled the cockpit. Danger. But from where? What the hell— The Daggers immediate threat app blinked across every screen, then she saw it on her rear monitor. The final Scumm Fighter rocketing up from the ocean below, launching multiple cannonballs her way. She was seconds from crashing into the falls. It was all or nothing now.
“Crap, crap, crap!”
Katt force quit her piloting app, latched her safety belt, flipped down her flight goggles, killed the engines, and dropped her anchor.
In an instant, Skull Squadron Commander Hanzo Friedburg thought back on his life and what it took to get here. Climbing up the ranks of various sky pirate guilds, joining Goldbrickers, and becoming the highly decorated Commander he was today. Then Hanzo thought about his breakfast and how he wished he hadn’t skipped the crispy Applewood Bacon and soft boiled eggs. An empty stomach, running on day old coffee fumes, was no way to die.
The anchor cut through the ships plastisteel hull like butter, killing Commander Friedburg instantly. Katt reignited her engines, forcing the anchor to latch onto the Scumm ship, dragging it along with her up the waterfall’s surface.
“Eeep!” Katt squealed.
“Told you I’d get my ship back!”
The vid screen in her turret lit up — it was Malbeq and the Motherload — descending from the clouds above.
“And I’m gonna cut what you owe me right out of your—”
Ruining Bombkatts victory squee, Malbeq launched into a blitzkrieg of obscenities. Rambling on about her killing his best men, how she's trapped, something something boarded, yadda, yadda, tortured, whatever. Katt mimicked his threats with a talking hand mockingly as she double checked her inventory. The ‘Matic only had one bomb left, simply titled Thunderclap.
“Here comes the thunder, bitch.”
The Motherload bore down on the little airship, every cannon firing at once, unleashing hell upon her.
“See you in Ravenstein, Freelancer!” Malbeq yelled.
The surrounding atmosphere ignited all at once. Not thinking, not caring, she was focused on the moment. Katt raced up the waterfall, spinning left and right, dodging the incoming artillery like her apps had previously done for her. Flashes of purple, green, and red enveloped the craft. Spine Splitters, Pyro Jims, Chock Full-O-Pains. Whatever the bombs were, it didn’t matter. Today was not going to be that day. She still had her life ahead of her, she still had Drystam.
“The Slayer League.”
Katt pushed the ship to full throttle. Skillfully weaving through multiple salvos, pulling over, then back under waves of drumfire, she parried the attack like a pro. Not a scratch on the Daggers hull. Inside however, was a different story. Kacho was being thrown backwards, forwards, and every which way in between.
“Bloody hell!” he shouted.
Katt snapped out of it for a second, her maintenance screen blinking wildly. The gravity well must have had gone out when she switched to manual pilot.
She reactivated it and Kacho fell through the galley hatch, back into the armory room, splatting across the floor. Katt adjusted her flight goggles and fired up the Dagger’s turbo coils for one last show. Boosting off the waters edge, she soared over the opposing ship, whipping her tethered anchor and Scumm Fighter around like a ball and chain, slamming into the Motherloads rightmost wing, wrecking its forward engines. The warship spun around wildly as the Dagger dove for the ocean surface.
“Nobody owns me.”
Katt launched her final bento, the Thunderclap, directly into the sea; untethered the anchored Scumm Fighter; and pulled up on the flight stick. Her reverse thrusters completely maxed out, the Dagger shot upwards quicker than it fell, headed back toward the Motherload.
The command deck of the Motherload was in ruin. Smoke, cinder, and panic filled the air. The entire ship was spinning slowly toward the surface, completely out of control. Arboghast had abandoned ship moments after the first explosion, grabbing an escape pod for himself, rest of the crew be damned. That tiny conjoined twin of his even managed to turn back to Malbeq, giving him the tentacle based equivalent of the finger as they shot off towards the Riverlands.
Cowards, Malbeq thought. Dodging incoming fire, debris, and fleeing pirates, he ignored the violence around him. Running out toward the starboard bow of the ship with his boomerang, Skullcutter, in hand. Cutter wasn’t just any weapon though, they were bound by other forces. Older ones. There was a reason that weapon came back to Malbeq every time and today was the day to make it count. Mal pointed Cutter toward the Jolly Dagger and spoke to it as if it were alive.
“See that ship down there? I want her head. Right. Freaking. Now.”
And alive, it was. Cutter knew what to do. Mal tossed her toward the Jolly Dagger, as he’d done thousands of times before. Headed downward, the tiny weapon spun faster and faster, its blades extending outward two to three times longer than they were before. Cutting was her job and having a job was the most important thing there was. It gave her purpose in life. Nothing on this plane of existence could do it better than her.
Wide-eyed, Bombkatt screamed as she leaped from her cockpit down to the galley. Skullcutter raced across the bow of the Dagger, slicing the turret in half and ripping a propeller blade off her rear engine. The living boomerang was in top form. Swirling around, she started to veer back toward the Motherload as the Thunderclap ignited in the ocean depths below. A tidal wave of fresh-water ocean erupted in mid air as the resulting shockwave spread upwards.
“Weeaarrww!” “Weeaarrww!” “Weeaarrwooo!!!”
Wait— That was no bomb she heard. Skullcutter knew the difference between explosives and carnivorous plants. And it sounded alot like— No, no, no, Cutter tried not to panic as a giant Tentakelp rose from the waters, screaming and wailing. It looked like a monstrous squid made of beanstalk and teeth. It’s vine-like tentacles thrust up into the air, grabbing onto anything in its wake. Debris, falling pirates, and tiny boomerangs racing back to their masters had everything to fear. Being devoured alive was fun for no one, Skullcutter thought as she sliced her way through any part of the Kelp that got near her. Deciding to skip the Jolly Dagger on her way back up, she quickly arrived in Malbeqs hands and yelled out in her mind, Run!
Suddenly, the Tentakelp punched its way through the Motheloads hull, wrapping itself around the forward and aft sections, dragging the warship down toward its salivating mouth. If we survive this, Malbeq thought, that girl will pay. Shaking in her masters hand, Cutter agreed.
The Jolly Dagger was spewing all sorts of stuff from the open turret. Wind raced through the interior of the ship as Katt’s personal assortment of exotic coffee beans, comical souvenir shakers, and Kachos favorite spice mix — rosemary, basil, and ground capers — whirled around before being sucked out into the air.
Kacho yelled out to Katt, sticking himself to the Armory walls, while forming the latter half of his body into a hand, wrapping it around her left leg.
“Mum! You have to grab onto something, I can’t hold you much longer!”
As Kacho pleaded, Bombkatt tried to grab hold of the emergency balloon latch. It was standard in any airship carrying two or more crew, but hers was kinda cheap. Manual instead of automatic. It was something she didn’t think she needed on her way to Drystam. Why spend the extra fifty tokens?
Katt strained hard to wrap her fingers around the latch. Milliseconds seemed like minutes and seconds like hours.
“Gimme that damn grip!”
Katt activated it just in time. The balloons quickly extended outward, letting out a whoosh of air that caught her off guard, smacking her in the head with flying debris. The Jolly Dagger rose upward and over the waterfalls edge as the Motherload and crew were left to battle the Tentakelp alone. She could have sworn Malbeq was screaming her name as the Dagger drifted away, kept aloft by the balloon chutes.
Explosions and pirates screaming for dear life slowly faded into the distance. The last thing Bombkatt heard before she passed out was the meek warbling of the Jolly Dagger leveling up. Plus five percent across all ship stats for surviving the battle.
“Totally… worth it.”