A Dark Dream
“What did you say to Nails?” Judge asked.
Sweet evaded. “I did what I had to,” he said. “It worked.”
I watched Nails, normal Nails, trying to talk to the Navigator. Frustrated. Unsure what was happening, but made aware by Sweet that we needed him to do... something. He didn’t know what. I didn’t know what. It was a chance for the rest of us to have an impromptu staff meeting.
“For now,” Judge said.
“Now’s enough!” Sweet snarled.
“You don’t know that,” Judge said. “And you’d be a fool to believe it.”
Sweet didn’t reply. Judge wasn’t wrong. He took a step toward Sweet, lowered his voice.
“He’s your friend,” Judge said. “You’re trying to protect him. I’m trying to protect the Chain. I need to know what you did in case the Other Nails comes back.”
“If that happens, I’ll take care of it,” Sweet said.
“And what if you can’t? What if the next person he turns into a red slick is you?”
Judge was out of line, I thought. I remembered who the Lieutenant was. “Judge,” I said. “Stand down.”
He wheeled on me. “You’re not senior officer here, Chronicler.” He turned back to Sweet. “What about it, Commander?”
I wanted to do something, voice some witty retort, but he was right. Sweet’s in charge.
“You saw what happened to Buts,” Judge said. “What happens when he thinks we’re ‘insubordinate?’” Sweet said nothing, just bunched his fists.
“Sweet,” Judge said. “He’s my friend too.” That seemed to do the trick. “What did you say to him?” Sweet shook his head, like he disapproved of what he was saying. “I named his True Name,” he said. Judge nodded to himself. He’d suspected. I’d never considered it. Based on Copper’s wide-eyed reponse, neither had he. BigCat seemed indifferent.
“Figured Nails killed everyone left who knew his Name,” Copper said.
“I’ve known it for years,” Sweet said.
Judge took a deep breath. “Well now you can tell me.”
“No,” Sweet said, no hesitation. Uh oh. Sweet was already dug in on this one. So was Judge.
“Commander, you have to. His Name may be the only thing between us and obliteration, it can’t just live in your head.”
“Well it’s going to have to,” Sweet said. “I solved the problem, he’s fine. Move on.”
Judge wasn’t in the mood to listen. “You still haven’t answered my question; what if Other Nails comes back?”
Sweet scowled but said nothing. Just watched Nails trying to talk to the Navigator on the other side of the room.
“I’ll kill him,” a voice from behind me said. I turned.
Everyone turned to the goblin atop BigCat. He had his bow, arrow nocked, resting on his leg.
“How?” I asked. “No spells work on him, no weapons hurt….”
Copper fingered the arrow in his bow. My jaw dropped.
“The red arrows,” Sweet muttered. And Judge had the fourth.
“Things get out of hand,” Copper said with a shrug, “I’ll shoot him. No problem.” I couldn’t tell if he meant, then there would be no more problem, or it would not be a problem for him to shoot another officer.
“You’re talking about killing a senior officer,” Sweet said, but his eyes were unfocused, he was looking at nothing. He was trying to figure out what this meant.
It was time for me to speak up. “I can bring him back,” I said.
“What?” Sweet demanded, irritated. We were all irritating the Commander today. I have never known that to end well.
“As long as he hasn’t been dead too long, I can bring him back,” I said. Sweet stared at me. A plan was organizing itself. Nails was his friend, but Sweet had been Lieutenant for three years. He was a sucker for a plan.
“Other Nails comes back,” Judge said, “we say his name. He’s mortal again. Copper shoots him with a red arrow, kills him. Releases... whatever’s inside him. Then King brings him back. Brings back the man we knew.”
“If Other Nails comes back.”
“Come on, boss, you’ve seen our luck these past two days,” Copper said. “What do you think happens next?”
“I can’t kill my friend,” Sweet said.
“Tell me his Name,” Judge said. He was fingering the fletchings of the red arrow stuck into his belt. “I’ll do the rest.”
“I swore…,” Sweet said, looking at Nails again. This was not what he signed up for when he took command.
“You made a promise to Nails. You swore an oath to the Chain. Which is more important to you?”
Suddenly a voice echoed in our heads. “FORWARD.” The boat lurched. We were underway. “THAT’S BETTER.”
Nails turned around. But it had been his voice in our heads. We knew what we were going to see.
His eyes were solid silver again. And it wasn’t just his eyes, his whole demeanor changed. His body language changed, he didn’t move like a man who’d been everywhere and seen it all. He moved like... like this was his ship. Like he didn’t need eyes to see anymore. Like he knew everything that was happening everywhere. Did he know what we were thinking? No. No probably not. If he did, he’d stop us.
“SHALL WE?” Other Nails said, walking past us to the moving room. “THERE ARE THREE MORE LEVELS ABOVE THIS ONE. YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO FIND THE PILOT. THIS WAY.”
He walked into the moving room. Its door opened for him automatically.
We followed. Sweet was the last. As Judge walked past him, he said, under his voice, “You’ve got a decision to make, Commander.”