A/N: And here's the next chapter. It's much longer than the previous one and i introduces a new character. Hope y'all enjoy. ^_^


Chapter 4

The whirring of the Sparrow was the only sound aside from the rushing wind. Al knelt behind the pilot's seat both hands resting on the seat back, his legs bent to preserve his balance. Lady soared beside them, her wings flapping furiously to keep up with the Sparrow's speed. The sun was rising far behind them casting a steadily brightening red-gold tint on the ocean below. The brothers rode in companionable silence as Matthew masterfully steered the small aircraft toward the country of Clubs.

Everything was going well so far. There hadn't been any disturbances for the past several days which was odd, but the boys were glad of the reprieve. A rest was always welcome. But it did raise the question of what the enemy was up to. He never let nothing go undone for longer than three days straight. Even if it was something as minor as managing a tiny rip in the Veil, it was something.

The Black Joker had also been unusually quiet. The guy normally never shut up. Always showing up to taunt the brothers, give them new instructions, or if he was feeling exceptionally kind that day, help them. Though normally the guy just sat back and managed leaving the heavy labor to the Jokesters while he watched and cheered from the sidelines.

The King's Clock clinked against Al's holstered gun and he reached down to brush his fingers against the gold. And then there was this thing. It was small, just large enough to fit in his hand, gold, and shaped like a spade. Honestly, he ad no idea what to do with the thing. It would probably prove to be a nuisance , especially in this world where everyone knew the royal symbols for every kingdom. He'd have to talk to the Black Joker about that, too. He had to talk to that guy about a lot of thing apparently.

"You heard that?" Matthew called back, breaking the elder brother out of his thoughts.

"What?" he called back.

"Engines."

Immediately, Al began scanning the skies ahead for any other aircraft. Then he turned around and saw a huge ship gliding through the air at speed. It was too far to tell yet, but something about it didn't feel right. It was too bulky, not streamlined like most of the ships used in this world.

"Ship," he reported, "big. Too big. Can't see the marking from here. Maybe a cargo ship. No flag visible from this distance."

"Should I worry?" Matt replied.

Al squinted into the rising sun. "Not that I can tell. I'll send Lady back to investigate."

Matt grunted. "Just remember to keep me out of the feedback loop. I gotta drive. I can't deal with random images filling my vision."

"Right." He glanced over at Lady who swerved gracefully around in a half circle before heading back the way had come. Turning back around to tighten his grip on the pilot's seat, Al placed one hand on Matthew's shoulder and closed his eyes, opening his senses to Lady's familiar signature.

After a moment, the blurry image came into overly sharp focus. Lady was speeding towards the ship, her wings open for gliding, saving her energy in case a quick getaway was needed. Through her eyes he could begin to make out the details of the ship.

It was indeed large, more like the ancient sea craft from the brothers' home world. It was much to large for safe flying, so how was it staying airborne? Three tall masts sprouted from the ship's deck, the sails rolled up to prevent drag. Dark, billowing smoke spewed from the rear of the ship. Jet propelled maybe?

Definitely not from this world then. So what were they doing here? What world were they from? And more importantly, how did they get here?

He relayed his findings to his brother as Lady steadily flew closer. No flag flew from the main mast, although there was activity on the deck. People darted about, in no real hurry, but with obvious purpose. Lady banked to the right to circle the ship once to get a better view. The doors to what Al assumed was the captain's lodgings opened and a tall figure walked out. He wore a long red coat that may have been lined in gold, although it was hard to tell for sure from this distance. He had longish brown brown hair tied back in a ponytail.

That must be the captain, Al mused. Impressive man.

Just then the man placed a huge black tricorn hat with a huge feather in it on his head and tilted his face up, looking unerringly at Lady. This part always got to Al. Whenever people saw Lady, he always wanted to give in to his first instinct to immediate pull free from the trance and command his friend back to his side. He had to constantly remind himself that all anyone ever saw was an eagle, not a human looking through the eyes of an eagle. Even a wizard would have to look closely to see the signs of sight-sharing. But it was unnerving all the same.

Especially when the captain said something and stretched out his hand just in time for a sailor to hand him a spyglass. The captain raised the glass to his eye and looked directly at Lady again. Probably wondering what an eagle was doing so far out at sea alone. Al called silently for Lady to return, but not before the captain jerked, racing to the starboard railing and aiming the spyglass ahead. What's he looking at?

The captain turned away from the spyglass and hollered something to his men sending them scurrying about the deck. He turned his gaze, green eyes and yes, that was gold embroidery, back to Lady and he smiled giving her a thumbs up sign.

What the-?!

Immediately, Al broke the connection as Lady rushed back to their little Sparrow. She'd need a break when she got back but Al couldn't think about that right now. All he knew what that the captain of a ship not from this world had give him and Lady the thumbs up. He'd never met anyone who gave that sign except people from his home world, the Mirror World, his brother, and the Black Joker. How the hell did that bastard know that sign? Who was he?

"Problem, Mattie. Go faster."

"What is it?"

Al turned back to watch the ship change course so they were aligned with Lady and raced back to the brothers. "The captain of that ship, he gave me a thumbs up."

Matthew jerked, his steering twitching. "He knows us? Friend or foe?"

Al shook his head. "Dun know. Don't know the guy."

"Then how-"

"No idea. Better to ear in safety than not. Can you push it."

Matthew tested the controls and the Sparrow lurched ahead. "Not much, but yeah."

"Good. Wait for my mark. Lady's almost here."

The eagle flapped her wings violently as she forced herself forward the few hundred feet remaining before lending hard on Al's arm. He immediately ducked, setting the tired bird down in the cavity in the center of the Sparrow's fuselage where the pilot's chair could be folded and put away. She folded her wings and rested, remaining alert to the actions of the brothers.

Alfred drew his handgun, the gold band on his right wrist glinting in the sunlight. He stood and spread his legs to help brace against the force of the wind. The King's Clock rattled against his side as his left hand grasped the back bar of the pilot's seat. His body pivoted to keep the ship in his sights. It was gaining on them fast.

Sparrows were built for maneuverability and speed, but they were nothing against a warship at full power. They were pleasure rides or support crafts in close range aerial battle. They were not built for long distance flight. And yet that's exactly what the brothers were forcing this hardy Sparrow to do. They were probably running low on energy and have to refuel soon. A battle, even a short lived one, was not what they needed right now.

But apparently that's exactly what they were going to get. A fleet of Sparrow-like contraptions, slightly smaller, built for one person, darted out from compartments in the ship. They were heading straight for them. And of course, that's when the idiot raised their flag. A bold skull and crossbones on a field of solid black. Pirates. But why? One Sparrow was hardly an attractive goal to a pirate. Even a desperate one.

But then again, this pirate seemed to know them. Fabulous.

"Step on it Mattie. They got Sparrows."

Matthew floored the pedal and leaned forward, entirely focused on the flying the craft. "Got it."

Al raised his handgun and leveled it at the nearest Sparrow threateningly. A fight was not what he wanted, and hopefully the pirates would see them for what they were. Two boys with nothing of value. A faint hope considering the first Sparrow dived straight for them.

"On yer five," Al yelled, firing his gun and cursing when it pinged uselesdly off the attacking Sparrow's fuselage. He tensed and shifted his weight as Mattie made a sharp left.

The attacking pirate hollered something that was lost to the winds but did not return fire. Curious. More Sparrows began to circle the brothers', forcing it to swerve, dive, and climb to avoid them. Not one craft opened fire.

"Their forcing us back," Matthew called.

"Damn."

Sure enough, the pirate shop loomed in their sight, huge and imperious. And there was her captain at the helm, a giant smile on his face. The idiot even had the audacity to wave at them. Jerk.

They're Sparrow was forced to land and the brothers braced for an attack. The pirates may have been somewhat peaceful in the air, but did not mean they would be on their turf. Matthew remained seated but drew his handgun just in case, eternally comforted by Al's protective heat behind him. Lady chirped, flapping her wings at Al's feet, peering around her friend's leg to watch.

The captain relinquished the helm to another sailor, stepping forward to the two brothers with a brilliant smile on his face. He clapped his hands and laughed gaily. "Buenas dias, mis amigos. ¿Que pasa?"

Silence filled the deck aside from the wind and the ship's engines powering down. The brothers glanced at each other in confusion. The captain's smile faded somewhat. "¿Que? Is something wrong?"

Matthew's eyebrow lifted as Al asked, "You know us?"

The captain's smile faded completely, replaced by an expression of equal confusion. "Sì. It's me, Antonio. Don't you remember me? It can't have been that long ago, amigo. You look the same. And this must be your brother, Matthew. I only saw him for a momento, but I recognize him."

"You speak Spanish?" Matthew asked, lowering his gun.

"SÌ. I am Spanish after all. That's usually how it works," Antonio replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He studied the brothers hard. "You truly do not know me?"

Both brothers shook their heads as Lady chirped. The captain placed his hands on his hips and leaned casually to the left, chewing his lip. "Well, this is a problem." Lady chirped again, drawing the Spaniard's attention. "May I see her?" he asked, eyes meeting Al's.

The youth tensed, but nodded. He whistled and Lady jumped to land on his arm, chirping and flapping her wings as she settled herself. Antonio studied her, a hand coming up to tug thoughtfully at the bandana around his head beneath his hat. He hummed. "She's younger than I last saw her. But how can that be?"

Grass green eyes met sky blue again. "You truly do not know me, Alfred Jones?"

The brothers tensed at the use of Al's full name, the elder shaking his head in negative. The pirate's attention returned to Lady. "I really hope Gil can explain this. He did promise I'd meet you on time. Do you have the King's Clock yet?"

Al shifted to his the golden watch from sight, but not before Antonio's sharp gaze saw it. "Bien. At least one thing's going right. Well, I'm not sure if now is the right time, but I might as well tell you now. I'm supposed to say Arthur is alive."

No reaction. Again the pirate chewed his lip in confusion. "I must've really arrived early if even that name means nothing to you." He sighed in exasperation. "Ah well. You're welcome to stay aboard. We're currently headed to Hearts. I hear there's certain person I'm supposed to meet there."

"I assume that means we don't have a choice," Matthew sighed, holstering his gun, Al following hi example with more hesitation.

Antonio grinned and winked. "None. You'll both be staying in your usual quarters next to mine." He turned around and strode away across the deck to his cabin. "Buenas dias," he called over his shoulder with a friendly wave.

Alfred and Matthew met eyes and shrugged in unison before following. The sailors hurried over to their Sparrow, taking it below presumably to refuel and dock it. Lady chirped and brushed a wing against Alfred's ear. He reached up and scratched her head. Hopefully this wouldn't end up going south. The pirate did know the Black Joker after all.

Then again, that wasn't always a good thing. Plus, they were headed for Hearts, and he was now the acknowledge King of Spades. The King's Clock hung heavily at his side. He sighed gustily. Gil owed him big for this.


A/N: Well, hope that was satisfactory. ^_^