"Legend tells of an ill-fated voyage that set forth from Bilgewater many years ago: a plundering party seeking fortune by raiding along the coast. They made their way north across the Guardian's Sea to Ionia, but were unable to find any coastal villages with riches worth their time. They pushed on towards Zaun and Piltover, only to have the same thing happen to them there. Their stocks running low and their tempers fraying thin, they pushed on to the Freljord as a last resort – only to be ensnared by a fearsome storm. Although they survived, the storm had thrown them far from their course to seas where the sky was forever clouded and their compasses couldn't find north. Worse, the wind was dead and the air thick with dread. As the vessel drifted towards its unknown fate, the crew were gripped by a madness that couldn't be accounted for by the lack of rum alone. No-one knows what happened to them: some say the crew mutinied and destroyed the ship in the struggle, some say they were swallowed up by a monstrous sea creature, and yet others say they drifted, for days and days... until they were beached on the Shadow Isles."
"Sounds to me like they had an awful navigator," Miss Fortune commented. "Besides, how does anyone know what happened to them after they left Freljord?"
"Because..." Gangplank drew himself up, his eyes and big bushy eyebrows (and big bushy nostrils) flaring dramatically. "...they've come back!"
"Although not to tell stories, I assume," said Lucian with a smirk.
"Far from it! Theirs is now a ghost ship, crewed by the dead, returned to wreak vengeance on the living. We've sent several parties to try and deal with them, but our attacks seem to have no effect: cannonballs either miss the ship or pass right through, and sticking or shooting them only slows them down: they just stick back on whatever parts they've lost and keep going. We even asked that fish-face Fizz to see what he could do, but he backed down after his pet shark swallowed one of them and had to deal with the bugger trying to claw his way out from the inside!"
Senna shot Lucian a glance, which he returned in similar vein. She nodded. "Sounds like you called the right people. Get us on that ship and we'll take care of the rest."
"Everything except the payment, of course," Lucian added wryly.
"Before we do anything too hasty," Miss Fortune said, holding up a hand to stop Gangplank and standing in front of the two zombie hunters, "how do we know that our gold is being well spent?"
"We were recommended to you by the Institute of War, were we not?" said Senna brusquely. "What more credentials do we need?"
"If I believed everything I heard I'd be as foolish as Blockhead here," said Fortune, casually gesturing to Gangplank with a thumb – he bridled, his moustache almost standing on end like an angry porcupine's quills, but said nothing. "Show me that your weapons will be more effective than ours."
"They aren't – not on living targets," Senna explained, her tone heavily implying that she thought this a waste of time. "The reason we make our living hunting the undead is because our weapons are specially designed to combat them. As you've seen, filling them full of lead slugs does nothing more than make them a bit heavier, and slicing them to pieces or exploding them apart just gives them some stitchwork to do. And before you say it," Senna added, raising a stern finger to interrupt Miss Fortune, "setting them alight just destroys their corporeal form. They're even harder to stop when their spirits are set free."
"They sound like they know what they're talking about," said Gangplank in an effort to placate Fortune – however, she was clearly having none of it.
"So what, I'm supposed to believe what you say just because you can make up a lay or two and have a fancy rock-carving swinging on your hip?"
Lucian grimaced: he'd heard people insult Senna's gun before. It never ended nicely.
"You want a demonstration? Fine." Senna stood, practically nose-to-nose with Fortune. "Let's take this outside."
"After you," Fortune shot back, the fake politeness curling in the acidic air between the two women.
As they strode outside, Gangplank whispered to Lucian: "Are you sure we should let them do this? Your lady looks about ready to kill."
"And it isn't even her time of the month." Lucian stretched and yawned as he walked. "Relax: she's always cool as ice, even when she's hankering to do some hurting. Ain't no-one getting killed tonight."
It was impressive to see how quickly the street outside reacted to the incipient duel. As they saw the two ladies squaring up, fingers itching for the trigger, there were hushed whispers and not-so-hushed shouts. Within seconds there was a strange crowd lining the street, peeking through doors and windows but not so exposed that they were in any danger of being hit by a stray bullet. There was almost total silence, save for the occasional keening cry of a seagull and the ever-present wash of the sea.
"Should I draw just one of my guns to give you a fair chance?" sneered Fortune. "Or perhaps a peashooter would be more your level?"
"Use them both. A drunkard like you will need two shots to hit me." One could almost hear the 'oooh!' from the surrounding audience. Fortune glared: a couple of eyes disappeared, not all of them pairs.
"You can use mine too if you like," Lucian offered lightly, holding it out to his wife.
"I've always said yours is too blocky. I can't handle it right."
Lucian's grin was a mile wide. Even though it was the perfect set-up he knew better than to say anything: he just quietly holstered his weapon and leant back against the wall.
"All right gir- ladies," Gangplank corrected himself after receiving two glares that should have left him smeared on the wall, "in true Bilgewater fashion, you'll walk ten paces from each other and then turn and draw on the next gull's cry. Ready yourselves and good luck."
With one last contemptuous glance at each other the two women turned their backs on one another and took ten paces. The atmosphere was truly electric, ratcheting up another notch whenever a gull cried whilst they were still pacing: a lot of Bilgewater residents had trouble counting.
Finally, they both reached the tenth step. There was nothing but the sea filling everyone's ears for what seemed like an eternity...
A seagull opened its beak.
A lot happened in the following moment. After it had finished, this was the scene: the women still aiming at each other, but Fortune with only one pistol, the other lying on the ground some distance away, and Senna minus one shoulderpiece, flung to the ground behind her with a large rip in it.
No-one moved for a very long while. Eventually Gangplank broke the stillness.
"Well, ladies, I think it's safe to say that honour's satisfied. Shall we call it a night?"
The women continued staring at each other and then broke it off at exactly the same moment, going to retrieve what they'd lost in the duel.
Fortune made sure to pick up her pistol by the wooden grip. Touching any metal part of it would have resulted in her losing most of the skin on her fingers. It sizzled as it cooled in the air.
Senna assessed the damage to the shoulderpiece. It was repairable, but she didn't have the time for that now. "Look after this for me," said Senna, casually tossing it to Lucian as she walked back inside.
"Yes ma'am." His grin hadn't moved an inch, even after the tense showdown. Watching Senna in her element always made him happy. He caught the shoulderpiece and tucked it into a pocket for safekeeping.
The crowd gradually dispersed, unsure whether they were satisfied with the outcome.
When everyone was once again seated at table, Senna continued: "As you no doubt observed, our guns fire no conventional ammunition: they're magical in nature, capable of firing bolts of focused magical energy with great accuracy and speed."
"And where would you get such a weapon?" asked Gangplank, eyeing said item with a businessman's stare.
"You wouldn't. We made them ourselves. And no, they're not for sale," Senna replied bluntly, but without any of her former venom. Lucian couldn't help but chuckle, seeing Gangplank's enthusiasm quashed: it was like seeing a kid being told he wouldn't receive any presents for Snowdown. "Even if I were inclined to part with mine – which I'm not – I very much doubt that you would be able to use it. The heartstone set in this weapon is attuned to its creator and wielder; the same goes for my husband's."
"What kind of magic is it?" asked Fortune, her eyes narrowed. "Fire? Light?"
"Spiritual," Lucian chipped in. "As we've mentioned before, our weapons are specifically designed to destroy the undead. To kill what can't be killed you have to strike its source: its soul, and you can only fight another soul with your own. I guess you could say it's fire of a kind: the fire that burns in the heart."
Senna allowed herself a small smile. No matter how clear she made it that she disliked wishy-washy language, Lucian still came out with poetic phrases like that.
"So. Are we resolved?" Senna asked.
"...Very well," said Miss Fortune. "Plank, go and get the contract."
"Ah. That's another wooden head insult, is it?"
"Just get it."
Senna shot Lucian a look. It was incredibly subtle but he picked it up right away and instantly started from his chair. "I've heard the rum around here is strong enough to make you wish you had a wooden head. Would you be kind enough to show me where you keep yours?"
"Oho! If it's my personal stash you're after, boy, you definitely won't be in any fit shape to fight the undead tomorrow. How about I show you where the milder stuff is and we can open a bottle over the signing?"
When the men were out of earshot, Senna turned to Fortune. "You were aiming to miss." It wasn't a question.
Fortune bit her lip. "I wish you hadn't shot Awe out of my hand like that. It threw me off. I only just kept from putting one right through your shoulder."
Senna smiled one of her small smiles again. "Maybe dual-wielding really is better. As my husband says: everyone deserves a second shot."