Brando watched as Pick and Red Raider left the ship. Seeing Red has the situation in hoof, he ignored it, hoping whatever trouble they got into they leave it here. Fleeing military rams was not his idea of a good time. Still, at least the sheep could provide amusement. Soon, the upward storage hatch was opened and they were loading the liquid diamond-ice in the space above the cabin: within the envelope and below the gasbags.
The loading process went along nice and smooth, right up until he caught sight of a grime-coated blue sheep. Well, at least the base color was. The sheep was striped with bright yellow lines painted vertically on his fleece. He actually had to stifle a snicker. As the striped monstrosity drew near, Brando gave a wide grin to the ram, who stopped in the loading line: causing a few curses from those behind him. Moving faster, he placed his canister with the others and came off to the side, near Brando.
“I remember you, gryphon. And the trouble you caused me last time you were here. Four extra weeks of dockyard duty. Four weeks of this.” Mithril looked to Brando with concern in her eyes, lighting her horn slightly.
Brando shook his head, a mischievous grin (which Mithril greeted with a snort) spreading across his face. “Yeah, but it was worth it, wasn’t it, comrade?” Brando beamed: the scowl on the ram’s scarred face dissolving as they both exploded into laughter. They gave each other hard pats on the back, clinging in a semi-hug to keep from falling over until the fit died down to chuckling.
The ram, named Gruff, sighed. “Yeah, fair enough, it was." He gave a snort, started to spit, then thought better of it and swallowed. “How did you get out of there, anyways? With your wings messed up you couldn’t fly, and I was so drunk I was actually seeing double for once outside of a head-banging contest, not to mention the guards chasing you with them. Did you manage to…save any?”
“I did, I did, but let’s not go into details, tell me about your new…style.” Brando gestured to the stripes.
“Lost a bet.” Gruff said. Deadpan, but slightly sheepish.
“How about we make a wager?” Brando said. “Say, I’ll tell you how I got away if you win. If I win, you put another set of stripes on you: horizontal.”
“I…frostbite take it, Brando. You know I can’t resist a bet. Liar’s Dice, like usual?”
A quick game of Liar’s Dice later, Brando enjoyed a post-game pipe and quiet gloat. One of the other rams, now having finished loading the cargo under Mithril’s watchful eye, was sent off to fetch a bucket of paint. Gruff looked mortified, his buddies crying with laughter as the yellow stripes were squared off with horizontal ones: to everyone’s mirth save Gruff. Even Mithril laughed a bit. They used the red used to paint anything an airship might crash into.
“A blue, yellow, and red ram.” Gruff said. “I’m never going to live this down. Thanks, Brando, I’ll be sure to repay the favor someday. Much as I'd like to do it right now, if I don’t get back to work they’ll tack on another week to the couple days I got right now. I’m not about to spend any more time chewing this cud than I have to. You take care.” Gruff shook Brando's claw, nodded to Mithril, and stumped out, finally leaving them in peace as Brando closed the door. He sniffed, then cracked a few windows to get rid of the smell of overworked sheep.
Brando turned to Mithril, grinning sheepishly. “Before you say what I think you’re going to say, let me say something: I’ll tell you some other time. It's not that great of a story anyways, honest. Pure luck.”
Mithril shook her head, sighing. “You know, I believe it. And I already have enough stories of your bizarre adventures to last a lifetime, though in a nicer, calmer, and above all warmer setting, I might want to hear it.”
Brando nodded, popping the hatch up for his secret compartment and staring at Pick’s box. He'd kept his word, nobody else was going to touch it, but Brando had a well-developed sense of curiosity and Pick had landed on it with all four hooves. Mithril’s raised voice made him twitch. “Hey! Don't you dare, Brando.” She gave him a sly grin. “Why don't you go lie down? It’s far too cold here for me: I could use some nice warm feathers. I'll just be a moment…” Sauntering away to the restroom, she did something fairly foolish: she left Brando alone with the box she’d just told him not to open. Now he had to.
Closing the smuggler’s hole, Brando made his way over to the entrance of the bunkroom and turned back, sighing. Mithril was going to be mad at him, but he had to know. He pulled the chest up and extended a talon loose, stuck it into the lock, and fiddled around. Finally finding his talons were no match for the lock, he went to his own set of chests and popped one open, digging around. After much muttered cursing, he returned to the box with a bit of flat metal and another with a hook, and began tinkering with the lock.
Mithril didn’t actually need to go to the bathroom. The truth was, she felt something was up about the box from the moment Pick gave her that too-slick answer earlier. In most ponies, that being ones she didn’t know, it would’ve registered as truth. But with Pick, it was as if his character had just done an about-face. Instead of bursting out to yell at Brando, she waited, listening to the griffin fumble around first with his talons then with the actual set of lock-pickings. He took forever with them: being used to breaking locks open rather than picking them. Finally she heard the latch snap, and breathed a sigh of relief. She’d worried she’d have to help him undo it.
Grabbing her brush with her magic, Mithril heard the top creak open and slammed the bathroom door open. “Brando, I knew you couldn’t resist, you birdbrain!” She launched the brush at him, which he only partially deflected by his claws.
Brando chuckled at her. “Oh please, if you were actually mad I’d be unconscious right now.”
Mithril stayed in character, not missing a beat. “You know we’re trying to gain trust, not lose it, right? How do I know you won’t go through my things?”
Brando sighed, not making a comment about being able to guess what’s in her lockboxes. He grinned at her. “Well, too late to go back now. Maybe you should come look through the stuff with me, a policemare might have more insight.”
“Alright, fine, but if Pick finds out, or if we have to confront him about something, just remember you unlocked it all by yourself and that I said not to.” Mithril gave him a bit of a grin, coming around to his side, more curious than feigning anger would continue to allow.
Brando gave a snigger. “Right, right, wouldn’t want to lose that ‘special favor,’ after all.”
A loud CLOP echoed through the Snark as Mithril smacked Brando in the back of the head.
Brando and Mithril touched beak to nose, smiling, and then peered into the depths of the box. Brando moved a journal aside for later perusal and then felt his feathers and fur do a tolerably good attempt at standing on end. Mithril sucked in a breath as he picked up the insignia: two shovels crossed behind an equine skull. Brando dropped it again as if it had suddenly flashed hot. “Mother’s Egg!”
“That’s a new one.” Mithril said.
Brando’s accent had thickened. “Is very bad thing to say.”
“I take it you recognize that symbol?” Brando just nodded. Mithril started to feel a chill that had nothing to do with this cursed iceberg of a place. Brando…speechless. “I had to notice that other thing. Those are illegal in ways I can’t even describe. Also very expensive.”
Brando gave the object a mere glance. “The Skulldiggers.”
“Oh, that’s horrible. A pun on skullduggery, really?”
“Is not being a joke, those guys.” Brando closed the lid on the box, wishing his memory had a lid he could slam closed too. He paged through the journal, which had a rambling look and multiple writing styles. Not multiple writers, unless they all shared one head. He hit on a few pages covered solid with I’m sorry over and over. “Pick is being a few sparkles short of a glitter, I am thinking.”