Bon Voyage, Part I
The first thing I realized, as the last few strands of unconsciousness left me and I rose from my bed, was that the floor seemed to be drifting underneath.
The second thing I realized was that this was not my bed.
A low roof grazed my hairline, the air feeling damp and salty. The room felt far too small for me, swayed into a curve to one of its walls, a crescent-shaped space that left just enough room to walk around. Dents and scratch marks blemished the carpentry, which groaned in protest when I sat further upwards. My back was stiff from the lack of bedding.
As I started to make sense of my new surroundings, I realized that my bunk was one of many, two other people slowly shifting awake like I had.
“They’re waking!” A sharp voice called somewhere. “The stowaways are waking!”
The dull thud of many footsteps sounded from somewhere beyond the room. The already constricted space was suddenly flogged by a mass of people that were too many to count, and the stench of salt became all the more stronger. Before I could get my bearings, a firm grip wrapped around my shoulder, dragging my feet to stand on the mahogany beneath us. I sensed a more intimidating figure behind the grasp looming over me. “Follow us, and don’t start anything funny.”
One of my arms was pulled behind me before I was shoved towards the exit. It snaked into a narrow hallway with entrances to so many other rooms that I had lost count, wondering which one they would tell us to stop at. After guided through what felt like a maze, we stopped at the sight of an open door, sunlight pouring through its maw. Its touch repulsed me as we made our way towards it, and I wondered how long I had been asleep.
Looking around, I could see the other two stowaways in the same position I was in, an arm bent and rested on their backs, each escorted by two hulking members. The wooden floor beneath stretched out to meet the gentle blue slopes of a vast sea, its colours lit on fire by an ageing sun.
It was then I realized that I was standing on the hull of a ship.
“Captain.” My own escort nodded towards his right, and I turned my head to see the surrounding horde make way for a broad-shouldered sight.
He was a man of fleeting youth, silvery wisps of curly hair hidden under a large tricorne. He carried himself with a deliberate pride. His outfit, a leathery green coat, were cut and ragged at the seams. A large belt hugged him at the torso, holsters carrying a plethora of small weapons. One arm rested on a curved and worn scabbard.
“Well, well, well...” His coy look cushioned a velvety voice, taking one measured step at a time towards the three of us like a leopard taking strides around its prey. “Let’s see what we have here.” A cheshire grin stretched his face, eyeing us all with the faintest sense of excitement. It felt difficult to remember that he was an actual captain about to evaluate his captives, rather than a child gleaning his unopened presents with barely hidden glee.
“You.” He pointed suddenly. “Let’s start with you.”
“Me?” I blinked, feigning ignorance. Of course, I knew I would be first to be questioned. Nobody could catch the eye quite as I did, and I was probably the most attractive Landstrider here in a ten-mile radius. The bedhead did set me back a bit, though.
“Yes, you. I believe you would be The Reanimator, are you not?”
I swelled with pride at the sound of my stage-name, taking care to flash my most charming smile. “Your one and only, Cap’n.”
He dropped his hat and gave me a courteous bow. “A pleasure to meet you. Well, partly. I don’t play favourites with my captives, even C-list celebrities the likes of you.”
“Maybe getting to know me better would change your mind.” I lilted. “Just tell your stooge to unhand me, and I can gladly-”
He tipped his pirate’s cap back onto his head, raising his thick eyebrows. Without giving a second of thought, he said, “I don’t think so. Your name should be payment enough to fetch a nice ransom for the crew.”
I frowned. Well, there goes my first escape plan. I dropped my flirtations and glared at him, trying for intimidation instead. “Tough chance. I had plans back in Lokesville, a big show tonight, and I don’t think my audience will be happy with the main attraction missing. You think they don’t already have a rescue team searching for me? Any moment now, your ship is gonna be swarmed by their arms.”
“I’m quivering in my boots here.” He said dryly. “Riddle me this, Miss Paagal; Do you... Ah, remember how you came here in the first place?”
I felt myself falter under his knowing gaze, hazy memories slowly clawing their way back to me. “It was a busy night.”
“You were chucking molotov cocktails at the different ships that were docked on Icehide harbor. From what my crewmates told me during their night shift, you were shouting something about ’death to the Duskstars‘, followed by a very off-key rendition of ’The Gurgle Shanty’.” He explained. “To put it mildly, you were drunk off your ass. You ended up toppling into our cargo hold as your attempt to bomb our ship slipped from your grasp.”
His gaze seemed to bore into me with every word, expression flat with mild frustration. Looking away, I raised a free hand to tuck a strand of hair behind my ears, toying with my piercings. It was... a very emotional night.
“You’re lucky we gave you a place to rest when you passed out from the alcohol. We moved you to out lower bunk cabinet until your hangover mumblings drew to a close, and now we’re here.” He clasped his hands together. “We had plans to send you back to the docks of Lokesville when you came back to life, but sadly, we had an emergency shipment that couldn’t wait. So, the three of you are coming with us now.”
“Wait...” I started, “Are you guys even pirates, or...?”
“Oh, and would you look at that!” He dodged the question. “This guy was with you as well.”
With the nudge of his head, another person was pushed ahead within my peripheral vision, and I recognized the face instantly.
Being a Skytrot, most of his features resembled those of a bird’s. His icy blues darted around as he took in the landscape, dark beak parted slightly in thought. His deep red plumage was more ruffled than usual, and there was a rope tied around his waist that pinned his wings in place. He looked quite confused about the whole situation.
“I swear I would’ve recognized you within The Reanimator’s cortège.” The strange man in the green tailcoat addressed me. “Are you a new recruit?”
I huffed indignantly. Recruit? She was my drinking buddy! What’s with all his questions, anyway? He doesn’t have any business nosing into our lives like that.
“...Well, you’re not much of a talker.” He gave an exaggerated pout. “No matter, I already have an inkling as to why you’re here. Skytrots follow whatever their hearts desire, after all, and you seem to have an eye for trouble.” He took a step towards me and I tried to step back, blocked by the person who escorted me. “I know you had accompanied Miss Paagal last night, but you didn’t seem quite as intoxicated enough to explain your actions. We had a shipment of eight boxes of fermented quailberries yesterday morning. Yesterday night, our supplied dropped to six and a half boxes, along with a full-bellied, half-dead bird sprawling itself across one of the newly empty boxes.”
Another step forward, and we were practically touching heads. I heard the sharp whistle of a blade leaving its scabbard, and I looked down to see the tip of his sword pointing just under my ridcage. “You’ll be paying for the very dew on those berries, birdbrain. Either by coin, by labor, or your life. You hear me?” He breathed.
The smell of the rust tickled my nostrils, and I sneezed into his face.
He finally stepped back, wide-eyed as a chorus of sniggering started around me. “Quiet.” Though more of a hiss than a shout, the entire ship went silent. He scowled at me before drawing his blade back, pointing it to someone behind me. “Quartermaster Voy, keep an eye on him.”
“Got it, Knautt.”
“Now, onto the next stowaway.”
“You must be mistaken,” I started, trying to make the most out of the captain’s attention. “I am no criminal or ill-doer, I’m not supposed to be here-”
“Hey, hey, Who said anything about being a criminal?” I heard Miss Paagal protest.
“You’re a funny one.” Knautt ignored her, looking all but slightly amused. “Just the night before, you were waving for us to save you from your humble oar boat in the middle of a storm, shouting for mercy at the top of your lungs. When someone finally got a hold of you, you passed out from the shock. Yet now, the moment you regain your consciousness, you want to leave.”
“I-” Not a word of that story was true to me. For one, I was nowhere near the sea- instead in a caves of Yawaog studying the ancient ruins inside. I remember trying something risky in order to uncover something- as foolish as that was. The next thing I knew, I had woken up to a mahogany ceiling and the sound of the roaring tides. “Where are we heading towards, exactly?”
“Yarnpork, Anatoli.” He shrugged, and I had to double-take.
“Anatoli? As in the Eastside Continent?” That was a week’s worth of travel from Yawaog. How long had I been asleep?
“You’re kidding.” Paagal interjected again, and this time we turned our attention towards her. “It’s going to take forever for me to make it back to Lokesville! My entourage is going to kill me.”
“Really? I’d be more concerned about staying alive now, now that we’ve reached this side of the sea.” He shook his head. “The currents here are easier to ride, but it’s also crawling with thieves, and they would happily trade lives for loot.”
I felt my stomach twist into knots, and I tried to steer the conversation back to my current predicament. “Listen to me.
I have no association with The Reanimator or her subordinate- frankly, I do not know or care to know about either of them.” A protestant “Hey!” came from Paagal’s side- “There is little to my name. My current interests lie at Yawaog, and I would be greatly thankful if you could release me at the next dock you visit.”
“Easy, easy there, poindexter. First of all,” He stretches a hand out as if to emphasize his point, other arm locked on his scabbard, “It makes sense that you were all the way out at sea in such a tiny boat when you were looking for Yawaog. That place is cursed.”
"Second,” He interrupted, “I hope you didn’t leave your manners there, chief. Never even got to know your name.” He drops his hand towards me, and I wasn’t entirely sure if he expected me to shake it.
I hesitated, though I knew better than to do that. “...Holav.”
“Took you long enough to remember. And what, Holav? Holav what? Holav of Dytika? Holav von Emsworth would suit you. Holav the Frequently Comatose? Ho-”
I bit back a retort, reminding myself that I was being held captive. “It’s just Holav, thank you.”
“Alright then.” He finally dropped his hand, almost looking... disappointed? “Keep your secrets.”
He took a good few steps away from the three of us, stretching his arms to the back of his head. It was a childish pose to take, especially one of the leader of a pirate ship. He hemmed and hawwed in thought, turning away to gaze thoughtfully into the sea. During the entire interrogation, it had slowly painted the sky in amber, about to dip into the darkened echoes of the waves.
“So...” Paagal broke the silence after the seconds stretched painfully on, “What are you gonna do now?”
“Y’know, with us.”
“Oh!” He turned back and looked at us as though he only saw us there for the first time. “Well, I guess there’s nothing else of interest you people can give to me. My folks?” Our escorts raised their heads towards him, grins rising on their faces. A knowing anticipation grew around us, and another bout of fear gripped my chest like an icy claw.
“You know what to do with them.”
Borealis of Silverfog
I gulped, looking at all my crewmates holding our captives in place.
I shivered slightly. It didn’t feel right to do this to them, but what we needed to do was partly under Knautt’s instructions.
“Hey.” My best-friend Laira nudged her elbow into my waist. Unlike me, she was all too ready to carry out our orders. She swung her legs out and pushed herself off the edge of the deck, the gold in her eyes seeming to dance with glee. They were shadowed by her now furrowed brows when she saw the look on my face, rolling her eyes. “Come on, Lisa, don’t give me that look.”
“...We’re going to be in so much trouble.”
“When will you learn to stop worrying so much? This’ll be fun, come on!” She dragged me by the wrist, pulling me to my feet, and I felt the gap between us close as everyone started to take up our instructed formation. My crewmates gathered around me as we framed a wall around the stowaways, unsheathing weapons and sharpening claws. We began to close in on them, one step at a time.
The Skytrot seemed to respond first to our approach, struggling against his escort, Mirol’s grip. The row of feathers atop his head raised like the hackles of a cat, making him look twice as big and thrice as ridiculous.
The second one was the horned Landstrider, slim tail flicking from one side to the other casually. “Ugh,” She threw her head back, as if this was more of an inconvenience to her than a threat to her life. “I’m too hungover for this.”
With no warning, she raised her leg and stomped hard on Sorrel’s foot, making him yell out in pain and instinctively loosen his grip on her. Freeing herself, she dropped into a crouch and used the momentum to swing a round-about kick into his boots. He fell flat on his face, and she rose again to meet our eye level with a blinding grin. One of her teeth was etched in gold.
“What are you doing?” Knautt called, bringing us back to our senses. “Get them!”
And just like that, all hell broke loose.
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