The other passengers and crewmen with whom Slate made contact onboard the Sefose were withdrawn, fearful of the apparently omnipresent threat of pirate attack. This left Slate and Pilotte mainly to themselves, to play fetch on deck and watch the birds swoop over the dahlphins that jumped and frolicked in the choppy gray water.
On the third day out from South Airyel, true to fears, a terrible war cry broke the silence and a pirate sloop sidled up swift and fast alongside the Sefose. The crew and other passengers went into an immediate panic, running around the deck and lower levels of the ship aimlessly. A few even jumped off into the ocean.
“Run!” a red-faced woman shouted to Slate as she tore by. “Run for your life!”
Slate had no idea what to expect as the pirates threw lines and began to board the Sefose, but he knew he had to act fast to protect himself. He and Pilotte ran down the busy steps from the ship deck to reach their room, where they spun around in circles wondering what action to take next. Cries of anguish soon let Slate know that the pirates were in the hallway outside. Just after he managed to grab the heavy sack full of Guh Hsing’s books, one of the brutes smashed down the door.
Slate spun around to face him. “No one in here,” he barked in a flash of inspiration.
“Wha… who’re you?” asked the pirate, with a look of dull-witted confusion.
“What do you mean? I’m a pirate,” Slate said with as much conviction as he could, “Like you!”
“You are?” the real pirate asked, scratching his scraggly beard.
“Well I wouldn’t be searching for loot if I wasn’t, would I?” Slate asked.
This question must have convinced the pirate, as he grunted something under his breath, shrugged, and left the room.
After the brute had moved on, and with a new plan for cover devised, Slate raced back up the stairs to the deck.
At the top of the stairs, there was a man screaming and cowering. Slate scooped the man up and over his shoulder as the man squealed and kicked, but despite his protest and weight, Slate was able to clear the length of the ship’s deck still carrying the man, dodging flying bodies and fistfights all the way.
Before Slate could reach the prow, three of the pirates set upon Pilotte with ropes and netting. The snarlingwulf howled and bucked and managed to throw them off, then took a large chunk out of one of their sides, before five more pirates joined in capturing the beast. They bound him tight in their ropes and threw the animal overboard onto their waiting sloop, where he landed, thankfully, on a pile of pillaged silks. Seeing this, Slate dropped the poor man hanging from his back onto the planks of the Sefose, and dove without abandon after Pilotte. He landed on and then climbed down one of the many boarding ropes that ran to the pirate’s sloop. After making sure Pilotte was not seriously injured, Slate hid his bag in a pile of rope and grasped at to do next.
When the pirates started their retreat from the Sefose, heavy with plunder and raging with adrenaline, none of them paid any attention to Slate. They fought with each other over their share of the takings for hours after they cut loose, and then still none of them had noticed by dinner later that night that a stranger was onboard. Slate kept his head down and spoke little, and by the end of the night, when all the men were high on drink and smoke, he had managed to make conversation with enough of them that he seemed almost to belong. After the men had passed out from intoxication, Slate and Pilotte found a place amongst the silks to sleep themselves, or at least wait nervously for sunrise.
Slate did fall asleep eventually, and somehow, deeply. He was startled awake by a meeting of sorts, which was called to order by the captain of the sloop.
“Good work yesterday, men. It looks like we only lost a few,” the pirate captain said proudly to his crew gathered on the deck.
“Who’d we lose?” one of the pirates barked.
“We lost… who did we…” the captain stammered, fumbling as he examined a scroll of names. “Well, it doesn’t matter who,” he finally said.
“You don’t know who we lost, do you?” the pirate asked.
“I don’t have everyone’s exact name here, no,” admitted the captain.
“What’s my name, eh?” another pirate asked.
The captain was growing indignant. “Look,” he said, “I don’t know all of your names, but that’s not why we’re here, is it?”
The crowd laughed and the captain flushed red at their insolence.
“Fine. Just fine,” he muttered. “In any case, there is another shipment of silk that we should come very near this afternoon, and it looks like we still have enough space in the hold to take that cargo, as well.”
“Why on Alm would we want more silk? Who’s going to pay for that garbage these days?” one of the crew asked.
“It’s for the captain’s underwear!” cracked another.
The pirates roared.
“Listen, if any of you want charge of this ship, I dare you to take it,” the captain growled.
Slate noticed him stroking a silver, club-like tool stowed in his belt.
“Oooh, captain, yes, captain,” another pirate teased.
This pushed the captain over the edge. He pulled the silver thing from his belt and held it toward the sky. A thunderous explosion burst from its tip with a flash of fire. This quieted the pirates to a stifled giggle. The captain then lowered the tip of his thunder stick at the crew, and passed it before them in a slow turn.
“If any of you really want to challenge my authority,” the captain said, “I dare you to do so now.”
The men refused his eye contact as they tried to contain their laughter and shifted about.
“That’s what I thought. Expect the silk ship sometime after high noon.”
One of the crew then made a loud, wet raspberry sound, that sent the rest of the men into hysterics once again. The captain frowned and then slammed the door to his quarters shut after storming through the jamb, which caused a small sign that read “Captain’s Quarters” to fall off onto the deck.
“Well. Can you believe the nerve?” Slate asked the pirate standing next to him, feigning solidarity. The pirate scowled and spat in his eye.
Slate stayed as close to Pilotte as he could until the preparations for the raid on the silk shipment started, at which point he was conscripted into helping ready the boarding ropes. When it came time and the sloop rode up next to the silk ship, Slate could see the terror in the faces of its crew as they stood watching their approaching doom. Just as the sloop was in place but before the boarding lines were set, the captain reappeared from his quarters with the sniveling order that the pirates leave no one alive.
When the first nets were thrown from the pirate sloop to the silk transport and the villains began their attack, Slate thought that he might be spared having to go aboard, but he wasn’t to be so lucky. Instead, he was tossed up from his hiding space onto the silk ship by a hulking pirate with a gleam in his eye and a hearty laugh that suggested that piracy was his simply his favorite thing in all the world.
Slate landed on the side of his right ankle when he hit the deck of the silk ship, and then slid through a pool of blood before managing to get traction. The blood was pouring in rivers from a lifeless woman nearby, bent into a heap next to her wailing child. Slate had the thought to play dead beside her and wait for the massacre to cease, but the same pirate that had tossed him up into the fray to join the raid threw a scabbard his way, and so he reluctantly rose.
“What are you doing, don’t just stand there!” the pirate hollered.
Slate began searching the pockets of the dead woman to appease the pirate.
“Wait until they’re all dead before collecting the spoils!” the pirate yelled. He then he lunged at Slate, pulled him with one huge arm up off the deck, and threw him again, now into the confusion of bodies and blood.
One of the silk ship’s seamen came running at Slate, brandishing a knife held up over his head. Slate managed to deflect the knife with his scabbard. He dodged and then kicked the man in the stomach, sending him to the floor.
“Just play dead!” Slate whispered to the man.
“What…” the man began.
“I said play dead!” Slate repeated.
Looking up, he must have seen something trustworthy in Slate’s eyes, as he did cease to flail and closed his eyes.
Just as soon as Slate had stood back up, another of the pirates shoved a helpless woman into his arms.
“Slit her throat!” the pirate growled, as he sent a fountain of teeth gushing forth from the mouth of one of the other passengers.
Holding the struggling girl’s arms behind her back, Slate tried to whisper to her to calm down, but the girl was completely hysterical and continued to flail wildly in his grip.
“I said, kill her!” the pirate ordered, before slicing the arm of an unlucky young silk trader clean off. The arm hit the ship’s deck with a sickening thud.
“Steady now,” Slate said under his breath. He raised his scabbard to the girl’s throat. With just the slightest amount of pressure, the knife drew a trickle of blood. When the rivulet of blood reached down to the girl’s hands, she screamed one last time and then fainted, which was exactly what Slate had hoped for.
Slate dropped her gently then reared around to see a crazed, reddened face flying at him, which he managed to halt immediately with an outstretched fist. The recipient of his punch spun around three times from the force and then fell over the side of the ship. Slate raced to the banister after him, where he saw that one of the silk ship’s lifeboats, full of six other lucky escapees, had already begun helping the unconscious man out of the water.
After much more fighting, which blended together in Slate’s mind into an inglorious mess of anguished faces and crimson silk and blood, the trading ship and all its crew were dispersed. Slate had managed to make it through the foray without having to kill or seriously harm anyone, and other than what were sure to be huge bruises, no one had managed to harm him too severely either, though the gory horrors he witnessed during those few awful minutes were surely going to weigh heavily on his dreams.
After the attack on the silk ship, it was four more days to the Passage Islands, the home of the pirates. Slate spent those four days making himself as scarce as possible and checking on Pilotte, slipping him scraps and petting him with soothing words when none were watching. Slate considered how he could have been nearly back to the Falls by now, if he hadn’t agreed to Guh’s request. But now, here he was, heading who knew where with murderous pirates. He was still healthy, though, as was Pilotte. And the two would be free soon enough, Slate didn’t doubt that. Though just when, or how, was still anything but certain.