Pirates, the Sight, and the Sea: Part One
The motherly white Cybunny shuffled her way down the docks, the blue sea glistening to her right as cerulean waves crashed against the rocky shores of Krawk Island. A strand of white pearls laced her neck and a fashionable sun hat was perched on her head like one of the many brown Weewoos loitering on the masts of the ships in the harbor. Her paw held dutifully that of the young red Usul at her side.
“You must be careful on the ship, darling. Listen to everything your brother and the other sailors say, and be careful not to get too close to the rai—”
“Mo-om!” Roselia protested, setting out her jaw in slight annoyance. “I’ll be fine.”
“You’re right, of course, dear. I still worry, though,” her mother said, looking down at her daughter with a sad expression. She looks so young, she thought. A huge smile was plastered across the youthful face, and her eyes, such a pale blue, were wide with excitement. Purposely, she dragged her poor mother along, running down the worn and rotting wooden planking uninhibited by the long blue and pink dress that she wore.
“Hurry, Mom! I see the ship!” Roselia urged, spotting the grand galleon at the edge of the dock.
“Yes, yes, I see it too.”
On such a lovely morning, the Silver Torrent was glittering in the sunlight, majestic wooden sides shining with sea salt and large white sails billowing gently in the wind. Atop the crow’s nest flapped a beautiful flag, light blue with scalloping white lines to symbolize the sea and the fact that this was a merchant vessel, and on the lowered gangplank milled a couple of sailors, happy for the return of dry land, even if it was just for a few hours.
But it was only one of the sailors, a tall green Ogrin, that caught Roselia’s attention. “Mithy!” she called, letting go of her mother’s hand as she drew nearer, leaping up onto the gangplank in one bound and jumping into his outstretched arms.
“Whoa, Roselia! You’ve grown!” her older brother said fondly, giving her a hug. “It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever.”
“Ten months is quite some time, Timothy,” his mother said, daintily making her way up the gangplank. “And what happened to sending us mail every week?”
Timothy blushed as some of the other sailors at his side snickered. “Mother... it’s kinda hard to find a Weewoo willing to fly all the way to Shenkuu when you’re a couple hundred miles out into the se—” But his mother hadn’t waited for the answer and instead grabbed her one and only son to her chest, giving him a stifling hug.
“Mom...” Timothy mumbled. “You’re crushing me...”
More laughter came from his shipmates as the white Cybunny backed off, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just that I haven’t seen you in so long, dear, and I’ve missed you. You know how worried I get.”
“You? Worrying? Nooooo...” He smiled at his sarcasm: His mother was the biggest worrywart he knew. “But really, Mom, everything’ll be fine. I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for Rosy and it’s only a short trip this time; we’ll be to Mystery Island and back in a week.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” she murmured, fiddling with the strand of pearls and trying to fight against the unease building in the pit of her stomach. “Though I still can’t help but feel a bit nervous...”
“Mom.” Timothy looked straight into his mother’s lilac eyes and repeated, “Nothing will go wrong. We’ll be fine. And as for you, you are going to enjoy a lovely week at the best hotel in Krawk Island, free of our little terror Rosy here.”
“Hey!” Roselia protested, pouting.
“Just kidding, just kidding,” Timothy added with a laugh, his amber eyes flashing. “Now come on, Rosy. Say goodbye to Mom so I can give you the grand tour. The ship’s been loaded for an hour now and Captain Shar said that once you arrived, it’d be time to leave.”
“Okay!” Roselia turned to her mother, and, giving her a hug and a peck on the cheek, she sang, “Bye, Mommy!” Timothy followed suit, but he gave his mother an additional reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.
“All right darlings!” Their mother waved, a bit teary-eyed, turning to head back towards the shore. “Have fun, be safe, and I’ll see you two in a week!”
“Bye, Mom!” Timothy called, watching his mother shuffle away. Once she was out of sight, he took his little sister’s hand and carefully helped her onto the deck.
“Wow!” Roselia gasped, taken back as soon as her feet hit the wooden planking. She wobbled after feeling the gentle thrum of the ocean beneath her, unused to the feel of the rocking ship, but it was the bustle of activity that really took her breath away. Everyone seemed to be doing something. Some sailors were cleaning up, mopping the deck dutifully and scrubbing the mast, a few were moving large wooden crates stocked with supplies that were to be traded at Mystery Island, and many were just lounging against the ship railings, laughing and talking up a storm.
“Come on, Rosy,” Timothy urged, still holding her hand protectively. “Let’s go to the railing as we cast off.”
The two of them headed over to one side of the ship where a group of five or so sailors were chatting and joking around. However, they immediately quieted down once Timothy and Roselia approached, and a good-natured looking Skeith smiled. “Ah well, lookie here,” he said, kneeling down to the small Usul’s height. “This must be the beautiful and charming young Roselia that Blabbermouth here was talking non-stop about for the past week.”
“Blabbermouth?” Roselia asked confused, looking around. “Do you mean Mithy?”
“Mithy?” A yellow Korbat with a frayed bandana tied over his head laughed as Timothy flushed red. “Nice name, T. How come you never let us call you that?”
“Put a dubloon in it, Kes,” Timothy said, giving his buddy a friendly punch on the shoulder. But before Kes could hit him back, the ship suddenly lurched. Roselia desperately grasped the railing, her pale blues eyes widening, but her brother just laughed. “Relax, Rosy. We’re just casting off.”
Roselia looked out and sure enough, the ship was now steadily moving away from the docks. The waves beneath the ship rolled rhythmically; sparkling, churning, and shining in the sunlight, more beautiful than anything she had ever seen.
“Ever been on a ship before, Roselia?” Kes asked as Krawk Island grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
The red Usul shook her head; the entire trip from Shenkuu to Krawk Island had been via Eyrie taxi.
The Korbat smiled. “Then you’re in for a treat. As long as you don’t get seasick easily, life aboard the Silver Torrent is pretty nice. The food’s not half bad, there’s usually a bunch of things to do, and you won’t find yourself a group of nicer mates anywhere else.”
“Well, that’s good,” Roselia said, looking around; she had already begun to feel homesick (not to mention slightly seasick) and the friendly faces surrounding her helped to ease the ache.
“For once, I’d have to agree with Kes,” Mithy admitted. “Life as a sailor isn’t bad at all. You get to see new places, meet new people... I promise you, Rosy; you’ll have a blast this week. But now that we’ve met these bozos, I promised you a tour, didn’t I? So come on!”
After saying goodbye to the sailors, the two continued their way around the ship, occasionally stopping to watch as colorful Kateils flew across the blue skies, but mainly joking around and having fun, bonding with one another and making up for the lost time Mithy had spent as a sailor. They explored the cabins under the deck with the bumpy hammocks that the Ogrin had vouched were more comfortable than feathered mattresses after a long day at sea, the galley buzzing with cooks preparing food and hungry sailors devouring meals, and even started up a rousing game of Kacheek Seek, hiding behind crates filled with furniture and rare items about to be traded.
By midday, the sun was strongly shining overhead and all traces of land had vanished, leaving the ship isolated at sea. A strong breeze was blowing, leading the Silver Torrent at a breakneck speed towards Mystery Island. Roselia seemed to have caught a whiff of that energy, bustling about the ship like a Buzz that had too much Juppy Java, her face flushed with excitement as she uncovered wonder after wonder.
“Come on, Mithy!” she urged during a game of tag on the upper deck. “Come catch me!”
“Rosy,” Mithy breathed heavily, supporting himself against the rail. “Where’d you get all this energy from?” He was thoroughly exhausted; all his time at sea hadn’t prepared him for reuniting with his animated little sister, and he was itching for a break.
Roselia looked up at her brother, sensing a problem. “If you’re tired, we could stop...” she said, trailing off.
“Nah, sis,” he said guiltily, putting on a smile. “I’m fine. I just thought that we could...” He looked desperately around for a distraction, anything that didn’t involve darting like a lunatic across the deck, and finally sighted a group of sailors causing some commotion near the mast. Perfect. “...play some Cheat!”
“Cheat?” Roselia asked confused, adjusting the giant pink bow on her dress. “What’s that?”
Mithy stared at her in disbelief, his brows furrowed. “You’ve never heard of Cheat? Well, I guess it makes sense; Mom’s not into all that stuff. But it’s a card game. Really fun. Come on, I’ll show you.”
Roselia shrugged and followed her brother over to some sailors seated on crates, playing at a makeshift table besides the shaded mast. There were only three playing with the cards, Kes and the kind unnamed Skeith from earlier included, but there were a good number of spectators as well, watching the game from atop their own improvised seats as well as chatting to their buddies and placing bets on who would win.
“Two threes,” Kes announced as Mithy and Roselia approached, placing two weathered cards facedown on the table.
The green Skeith seated to his left looked at him incredulously, but shrugged and, taking a few cards from his hand, nonchalantly said, “Three fours.”
“No way, Mesh,” the final player, a brown Bori with a single gold earring, said with the shake of his head. “You’re lying. Cheat.”
Mesh smiled and flipped his cards over, revealing three fours, just as he had said. “Gotcha, Par! Take the pile.”
Par grumbled about being tricked as he reluctantly took the cards and placed them in his hand. A few of the spectators groaned as they were forced to pay up the dubloons they’d wagered.
Mithy shook his head, leaning against the mast. “If there’s only one thing to learn about this game, it’s to never bet against Mesh, Rosy. He’s one of the best Cheat players around.”
Roselia’s face scrunched as she surveyed the players continuing on. To her it was a mass of confusion, cards being put down and then the word “Cheat!” being shouted at random. “I still don’t get the whole point of the game.”
Mithy chuckled. “It’s simple, really. Everyone takes turns putting down cards in numerical order. The first person puts down an ace, the next a two, etcetera, etcetera. And if you don’t have the card...” his eyes glinted, “...you have to lie.”
The young Usul frowned; she’d never liked liars and her mother had always told her to tell the truth at all times. “That doesn’t sound like a very good game.”
“It’s more fun when you play,” Mithy admitted. “But anyway, the whole point of the game is to have no cards left, and when you think someone’s cheating, you just say ‘Cheat.’ If you’re right, the other player has to take all the cards. But if you’re wrong, you have to take the pile, which makes it really important to be sure when you call ‘cheat.’ That’s what makes Mesh such a good player; it’s impossible to tell whether he’s lying or not.”
Roselia was silent for a moment, surveying the game with a bit more interest, but Mithy could tell the cogs were whirring inside that little head of hers. Finally, she turned to him. “I want to play.”
Mithy’s jaw almost dropped, and then he shook his head. “Rosy, you’re—”
“Please, Mithy?” she implored sweetly, her eyes wide.
Her brother looked into her eyes, almost mesmerized. Since when did she learn how to make me feel guilty? he thought, losing himself in the sky blue. And her eyes... Have they always been like this? He couldn’t remember them being so gripping. But helpless to his sister’s gaze, he fell hook, line, and sinker. “All right, all right, you win.” He turned away from her and faced the table, pausing for a second as he pictured his shipmate’s reactions in his mind, and finally spat it out. “Hey, guys. Do you mind Rosy joining your game?”
The card players had bemused expressions on their faces, and a few of the other sailors snickered as they surveyed the miniscule Usul, but Mesh, who was easily winning after putting down “two sevens,” just shrugged. “Sure. It’ll be a nice change to have some real competition for once.” He smirked at Kes and Par as they frowned in indignation, and then added, “Someone grab a seat for the lass.”
It took a few minutes to find one, but eventually a Bruce uncovered a small barrel on the port side for Roselia. While Mithy helped her perch on top, Mesh took back all the cards, gave them a good shuffle, and began redistributing them. “All right,” he said once everyone had roughly thirteen cards each. “As usual, we play by the rules. ‘No cheaters, unless Cheating’ as the saying goes. First one to lose all their cards wins, and no help from the spectators.” He said the final sentence with a glance towards Mithy, who immediately backed up from his spot hovering over his little sis’ shoulder. “Who has the ace of spades?”
“Me,” Kes said bluntly, the Korbat placing it down on the table.
“All righty.” Mesh looked at Roselia. “Ready?”
Mesh smiled, and taking out two cards, placed them on the pile. “Two twos.”
Roselia looked at him closely, but the Skeith’s countenance didn’t reveal any indication of whether he was lying or not. She didn’t dare call out “Cheat,” and waited for Par to go.
“One three,” the Bori said, putting a card down carefully, but as it was placed onto the table, Roselia saw something that she had never seen before: a slight gold shimmer suddenly radiate from his brown fur, sparkling lightly for a brief moment and then dying away.
Roselia grasped the table in surprise. The light had only appeared for a split second, but she was startled nonetheless and immediately looked around the table at the other sailors. Most of them were still watching the game and a few of them were joking around with one another, including her brother, but not a single one had seen the splay of color.
Did I just imagine it? she thought to herself. She had never seen anything like that flare up around anyone she’d met before, but she was interrupted from her puzzling thoughts as Mesh suddenly accused from across the table, “Cheat!”
“Blasted tempest!” Par cursed, flipping his card around and revealing a six instead of a three. The Bori grudgingly took the pile and Mesh gestured to Roselia that it was now her turn.
She frowned, still confused about the golden sparkle she had seen, but pulled a four from her hand and placed it upside-down. “One four.” Kes then followed with a five.
Mesh nodded and withdrew a card of his own. “One six.”
The golden glint shimmered around him, a slight display of light that flickered briefly and then dimmed away. Roselia felt unease build in the pit of her stomach. She knew for certain that she hadn’t hallucinated this time, which meant either one of two things: she was crazy... or she had just discovered something completely new about herself that she had never known.
It must mean something, she thought as Par shuffled through his cards a few times in an attempt to find a seven. But Roselia didn’t take long to make a guess of what it could mean; before Par could place his card down, the word “Cheat” was already out of her mouth.
Par stopped placing his card in surprise and murmurs surfaced from the spectators.
“She’s insane calling Mesh out...”
“He’s the champ...”
“...no way she could be right.”
“But what if...?”
All eyes were suddenly on Mesh whose face showed both signs of surprise and amusement. Roselia crossed her fingers, hoping her guess had been right. The silence was intense as he reached out a claw, his nails lingering on the card slowly, letting the tension build before he finally flipped it over.
The crowd gasped. The card was an eight, not a six at all. Roselia had just seen through Mesh’s ruse, the first one who had ever done such a thing in the history of the Silver Torrent.
“All right, Rosy!” Mithy exclaimed, slapping his sister on the back as the other sailors shook their head unbelievingly.
Rosy smiled at the attention. “Thanks, Mithy!”
“Nicely done, little miss,” Mesh congratulated, taking the cards and looking at the young Usul with a smile on his face. “You have quite a knack for the game. I have to admit, you surprised m—”
The sudden alarm interrupted them all and Roselia clenched her paws over her ears. “Ow!” she complained, the sharp sound stinging. “What’s happening?”
But all the sailors were already gone, sprinting away from her towards the railing and peering over into the sea, Mithy and Mesh included.
Roselia hopped off the crate and made her way towards her brother, who hollered loudly to his shipmates, “Anyone spot it yet?”
There were murmurs of “no,” until Par, leaning so far off the railing that he was in danger of falling overboard, suddenly shouted, “Wait! There it is!”
“There’s what?” Roselia asked confused, attempting to battle her way to the front so she could catch a glimpse, but Mithy had already grabbed her hand and was pulling her away from the railing.
“Come on, Rosy,” he commanded, his voice stern and face paling. “We need to get you to safety.”
“Safety from what?” she asked desperately, anxiety flooding through her. “Mithy, what’s out there?”
“Nothing,” her brother said firmly, but she saw the flicker of gold erupt over his fur and instantly knew he was lying. Straining herself and trying to slow her brother down, she turned towards the horizon and spotted it for a brief moment before Mithy could turn her away. Still, the glance sent shivers down her spine. It was a distant mass growing ever larger, imposing and deathly, flying a black flag that bore the eerie image of a skull and crossbones.
A pirate ship.
To be continued...