Sky Pirates!: Part One
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” General Qin asked as the chess set was set down in front of him.
The green Krawk crossed his arms. Whenever the Emperor of Shenkuu came to visit him in the dingy little cell, he always brought the chess set.
The old Gelert sat down opposite his prisoner and smiled faintly before beginning to lay the pieces on the board.
“Not in the talkative mood?” Qin asked. “Something’s bothering you then.”
The Emperor’s hand paused in hesitation over a pawn before resuming its progress. Qin smiled grimly. He was right, he knew.
When the pieces were lined up, the game began. The Emperor always started, as a matter of manners. Qin may have been a traitor and prisoner, but he was still a gentleman deep down.
Qin’s thoughts were elsewhere; he stared intently at the Emperor’s eyes.
“It’s Shan, isn’t it?” he asked eventually.
The Emperor almost knocked over a Queen.
“...I do not doubt his loyalty,” the Gelert muttered.
Qin smiled broadly.
“There has been an uprising in the village of Bundak,” the Emperor continued. “I’m sure you remember the place?”
How could Qin forget?
When he had served as the General of Shenkuu’s army, Qin had told the Emperor that the people of Bundak would rise up against the Empire. The foolish old man had not listened, so Qin had taken... actions. He’d burnt Bundak to the ground in a pre-emptive attack, and been exiled from Shenkuu for it.
A lot of things had happened since then; Qin had travelled to Neopia Central and adopted the name of Mr. Jennings. He’d become a crime lord overnight, but a bid for revenge against Shenkuu had landed Qin back in the cells once more.
“So I was right!” Qin said triumphantly as he took one of the Emperor’s bishops.
“Don’t get too excited,” the Emperor snapped. “The people of Bundak were driven to attack us, by thoughts of vengeance for the atrocities you committed in my name. There would be no uprising if it wasn’t for you. It is what I believe they call a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
This silenced Qin temporarily. The gentle click of the pieces moving continued in the cell, watched on by a single Grarrl guard.
“Yet you are still worried,” Qin said eventually. “You have sent Shan, your new General, to deal with the situation. You have sent my greatest pupil to the place where I betrayed you... I wonder... do you fear he will turn out just like me?”
The Emperor did not reply.
“Check mate,” Qin announced after a while.
The Emperor frowned.
“He is not like you,” he said as he got up. “He is loyal to the Empire.”
“I was, once,” Qin smirked.
The old Gelert turned and left. The single guard remained, watching and waiting.
“It has worked then. The people of Bundak have risen up just as we told them to. Shan will be out of the city, now is the perfect time to strike,” Qin told him.
The guard nodded.
“Find a suitable crew, tell them where to fish. Make sure the relevant items are hidden in the hold,” Qin continued.
The Krawk glanced at the pawns, lined up in a row next to the chess board.
“The pirates will get here soon. Freddy will approach them in time, I should think,” he mused. “Make sure they succeed; they are the true key to this plan. Everything else is merely a sideshow.”
The guard nodded again.
“What about Mr. Halflook, sir?” he asked.
“Ah yes, the sideshow himself. He was spotted in Altador yesterday... With any luck, he’ll arrive just as it all goes off, and the pirates will deal with him. Still, it’s best to delay him as much as possible, to put him on edge if nothing else. Arrange for a few rockslides to block the mountain paths,” Qin ordered.
“At once, Mr. Jennings, sir,” the guard replied, leaving the cell and closing the door, making sure to lock it.
The fool of an Emperor! Qin thought to himself. Thinking I am his prisoner! Thinking that he has caught me! I’ll show him... soon Mr. Jennings will be back on top!
Captain Hackett peered out of a porthole-styled window, slowly tapping his golden hook against the window frame. The Golden Dubloon was deserted. Only the Fontaine Sisters, the Captain’s trusty waitresses, were inside. They stood at the bar checking their hair impatiently.
The Golden Dubloon, restaurant and bar of choice on Krawk Island for generations, was never empty. Hackett had even had to impose a hundred Neopet limit to stop the walls bursting outwards.
“Where is everyone!?” he growled eventually, slamming his hook into the woodwork.
A low cough came from the Fontaine Sisters.
“They’re at the Rusty Dubloon probably,” Loretta told the old Lupe. “Toothless Bob’s started happy hour.”
The old pirate Lupe stared at the Aisha.
“Happy... hour?” he questioned, turning the phrase over within his mind.
“He says it’ll give the place a family atmosphere... two for one on grog,” Rosetta confirmed.
“Free grog? A family atmosphere?” Hackett asked, having difficulty with the unfamiliar phrases. “How does that work?”
“Bob’s been on the Fungus again,” Loretta sighed. “But it seems to have drawn in the regular punters.”
Hackett gazed back out of the window, towards the town. There were two things that attracted pirates more than anything else – the prospect of free grog and the prospect of good times.
To make matters worse, everyone knew that the former normally resulted in the latter.
“We have to put a stop to it,” he growled.
The Fontaine Sisters sighed. There wasn’t an owner of the Rusty Dubloon that Captain Hackett hadn’t ‘seen to’ in one way or another. Sometimes they hoped Hackett would just get better at running the bar instead.
The Rusty Dubloon was full to the brim.
Being as it was a small, dingy, back alley tavern, that didn’t take much doing, but that night it was really full.
The sounds of old sea shanties could be heard half a mile away, accompanied by the tinkling of a piano that someone had smuggled in during the chaos. Bar fights erupted into the street, having nowhere else to go due to the cramped conditions inside. The small tavern, the propped up burnt remains of hundreds of former Rusty Dubloons, was playing host to just about every pirate on Krawk Island.
The landlord, Toothless Bob, stood behind the bar smiling broadly. His full set of pearly whites gleamed in the gloom as a squadron of waitresses ferried grog to tables and empty tankards back.
Two for one on grog was of course making Bob a spectacular loss, but the pirate Techo couldn’t care less. He was after all quite insane – and had been eating fungus from the Fungus Cave yet again. Someone could have hit him in the face with a fish and he’d still be smiling pleasantly while cleaning out tankards with a grimy cloth that seemed to host its own ecosystem.
Besides, he had that special kind of insanity, the type that borders on genius and lunacy at the same time. He understood the business of running the tavern better than most of his predecessors. He knew that during happy hour, the pirates would roll in and Bob’s profits would roll out... but by the time happy hour ended, Bob also knew that the pirates wouldn’t think to go anywhere else. They were his for the rest of the night. Whilst happy hour had been greatly publicised, Bob had told no one that the price of grog after happy hour had doubled.
It had worked. Around the seaweed and grog encrusted tables, the pirates were packed in tight. The waitresses ducked and weaved between them, skidding and sliding on the perilous floors, made wet with spilt drinks. In a corner, a group of Golden Dubloon regulars were sat together.
“I say!” the Velvet Pimpernel shouted above the hubbub to the others. “This place certainly seems lively!”
The elegant Wocky adjusted his fine hat and took a gentlemanly sip of his grog.
Glug Glug Jones looked at the Pimpernel, his eyes struggling to focus. The Kyrii hiccupped as he swayed in his seat.
“Fine establishsh –hic- est... establishment,” he murmured incoherently.
The Pimpernel rolled his eyes at Jones. The Kyrii drank nothing but Kraku Berry Juice, which was about as potent as tap water, yet he always seemed to be in this state.
“Can’t say much about the food,” Morrie the purple Meerca complained.
“What food?” the Pimpernel asked.
“Exactly,” Morrie said triumphantly.
Morrie had once, unsuccessfully, tried to steal the recipes from the Golden Dubloon. He seemed more interested in food than grog, which was odd for a pirate.
“Would you please stop mentioning food?” Fairfax the Tuskaninny asked from across the table.
The poor young deckhand had turned green, and was glancing nervously towards his emergency bucket that he always carried. Fairfax didn’t have good sea legs, or land legs for that matter. In the literal sense of course he didn’t have any legs at all, being as he was a Tuskaninny. Regardless, he seemed to constantly be on the verge of throwing up.
There was a low cough from the end of the table. A new face had joined the pirates.
“I want te talk to you lads about something,” a pirate Chomby whispered as he sat down.
“What did he say?” Samuel No Eyes asked.
The yellow Acara wore two eye patches, and claimed his hearing was second to none. Other pirates had yet to see any evidence.
“I’ve got a proposal for ye,” the Chomby repeated.
The group of pirates eyeballed the newcomer. That sight alone would have been enough to scare most men silly, even if Bug Eye McGee wasn’t part of the group. When that green Techo eyeballed you, you made hasty excuses and left.
They all knew who had sat down. It was Captain ‘Thimbles’ Freddy, famous pirate for many of the wrong reasons. He had been Captain of the Irritating Pawkeet, a fine pirate ship... but it had been lost at sea, along with the thousands of thimbles the Captain collected. He’d been insane with his thimbles before the shipwreck, but the loss of his life’s work had sent him into new levels of insanity.
Everyone knew that when you went over the edge of sanity you went insane... but what happened when you went over the edge of insanity? Did you become sane again? Or did you start seeing the universe for new angles, many of which don’t exist? They feared the answer to such questions, so Freddy was therefore avoided by many pirates. He didn’t talk quite as much about thimbles as he used to, but he was still unnerving to be around. Freddy seemed to alternate between piratical talk and normal speech half way through sentences, like a man torn between two minds.
“What do you want, Captain?” the Pimpernel asked.
“I needs a new ship, see?” Freddy explained. “And I need a new crew.”
“Where do we come in?” Buy Eye asked. “There are hundreds of ships on Krawk Island.”
Freddy fixed the Techo with his eyes, and Bug Eye saw the strange glint in them. It was the look of someone with a dream.
A pirate with a madcap dream never led to a good outcome.
“I don’t want any old ship, and I don’t want any old crew,” Freddy replied. “I want a flying ship!”
Morrie’s drink splattered over the table as he burst out laughing.
“He’s loony!” the Meerca laughed. “The only flying ships come from...”
“Shenkuu.” Freddy nodded. “I’m stealing one. I want yer help.”
Awkward silence descended upon the table while the noise of the other pirates continued around them.
“You are aware that the Shenkuu air docks are heavily guarded by the Emperor’s Elite Guard?” the Pimpernel asked eventually. “And that only trained helmsmen have the capacity to steer their flying ships with accuracy?”
“Unlikely it’ll work,” he conceded. “But that’s why I needs me an unlikely crew. There’s not a soul around this table who ain’t a laughing stock on the island. I’m offering ye a chance to be the best, most feared pirates on the five seas!”
It was true; no one took them seriously.
Fairfax couldn’t step on a boat without feeling the need for a long lie down. Jones was never in a fit state to perform any kind of operation on a vessel. Samuel was blind, and starting to go deaf. Bug Eye’s bulging eyes intimidated most Captains, and his tendency to demand to be friends with people got on their nerves. Morrie’s recipes were unorthodox at best and lethal at worst. And, despite all of the Pimpernel’s money and charm, he just wasn’t a born sailor. He was a swordsman, in a town that needed swordsmen who could sail.
None of them had served on a ship in years, perhaps decades in Samuel’s case.
“You think we can succeed where others have failed?” the Pimpernel asked.
Freddy nodded eagerly.
The Wocky looked around the faces of the pirates. All of them seemed to nod, almost imperceptibly towards him. The Pimpernel smiled faintly.
“We’re in,” he told the Captain.
Not all the inhabitants of Krawk Island were in the Rusty Dubloon.
Some fishermen were out in the rain, trawling off the coast. One such little boat bobbed up and down in the waves as the fishermen pulled in the nets. It wouldn’t be the best night’s fishing they ever did, but a man on the docks had paid them a lot to sail across that patch of ocean. As is the custom when strange men offer large sums of money to do easy jobs, the fishermen did not ask questions.
It was an average catch; many species of fish had come up from the sea bed in the recent storms. Several of the crew were already tucking into dinners of fresh Breadfish and Butterfish. A few more were hauling in the latest net. They upturned it onto the deck, the fish spilling out to every corner. They flapped in different directions, and the sailors rushed forward to sort them.
Slowly, the pile of fish got smaller. Gradually, the sailors unpicked another object in the centre.
A Moehog held up a skeletal arm curiously.
“A skeleton?” he asked the others.
“Probably someone who got washed overboard,” a Pteri told him, busily sorting Waterfish nearby.
The Moehog felt the hand tighten around his wrist. His eyes widened in fear, and he turned as the hand pulled on him.
The rest of the skeleton rose from the depths of the fish pile, a single golden tooth glinted in the moonlight.
The sailors backed away in fear as the skeleton lifted itself up, floating magically a few inches off the deck.
One eye socket was covered with bone, a ragged, ancient looking eye patch barely concealing it. The other was a hole darker than any abyss. To the sailors, the dead man’s grin that the skeleton Kiko was wearing seemed to widen.
It opened its jaw experimentally, clicking the bones with the effort of years.
“You’re dead!” the Pteri gasped, unable to find any other words.
“Yes,” the Kiko replied in a voice like nails against a chalkboard, “But I’ve never let that stop me before.”
“But, Scarblade...” the Moehog said, his eyes still fixed wide open in terror.
“He thought he was rid of me,” the Kiko sneered. “But he was wrong! Captain Dread has returned!”
To be continued...