Sky Pirates!: Part Two
Hackett rolled the barrel up from the cellar carefully, watched on by the Fontaine sisters. They could read the label on it very clearly.
“Dynamite!?” Loretta gasped.
“I’ve tried burning down the Rusty Dubloon the old fashioned way before,” Hackett said matter-of-factly. “I’ve tried kidnapping the owner, poisoning him, enlisting him on ships... I even tried reporting the place to the Department of Health!” He seemed to spit the department’s name. “Nothing works! They just keep coming back, better and stronger. I’m going to finish this once and for all.”
“By blowing up the Rusty Dubloon?” Rosetta asked incredulously.
“It’s the most permanent way I know of doing it,” Hackett told her, and continued rolling the barrel out of the cellar.
Something told the Aishas that there were a lot more barrels within the cellar, hidden in the deepest depths.
“I’ll need time to plant the stuff, though,” Hackett said to himself. “We can’t go blowing things up out of the blue. This has to be the end.”
It would take a while, but the Golden Dubloon had to be back on top. Hackett had to actually plan things out, for once.
The mists of Shenkuu rolled in deep, as they always did.
Night time, the Velvet Pimpernel considered as he crossed a wooden bridge, is such an elegant time to commit a crime.
The Emperor was sleeping, his personal guard at his side. The shopkeepers had closed up and gone home, and the bustle of the place had stopped. The Gnorbu was probably awake at the Lunar Temple, but that didn’t matter. He wasn’t in any position to stop them. He was a star gazer, not a lookout.
The Pimpernel swung his cane as he walked, as if the entire thing was nothing more than an evening stroll. Ahead of him, the giant sky docks waited. A single guard was on duty, perhaps more inside; who knew?
Pirates didn’t plan little things like that. They didn’t need to. Pirates just ran in screaming with the cutlass held high and hoped for the best. It was perhaps the reason why so many of them were missing limbs.
But the Pimpernel was not like the average pirate.
He’d insisted, much to the annoyance of the others, on waiting until nightfall. He’d insisted on actually sitting there and counting the guards that went in and out. He’d noted down the guard changes, their equipment, and the velocity of the ships coming into the city. It was vital to know how quick their escape would be, and how long it would take the guards to respond.
The Pimpernel wasn’t a real pirate. He was a gentleman, from Meridell originally. He was of noble birth, but then you could hardly walk five paces in Meridell without falling over a Lord or Lady. To many, it seemed like there were more people with titles in Meridell than actual people.
The Pimpernel had grown disillusioned with his old life, and being naturally good at fencing, dreamed of becoming a swashbuckling pirate. He’d reached Krawk Island to find his dreams were shattered. The fact of the matter was that most pirates only buckled their swash in the good old days... when pirates ruled the wild seas, under the command of fearsome Captains such as Rokaar or Dread.
Those days were gone. The most evil pirate around was Scarblade, and he’d be beaten by Maraquan forces more times than anyone cared to mention. Pirates were nothing more than glorified ferrymen, a joke of Neopia. Everyone of much importance used flying Shenkuu ships, and if the wealthy businessmen only sail in the air, pirates of the sea can’t steal much from them.
So the Pimpernel had fallen in with the regulars at the Golden Dubloon, and the years had just rolled by. But this was something new, something untried and untested. The Wocky could feel it in his bones... this was what being a pirate was all about. Delving into the unknown, kicking it in the shin, and then escaping before the unknown realised just what it was you’d stolen.
“I say, good man,” the Pimpernel said theatrically as he approached the guard. “I seem to have gotten lorst.” He took special care to add in the R. “Could you point me the way to the Lunar Temple? There’s a good chap!”
Obediently, the guard turned to point out the obvious structure on the nearby mountaintop. With a simple flick of his cane, the Pimpernel hit hard on the Grarrl’s head. He slumped forward. A walking stick is a very deadly weapon in the right hands.
Out of the mists, the other pirates emerged. They were all armed to the teeth, clearly expecting an army to be waiting within the sky docks.
“Quickly, I calculate we only have five minutes until the new guard arrives,” the Pimpernel whispered to them.
“What?” Samuel shouted, cupping his ear.
The Pimpernel shook his head hopelessly and opened the door leading into the building.
The inside was massive, and eerily quiet. The flying ships hung in the warehouse like ghosts. Silent, and waiting.
Morrie hopped over to the nearest one.
“Let’s go!” he called, hopping onto the small ship.
The Pimpernel read the name.
“Happy Pandaphant... it’s a fishing trawler,” he observed.
“Who cares? It flies, doesn’t it!?” Morrie yelled as he bounced up and down atop the small boat.
“No,” Freddy announced, closing the door to the dock firmly. “We’re here for one ship and one ship only.”
Slowly, he led them along the gantry, past the dozens of ships that were lined up like a waiting army, stood to attention.
The Bounding Pygui... the Floating Quilin... the Hegelob’s Horn... surely not the Cyodrake’s Gaze?
Freddy stopped in front of a ship, and smiled widely.
“The Swift Quintilc?” the Pimpernel read aloud.
“We’ll rename it, of course!” Freddy said excitedly as he half ran up the gangplank. “It’s a military ship... carries around the Emperor’s high guard mostly. That means it’s fast, and powerful as well.”
The Pimpernel nodded approvingly.
“Right, lads... let’s get out of here!” he told the others.
Bug Eye ran forward and began to cut the ropes that tethered the ship to the gantry. Freddy meanwhile was busy at the helm, engaging the various ship systems. The rest of the pirates ran up the gangplank while the Pimpernel pulled a small lever on the gantry.
Slowly, the ancient mechanisms of the sky docks creaked into life. Above them, the ceiling separated into two, allowing thin slivers of moonlight to creep inside.
“Last one’s cut!” Bug Eye roared triumphantly as he climbed aboard.
The gangplank fell away as the ship floated upwards. The ceiling had pulled back completely, and the ship rose into the cool night air. Below, the new guard had arrived, and horns were sounding in Shenkuu. The theft had been discovered.
“What about them following us in ships?” Fairfax asked nervously, clinging tightly to his bucket.
“I’ve got Jones on that one!” Freddy laughed from the wheel.
There was an almighty bang as one of the Swift Quintilc’s cannons fired. The cannonball sailed directly into the rope bridge that connected the sky docks with the rest of Shenkuu. It cut the flimsy rope clean in two.
“It’ll be a while before they get across that!” Freddy said, almost overflowing with excitement.
Underneath them, the engines, or whatever it was the flying ships used, kicked in with a gentle humming. Freddy turned the wheel expertly, and before long the city of Shenkuu was a mere dot in the distance.
They’d done it.
They were pirates again.
The Revenge sailed on through the dark clouds.
There were always dark clouds surrounding the black ship. Some of the junior crewmembers wondered if it was Captain Scarblade’s magic that summoned them. The older crewmembers knew better than to ask. Some things you didn’t want to know the answer to.
“Latest report, sir!” Benny the Blade saluted, proffering a small piece of paper.
The fearsome Captain stirred, turning his attention away from the briny deep into which he had been staring. The Lupe snatched the paper away and read it as the purple Bruce stood nervously before him.
Benny may have been a ruthless pirate, but even he was scared of Scarblade’s wrath.
The Lupe made a disgruntled noise.
“The Black Pawkeet remains at large, and the port at Krawk Island is hosting a free grog offer,” Scarblade growled. “Is that all?”
“Yes Captain!” Benny replied.
Scarblade crumpled the paper in his hands.
“Where’s the treasure? Where’s the ancient curses? Where’s the pirates challenging me at every turn!?” Scarblade asked, slamming his fist down on a nearby railing.
“Sir, you know we can’t afford to do that sort of thing no more...” Benny tried to explain. “The last time we challenged Maraqua... we just don’t have the numbers to do that anymore.”
Scarblade shot the Bruce a glare. He’d have killed anyone else for saying something like that, but he and Benny had been through a lot together. The old Bruce had stood by him, even when he’d been forced to flee the battle of New Maraqua.
“But this...” Scarblade said, taking in the Revenge. “This isn’t what we should be doing! Just sailing about, putting the fear of the seas into lesser pirates... stealing the odd pearl off a rich good-for-nothing... that’s not real piracy! We should be sacking ports, sinking ships! We should be terrorising the five seas!”
Benny shrugged his shoulders at the Captain. There was nothing to say.
All the treasures had been found. All the riches had been plundered. All the ports had been sacked to the point where if they were Neopets, they would have been deemed unemployable. Pirates just didn’t seem to fit into the modern ways of Neopia. A pirate lord fit in even less.
“I’m going to my cabin,” Scarblade growled.
Below, the spoils of a thousand victories greeted him. Elegant treasures, finely tailored clothes, maps and globes and things other Neopets only dreamed of.
The Captain’s padded chair spun around as he approached it. There was someone sitting on it, smiling a toothy grin.
“We meet again, Captain Scarblade,” Dread the skeleton Kiko snarled.
Scarblade’s eyes grew wide.
“You! What are you doing here...? A ghost, sent here to taunt me?” he gasped.
“No ghosts...” Dread cackled, his jaw creaking with the effort of centuries. “I’m as real as I ever was.”
“But I...” Scarblade began.
“I seem to remember a young officer serving in my ranks,” Dread continued. “Scarblade, they called him. He served under me when I sacked Maraqua, and when I summoned a great whirlpool to wipe it clean. I seem to remember that some time later that young officer formed a mutiny. I seem to remember he stole my ship, my crew, my Captaincy. I seem to remember he cursed me to the bottom of the ocean, wearing dead man’s shoes.”
Scarblade remembered it as if it had been yesterday. They’d chained up the old Captain, and loaded him with cannonballs. They thrown him over the side, and Scarblade had become the new lord of pirates.
“You died!” the Lupe roared.
“Come now,” Dread laughed, his gold tooth gleaming, “You think something as simple as a few years on the seabed could be the end of me? I’m a skeleton, Scarblade. You can’t kill what’s not really alive.”
“How are you here?” Scarblade asked.
His hand, ever so slightly, was reaching for a sword.
“Some fishermen pulled me off the bottom. But that’s beside the point,” Dread told him. “I’m here for what’s due.”
Scarblade’s hand tightened on his sword.
“Due?” he asked.
“My revenge of course! You took everything from me. I’m here to do the same,” Dread said simply.
Scarblade drew his sword, and threw it towards his chair. The blade skewered the fine leather, but Dread had gone.
“A... ghost?” the Lupe questioned.
No, the voice of Dread echoed in his ears, An illusion. I was always better at magic than you. My revenge is due, and your days are numbered. I left you a present on the desk...
Scarblade edged forward. There was a single sheet of paper on the desk, stained with a neat blob of black ink in the centre.
The Black Spot, it was a pirate’s death sentence.
To be continued...